With returning talent throughout his lineup, Lennox Charles knew Polk County’s girls soccer squad had a shot at a special season in 2014.
That the Wolverines earned their first conference title since 2009 and reached the third round of the state 2A playoffs, though, came about in no small part thanks to a newcomer who had never played a minute of high school soccer.
Much as Makenzie White did in 2013, junior Kara Overholt stepped onto the pitch for Polk County in goal and made an immediate impact, finishing with 135 saves and nine shutouts while helping lead the Wolverines to a 19-6-1 record and tri-champions of the WHC.
“We knew we were going to be pretty good,” Charles said. “I really think things turned out better than we hoped, simply because we were solid all around, and a lot of that had to do with Kara. This was the second year in a row that we didn’t have a returning goalkeeper. Thankfully, she decided she wanted to try it. She started working hard and doing skill sessions and we could see she had potential. We felt like she could pick it up, but I don’t think any of us really expected she would take to it like she did. Obviously, she has that gene of being athletic, smart and coachable.
“With everything else we had, she put us over the top. We knew we would be good offensively with all the players we had coming back. We had three defenders coming back. We had Lyric (Flood), Megan (Clements) and Cassidy (Campbell) coming back in midfield. The one big question mark we had was in goal.”
With that question answered, the Wolverines fashioned a season to remember. Polk County defeated T.C. Roberson for the first time, swept regular-season and playoff matches with perennial nemesis Shelby, posted a winning non-conference record against a difficult schedule and used a dramatic final-minute goal from Ashley Love to defeat Hendersonville and clinch a share of the WHC crown.
Polk also reached the postseason’s third round for the fifth straight year before losing a heartbreaking 1-0 game at Newton-Conover. Newton scored an early goal, survived a couple of Polk near-misses to hang on for the win and eventually reached the state semifinals before losing to 2A champion West Stokes.
“There’s so much this team accomplished that there’s no way you can’t say this was not a really good season,” Charles said. “Not getting past the third round is obviously disappointing. It seems so far away, with two more games and the final, but if you look at the results of the playoffs for Newton-Conover, we were certainly capable of getting to where they got.”
Making the loss even tougher for Charles was the relationship he had with the senior class. Seeing one or more seniors lingering to talk with Charles after games this season was a common sight, and it’s a group that the veteran coach will certainly miss.
“This group of seniors, we’ve had a lot of good players here, obviously, but this group of seniors was probably as close a group with me as I’ve had in a long time,” he said. “The relationship with that group was really close, and it made it much more fun but also a lot more disappointing. When you’re that close to a group, you want them to do well and get as far as they possibly can.
“Starting with the seniors, this group did a good job of coming in and working hard. The team definitely was a pretty close-knit group. They had a lot of fun during the season, I can tell you that.”
That fun carried over to a postseason ceremony and pool party at which team awards were handed out. Players and coaches voted Flood and Overholt as most valuable players, Sammie Firby and Ellese Cash as most valuable offensive players and Jamie Greene and Kayla McEntire as most valuable defensive players. Cash, Flood and Firby were also named to the Times-News All-Area team and were joined by Greene and McEntire on the all-WHC squad. Cash, Flood, McEntire and Clements earned all-region selections.
Jessica Bentley was named the offensive MVP for the junior varsity squad with Monica Mills named the defensive JV MVP.
Firby finished the season as the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals, followed by Cash with 13 and Love with 11 and Clements with nine. With Cash the only senior in that group, Polk County will have some offensive firepower returning, also including Mirian Santibanez (four goals). But the Wolverines will have to find three defenders to replace Greene, McIntire and Leigh Deaver in front of Overholt as only Scarlett Mosseller will return. Polk County will also need to find a steadying presence in midfield to replace Flood, the Lenoir-Rhyne signee who led the team in assists and anchored the Wolverine middle both offensively and defensively.
“It’s funny how things cycle,” Charles said. “It seems like we go a year or two where we lose players mainly at one position. This year, we had so much coming back at midfield and up top and we added Miriam and we added Ashley. Now we’re losing three starting defenders and Lyric in midfield and Ellese up top and Cassidy in midfield. We still lost the majority of one position and that’s going to be the key, who are we going to shuffle around to replace them. Hopefully, we’ll have some freshmen and sophomores step up.
“We’ll have Sam, Ashley, Miriam, Megan, Rhian (Alley) and Sarah (Phipps) back, but we’ll need to fill a couple of spots at outside midfield and add some depth at forward. We have to have some luck with our health. This year, we were able to overcome all the injuries we had. We had enough depth to overcome those.
“The question is still will we be as deep as we were this year and will we be as good defensively as we were this year.”