What a difference a year makes.

Or does it?

Last year Whitman rode to the Maryland Class 4A soccer championship on the shoulders of All-Met forward Al Boggs. Boggs proved unstoppable, totaling 26 goals and scoring in every game but the opener, in which he had two assists. He also scored seven of Whitman's postseason goals.

That was last year. With the graduation of five starters including Boggs and Whitman's top two supporting players, Kevin Beyer and Bobby Wagner, this year's Vikings were supposed to follow a quiet path into obscurity.

But wait. Instead of disappearing, Whitman (10-4-0) is returning to the state semifinals and will meet No. 1 Bowie (14-0-0) at Broadneck Saturday at 7:30 p.m., in the second game of a doubleheader. It will be the sixth meeting between the teams.

Fourth-ranked Whitman leads the series, 3-2, having beaten Bowie in the state semifinals in 1979, '81 and '89. Bowie was the winner in the state quarterfinals in 1977 and state final in 1978.

No. 13 Broadneck (8-2-4) plays No. 5 Wootton (10-3-1) in the opener at 5 p.m.

"Everyone thought that Al was almost the whole team last year," said junior midfielder Andrew Dilworth. "So we wanted to prove that we could do it on our own this season."

"This has been a season where no one expected us to go anywhere," said senior stopper Matt Ferry, the team's leading scorer with 10 goals and five assists. "Everyone counted us out."

The Vikings can look back to two pivotal experiences during the season. The first occurred with a lackluster 1-0 loss to Centennial in the third game.

"We didn't play very well as a team," said Dilworth. "It was a pretty sloppy game. There was a real lack of intensity. We realized we had a problem with our intensity and that we had to pick up our game if we wanted to make it into the playoffs."

The Vikings called a team meeting. "There was a lot of on-the-field quarreling going on in that game," said senior midfielder Danny Canter. "We talked and people said they thought this team could go far but it would take a lot of sacrificing. It was, more or less, 'Let's not let this opportunity go by. We have the talent. Let's make it to the state playoffs.' "

The Vikings responded by defeating Seneca Valley, 4-0, and Churchill, 3-2.

Then came the second turning point. The Vikings, in a tough, emotional game, lost to undefeated Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 1-0.

"When we lost to B-CC, I believed then we were the best team in the county and had gotten unlucky," said Ferry. "I felt then that any team could take it."

"Against B-CC, we played real well, real well," said Whitman Coach Sam DeBone. "I was surprised we were the aggressors and they were the reactors. We took the game to them. And that game proved to me, this team could play."

Whitman enters Saturday's game having won five of six, including consecutive victories over Walter Johnson to end the regular season and begin the playoffs. But in the regional championship against Churchill, the Vikings suffered a crushing blow when Ferry, only minutes after scoring what would be the winning goal, jumped in the air for a ball and landed awkwardly on his left foot, causing a hairline fracture. His loss was compounded when Canter, the other captain, was suspended by DeBone for one game for discipline.

Now, with Bowie just three days away, the Vikings are in the unenviable position of having to regroup and the question remains: Where will the leadership and scoring come from?

"I don't ever recall us being at such a heavy disadvantage," said DeBone. "Bowie is very, very strong. And to lose Ferry doesn't help. But we will try to come up with things."

Canter, cast in the difficult role of a spectator, said: "I don't think it is impossible. I still feel we have a good chance to win. Everyone will just have to pick up their game that much more in our absence."

Field Hockey: Kelly Bloomer, Katy Jackson and Heather Almborg scored goals to lift defending Virginia AAA champion North Stafford over Fauquier, 3-1, in a semifinal of the Northwest Region tournament yesterday at North Stafford. The Wolverines will play Albemarle -- a 1-0 winner in overtime over Stafford -- in the region final Thursday at 3 p.m. at North Stafford.