Howard girls soccer coach Bali Boule speaks after her team's loss to Whitman in the 4A state final Saturday night. (Tim Schwartz/Baltimore Sun Media Group video)
All playoffs long, the Howard defense had bent, but rarely broke. That was the case against undefeated Walt Whitman in the 4A state championship game on Saturday night, but eventually it just became too much.
The Lions' last line of defense squandered almost all of the Vikings' scoring chances, but a deflected cross found Whitman senior forward Emma Anderson, whose shot in the 63rd minute from about 10 yards into the bottom-right corner was enough to give the defending state champions a 1-0 win and the title again.
The Lions' (12-5) playoff run came to a disappointing end one game shy of their ultimate goal.
"We played a really good team, and they snuck one in on us," Howard coach Bali Boule said. "But I am very proud of my girls. ... The season in general, it's amazing what we accomplished."
After the Vikings scored, Boule thought her team felt the pressure of the moment, and took a few minutes to regain their composure.
"We had a goal of not letting them score," Boule said. "All playoffs, we weren't scored on first, so I think it hit us hard for a couple of minutes. ... I think we were in a little bit of shock, a little bit worried that that was it."
Whitman (17-0) controlled the first half, dominating possession and continually pressuring the Lions' defense.
But Howard's last line of defense, whether it was senior goalie Marisa Grant of defender Catherine Sims, was always there to stuff a goal opportunity. It was a bend-not-break mentality.
A turnaround shot from eight yards out by Vikings sophomore Abby Meyers was blocked by a Howard defender in the 23rd minute. Grant made several solid saves, including a shot from inside the six-yard box at a tight angle on the right side.
In the 32nd minute, Vikings junior Kristen Bissell missed an open net from about 20 yards out after Grant had to come off her line to clear a through-ball at the six-yard box.
While Whitman kept pressuring and keeping possession, the Lions looked several times to counter-attack early, although their scoring chances were few and far between. They spent the majority of the game defending the tactical Vikings.
Whitman coach Greg Herbert said the game plan was to not allow Howard senior forward Nia Elbeck to get the ball with space. She showed off her speed early, as she outran two defenders and slammed her shot from the right side across goal and wide-left in the first minute of the game.
In another opportunity, senior midfielder Fern Peters' touch in the middle of the field from 35 yards out with space in front was too long and picked up by Vikings senior goalie Erin McClanahan in the 35th minute.
Boule reminded her players that they set school history two games ago, and to be proud of accomplishing something no other Howard girls soccer team had achieved.
"Being at states for the first time, I think nerves got to us a little bit," Boule said. "What I said to them after the game is remember that you made school history two games ago, and that everything you have accomplished is huge."