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.
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.