The enduring images of the Bowie girls' soccer season may not lay in the team's undefeated run through the Prince George's County schedule, or even somewhere along the way to its first region title since 1999.
Instead, they may have come when the Bulldogs were at their lowest. Down three goals at halftime to Whitman in the 4A state semifinals on Saturday night, Bowie mounted a furious second-half charge before ultimately falling, 3-2.
Whitman, the 4A West champion, had little trouble with Bowie's defense, scoring on two of its first three shots on goal before Erica Wright added another goal later in the half. It wasn't supposed to unfold that way. Suddenly the Bulldogs (16-3), who hadn't faced anything larger than a one-goal deficit all season, found themselves in unfamiliar territory.
"I told them they had nothing to lose but their pride," Bowie Coach Joe Ogunsanya said.
Taking heed of their coach's words, Bowie responded within three minutes of the start of the second half, when Ashley Morse kicked in the rebound off Amanda Poach's free kick. Only two minutes later, Poach was a factor again, firing in a shot from just inside the box to make the score 3-2. Eventually, though, Whitman was able to hang on.
"If we had at least five more minutes . . .," Ogunsanya said. "We had the momentum in the second half."
The Bulldogs will try to draw from this experience as they did from Eleanor Roosevelt, which had knocked Bowie from the regional playoffs each of the previous four seasons. The Bulldogs defeated the Raiders twice this year, including a victory in the 4A South Region final.
Poach, who is bound for Division I power, Santa Clara, on a scholarship, leaves a big void in the Bulldogs' lineup -- both for her leadership and her playmaking ability, which ranks among the state's best. But the belief is that the success of Bowie's program did not end with the final whistle on Saturday.
The pieces are in place for another run at the state semifinals and beyond. Morse, a freshman and the team's leading scorer this season with 20 goals, figures to play an even bigger role. Junior Megan Gunzelman tied for third on the team with 14 goals. Throw in a junior varsity team that was undefeated this season, and Ogunsanya said there's little reason to think a repeat isn't possible.
"It's been a big process building this program," he said. "Part of building a program is when you lose your seniors, you have to have people to replace them. We have what it takes. We're one step closer and hopefully next year we'll be back."