DENVER – If success creates expectations, then the Palmyra field hockey program’s standards are as high as they can be. Anything less than a state championship or a state championship appearance falls short of expectations.
On a windy Saturday afternoon at Cocalico High School’s Talon Field, the Cougars’ 2021 campaign came to an unfulfilling conclusion, with a 2-1 loss to Gwynedd Mercy, in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs. The Monarch’s Sydney Mandato netted the decisive tally with a precise reverse shot, with 2:55 remaining.
For most programs, an 18-4-1 overall record, a third-place finish in the District Three Class AA tournament and a quarterfinal appearance in the state playoffs might be quite a season. But the Cougars had captured last year’s PIAA Class AA championship and Palmyra’s ten-member senior class had never not advanced to a state championship contest.
Accomplishments which create a harsh and unforgiving reality.
The triumph lifted Gwynedd Mercy, the District One champion, to 19-2-1 and into Tuesday’s semifinal round of the PIAA Class AA tournament.
“We take the approach that at the end of the day, if you can look each other in the eye and say that we got beat and that we didn’t lose, that’s more acceptable,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “We got beat today. Some teams measure success by wins and losses, some teams measure success by how they do in districts. We measure success by state finals, even if we lose.
“We had a great preseason and scrimmages,” continued Harshman. “During our first couple of games, we might not have been where we wanted to be. You kind of bounce around a little bit during the season with improvement. During the season, we worked hard to improve. We grew as young people and we grew as a team.”
With the clock winding down and a 1-1 contest seemingly headed to overtime, Mandato accepted a feed from teammate Caroline Fitzgerald, created a bit of space for herself by going left and fired a reverse shot past Palmyra goalie Haliegh Lambert and into the right side of the cage. It was the type of well-placed shot required to dethrone a champion.
“They’re good. We knew they had a bevy of girls who were dangerous,” said Harshman of the Monarchs. “They’re going to be tough to handle. They had several girls who showed very well. We knew they had girls who could do reverse shots in the circle, and that we had to stay with them.
“It was nobody’s fault,” added Harshman. “It was a great shot. It’s kind of like that’s the way the ball bounces. She (Mandato) did what she had to do.”
A great shot was also how Palmyra had tied the game at one, with 38 seconds left in third quarter.
It came off the stick of Cougar senior Alexa Derr, and it came to rest in the far side of the Gwynedd Mercy cage. It was the result of a fourth straight corner insert from senior Anna Miller.
“We made some changes at halftime,” said Harshman. “I thought we had the right mix in the third quarter. We controlled most of the second half, except for that one play at the end.
“We just couldn’t put them in the net,” Harshman continued. “Sure, it’s frustrating. The seniors leaving this program don’t know anything but playing in the state championship game. When you don’t get as far as you did the year before, it’s a particularly tough way to end your season.”
With 13:33 left before halftime, the Monarchs grabbed a 1-0 lead on the game’s first shot. Mandato got a piece of a blast from teammate Alaina McVeigh and tipped it into the Palmyra goal.
“There’s not much to say,” said Harshman. “I don’t like the way the season ended. But it was a great season overall. It was a great effort today. It just wasn’t our day. They (the Monarchs) got a couple of breaks.
“If we could’ve gotten to the state championship game, this would’ve been the first group in team history to get there all four years of their careers,” Harshman added. “We didn’t quite make it. They’re going to graduate with a great record. They’re definitely one of the best classes in Palmyra field hockey history.”
In the final tally, Palmyra out shot Gwynedd Mercy 8-7. The Cougars were awarded 12 compared to three for the Monarchs.
Palmyra Field Hockey
Championship History Since 1998
Capital Division Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2001 – 2009
Keystone Division CO-Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2013, 2014
Mid-Penn Conference Champions: 2009
District III AA Champions: 1984, 1991, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2019, 2020
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
2019, 2020 – Kent Harshman
Pa State AA Champions: 2005, 2020
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa. State Runner-up 2019
Pa State AA Runner-Up 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016