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ALL-EMPIRE LARGE SCHOOL BOYS SOCCER

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Anthony Lopez, soph., Santa Rosa

FIRST TEAM

Enrike “Kiki” Gomez, jr., Rancho Cotate

Tyler Guptill, sr., Petaluma

Kevin Juarez, sr., Rancho Cotate

Carlos Lemus, sr., Elsie Allen

Maurilio Lopez-Parra, sr., Casa Grande

Edwin Martinez, sr., Santa Rosa

Bryan Mora, sr., Montgomery

Jordan Page, sr., Montgomery

Brian Sanchez, soph., Santa Rosa

Marco Silveira, jr., Petaluma

Jairo Villalobos, sr., Santa Rosa

SECOND TEAM

Marcos Cano, sr., Healdsburg

Ben Cawood, soph., Montgomery

Alejandro Escutia, sr., Piner

Kevin Flanagan, sr., Cardinal Newman

Adrian Fontanelli, soph., Rancho Cotate

Guillermo Irizarry, sr., Rancho Cotate

Alex Mejia, sr., Windsor

Edwin Reyes, sr., Sonoma Valley

Kevin Rojas, sr., Petaluma

Jordan Secchitano, sr., Montgomery

Sergio Valenzuela, sr., Elsie Allen

COACH OF THE YEAR

Antonio Garcia, Santa Rosa


In a soccer galaxy that was full of stars stretched over two seasons, one star seemed to shine just that much brighter than the rest.

Anthony Lopez, the phenomenal sophomore who lit up the field for the North Bay League champion Santa Rosa Panthers, is that bright light.

Lopez, the Panthers’ center midfielder, notched a team-leading 13 goals and 10 assists on the season on his way to be named 2015-165 All-Empire Large School Player of the Year.

Slight of build but fleet of foot, Lopez could do it all for the dominating Panthers.

An opposing coach had one word for Lopez: “Phenomenal.”

Anytime Lopez had the ball at his feet, he was a threat, said coach Antonio Garcia.

“There is a reason why he gets called to the men’s training center. There’s a reason why his team just won State Cup. There’s a reason why we did so well,” Garcia said. “He is pretty much everywhere there seems to be success.”

He is also pretty much everywhere on the field.

Garcia said he doesn’t usually allow his players to roam or drift around the field, but with Lopez, he cuts him loose. And that’s because Lopez usually takes himself to the right space for that moment.

“His soccer IQ is better that most players, it’s better than most adults. He’s just on another level,” he said.

“He’s the cream of the crop,” he said.

Among talents like Rancho Cotate’s Enrike “Kiki” Gomez and Kevin Juarez, Montgomery’s Bryan Mora, Casa’s Maurilio Lopez-Para and Panthers teammate Edwin Martinez, Lopez was the most dynamic player on the area’s best boys team. While the Sonoma County League teams played one final season in the fall, they will join their NBL cohorts next year, bringing the likes of Petaluma’s Dino Santia and Marco Silveira, Healdsburg’s Juan Nuño and Elsie Allen’s Jesus Torres, and play in the winter.

In a North Bay League chase that was hotly contested every game out, it was Santa Rosa, behind a talented roster loaded with 11 seniors that went 11-1-2 to win the pennant. They also secured the No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section tournament — the first time the NBL teams had joined the competitive contingent playing soccer in the winter.

But the Panthers fell 3-2 in overtime of the semifinal to the No. 5 seed and eventual winner, Monte Vista of Danville.

“We really wanted to take it all,” Lopez said. “Most of us non-seniors were doing it for the seniors.”

“We were still proud of ourselves because we made it that far,” he said. “But winning it all was what we wanted, but it was still a success getting that far. Not many teams can do that.”

The final game of the season had one of Lopez’s most memorable moments. Down 2-0 at halftime after a listless opening 40 minutes, the Panthers’ tying goal came from unlikely place — Lopez’s head.

A cross from Edwin Martinez somehow made it through a sea of bodies and Lopez knocked it home with his noggin.

Being in the right place at the right time is part of his intelligence.

“I’m not the tallest and the defenders were really tall so that was really surprising,” he said.

ALL-EMPIRE LARGE SCHOOL BOYS SOCCER

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Anthony Lopez, soph., Santa Rosa

FIRST TEAM

Enrike “Kiki” Gomez, jr., Rancho Cotate

Tyler Guptill, sr., Petaluma

Kevin Juarez, sr., Rancho Cotate

Carlos Lemus, sr., Elsie Allen

Maurilio Lopez-Parra, sr., Casa Grande

Edwin Martinez, sr., Santa Rosa

Bryan Mora, sr., Montgomery

Jordan Page, sr., Montgomery

Brian Sanchez, soph., Santa Rosa

Marco Silveira, jr., Petaluma

Jairo Villalobos, sr., Santa Rosa

SECOND TEAM

Marcos Cano, sr., Healdsburg

Ben Cawood, soph., Montgomery

Alejandro Escutia, sr., Piner

Kevin Flanagan, sr., Cardinal Newman

Adrian Fontanelli, soph., Rancho Cotate

Guillermo Irizarry, sr., Rancho Cotate

Alex Mejia, sr., Windsor

Edwin Reyes, sr., Sonoma Valley

Kevin Rojas, sr., Petaluma

Jordan Secchitano, sr., Montgomery

Sergio Valenzuela, sr., Elsie Allen

COACH OF THE YEAR

Antonio Garcia, Santa Rosa

When asked to describe his own game, he said, “Smart.”

Not physically imposing, Lopez was nonetheless strong on the ball and the player through which most of the Panthers’ potent attack flowed.

“His ability to beat somebody one on one is exceptional,” Garcia said.

“He got fouled a lot but didn’t get knocked off the ball a lot,” Garcia said. “He’s got a really low center of gravity.”

Lopez, who said he has been playing the game since he could walk, is not the first one in his family to win this award. His older brother, Diego, was named All-Empire Player of the Year twice, in 2011 and 2012, when he suited up for Montgomery.

Garcia said it is not only Lopez’s physical gifts that make him a standout, it’s his work ethic and demeanor.

“He has a really positive outlook on life,” he said. “He’s a great kid to be around. It’s always nice to have talented players, but he’s a good kid to be around.”

“He is so far ahead of the curve,” he said. “I’m excited to see what kind of player he becomes.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”