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History and tradition of success can sometimes weigh heavy on a young team.

The Anderson Valley boys’ soccer team has enjoyed a long run of post season success in recent years only to find themselves shut out of the top spot the past two seasons.

No more.

On Tuesday afternoon, on their muddy home turf, the Panthers beat visiting Jewish Community School of San Francisco 2-1 to bring home another Division 3 North Coast Section champions banner to Anderson Valley High. When I asked coach Adrian Maldonado, who played soccer for Anderson Valley and now teaches there, about the game, his first word was “Finally.”

That’s what a winning tradition will do for you. The Panthers won their North Coast Section division five of the six years between 2010-2015 but fell short in 2016 after getting bumped from Div. 3 to Div. 2 and then lost in the final of Div. 3 last fall on a penalty shootout.

Two years without a banner and Maldonado felt like it was a drought. The Panthers were 11-5-4 overall and 7-4-2 in the tough North Central II League, but anything less than a section title would be a disappointment.

Division 3 is the smallest of the fall boys’ soccer brackets, including schools with 180 students for fewer. Maldonado knows his players – in some cases he’s known them since they were born. In other cases, he played with their uncles. Boonville and the surrounding areas are invested in the Panthers and in their history.

Still, on Tuesday afternoon it almost went south when Jewish Community got on the board with a header goal about halfway through the second half.

It was a mistake in the back, a poor clear, and the Wolves, who were ranked No. 2 in the division after going 9-7-2, capitalized.

“It was a just a bad clear we put in the middle,” Maldonado said.

And that is where all might have been lost. The Panthers are young. With 20 minutes to play, they had to pick themselves back up and rally. That isn’t always easy on a squad where eight or nine players on the field at any given time are freshmen or sophomores.

“My boys usually have a slow start,” Maldonado said. “They almost like to make things interesting.”

They did it in the semifinal game with San Francisco Waldorf, letting a team that Maldonado felt the Panthers should have put away early hang around, take them to extra time before finally getting the win in sudden death penalties.

Maldonado said he was greeted on campus the next day with all manner of “That was an exciting game” comments.

“I don’t like exciting games,” he said.

Again, back to that youth factor.

But after Jewish Community went up 1-0 in the later stages of the final game, Maldonado went bold.

He pulled his starting goalkeeper up to striker and went for broke.

Sophomore Jose Magana handed off his goalie gloves and moved up top. Soon after, Jewish Community got called for a hand ball in their box. Penalty kick. Senior Juan Reynoso converted to tie the game.

Then Maldonado’s lineup change proved ingenious. Magana drew a foul in the box – another penalty kick for the Panthers.

“He created it,” Maldonado said of his goalkeeper turned offensive weapon.

Sophomore Alex Tovar put the penalty kick away and the Panthers were up 2-1 with just minutes to play.

But Jewish Community had a size advantage and started sending long balls into the box – a move the smaller, slighter Anderson Valley squad struggled with, Maldonado said.

“It was so slippery, we were creating their chances ourselves,” he said.

But the young Panthers held on. The team with a penchant for OT games and shootouts, put this one away in regulation.

There was happiness. But there was relief, too. Maldonado said the team understood the history of the program and wanted to make good on that history.

“Oh they know. I’m a former player from here myself, I make sure they know,” Maldonado said.

And enough of the team were around last year and suffered through the shootout loss with Roseland Collegiate Prep to have this game on their mind for a year.

“Absolutely. The seniors especially,” Maldonado said. “The seniors really wanted this one.”

The youthfulness that made it close is the same youthfulness that will make this Panther team a handful in the years to come. And that’s just now Maldonado and his boys want it.

“Honestly they were so happy,” Maldonado said. “They are just so happy that they can now say that they belong to the history. A lot of those kids, the parents are there and they went to school here. They really wanted to say, ‘Hey, we want you to say we are just as good as before.’”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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