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BY JEFF FALK

SELINSGROVE – Unselfish. Hard working. Highly skilled.

The Cougars are at their best when they’re simply themselves. Palmyra is, after all, the defending state champion.

On a seasonable Tuesday night at Selinsgrove High School, Palmyra opened defense of its 2020 state title with a 4-0 statement triumph over the hometown Seals, in the initial round of the PIAA Class AA postseason. The Cougars netted a trio of first-quarter goals to set the stage for the convincing victory.

Three different Cougars found the back of the cage, including Alexa Derr, who tallied a pair of goals. Teammate Maddie Hudson registered a goal and an assist.

The outcome lifted Palmyra, the third-place finisher out of District Three, to 18-3-1 on the year and into Saturday’s quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, opposite District One champion Gwynedd Mercy, at a site and time to be announced. For the Cougars, it was their fifth straight state playoff win, dating back to last year’s championship.

Selinsgrove, the runner-up out of District Four, concluded its campaign at 15-7. Back on October 14th at Palmyra High School’s OAL Sports Complex, the Cougars drowned the Seals 7-0.

“Certainly, I think they have pride,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman of his charges. “But I can’t speak for them. I hope they have pride in that (defending last year’s state championship). Every year is so different. I think sometimes too much is made of that. We’re just trying to get back there. I don’t thing there are teams out there looking at us like they’ve got to go through us to get to Whitehall.

“We’re just another team playing for the championship,” continued Harshman. “We need to keep playing with the intensity, the effort and the understanding we showed in the first quarter. If we do that, we’re as good as any team in the tournament.”

The Cougars scored on their first shot of the game, 3:15 into it to grab a 1-0 lead. From the left part of the circle, Hudson’s reverse shot deflected off the stick of a Seal defender and caromed into the top right-hand corner of the goal.

“Offensively, we played great, especially early,” said Harshman. “We moved the ball and we really executed something we call ‘get it and go’, ‘get it and go’, ‘get it and go’. It’s just keep moving the ball. We tell the girls, ‘let your speed and the ball do the work’.

“We played well,” added Harshman. “And the best part of it was our ball movement.”

Then, near the end of the opening period, Derr scored twice in a span of 2:18 to really put the Cougars in a good place. Both resulted from corner inserts.

Her first tally came off the rebound of her own initial attempt. And with 1:51 left in the period, she rocketed a well-placed drive just inside the right post, after taking a feed from Addie Sholly.

“The start was very important to the outcome,” said Harshman. “But when you get a lead like that, nothing changes. You just want to keep doing what you’re doing.

“We felt like we were the stronger team coming in,” Harshman continued. “But you have to play the game. We didn’t expect the same result we got at Palmyra (earlier in the season). We were confident, but we had to play with that sense of urgency.”

Some 3:20 into the the second half, Palmyra closed the deal. Off a shot from the top of the circle generated by a corner play, senior Anna Miller gobbled up the rebound and deposited it into the left side of the cage.

Hudson drew an assist on the play.

“When you’re the defending champion, the thing you’ve got to guard against is overconfidence,” said Harshman. “Where last year most of these girls were sophomores and juniors, now they’re juniors and seniors.

“Practice (since Palmyra’s upset loss to Mechanicsburg in the District Three semifinals) has been pretty good,” Harhsman added. “We’re understanding the things we need to understand. We’ve worked hard, put forth effort and asked all the right questions. We understand that we need to be as good as we can be.”

Palmyra’s domination of the scoreboard also translated to the scorebook. The Cougars out shot the Seals 23-4, and posted a 17-2 margin in penalty corners.

To purchase images in this article please email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

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