Just after Thanksgiving, as the last of the leaves were falling from the trees and just as holiday music was being piped into stores to serenade shoppers, the Kinneret Day School boys soccer team was going to work.
That meant setting their alarms to make their very early practice time. Anyone not a morning person need not have applied.
“We started with 7 a.m., practices in late November,” Kinneret head coach Allison Horn said. “That’s what we do. If they want to get the benefits, they’ve got to put in the time. And that’s the time we had.”
So each morning, Horn’s team would gather in the basement of a local high-rise building to work on their skills. But that was just the start of their day.
“Kinneret is a very small school in the Century building, and there is a health club in the basement and we rent their gym space to practice,” said Horn, a physical education teacher at the school. “So that’s where we practice, and we do it really early before school and before I’m teaching.”
Turns out that dogged dedication paid off handsomely.
Last week Kinneret followed up an unbeaten 8-0 regular season in the Yeshiva Middle School Sports Association by posting easy victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals by a combined 18-1 score. It then closed out its magical season with a 4-1 victory over The Moriah School of New Jersey to win the school’s first YMSSA championship.
It was the capper to a season in which Kinneret outscored its opponents by an incredible 73 goals.
“It sounds ridiculous, but we just have really good players,” said Horn, who completed her fifth season as coach. ”A lot of these kids are just very skilled, and we also have a very good goalkeeper in Noah Holmgren. He’s one of the six eighth graders who graduated this year. He’s been my keeper for three seasons, and I hate to see him go.”
After defeating Yeshivat He’Atid 8-0 in the quarterfinals and Yavneh Academy 10-1 in the semifinals, Kinneret stood one win away from the title. Not surprisingly, Eytan Vittorio came up big in the title game, just as he had all season.
“He’s an elite soccer player,” Horn said of her seventh grader. “He scored 55 goals this season, and he scored two in the championship game. Jonah Sandow, another seventh grader, scored one goal, and Yoni Marom scored the other.”
But Marom is leaving the team as well, moving to California in the summer.
“We’ll miss him,” Horn said. “He’s a terrific kid and a great player.”
For Kinneret, it was kind of a community win, as it practices in the Century building basement but plays its “home” games at The Riverdale Y.
“They’re amazing there because they’re so incredibly accommodating,” Horn said. “They were constantly making time for us to play, shifting schedules for us. They were just amazing.”
But despite winning their first championship, Horn points out her program is built around more than just sports.
“Winning the championship was a big deal,” Horn said. “But for me, five percent has to do with soccer because they are good soccer players to begin with. The other 95 percent is about character building and team building and learning great lessons about how to represent your school with pride. And the conduit is soccer.
“It’s just a really cool coming-of-age for these boys, and they ended up, on top of being outstanding gentlemen, at the end of this ride they won this thing. Kind of an icing on the cake.”
About the only downside to winning the title will be Horn seeing several of her players leaving the program due to graduation from eighth grade, most notably Holmgren.
“Noah was just crazy good,” Horn said. “His goals against (were) just ridiculous. We’re going to miss him a lot.”
But still, many of her starting players are expected to return next season. And this trophy could even attract new talent.
“This has also sparked a lot of interest in the school as far as boys wanting to come play for us,” Horn said, adding that winning the title “did something so great for the spirit of the school.”
The soccer kings were feted at a postseason party for team members and family.
“We have a beautiful, wonderful, sensational, dedicated parent body at Kinneret,” Horn said. “It’s really a beautiful community, and a couple of our soccer parents threw us a party at their house.”
As for the championship trophy, it sits on a table in the school for students, teachers and visitors alike to admire. Even if some of the team is nervous for it to be so displayed.
“The trophy was a big deal for them, but they were like, ‘Allie, what if it breaks?’” Horn said, laughing. “And I told them, ‘Relax. It’s not the Stanley Cup.’”
CORRECTION:Kinneret Day School’s soccer team plays in the Yeshiva Middle School Sports Association. A story in the June 27 edition provided an incorrect name for the league.