BY JEFF FALK
EXETER – There’s finding ways to win and then there’s making ways to win. Right now the Palmyra field hockey team is making some things work as it goes along.
It’s called ‘execution under duress’. Waiting for opportunities, and then when they do ultimately come along, grabbing them by the throat and refusing to let go.
On Saturday afternoon at Exeter High School’s John Thomas Stadium, during the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs, the Cougars’ experience, fierce will to win and adaptability manifested themselves in a 2-1 triumph over Unionville. As has sort of become its M.O., Palmyra didn’t display its ‘A game’ for 60 minutes, only when it needed to.
The decisive goal was tallied by Cougar senior Jess Dembrowski with 3:32 remaining, after Palmyra had faced a momentary 1-0 deficit in the middle of the first half. Dembrowski’s game-winner was akin to a shark sensing that blood was in the water.
The victory propelled the District Three champions to 21-2 overall and into the state semifinals for the third consecutive year. Palmyra, whose only two losses of the campaign have come at the hands of rival Hershey, will take on another rival, Lower Dauphin, which shaded Stroudsburg 1-0, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
Unionville, the third-place finisher out of District One, concluded its campaign with the setback.
“It’s amazing,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “We’ve had some good runs the last couple of years, and it’s been some of the same core players. This team this year has found a way to win. I’m so proud of the improvements they’ve made since the beginning of the season. It’s a coach’s dream to have a team progress like they have.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” continued Costello. “They’re (her players) very coach-able and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re one of four teams in the state left.”
Palmyra certainly performed better in the second half than it did in the first. Some good persistent pressure on the Unionville cage produced a series of Cougar corners, and finally Dembrowski’s goal.
Dembrowski actually inserted the corner that led to her game-winner. After getting the ball back from Katelyn Mark, Dembrowski went hard to her right and got off a good shot on the Unionville net.
Unionville keeper Lizzie Gaebel came up with the initial save, but Dembrowski stayed with it and stuffed the rebound home. Mark was awarded an assist on the play.
The Cougars had taken a timeout with 3:43 showing on the second half clock to set up the play.
“Jess was wide open and we were yelling at her to just take it,” said Costello. “They (Unionville) were putting her under a lot of pressure. We kept telling Jess, ‘You’re one of the best players in the country, trust your skills.’
“I just said that it’s a good thing that it’s one-one at halftime.” Costello added. “That we’ve still got a chance in the second half and that we’ve got 30 minutes to continue our season. We talked about changing our intensity, not our skill level. I thought we had some leaders step up in the second half.”
“The goalie was down and I lifted it,” said Dembrowski of her decisive tally. “She made the first save, but I stayed with it.
“We’ve been having hard practices,” continued Dembrowski. “We’ve been saying, ‘This is it’. And I think everyone has taken it to heart.”
Dembrowski was also instrumental in the Cougars’ initial tally, which came exactly 1:02 after Unionville had grabbed a 1-0 edge.
Out of a corner, Nicole Shank located Dembrowski at the top of the circle. Dembroski whipped a hard, low pass to teammate Kylie Bomgardner at the right post, and Bomgardner deftly tipped it in.
It was Bomgardner’s fourth goal of the campaign.
“That was huge,” said Costello. “It gave us life. I think it was just a matter of executing.
“We were on our heels in the first half,” Costello continued. “Maybe they (her players) weren’t awake. But they definitely came out and responded. I thought we did great in the second half. I think you saw that desire to continue.”
“It’s great to be back here,” said Cougar senior goalie Cheyenne Sprecher. “We want to go out with a bang.”
Unionville’s 1-0 lead resulted from a little give-and-go at the top of the circle, off a corner play with 11:19 left in the first half. Katie Anderson’s blast from the left side of the circle beat Sprecher to the left post.
“When you have a goalie like Cheyenne, you have that confidence, that belief,” said Costello. “That’s what a good goalie is going to do, come through when you need them. And she’s had some good games here. But every person has stepped into their role. There’s people buying into what we’re telling them.”
“We knew they were good,” said Sprecher of Unionville. “We were a little slow beginning. But we knew that it was basically now or never.”
The game was deadlocked at the break thanks in part to eight first-half saves from Sprecher, as Unionville out shot Palmyra 10-3 over the initial 30 minutes of action. But the Cougars turned the tables in the second half, with 11 corners and five shots.
“At halftime, we knew we needed to pick it up,” said Dembrowski. “Everyone believed, and we played the best we could. Playing from behind is going to give you that momentum.”
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|10:00 AM||W 2-0|
|4:00 PM||W 5-0|
|11:00 AM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||L 0-1|
|4:00 PM||W 6-1|
|10:00 AM||W 3-1|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|4:00 PM||W 7-1|
@Owen J. Roberts
|7:00 PM||W 3-0|
|9:00 AM||W 4-0|
|2:00 PM||W 4-0|
|6:30 PM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||L 0-2|
|2:00 PM||W 4-0|
|5:30 PM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|9:00 AM||W 6-0|
|5:45 PM||W 3-2|
|3:00 PM||W 3-0|
|7:00 PM||W 1-0|
|5:00 PM||W 3-2|
Council Rock South
|7:00 PM||W 2-0|
|3:00 PM||Exeter Twp. High School|
Palmyra Individual Statistics
|THROUGH 23 GAMES…|
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: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007