Polk County's Zach McCraw nears a win in his 165-pound match Thursday

RUTHERFORDTON – A year ago, nights like Thursday would have been the stuff of dreams for Polk County’s wrestling program.

A year? Make it five years. Maybe 10. Perhaps longer.

It’s been 20 years, in fact, since a Wolverine wrestling squad last won a conference title. The wait will last another year, though just barely, following Polk County’s 40-31 setback at R-S Central in a matchup of Mountain Foothills 7 Conference leaders.

But to be right there – RIGHT THERE – with a Hilltopper program that has been so good for so long? A result or two away from a bit of school history?

Almost too much to dream.

“It means a lot,” said Polk County head coach Thomas Hensley. “To beat great programs, you’ve got to be close to great programs. And today, we were close to a great program. Our goal is to be that consistently every year.”

R-S Central successfully defended its conference championship on Senior Night, during which it recognized just two upperclassmen. Freshmen and sophomores are the dominant flavor throughout Polk County’s starting lineup, but the Hilltoppers obviously have a good bit of youth as well. Get your tickets early when these two programs meet next season.

Efrain Rivera’s win by fall and Amon Villarreal’s victory by technical fall gave Polk County an early 11-3 lead. R-S Central responded with wins in five of the next six matches, Jacob Ed’s technical fall the only positive for Polk County, and the Hilltoppers inched out to a 28-16 advantage.

Polk County’s Zalen McCraw celebrates after pinning Henry Hamrick in the 175-pound match

But the brother duo of Zach and Zalen McCraw stemmed the rising R-S tide. Both McCraws won their matches via falls, Zalen McCraw doing so quickly in the first period of his 175-pound match, to even the score at 28-28.

R-S Central’s auxiliary gym offers an intimate venue for wrestling, and the arena roared as a win at 190 pounds gave the Hilltoppers a 34-28 edge. The 215-pound match went to Polk standout Jadyn Virgil, but R-S Central’s Randall Dunn avoided a loss by pin, falling in a 6-1 decision that kept the Hilltoppers ahead 34-31.

That left the heavyweight match, where former Polk County wrestler Kendall McEntyre, who transferred to R-S Central a year ago, outlasted Polk’s Lucas Johnson, scoring a third-period pin as Johnson aggressively tried to turn a 1-0 deficit in his favor. No match meant more than any other in the final outcome, but the gym nearly shook as Hilltopper fans roared in delight when McEntyre’s win ended the evening.

“Lucas, that’s the hardest he’s fought all year,” Hensley said. “You can tell all our kids fought really hard. All of them took it very seriously.

“My challenge to them is how are we going to do tomorrow (Polk travels Friday to a tri-match at Brevard with the Blue Devils and Chase). You won today, it’s elation. And then tomorrow, the drag. How are we going to do tomorrow?”

Two wins will not change the conference standings, but could help Polk County secure a wild-card berth into the state 1A dual team playoffs. The MF7 individual tourney awaits at Brevard on Jan. 20, kicking off a postseason that ends with the state individual tournament in mid-Feburary.

More dreams await.

Some may soon be very real.

“You better get your licks in on us now, because we’re young,” Hensley said. “For the next three years, five years, six years, it’s going to be hard tro get us. So you better get us now, because we’re coming.”

Polk County’s Lucas Johnson and R-S Central’s Kendall McEntyre battle in the final match of the evening

106: Efrain Rivera (PC) p. Owen Howard (Fall 0:56)
113: Sam Gosnell (RS) d. Brody Wolfe, 8-1
120: Amon Villarreal (PC) tech. fall Eli Warren, 19-0
126: Alex Lopez (RS) d. Aiden Billings, 7-6
132: Gunner Horton (RS) p. Conner Ahlert (Fall 3:40)
138: Cameron Crawford (RS) p. Shatter Johnson (Fall 2:19)
144: Jacob Ed (PC) tech. fall Daughton Hoffman, 15-0
150: Feagan (RS) p. Carson Bell (Fall 3:01)
157: Caleb Cox (RS) maj. dec. Styler Blackwell, 14-6
165: Zach McCraw (PC) p. Elijiah Guzman (Fall 1:18)
175: Zalen McCraw (PC) p. Henry Hamrick (Fall 0:46)
190: Jacob Hudgins (RS) p. Luke Miller (Fall 1:20)
215: Jadyn Virgil (PC) d. Randall Dunn, 6-1
285: Kendall Mcentyre (RS) p. Lucas Johnson (Fall 4:37)