MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. -- The road to a state championship is a long, difficult journey. But the path to repeating is an even tougher task. There's a target on your back. Higher expectations bring an increased amount of pressure.
But pressure can make diamonds.
The Jericho boys soccer team completed a dream season with a 2-1 win over Port Chester at Middletown High School Sunday to earn its second straight state Class A title.
"It's an incredible feeling," said senior captain Derek Medolla, who scored seven goals during the postseason. "Especially winning back-to-back titles; it doesn't happen often, and when it does, it's very special."
The Jayhawks (20-1-1) took an early 1-0 lead when senior Zach Cohen scored off a free kick from Michael Blumberg in the second minute. Less than 10 minutes later, Jericho scored again as senior Ajani Motta knocked in what proved to be the winner off a rebound.
But Port Chester (19-2-2) was able to respond just three minutes later when Bryan Suertegaray scored off a corner kick from Alexis Valdovinos. From then on, the Rams started winning more possessions and putting pressure on Jericho's defense.
"When they scored, we were a little rattled," Medolla said. "We lost our composure for a little while."
Port Chester had an opportunity to tie the score with about five minutes left in the half. Jericho keeper Ari Lewis came out of the net to make a play on the ball, but he couldn't control it as the ball bounced around the box. But Port Chester couldn't capitalize on the empty net, as the Jayhawks' defense cleared the ball after a wild sequence.
"We all united together," junior defender Jack Roberts said. "We just had to protect the net because we didn't want to go into halftime with the score 2-2."
It was all Jericho after the break. The Jayhawks controlled possession throughout the second half and defended well. Their size and physical play proved to be too much for the Rams.
"We played great defense and didn't let them get back into the game," Roberts said. "We finished strong."
In his second year at the helm, Jericho coach Dani Braga already has two state titles. From the first meeting of the year, Braga instilled one goal for his team: to repeat as state champions.
"This is a fantastic group of kids," Braga said. "They work hard for each other and they deserve it. In August, I was saying we were gonna win; I didn't have any doubts."
Said Medolla: "Going into this year, our expectations were so high. Nothing short of this would've satisfied us. We had to prove that we were the best and we did that today."