BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – For most Class AA teams, the PIAA postseason is a step up in competition. But most Class AA teams don’t play many of the top Class AAA teams in the state during the regular season.
On Tuesday night at Hershey High School, the Palmyra field hockey team looked well prepared and well equipped for an extended stay in the PIAA Class AA playoffs. The Cougars matched a very talented Gwynedd-Mercy club skill for skill and came away with a 3-1 triumph, in the opening round of the state tournament.
Three different players netted goals, as Palmyra recorded the opening tally of the game. Then after the Monarchs tied it, the Cougars turned on the intensity and took control of the outcome.
The result pushed Palmyra to 17-6 on the year and into Saturday’s quarterfinal round of the event, opposite an opponent and at a site and time to be determined. Gwynedd-Mercy, the third-place finisher out of District One, completed its season 15-7.
Instead of showing ill effects from an emotional win in Saturday’s District Three championship game, Palmyra remained on its postseason roll. The Cougars have now won five straight playoff games and have yet to lose to a Class AA team this year – even though they played just two Class AA opponents during the regular season.
Tuesday represented Palmyra’s fifth straight appearance in the PIAA Class AA playoffs.
“It’s huge,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Harshman of the effect the regular season has had on her team’s chances in the postseason. “We played against Lower Dauphin, Hershey, Hempfield, Cocalico. If you look at the top Class AAA teams in our district, we played them all. We played the toughest schedule in District Three. We played 16 AAA teams and two AA teams. That prepares you for states. A loss helps you critque some things you might have missed.
“We had a week off at the end of the regular season and it helped us get focused,” Harshman continued. “But in states, it doesn’t matter how well you did in districts. It can always be your last game, and I think our seniors are staring to get hold of that.”
What turned out to be the winning goal resulted from a great individual effort by sophomore Kendall Kreider.
With 13:33 to go before the break, Kreider took a feed from teammate Kasey Hess near midfield, and dribbled the ball around two Monarch defenders. Alone in the circle, Kreider carried it along a parallel course, and while going away from the G-M cage, ripped a backhander to the far post.
At the time, it gave the Cougars a 2-1 edge.
“She (Kreider) turned on the jets,” said Harshman. “She’s just feisty. She’s 99 pounds, but she gets it done.
“Each game we have players step up,” Harshman added. “Now we have some other players jumping in. Kendall was definitely a spark for us tonight.”
Kreider also registered a ‘helper’, as the Cougars took a 1-0 lead, 8:58 into the match. She set up Kelly Snyder’s shot – a low laser that originated from the left side of the circle and came to rest inside the far post – that beat Gwynedd-Mercy goalie Mary Kate Catalino.
But the Monarchs needed a mere 21 seconds to respond. Off the resulting restart, G-M’s Jen Webb ran into the Palmyra circle – and unassisted – chipped a reverse shot into the Cougar goal for a one-all tie.
“It was kind of a fluke thing,” said Harshman of Snyder’s tally. “Kelly just rebounded it in. She had a nose for the ball in the circle.
“When it became a tie game, then we wanted to attack again,” added Harshman. “We were still trying to attack. I think we were trying to figure things out. We were fighting. We were going hard to the ball.”
The Cougars created a little breathing room with 14:12 of the second half remaining.
Off an extended corner from the top of the arc, Anna Scipioni located Hess in the middle of the circle. Hess fired an accurate low blast to the right post that gave Palmyra a 3-1 advantage.
“I was a little nervous just because we were coming off a district championship,” said Harshman. “That was one of our seniors’ goals, and we didn’t want it to stop there. Our seniors are stepping up. They have been immensely prepared the last couple of games.
“At this point of the season it’s mental,” continued Harshman. “You’re not improving your skills at this point. That’s something you do in the off-season. Their team is a very skilled team, and we usually do well against skilled teams.”
Palmyra scored goals on three of its seven shots, while holding the Monarchs to three attempts. Each team took five corners.
“I thought we played real well,” said Harshman. “We’re starting to connect now. Hopefully we’re just going to keep moving forward. I hope we’re on a roll and I hope it keeps rolling. I think we’re peaking at the right time. We’re finding a way to win.
“We did get to see them (the Monarchs) play on Friday,” Harshman added. “They have a good team. They obviously had a great season to get here. They gave us a great game. Both teams played well.”