Following Friday evening’s (Oct 21st) surprising 0-1 defeat against St. Vincent’s of Petaluma, a team AV had beaten 8-0 at home earlier in the season, more shock waves hit the team on Monday at lunchtime when the end-of-quarter academic grades were published at the school. Two starting defenders failed to meet the required standards and became ineligible for the remainder of the regular season (two games) and the whole of the post season. A key back-up defender was also declared ineligible and, to further exacerbate the situation, another starter in defense, a senior Co-Captain, left the team by mutual consent. It should be noted that yet another starter in defense had left the school three weeks ago. Summing up, that’s five defenders, four of them starters, all lost at a crucial stage of the season. To add insult to injury, it has been the team’s offensive woes, not the defense, that have been at the core of the team’s recent poor run of form, and the back line had been performing very well. With just one full practice to organize a new defensive back-four, it would be a tall order for the team to get something out of the game at 2nd-placed Calistoga on Wednesday (Oct 26th) afternoon.
Over the past six seasons, apart from in three postseason semi-finals and a few games predicted as very even against perennial rivals Roseland Prep and Calistoga, it could be said that AV has been pre-game favorites in every single game they’ve played. Now, as a result of the significantly re-vamped line-up that took to the field at Calistoga, they were in the very unusual situation of being considered distinct underdogs. However, the Wildcats, who lay second, were only one point ahead of AV and so there was plenty to play for as the Panthers needed to win and collect the two points to seize the runner-up spot in the regular season league table from their opponents. (Roseland Prep having secured the Championship on Monday after beating Rincon Valley).
Unfortunately, Calistoga got wind of AV’s line-up changes somehow and came out in a strong attacking formation against the inexperienced Panther defense. Despite working very hard, the new line-up took time to gel as a unit and after just 20 minutes AV was down 0-3. It could have become very ugly but, to their credit, the Panthers continued to battle hard, gradually solidifying the defense, and had managed to pull a goal back when Justin Soto scored just before the half ended. The second half witnessed a fairly even game although Calistoga did extend their lead as the Panther bench players received some playing time. It finished in a 1-4 defeat for AV, meaning that they would have to settle for a 3rd-place finish in the league.
There was one more regular season game to go before play-offs began and this was played at Upper Lake last Friday, Oct 28th. While the game was not a great test for the Panthers in terms of playing a strong opponent in preparation for the post season, it did provide the opportunity to regain some lost confidence, score some goals, and afford the new defense some more playing time together before the opening play-off game. The final score was 9-0 to AV with goals from Pancho Lievanos (3), Hector Cruz, Carlos Espinosa, Kevin Espinoza, Manny Almeida, Erik Martinez, and Danny Espinoza. As a result of this morale-boosting victory, I have to say that the post game meal at Super Taco was a very happy gathering, with added enjoyment for the boys provided both by the presence of three of their female classmates – Daisy Alvarez, Cathy Cortez, and Stephanie Arias, who were in Ukiah to see a movie, and by the very funny hat worn by Luis ‘Ricky’ Sanchez, even though Halloween was still three days away.
On Sunday afternoon, it was announced that both teams who finished above AV in the regular season, Roseland Prep and Calistoga, will play in the play-offs for larger schools (300-700 students) while A.V., with a total of 160 students, received the #1 seeding and a bye for the first round of the small school play-offs (for schools with under 300 students). The draw was made and AV will play a quarterfinal game against either Bay School of San Francisco or Emery School from Emeryville in the East Bay. This match will be played at Tom Smith Field alongside the high school in Boonville on Saturday, November 5th with an afternoon kick-off at 2pm. The players would really appreciate a large Valley community turnout to support them in this game which will hopefully be the first step start on the road towards a repeat as post season Champions. (If the Panthers win in the quarterfinal, they will play a semifinal game on Wednesday, November 9th — same place and time).
Record (Won/Lost/Drawn): League 10-3-3; Overall 15-3-3. Goals: For 81; Against 17.