BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – You know you’re doing something right when winning, championships and excellence become expectations. But those expectations should never be taken for granted.
Every year is different. Every group is memorable. Every challenge is unique. Every journey is special. And it’s the difficult that makes it great.
On Saturday afternoon at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, the Palmyra field hockey program’s latest District Three championship was both difficult and great. In the Class AAA final, the Cougars edged talented Penn Manor 1-0 in a battle worthy of the contest’s status.
Erin Huffman netted the game-winner for the Cougars on a great individual effort, with 4:43 remaining. Up until that point, Palmyra had enjoyed the better of the play, but had encountered great difficulties generating serious scoring chances.
The title represented Palmyra’s tenth overall. The contest was also a rematch of last season’s PIAA Class AAA championship game which ended in a draw and co-champions, despite the fact that the Cougars controlled the flow of play that day as well.
Third-seeded Palmyra, now winners of 11 straight overall and 22-2 on the year, will see its next action on Tuesday, in the opening round of the state tournament, against the sixth-place finisher out of District One, at a site and time to be determined. Top-seeded Penn Manor, which had edged the Cougars during the regular season, dropped to 22-2 on the fall.
“We’re ready for more,” declared Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “We’re hungry. Last year we shared the state title. We don’t want to share any more. We’re going to lean a lot on our seniors.
“I think we’ve been able to find success behind a group of kids who buy in,” continued Costello. “We have a lot of support from the community and families. And we have kids who are committed to play whatever role we ask them to.”
“It’s a very big win,” said Huffman. “Our goal is to win the Mid-Penn Conference, the district title and states. So far, we’ve got two of the three. We’re going to try and keep it going.”
The battle unfolded like most expected, a lot of play at midfield and few scoring chances for either side. Huffman’s tally originated from the back, it featured great stick handling through the midfield and a quick-strike finish.
Off a counter-attack, Huffman carried a ball down the left side of the field and into the top of the Comet circle. Once there, she wasted little time drilling a reverse shot inside the right goal post.
“She honestly carried the ball from the 40-yard line,” said Costello of Huffman. “She went with amazing speed along the way. I thought she was almost out of control, but she did a great job of maintaining control. Once she got into the circle, she just ripped it.
“They (the Comets) were packing it in,” Costello continued. “They were respecting our offense. We had to find the holes and execute. The way we found the hole was in the open field. It was a great game, between two great teams.”
Immediately after the goal, Costello called a timeout to apprise her team of the situation.
“The goal was crucial because we had to avoid overtime,” said Huffman. “With the shot, I saw a defender and went right, and then I saw another defender coming at me. I ripped it. I was aiming for the lower right corner, and I hit it. At that point it was defend and keep the ball our of our end.
“I was very excited,” added Huffman. “The ball started from the backfield.”
The Cougars owned the midfield for the majority of the second half. But Palmyra just couldn’t seem to find the cracks in a Penn Manor defense that sometimes bunched nine players in the circle.
“Any time you play against a team a lot of times, you develop a history with them,” said Costello. “We play different styles of hockey. Today, I think you saw both teams at their best.
“They (the Comets) are so fast and threatening,” added Costello. “They can knock balls all over the place. But they’re not as much of a dribbling team.”
“We have some fast forwards. But they (the Comets) have a lot of speed too,” said Huffman. “They pressured us very quickly. We had to use team work and two touches. We really worked as a team. That’s what kept us going. My shot kept us going. But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
The initial half was fairly evenly matched.
While Palmyra may have generated more scoring opportunities, the Comets had the best chance. But off a corner play, Cougar net-minder Cheyenne Sprecher stood tall.
“We’ll take today and enjoy it,” said Costello. “Tomorrow we have a team get-together and we’ll watch some film. My team has done a really good job of taking it one game at a time. Today was a new day.”
“We scored with nine minutes left and they scored with four minutes left,” said Huffman of her memories of last season’s state championship match with Penn Manor. “We know what they’re capable of. It gives us a little more energy and incentive to get back there.”
On the final stat sheet, Palmyra out shot Penn Manor 6-4. The Comets were rewarded nine penalty corners compared to the Cougars’ five.
“We feel like we’ve had a little bad luck lately,” said Costello. “My car accident. Katie’s (Dembrowski) broken wrist (two years ago). Missing out a Mid-Penn championship. Things just haven’t gone our way. This gives us a little perspective. Life is not always fair. But we can do it together. We just have to stay together.”
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2015 Palmyra Field Hockey Results
|4:00 PM||W 3-1|
|4:00 PM||W 8-0|
|3:00 PM||W 1-0|
|4:00 PM||W 3-1|
|4:00 PM||W 9-0|
|4:00 PM||W 10-0|
|7:00 PM||L 2-3|
|4:00 PM||W 4-0|
|9:00 AM||W 3-2|
|10:00 AM||L 1-2|
|4:00 PM||W 6-0|
|4:00 PM||W 7-0|
|4:00 PM||W 2-0|
|1:45 PM||W 1-0|
|4:00 PM||W 5-0|
|6:30 PM||W 5-0|
|6:30 PM||W 1-0|
|6:30 PM||W 10-1|
|5:00 PM||W 8-0|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|7:00 PM||W 6-0|
|3:00 PM||W 3-0|
|5:00 PM||W 2-1|
|3:00 PM||W 1-0|
Palmyra’s 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; 2015
Keystone Division Co-Champions: 2013, 2014
Keystone Division CHAMPIONS: 2015
Mid-Penn Conference Champions: 2009, 2015
District III AA Champions: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013
District III AAA Champions: 1998, 2015
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Final Keystone Division Standings