BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – If there’s a better Class AA team out there in the state of Pennsylvania, well then they’re a pretty good field hockey team.
On Wednesday night at In The Net Sports Complex, the Palmyra Cougars continued to take on the look of a state championship contender during a 6-0 dismantling of Mechanicsburg. Palmyra took the play to the Wildcats from the opening whistle, scored early and often and then got some reserve players some valuable ‘PT’ in the second half.
Palmyra scored three times in the contest’s opening 9:07 and didn’t relinquish its only shot on goal until four minutes of the second half had elapsed. Sophomore forward Kiley Gallagher registered a hat trick for the winners, while teammate Erin Huffman notched a pair of goals.
The Cougars, now 14-1 overall and 9-1 in the Keystone Division, were coming off their first loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Lower Dauphin. Mechanicsburg, which had suffered an earlier 3-0 defeat to Palmyra, slipped to 5-9 on the fall.
“There’s always good teams out there in the state,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “You have a lot of teams across the state who play good hockey. Our goals are to win the Mid-Penn Conference, win districts and win states. It’s in that order. My motto is: ‘If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.’ We just need to take care of business and play our kind of hockey and let the chips fall where they may. But the biggest game is always the next game.
“I thought we played really well tonight,” continued Costello. “We found the back of the cage often and early. That’s always nice.”
Palmyra is blessed with a slew of players who possess superior stick skills and who aren’t afraid to pull the trigger. But the Cougars’ biggest asset may be their unselfishness, which was apparent all night.
The Cougars’ first tally was a result of a give-and-go between Katie Dembrowski and Megan Miller. Off a corner play, Dembrowski gave it up to Miller, got it back and then unleashed a drive that easily beat Mechanicsburg net minder Anne Becker.
Less than 56 ticks later, the Cougars were at it again. This time they put a shot on the goalie’s pads, and when Becker couldn’t control it, Huffman was there to jam it home.
“The key is spreading the wealth,” said Costello. “If a team tries to take away one or two players, we have other players who can get the job done. We have a good amount of players who can score goals, dribble and pass, and our team is unselfish. That’s why we’re so effective on the offensive end.
“The first couple of goals, what I liked was the build up that led to the goals, the build up that led to the corners,” Costello added. “I like our ability to find each other, especially in traffic. There were times when we were ripping the ball around.”
An exceptional hustle play by Huffman gave Palmyra a 3-0 advantage. Sent in by Gallagher, Huffman got off a good blast on goal that was blocked, but Gallagher stayed with the play, beat Becker to her own rebound and slipped it into the far corner.
On Palmyra’s fourth goal, Gallagher was the beneficiary of some hard work by Kendall Kreider along the Mechanicsburg base line. After beating a couple of Wildcat defenders, Kreider shuffled a pass to Gallagher, who one-timed it home.
“As a staff, we wholeheartedly believe we didn’t lose that game, we got beat,” said Costello of the loss to Lower Dauphin. “It was two great teams. It was a great game. We just felt fortunate to be involved with it. Now, I don’t like to lose. My team doesn’t like to lose. I thought our team took it very hard. But they were happy to be back on the field together. Ultimately, I think it will make us closer. And tonight, that’s what you saw.
“Coming into the season, I knew we were going to have a mature team,” Costello continued. “The unselfishness of the players has been the most pleasant surprise. When you have mature players, it’s easy to get caught up in stats. But these girls want to learn and get better.”
The Cougars executed a perfect ‘triangle play’ 1:53 before the break to up their advantage to 5-0. Quick, short, precise passes from Dembrowski to Kreider and finally to Gallagher did the trick.
After Palmyra made wholesale changes to its lineup ten minutes into the second half, Gallagher completed her hat trick. Off a corner play, Gallagher banged home a rebound.
“I guess I’m more proud of the little number because that’s our goals against,” said Costello of her team’s goal differential this season. “I am also excited about our offense. We’ve always been a strong defensive team, but we’ve had seasons end because we couldn’t finish. I’m proud of both of those numbers because it represents our team and the strength of our whole unit.
“Our team set goals in the preseason of winning the Mid-Penn, districts and states,” concluded Costello. “Ultimately, those goals are still attainable. We just want to take care of our business in the regular season. We’re working towards finishing the year off.”
The final tallies saw Palmyra out shoot Mechanicsburg 27-1 and take 19 penalty corners to the Wildcats’ one.
LEBANON SPORTS BUZZ
Lebanon County Field Hockey Rankings
2. Cedar Crest
5. Northern Lebanon
6. Lebanon High