Polk County won the battle Wednesday night. The dogfight for the Western Highlands Conference girls soccer title, though, has just begun.
Three state-ranked teams now share the WHC lead thanks to the Wolverines’ 2-1 win over Owen Wednesday night at Wolverine Stadium. Szonja Pinter’s goal with 28:55 left in the second half gave Polk County a lead it would never lose, the Wolverines doggedly denying Owen an opportunity for the equalizer.
There were standout performances all around for the Wolverines (14-3, 8-1), ranked 11th in this week’s state 2A coaches poll. They all added up to a victory that leaves No. 7 Owen and No. 10 Hendersonville each with one conference loss, just like the Wolverines, entering a final two weeks of the regular season in which all three teams will face each other.
“This was huge,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles.
Consider that Owen (17-2, 9-1) entered with a 16-match winning streak, a span in which they recorded 15 shutouts and outscored opponents 47-1, and only once all season had the Warlassies allowed more than one goal. Thus when Owen’s Morgan Dale scored with 31:42 left in the second half to tie the match at 1-1, it figured to be an uphill battle for Polk to find the net once again.
It took less than three minutes, though. Lyric Flood served a beautiful corner kick into the penalty box, a low line drive that Pinter, breaking down the middle of the box, volleyed off her foot and into the back of the net, giving Polk County back a lead it held much of the game.
The Wolverines’ defense made that advantage hold. Despite the absence of injured starting defender Jamie Greene, Polk County’s back line did an excellent job throughout the evening of turning aside Owen scoring runs. And when the Warlassies did get a shot, Polk goalkeeper Kara Overholt was there to respond, recording 11 saves.
“In the first half we were a lot more composed defensively than we were in the second,” Charles said. “Part of that was them pushing forward more.
“Whichever team was in the other team’s half of the field looked dangerous and looked like they could score. It was really important to try to establish position and get the ball on the other end of the field.”
Flood, who along with her fellow seniors led a players-only meeting before the start of pregame warmups, played a key role in keeping the ball in Owen’s half. The senior controlled action in the midfield, often stopping Owen advances and pushing the ball back upfield to begin a Polk surge. At the end of those surges was typically Pinter or Ellese Cash, and it was Cash who gave the Wolverines early momentum.
Less than five minutes into the game, defender Scarlett Mosseller raced forward into the Owen half of the field, just beating a Warlassie defender to send a pass ahead to Cash. She fielded the ball just outside the penalty area, drove into the right side of the box and ripped a drive into the lower right corner of the net. The early goal, at the 35:19 mark of the first half, ended Owen’s scoreless streak in conference play and gave the Wolverines an early boost.
“Based on how they play defense, I told them yesterday that getting an early lead would be important,” Charles said. “In the second half, they did change a little bit. They ended up with four defenders instead of five defenders and had two forwards instead of one. By us scoring first, it changed what they wanted to do. Otherwise, they can do exactly what they do so well, which is sit five people back.”
Owen had a handful of scoring threats in the first half, especially late in the period, but Overholt handled all, including in the final seconds of the period when an Owen player launched a long drive into the box. Overholt moved up and grabbed the ball above her head as it bounced, an Owen attacker closing in.
Dale would finally get a shot past Overholt in the second, but Pinter’s winner set the stage for what should be an exciting two weeks. Owen travels to Hendersonville on Monday, then hosts Polk County on Wednesday. Polk County hosts Hendersonville on May 5.
“What I hope this does is give us some confidence back like I felt we had early in the season,” Charles said. “We got to Hendersonville (on April 2) and played our worst game. We just wwere not quite as sharp as we needed to be, though a lot of that had to do with Hendersonville.
“This, hopefully, will pull everybody back together and this will be big for their confidence to know that when we go to Owen, it’s going to be a tough battle. But we know one thing for sure, that we’re capable of winning. If we can go to Owen and get a good result, that’s even more of a boost going into Hendersonville.”
Polk County also won the junior varsity game, 2-0, with Graci Moser and Logan Morlino scoring for the Wolverines.