Polk County's Susanna Ashworth battles Hendersonville's Hunter Hill for a first-half possession in Thursday's match

A night removed from a difficult conference loss in overtime, an undefeated team across the pitch. The combination certainly didn’t seem to suggest a pleasant evening for Polk County.

“The girls were worried about getting drubbed,” conceded Wolverine head girls soccer coach Lennox Charles.

Yet, as high school sports so often go, the evening did not follow that script. Polk County more than held its own against Hendersonville and produced the first blemish this season on the Bearcats’ record, a 1-1 tie in a breezy G.M. Tennant Stadium.

Polk County’s Belen Akers produced the tying goal with just over 11 minutes remaining, but the result truly epitomized the team effort that coaches all too often laud.

Hendersonville (7-0-1) pressured Polk County (5-2-1) from the opening whistle, yet the Wolverines met that challenge, especially defensively. Goalkeeper Sara Muse – “she would be my player of the match,” Charles said – and the Wolverine defense constantly turned aside Hendersonville’s offensive forays save for a lapse early in the second half that allowed Bearcat senior Emma Jones an open shot on goal deep in the penalty area. Jones hammered a drive from the right wing into the left corner of the net for a 1-0 Bearcat lead.

That would be it, though, as Polk County seemingly forgot about the disappointment of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Madison, a setback that knocked Polk out of a tie atop the Western Highlands Conference standings, and instead focused on proving it can play with the top teams in Western North Carolina. That knowledge should prove handy Monday when the Wolverines host Owen for a must-win game to keep their conference title hopes alive.

“To bounce back after overtime and get a result and come from behind, we’ll take that as a good confidence boost going into Monday,” Charles said.

“We showed a lot of improvement with our fitness. We were tired at the end and you could see that in how they controlled some balls in midfield, but we still hung in there. Our energy level was pretty high considering we played overtime last night.”

An early Hendersonville goal from Mackenize Sullivent was waved off due to a handball, and the teams settled into a struggle of trying to create scoring opportunities. The Bearcats had a few more of those in the first half, but Muse turned aside all to keep the match scoreless at intermission.

Jones found the net in the 54th minute. With time then beginning to be a factor for Polk County, the Wolverines began to create some scoring chances and were finally rewarded in the 69th minute. Off a long Marilyn Castillo throw-in, Caelan Gaul flicked a long pass upfield that Akers, running between two Hendersonville defenders, reached first. She controlled the ball with her left foot, dribbled into the left half of the penalty area and struck a low rolling drive toward the right post that Bearcat goalkeeper Emma Cannon couldn’t reach, evening the match.

Both teams threatened in the final 10 minutes, with Akers finding space for a shot in the final 15 seconds of the match, but no additional goals were to be had, perhaps providing a justified result given the effort of both teams for the 80 minutes.

Polk County’s Emily Gaul fights off Hendersonville’s Julia Ledbetter during the first half of Thursday’s match
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