This year, the Bowie High School boys soccer team has the honor of being the only reigning fall sports state champion in Prince George’s County.
On Saturday, during an unseasonably cool August morning, the defending Class 4A state title holder began its preseason preparations at Foxhill Park in Bowie.
“I definitely look forward to the beginning of each season,” longtime coach Rich Kirkland said. “Every year there are a lot of changes. You always wonder who will be coming back. It’s an exciting time since you get to mold your team and watch it develop.”
Saturday was the first day public schools throughout the state were allowed to conduct practice in preparation for the 2012 season. Practice time has also been reduced due to the state’s new heat acclimatization rules.
While Bowie has traditionally fielded strong teams (nine state titles, three-time state runner-up, 21 total state tournament appearances), Kirkland said he may particularly struggle this year to field a lineup. Additionally, in recent years, the first day of practice has not been representative of what the Bulldogs final varsity lineup will look like.
“I don’t have a true barometer because you got a few kids that are still on vacation, don’t have their paper work in or may not show up until school starts,” he said. “Also a lot of kids can’t get a ride to morning practice. We may have 30 to 40 kids at tryouts in the morning and then it may jump up to 45 in the afternoon. The numbers won’t be full until midway through next week”
This fall, Kirkland is also concerned about the number of players that could opt to play academy club soccer instead of in the high schools ranks.
“The landscape has changed so I never really know who is going to return until they show up. I hear a lot of rumors, but I never really know until I see them with my own eyes,” Kirkland said. “Kids are only allowed to play academy or high school soccer now or may go to private school. We used to have a lot of kids play for the [Bowie Boys and Girls Club] and I knew them growing up. Now, we have kids from all over that I am not as familiar with.”
Despite the potential roster shuffling, Bowie still should be in good shape. It is scheduled to play in a tournament in Montgomery County in early September with Thomas S. Wootton, 4A state runner-up Walter Johnson and defending Class 3A state champion Watkins Mill.
Senior goal keeper/midfielder Brady Mazzei and back Bonaventure Akinlosotu, who scored the game-tying goal with 20 seconds remaining in the 2011 state championship game, are expected to headline the team.
“It’s very difficult to repeat. We’ve had teams that did and several that haven’t,” Kirkland said. “You are the target and every team in the county wants to knock you off. Having said that, how we are in the beginning is not how we will be at the end of the season.
“We carry 21 to 23 players and we will put the best 11 out there at any one time. The kids will be constantly battling for playing time, kind of like how a wrestling team has wrestle-offs.”