PALMYRA – Ron Berman is as competitive a person as you’ll run across. So it would make sense to assume that Berman’s Palmyra girls derive – either directly or indirectly – their competitive spirit from their coach.
But in reality, the source of the Cougars’ competitiveness is self-motivation.
On Wednesday night, Berman and the undefeated Cougars totally took apart a very good Hershey club, 53-31. Palmyra got after its rival from the start, never trailed and just kept coming.
From a Mid-Penn Conference standpoint, the outcome gave the Cougars sole possession of first place in the Keystone Division. From a competitive standpoint, the result had onlookers wondering when exactly Palmyra, now 12-0 overall and 8-0 in the circuit, will lose its first game of the year.
Hershey entered the fray with a 10-1 seasonal record and a 7-0 division mark.
“When I took this job 13 years ago, I told a good friend of mine, Jim Witcoskie, ‘I don’t know if I’m competitive enough.’ He said, ‘Trust me Ron, you’re competitive enough,'” said Berman. “So I guess I am competitive. The games are for the girls. The games are for the families. I love practice. I love to teach. That’s the part I really enjoy. I don’t coach any more for competition. I coach to teach. I’m teaching a great group of kids a subject they want to learn. Every one of those kids wants to be in the gym.
“I would like to think that I don’t influence their (his players’) competitiveness,” Berman continued. “There have been teams in the past who haven’t been as competitive. What I ask the girls for is effort, energy and enthusiasm. As a coach, I bring the execution. They bring the competitiveness. I can’t take credit for it. This group’s competitiveness comes from within.”
From the start, Palmyra set the tone for what was to come with its defense. Pressuring the ball man-to-man over the entire length of the floor, the Cougars opened a 10-2 advantage, courtesy of seven points from Kristen Smoluk and a three-ball by Carly Richardson.
“I thought we controlled the tempo from the beginning,” said Berman. “I guess I’m pretty old school. We’re going to open up with pressure, we’re going to go man-to-man, and if you beat us you beat us. If they beat us with what we do, then that’s to their credit. I’m not going to spend time in practice on a zone if it’s going to take away from what we do.
“I think it gets us going to play man-to-man,” said Gundermann. “When you have to worry about stopping your player, and you know you’re responsible for it yourself, it’s a motivation.”
The Cougars didn’t relent in the second stanza, holding Hershey to a mere two points in the period. With Richardson, Kate Carmo and Maria Tukis handling the scoring, Palmyra headed to the locker room with a 24-12 bulge.
“It seemed like it (the lead) was hanging around five, and I looked up and it was 12,” said Berman. “In a game like this, a 12-point lead becomes a nice lead. Then when they (the Trojans) pressed, it created some opportunities for us.
“We’re a very good team. We play hard,” Berman continued. “We can do a lot of things well. We have some weaknesses. The Trinity match-up was a nightmare for us. But I wouldn’t want to play us. Our kids will go down fighting. There’s a lot of winning kids in that top seven.”
“It’s like you have a target on your back,” said Gundermann of the zero portion of her team’s record. “But when you know that, it helps you play harder.”
“We needed to get this, because we go up there (Hershey) the next time,” said Berman. “So we played our cards tonight.
“At the beginning of the season I knew we had a good team,” Berman added. “But you never anticipate winning every game. I don’t want to say we’ve peaked, but at this point, we’ve been able to play our best when we’ve been challenged the most. Against our four best opponents, we probably played our best. Everything so far has fallen into place. This year, we’re seven deep, and I’ve had the same seven. No one’s been injured. No one’s been sick. So you’ve got to be lucky. Things are going really well for us.”
The Cougars’ scoring attack featured 15 points from Carmo, 13 by Gundermann and 11 from Richardson. Palmyra outscored Hershey by ten points at the charity stripe.
Victoria Blackburn recorded 12 points for the Trojans.
“In that top seven, I have two kids who are basketball players,” said Berman. “They are committed to the sport. The rest of them, they play two or three sports. They just bring a winning attitude. They bring it to the table. My job is to mold them into a team.”
“Our team gets along really well,” Gundermann said. “We get along on the court, and every time we’re together.”