BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – The semifinals of the state playoffs – and preseason expectations still have yet to be met. Makes one wonder just how big the Palmyra field hockey team can dream.
On a chilly Saturday night at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, the Cougars took another step towards realizing their preseason team goals by blanking Cumberland Valley 3-0 in a quarterfinal contest of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. Palmyra was on top of its game once again, controlling the midfield with superior stick skills, creating and capitalizing on great scoring chances and surrendering next to nothing to the Eagles’ offense.
The Cougars tallied three efficient goals from eight shots and weren’t seriously headed after opening a 2-0 halftime margin.
The win lifted Palmyra, the runner-up out of District Three, to 22-2 on the fall and into Tuesday’s state final four opposite District Eleven champ Emmaus, which shaded Wyoming Valley West, 3-1. The site and time of that game has yet to be determined.
It was Palmyra’s second win in 11 days over Cumberland Valley, which finished its year 19-6-1. The Cougars had beaten the Eagles 2-1 on October 28, in the semifinals of the District Three tournament.
Earlier in the day at Henry Hershey Field, District Three champion Lower Dauphin, the only team to defeat Palmyra this season, had its campaign ended by a 1-0 loss to Penn Manor.
“Before the season we didn’t know what we could to,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “We had a lot of great players back. Having Cheyenne Sprecher as step up as a goalie has really helped us. Even though she hasn’t seen a lot of shots, she always seems to come up with the saves.
“I would say we’ve definitely been improving throughout the season,” continued Costello. “When I had my (car) accident, the team pulled together in a great way. We were able to make a positive out of a negative.”
Palmyra tallied the only goal it would need 12:15 into the contest, off a corner play. Cougar catalyst Katie Dembrowski controlled a loose ball in the middle of the circle, and went hard right, to the baseline.
From there, Dembrowski played a diagonal pass through the Cumberland Valley goal mouth to teammate Jess Fuschetti on the opposite post. All that was left for the unmarked J. Fuschetti to do was get a stick on it and direct the ball into the cage.
It was J. Fuschetti’s second game-winning goal in as many playoff outings.
“We talked a lot about keeping the ball,” said Costello. “Cumberland Valley is physically stronger than us, so we wanted to keep the ball away from them. We had to use short, two-touch passes. Teaching our kids to be selfless is the biggest thing. We have a lot of girls with very good stick skills, and they want to possess the ball. But I think this group is really buying into it.
The Cougars upped their advantage to 2-0, 4:19 before the break, on the first of two goals from marks-person Kiley Gallagher. The play originated from outside the circle when Jess Dembrowski threw a high ball on net that Cumberland Valley goalie Jaide Wible chose to play.
Wible knocked it down, but couldn’t control it and the ball bounced to Gallagher in the middle of the circle. Though she had plenty of time, Gallagher quickly ripped a hard wrister along the ground and inside the left post.
“We’re excited,” said Costello. “We’re just playing it one game at a time. We’re just doing whatever we can to keep this journey going. When we got here we knew what the Lower Dauphin score was. We knew that could be us. I thought our senior leadership was very focused. There weren’t a lot of smiles in our pregame huddle.”
If any doubts remained about the outcome, Gallagher removed them with her second tally, 13:55 into the second half.
Off a corner insertion by J. Dembrowski, the Cougars worked the ball around nicely in the circle, employing a short passing game. Ultimately they located a wide-ope Gallagher, who smashed a blast inside the right post.
Wible had no chance.
“We made some defensive adjustments after the district final loss, and we’re focusing more on our corners,” said Costello. “I thought Katie (Dembrowski) was phenomenal. She covers so much ground and she had some nice stick stop. We put her on Way (Cumberland Valley star, Emma), and when we give her an assignment, Katie takes great pride in it. All over the field they’re (the Eagles) very strong. But that’s their go-to-person (Way).”e
The Cougars limited Cumberland Valley to a single shot in each of the two halves. Palmyra was awarded seven penalty corners compared to three for the Eagles.
“We focus a lot on our recovery defense,” said Costello. “We’re making sure we’re giving the effort we have to. We talk about the possibility of every game being our last game.”
PIAA Class AAA Quarterfinals
Palmyra 3, Cumberland Valley 0
Emmaus 3, Wyoming Valley West 1
Central Bucks South 2, Downingtown East 1
Penn Manor 1, Lower Dauphin 0
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
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007