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Panther Soccer 2012

As reported last week, the 2012 high school boys’ soccer season ended in the “ultimate victory” for Anderson Valley — the post season Championship. However, as regular fans/readers will be well aware, it was a roller-coaster ride and very often a far from a comfortable one at that!

In the last week of August, before school had even started, the team had secured three successful road game victories with wins at Kelseyville, Ukiah (a school with a student body literally ten times bigger than Anderson Valley’s), and Cloverdale. Unfortunately, it was discovered on the first day of school that two squad members who had played in those games were actually ineligible due to poor grades from the end of the previous school year. The matches had to be forfeited. A few days later the team, reeling from this news, lost at home 0-1 to perennial whipping boys, Geyserville, a team that would surprise many teams this year but none more so than AV, which had never even tied with them, never mind lost. It was a major setback.

Fortunately, the team reacted very positively to this adversity, a trait that would be evident on a number of occasions throughout the 2012 season, and went on a nine-game winning streak. This included two of the best performances of the year with ties at Roseland Prep and Calistoga, the best teams in our league who were to finish first and second respectively. (Both also reached the semi-finals of the bigger schools post-season tournament, Roseland finally losing in the final).

However, more off-field dramas continued with many in the community disappointed at the lack of a varsity soccer match at the County Fair and a number of very interesting discussions at our daily practices involving some spirited exchanges among players and sometimes the coaches also. You always lash out at the ones you love, I guess! This middle period of the season culminated with a red card for yours truly, my first ever in a long, and believe it or not, illustrious soccer career. I’m sure the referee thought he was right too.

The final third of the season saw a couple of disappointing results but also witnessed the best performance of the year when AV gave the “bad boys” of Calistoga a sound beating at home on Tom Smith Field. This inevitably gave the team a newfound confidence and when the play-offs began there was a feeling that the team could end the season on a high note despite all of our travails.

And so it came to pass. AV handily beat both Sonoma Academy and Fremont Christian in the quarter and semi-finals before meeting a fairly strong Leadership High out of SF in the final just over a week ago. As many local soccer fans observed, the Panthers won 3-0 and secured a second Championship in three years. It is a tribute to this group that they stuck together and whenever an individual was having a tough time, there was a collective team spirit that picked them up. And when the team as a whole felt the world was against them, as they no doubt did on a few occasions, they bonded and fought back, finishing up as true and deserving champions. It was the hardest year I have had in ten years of coaching here, but ultimately the most stimulating and certainly the most rewarding.

As for awards, the team had three players voted to the All-League team — Seniors Christian Mendoza (goalkeeper) and Justin Soto (defense/midfield), and junior Erik Martinez (midfield). My Coach’s Awards for performance and overall on- and off-field contributions to the team went to Co-Captains Christian Mendoza and Carlos Espinosa, plus juniors Omar Solano and Jose Lievanos. Apart from Christian, who played every minute of every game, these were not necessarily the “stars” of the team but each played very significant roles and exemplified what being a true team player is all about.

Next season will see the loss of those two All-League seniors mentioned above and four other seniors from the squad but only Juan Lua was a regular starter from that group. We will have five or six junior starters returning for their senior year, plus current sophomore starter Gualberto Gastelum and freshmen starters Abraham Sanchez and Fernando Ferreyra. Add to this group, the current bench players, who will be pressing the starters for playing time, and a few very promising 8th graders, and on paper it has the potential to be another successful season. One glaring hole — no goalkeeper! Anyone who wants to try out for that crucial role can do so at Christian Mendoza’s goalkeeping camp in February, or at the summer practices next year. All are very welcome.

Finally, I would like publicly to thank the students and those in the community who came out and supported the team: Mr. Pinoli for his continuing efforts as Athletic Director; Ben Anderson for all of his time and energy making sure we got to our road games with a full team; Nikola Milojevich for his work at practice; school secretaries Rebecca and Veronica; groundsman Mike who provides us with the league’s best field every year, and the guys who make sure our vans are in working order for the many long road trips we have to make. It took something from each and everyone one of you to reach this Championship, and for that, 22 young soccer players and myself are very grateful and sincerely appreciate your contributions. Come on you, Panthers!

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