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Natalie Bowman reaches out to her sister Summer, who holds her head in disbelief after her deflection of a shot caused it to get past her keeper in the state finals.   Eric Abernathy / Randolph Hub

Defending champs fall short of repeat

Ray Criscoe

Randolph Hub


GREENSBORO — If you look at the score of Wheatmore’s defeat in the state 2-A soccer final played on the UNCG campus on Saturday, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a shootout and, this time, Wheatmore just didn’t have enough.


The 5-3 victory by Manteo High School ended the Warriors’ state record 49-game winning streak and their dreams of a second straight title. 


Both teams could score, so a shootout would seem reasonable. Wheatmore had scored a state record 200 goals coming in, and Manteo had scored 176.


But what you wouldn’t know not having been at the game is that Wheatmore was right where it wanted to be as the second half began: Up 1-0, pressuring on the attacking end, pounding the opposing goalie with shots, a sense of inevitability building for one of the Warriors’ famed lightning strikes of goals.


It was one such barrage that landed Wheatmore into the state final during a 5-2 win at Pine Lake Prep in Mooresville four days earlier. Less than 5 minutes into that game, a Summer Bowman header off a corner kick gave Wheatmore a 1-0 lead. Just three minutes later, it was 3-1 after 35-yard and 20-yard rips in a 90-second span by Ellie Garrison, who for two years in a row has set a single-season state scoring record. The Lions were never the same after that, even their second goal mostly an own goal sent into the net on an errant play by a Wheatmore defender.


On Saturday, Manteo, too, came out with the initial edge. Using crisp passing to dominate possession for the first 15 minutes, the Redskins lived on the Warrior end. But sharp defensive plays led by Maggie Messner on the edge and Natalie Bowman in the heart of the defense thwarted them time and again, allowing Garrison and Summer Bowman to finally get on counterattacks.


Those attacks expanded into shots by Garrison and then by Natalie Bowman on several 40-yard free kicks after Garrison’s aggressiveness forced several fouls. Bowman is a weapon at that distance, her three free shots from distance in the first half just long or stopped by the keeper.


Summer Bowman, meanwhile, landed a shot just over the crossbar on top of the net and another into the side net just outside the right post before finally finding the inside of the goal. Garrison delivered a seeing-eye, worm-burning pass between defenders up the gut, Bowman collected it in stride and blew past the last two defenders, caught off-guard by her speed, before right-footing it into the left corner for a 1-0 lead with 6:59 left in the half.


The Warrior attacks continued until the final seconds of the first half. A deflected shot with 10 seconds left came as a Manteo defender smashed into her own goalkeeper. An injury stoppage let Wheatmore set up for a corner kick, possibly their most dangerous play with about a fourth of their corner kicks leading to goals this season, a very high number. And on this one, Summer Bowman got a head on it. Her shot deflected off a Manteo player for another corner try, but the final seconds ran off as Natalie raced to get a kick set up.


Manteo found some life early in the second half, scoring off a deflection just 1:25 into the second 40 minutes. Kiley Eckard got off a shot from the left side that appeared headed toward Wheatmore keeper Lucy Lockwood. But Summer Bowman thrust her right leg into the path and the ball deflected off her leg and past the goalie to tie the game.


It didn’t stay tied for long. Less than two minutes later, a yellow card set up a long free kick for Natalie Bowman again, and this time she played a ball into the front of the goal that Garrison deflected inside the left post for a goal and a 2-1 lead with 36:38 to go.


Over the next four minutes, a possessed Summer Bowman had a free kick just outside the box that the goalie punched out to save a score, got another shot off that the keeper stopped and collected, and rang a shot from inside the box off the crossbar. Mikaiah Walls headed that rebound, but the keeper caught it with 32:46 to play.


Most notably, during that scramble in front of the box, Summer came away visibly limping, and from that point on, the game changed.


From the 28 minute mark in, Lockwood got a real workout in the goal. She did a yeoman’s job. She punched two shots over the goal before they would have gone in, dove and stretched out to stop another, was positioned well in traffic to gather in yet another.


“Lucy had a phenomenal game,” Wheatmore Coach Rick Maness said. “She played real well, her first year, biggest game of her life.”


But with 17:22 left, a Warrior defender was called for a handball in the box. Kenzie Flynn, eventually named the game’s MVP, put the penalty kick in cleanly to knot the game at 2-2.


After a water break, a foul led to another long Natalie Bowman free kick, and her shot bounced off the crossbar.


Meanwhile, on the other end, with 14:20 left, Flynn weaved her way across the face of the goal until she could get a nifty kick just past Natalie Bowman for a 3-2 lead. The Redskins got three more shots off in the next 2 1/2 minutes.


Summer Bowman, trying to play through her leg injury, collected a pass down the right side with room to run. But she stopped at one point to make a move, stepped on the ball wrong, and that was it for her. She left with 11:25 to go and didn’t return. She joined fellow senior Izzy Ringley on the bench, the gritty midfielder limited in the semifinals and finals despite starting and trying to play through her own injury.


Down two key starters, Natalie Bowman having to move up from the defense, battling sun-scorching 85-degree weather not seen the whole year, playing extended time in that weather on a big UNCG field … it all took its toll and it just wasn’t much of a contest after that. 


At the 8:18 mark, Eckard got loose on a breakaway, juked a defender to turn the wrong way and laid in a clean shot for a 4-2 lead.


Garrison offered a small glimmer of hope with a long drive through several defenders and a left-footed shot in the box for her 96th goal of the year to close the gap to 4-3 with 6:02 to go.


But another penalty kick, this one coming after a foul just inside the box, landed a scoring opportunity for Abby Calvio and she iced the game with 4:00 to play.


In the end, Wheatmore held a 2-1 lead with 18 minutes to play. Manteo, 25-0-2, scored four goals inside a 14-minute span to claim the 2-A title for their own.


They will likely be heard from again as Calvio, Eckard and Flynn, Manteo’s goal scorers, are all sophomores.


“My hat’s off to them,” Maness said. “They played a terrific game. I knew coming in here they were going to be tough.


“I’ve been saying it for the last few games that our youth really got exposed. We weathered the storm on a few games past, but when you don’t have your big dogs out there, that hurts. And then this heat factor on top of that. 


“I’m not going to take away from them. They deserved everything they got today. This game could have been even worse their way. Lucy made some great saves.”


It was a season of numbers for the Warriors, 24-1 after a 25-0 season last year. They finished with 203 goals scored, eight over the record they set last year. Garrison, a junior, blew away her own mark of 77 set as a sophomore with 96 goals this season. Summer Bowman scored 62 goals herself, putting her in the top 20 in state history for most goals scored in a season. And Natalie Bowman, a sophomore, set a team record for assists with more than three dozen.


But they would have liked one letter to go with those numbers: A big W.


“I’m proud of my kids,” Maness said. “It’s an honor to be here two years straight. 


“We’d like to have had this one, but our youth got some great experience. If they keep this in their mind next year, we’ll see what happens.”