Despite an onslaught of shots by South River in the opening 15 minutes of Saturday’s 4A girls soccer state semifinals at Richard Montgomery High School, it appeared as though Bowie’s team might be able to withstand the pressure.
Even after South River netted a goal in the 17th minute, the Bulldogs still trailed 1-0 at the half. One well-placed corner or defensive breakdown and Bowie would be back in the match.
After all, the difference, on paper at least, between the two clubs was negligible. In fact, Bowie’s stats are far more eye-popping: 107 goals scored, seven against. A 13-match winning streak. What’s not to like?
Or, closer to the point, what happened in the second half that led to Bowie’s eventual 4-0 loss and South River playing its reserves for roughly 20 minutes of the match?
Well, perhaps the fact that Bowie competes in Prince George’s County has a lot to do with it.
“The competition,” Bulldogs coach Aaron Hankey said. “That’s every year. They have 3-1 games and we have 12-0 games. That’s just the way it is in Prince George’s County. We’re happy to be here in the state semifinals. We were hoping to squeeze one through like we did two years ago.”
There’s little doubt Bowie was a dominant team in 2012. Following a season-opening 5-0 loss against Arundel, the Bulldogs reeled off 13 straight wins, outscoring opponents 107-2. On six occasions, Bowie scored more than 10 goals in one match. On 10 occasions, they scored five or more. These are ridiculous stats for soccer at any level, even the ones where they don’t keep score.
But because much of the competition is watered-down in Prince George’s County, it becomes easier to see how Bowie consistently rolls through the majority of its schedule, then struggles in the late rounds of the playoffs. Of course, matches against arch-rival Eleanor Roosevelt (who Bowie beat twice this year) and Charles H. Flowers always present big problems, but there’s not much on the schedule that allows Bowie to prepare for the quality of opponent that it comes across in the state semifinals and finals.
“It does nothing for us,” Hankey said of his regular-season slate. “What it does is during practice, instead of working hard because you know you have a hard game coming up, you slack off. I try to push them and push them but there’s only so much you can do to keep their level up high. After the last few games, even the last three practices weren’t where they need to be.”
Senior midfielder Lexi D’Orsaneo finished with 26 goals and 15 assists. Sophomore Anna Huddleston ended up with 22 goals and 10 assists, while senior Nicole Hill added 17 goals of her own to go along with 18 assists. Bowie’s goalkeeper Ellen Anderson pitched 11 shutouts while only having to make 20 saves all season.
Then the later rounds of the playoffs come and…
“We got beat,” Hankey said. “[South River’s] girls were quicker and seemed like they were in better shape. They have a big team and they have some girls that can step in and play.”
South River coach John Sis, however, didn’t take Bowie lightly, despite his team’s presumed advantage.
“Bowie, on paper, doesn’t have the athletes or the talent we have,” Sis said. “But you see 1-0 at halftime, they get one goal off a corner and it’s 1-1 even though we dominated. We came out hard and we respected them, because we knew they could beat us.”
In the preseason, Hankey scheduled scrimmages against Northern, Huntington, Reservoir and Bel Air. The Bulldogs were largely successful, beating Bel Air, Northern and Reservoir and losing by one to Huntington. Then came the season opener against Arundel, where Bowie suffered a 5-0 loss, its worst of the season.
Despite what experience that season opener may have gained Bowie’s side in preparation for the playoffs, Hankey is having second thoughts about scheduling non-league games in the future because with that loss, the Bulldogs ended up tied with Flowers for the top spot in the league.
A coin flip bumped Bowie to the second seed.
“We dominated P.G.,” Hankey said with a smile. “So at least there’s that.”