Lots of "heart" and standout goalkeeper return Cougars to state.
By MIKE READLING
Published February 19, 2004
DURANT - There are several reasons Durant will play in tonight's Class 6A state semifinal.
There is experience. The Cougars have, after all, been in this position each of the past two years.
There is the never-say-die attitude. Durant won its past two games, but only after dragging them all the way to penalty-kick shootouts. Perhaps senior Alicia Tirelli summed it up best: "We just don't stop. There's a lot of heart on this team."
Then there is Megan Bowers, goalkeeper extraordinaire. Or, as senior Raelynn Wapinski put it: "She's really the reason we're here (in the state tournament)."
Bowers has been the steadying force in the Cougars' goal all season. More importantly, she has been the inspirational leader at the back of the field, keeping the hopes up and minds in the game.
"I play sweeper so I'm closest to Megan on the field, and every time we get scored on, I hear her yell, "It's not over, don't act like it's over,"' Emily Stutzman said. "And that's how we've played. That's how we've won these past two games. She keeps saying it is not over, and we're playing like it."
Bowers is a three-year veteran of these state semifinal games, though her freshman year was spent behind Jackie Hinton. Last season was her first on the field full time, and she lived up to the expectations Hinton created - until everything fell apart in the semifinal at the University of Tampa.
That night, Bowers was the victim of three own-goals as St.Thomas Aquinas ran away with an easy win. It was the second straight time Durant had failed to realize its dreams on the UT field.
Needless to say, there is not much sadness about the state tournament being at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium.
While the common thought would be a team wants to stay as close to home as possible, several Cougars said they are glad they have a four-hour drive between them and the championship field. The drive adds a little more camaderie and makes them face a situation they don't want to realize.
"I hate traveling and losing," Wapinski said. "It's like, why did we drive all this way to have this day wasted?"
Last year's drive home was much shorter, but it stands out in the player's minds.
"It was only 45 minutes, but it was a horrible 45 minutes," Wapinski said.
One of the ways Durant thinks it can make Lockhart Stadium feel a little more homier - and the trip home a lot shorter - is to ensure the game gets to penalty kicks. That's where Bowers seems to thrive, as the past two games attest to that.
For her part, Bowers said she can't explain why she's excelled in the pressure-packed penalty-kick situations. But, then again, she doesn't have to.
"I pray that it gets to PK's because we know we can win in PK's," Wapinski said. "We know we can do it. If we get past the two sudden deaths and the overtimes ... if we end up in PK's, she's got it."