BY JEFF FALK
EXETER – Twenty-seven games in, and the Palmyra field hockey team has finally gotten to the same point of the season it reached last year.
Now there’s only one step left for the Cougars to take. It’s a step they weren’t able to take a season ago.
On Wednesday night at Exeter Township High School, Palmyra fulfilled a goal that’s been more than a year in the making by dusting Downingtown East 3-0 in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AAA tournament. After not playing ‘Cougar hockey’ early on, Palmyra really turned up the intensity, especially in the second half, to eliminate the District One runner-up.
Senior sniper Kiley Gallagher potted a pair of goals for Palmyra, which won its 17th straight game to improve to 25-2 overall. The triumph also earned the Cougars a return trip to the state championship game, this time against District 11 champion Emmaus, which edged Penn Manor 2-1, on Saturday, at 2 p.m. at Whitehall-Coplay’s Zephyr Sports Complex.
It was there last season that Palmyra and Penn Manor battled to a controversial and unfulfilling 1-1 overtime tie, and each side was awarded half of a PIAA championship.
“It’s been our goal all season long to win three championships,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “We’re definitely on a mission. We hope we can finish it. We have our work cut out for us on Saturday with Emmaus. But we don’t want to share.
“It’s unbelievable,” continued Costello. “It’s a great opportunity. We have a lot of talent, but a lot of things have got to go right to get here. We have a huge coaching staff, and I think during the postseason that’s been very beneficial. Our seniors are definitely leading it.”
Palmyra simply didn’t perform like itself over the contest’s opening 15 minutes. But after surviving six early Downingtown East corners, the Cougars grabbed a 1-0 lead on their initial shot and Gallagher’s first goal, a score that seemed to inject life into the Cougars.
The play was made by Cougar teammate Lexi Smith, who was given way too much space to maneuver down the right sideline and then the right baseline. Once Smith entered the goal area, she shoveled a short pass to Gallagher, who tapped it inside the right post.
“The first goal was a great play by Alexis,” said Costello. “And Kiley knocked it in. The first half was really weird. We didn’t have a lot of corners, but they did. That’s not like us. The ball just wasn’t bouncing our way. It definitely changed the way the game was played. I just think we made some adjustments.
“We have a great support system,” continued Costello. “I always make sure our players know what they have. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to play for each other. If you’re playing for each other, you can look your teammate in the eye when things go wrong.”
The Cougars really took it to Downingtown East during the second 30 minutes of action. Palmyra opened the second stanza with a flurry of three shots on the ‘East’ cage.
Then off a corner 7:13 in – and with the Cougars continuing to buzz around their opponents goal – Palmyra was awarded a penalty stroke. Cool and collected, senior Carli Herman deposited the ‘freebie’ high into the left corner of the Downingtown East net.
The Cougars and Herman earned a second penalty stroke with 13:41 remaining, but her attempt sailed wide right.
“Carli has been very confident in her strokes all year. She definitely delivered,” said Costello. “We definitely played well in the second half, but I was not pleased with the first half. At halftime, we talked about some adjustments. The surface is very important to us, and it was slow. We talked about being intense.
“We didn’t play well against Owen J. Roberts last Tuesday. Maybe it was the rain,” Costello continued. “And we didn’t play well in the Mid-Penn championship game. They definitely practice hard and play hard, but all of our girls are competitors underneath. Last year (in the state championship game), we wanted a chance to end it. That shows what type of competitors they are. We’re starting to see senior leadership.”
Palmyra’s third goal was a result of Downingtown East affording the dangerous Gallagher way too much space and time.
With 16:11 showing on the second-half clock, Gallagher was allowed to saunter into the circle uncontested. Poised, Gallagher sized up Downingtown East keeper Claire Riley, before slinging a low wrist-shot into the left side of the net.
“It didn’t make a difference,” said Costello, of the contest’s postponement from Tuesday night, due to a an automobile accident on the Turnpike. “It was a tragedy. But we were ready to play yesterday and we were ready to play today.
“(Cougar goalie, Sprecher) Cheyenne had a great game,” Costello added. “She wasn’t called upon too often during the regular season, but she has stepped up in the playoffs.”
“This has been our goal,” said Costello. “We try to be disciplined in our approach, and take it one game at a time. Tonight we had 60 minutes between us and going back to Whitehall.
“We’re led by our upperclassmen,” added Costello. “They’re very experienced players. The seniors have some goals, and they want to finish on top.”
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|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|
@Owen J. Roberts
|6:00 PM||W 2-0|
|12:00 PM||W 3-0|
|6:00 PM||W 3-0|
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
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007