Conference title twice as nice as Wolverines top Bearcats at Dietz Field
HENDERSONVILLE – Ashley Love and Caroline Lee agreed – winning a conference title? Awesome.
Doing it against your biggest rival on their field? Darn near indescribable.
Love scored two goals and Lee added what proved to be the difference maker as Polk County topped Hendersonville 3-2 on Monday night at Dietz Field, giving the Wolverines the Western Highlands Conference regular-season championship.
Polk County (13-3, 10-1) can thus enter Thursday’s season finale at home against Avery already knowing it will be the conference’s top seed for the 2A state playoffs, adding a celebratory note to Senior Night.
“It feels awesome,” Love said. “It’s always a big game and they’re our biggest rival. It feels even better to come and beat them on their own field.”
“It’s so awesome and exciting,” Lee said. “It just means a lot more to win the conference title outright. We put in so much work this season.”
And a team effort it was, from Love, Lee and Sammie Firby threatening up front to Kara Overholt stopping several shots in goal to Rhian Alley and Scarlett Mosseller leading a defense that more than held its own, Mosseller making a key stop in the second half of what looked to be a certain Hendersonville goal.
The Wolverines never trailed in Monday’s match, getting a good break to score their first goal and then building the lead to 3-1 late in the second half when Lee scored off a Love throw-in with five minutes remaining in the match.
But Hendersonville (12-5-2, 9-3) made it interesting. With just over two minutes remaining, Alison Hafner drilled a low line drive into the corner of the net just past a diving Overholt, cutting the lead to 3-2. The Bearcats’ crowd picked up the noise and the Bearcats picked up the pace, desperately trying to get an equalizing goal. The stadium clock went out at that point as well, Polk County’s solid fan base screaming and pointing at the scoreboard even as play continued.
It was chaotic, but the Wolverines remained calm on the field, even getting a shot off in the final minute and denying Hendersonville a good look on goal.
“This is a big rivalry game every year, so to come here and win (the WHC title) outright as obviously a good thing,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “To win it anywhere is good.
“We wanted to be solid and mistake free. We really wanted to play well and just wanted to be solid.”
Both teams battled nerves at the start, but the Wolverines got the first break to calm them. Just over six minutes into the match, Love took a long throw-in from the Hendersonville side of the field, long enough that it went first to Hendersonville goalkeeper Ashley Mel, a senior starting on Senior Night. Mel, though, had to reach over her head to catch the ball, and the throw glanced off her fingers and rolled into the goal, Lee close behind to make sure.
“That first goal, I think the wind took the throw a little further than she thought,” Charles said. “That definitely helped calm us down. We were really focused, but we were a little nervous at the start, and I think they had some nerves, too.”
The score remained 1-0 through the first half and into the second before the Bearcats evened the match, Joanna Guy rocketing a long shot into the right corner of the net with 35:24 left in the half. That seemed to inspire the Bearcats, who turned up the pressure on Polk’s defense over the next few minutes and seemed poised to score again.
Instead it would be Polk that got the next tally. The Wolverines sent a long lead pass down the left flank for Love, who raced toward the ball as did Hendersonville goalkeeper Anna Brewer. Love closed, Brewer closed, with Love getting to the ball a second ahead and flicking it past Brewer and toward the goal before the two collided. The shot rolled slowly and seemingly endlessly toward the goal before finally crossing the goal line just ahead of a Bearcat defender. The Wolverines swarmed Love to celebrate, but instead had to help her to the bench. Polk led 2-1 with 30:04 remaining.
Firby nearly scored a minute later, but that would be the Wolverines’ best chance until the final five minutes. Back on the field, Love took another throw-in and put the toss directly in front of the net, where it cleared a crowd that included Mel, back in at goal as Brewer moved into the offense, and found Lee near the back post. She calmly put the shot in goal for a 3-1 edge.
“I thought we needed one more goal to seal the deal,” Lee said. “We’ve practiced that throw-in all season. I just put it in my mind that I had to score, and it finally worked and I was able to touch it in.”
“Nobody flicked it on, but it landed right at Caroline’s feet and it worked out perfectly,” Love said.
As did the entire night for the Wolverines.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Lee said. “I think we’re ready to take it and step it up into the playoffs.”