Polk County wasted no time Thursday taking the upper hand in its Mountain Foothills 7 Conference matchup with R-S Central.
Despite a tough overtime loss Tuesday to Hendersonville, the Wolverines looked fresh throughout the evening, building a three-goal halftime advantage and never really letting the Hilltoppers threaten offensively.
All for which Wolverine head coach Lennox Charles credited quality players and a boost from Polk County athletic trainer Jason Nussbaum – you need all of that, after all, to reach 500 career coaching victories.
That milestone now belongs to Charles in his Polk County career, the level reached with the Wolverines’ 5-0 victory over the Hilltoppers in G.M. Tennant Stadium.
The win boosted Polk County (9-2-1, 5-2-1) into sole possession of second place in the MF7, for now, with Brevard playing non-conference games this week and East Rutherford limited to a draw Thursday with Patton. The Hilltoppers (4-7-1, 1-6-1) entered off a draw with Brevard that concerned Charles, especially with Polk coming off the draining loss to Hendersonville.
But Hayden Blackwell scored just five minutes into the match, and Caroline Taylor added a goal midway through the half to give Polk some breathing room. The goals kept coming, R-S never matched and all of that led to a postgame cartwheel from Charles, as promised to his players if they won.
Charles is now 500-257-44 as a Polk County coach, with 284 of those wins coming with the Wolverine girls program since 2002 and another 216 as Polk’s boys coach from 2002-2016.
“500 means that I’ve had good players, and if you have good players, you tend to give yourself a better shot at getting some wins,” Charles said. “Obviously, it’s also longevity, which is good, but it’s definitely having good players to be able to get to this mark.
“It will probably be the end of the season before I really take in the numbers from this week (Charles also coached his 800th career match on Tuesday). I can really sit down and take all of that in.”
Preparation for Thursday’s win began Wednesday when Charles held a light practice and then turned the players over to Nussbaum for the final 30 minutes.
“He took them and put them on the foam roller and everybody said they felt great,” Charles said. “So I have to thank him for working with me on that. I was pleasantly surprised with the energy level that we played with, so that was good.”
Blackwell’s goal came from point-blank range, the forward getting a pass from Jessica Baird deep in the penalty area and quickly pushing it past the R-S goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead. Taylor doubled that in the 19th minute, flicking the ball over a defender and to herself, then dribbling past another at the top of the box before drilling a shot into the right corner of the net.
The Wolverines scored again in the 27th minute as Gabby Savaia took a pass from Jamilett Ramirez, created space for herself in the penalty area and blasted a shot into that same corner of the net for a 3-0 Wolverine advantage.
Taylor scored again 10 minutes into the second half with a low line drive that eluded the goalkeeper, the assist to Elena Carroll, and Ramirez capped the scoring in the 61st minute, taking a free kick from the left wing and hitting a perfect strike into the opposite high corner of the net.
Polk’s defense largely kept R-S Central from getting quality chances, with most of Maggie McCammon’s 10 saves of the routine variety.
The Wolverines journey Friday to Franklin for a non-conference clash, then have three matches next week before games against East Rutherford and Brevard in the first week of May that will likely decide the MF7’s second 2A playoff qualifier.
“More important than anything else, this keeps us in second, which we need if we want to get that automatic playoff spot. That’s the main goal now.
“We did some good things. We had a few breakdowns, but not enough to cause a problem. Unlike Tuesday, we were more efficient in front of goal, which makes a big difference. But we had to win today. This is vital in terms of keeping our run toward the playoffs.”