BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – In soccer, every good run begins with an inspired first touch.
The first touch that the Palmyra girls’ team created has the potential to send it one-v-one with a title.
On Tuesday night at In The Net Sports Complex, the Cougars opened what they hope will be an extended run in the District Three Class AA playoffs with a convincing 4-1 victory Berks Catholic. After forging a 1-0 halftime lead, Palmyra broke the contest wide open with three unanswered goals in the second half.
The win pushed Palmyra, the number three seed, to 14-5 overall and into Saturday’s quarterfinal round, opposite sixth-seeded and 16-4 Northern York, which shaded Donegal 2-0. The match will be contested on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lower Dauphin Middle School.
The loss ended Berks Catholic’s campaign at 10-7-2.
The contest was the first ever District Three playoff game that the Cougars have hosted at In The Net.
“To win it all,” said Palmyra head coach Amber Miller of her club’s aspirations in this District Three tournament. “That’s our goal. Nothing less than that. Every girl is going to show up each game and sacrifice everything they have for each other.
“I expect the girls to show up and play their best game every game, no matter the record, no matter who we play,” continued Miller. “And for the most part they have done that this season. But sometimes we play to the level of our competition. It’s one of the things the girls are learning to respond to a little better.”
“We definitely want to win districts,” said Maddie Good, Palmyra’s junior midfielder. “And just go as far as we can go.”
M. Good assisted on each of Palmyra’s first two tallies.
With 21:28 remaining on the first half clock, the Cougars struck off a corner kick from freshman Angelica Kays. Kays sent the restart far post, where M. Good got a body on it and directed it towards the near post. That’s where sister Callie Good was stationed, and C. Good banged it home.
“It was off a corner,” said Miller. “We had a new set piece and Angelica served a brilliant ball. Maddie made the first touch and her sister Callie was there to finish it off.
“The key for us offensively is to move as a unit,” added Miller. “And not rely on one girl. We want to get everyone into the attack.”
But despite the goal, Miller was not pleased with her team’s performance in the first half, and proceeded to inform it of such at the break. Palmyra needed all of 1:20 of the second half to score what would prove to the game-winner.
Good shuffled a ball onto the feet of Kristen Smoluk. Heading right, Smoluk unleashed a good drive that beat Berks Catholic keeper Brooke Wentzel to the far side.
“The first half was awful,” said Miller. “It might have been one of our worst of the year. We made changes at halftime, knocked a few in in the second half and set the other team back.
“It (the halftime speech) wasn’t positive,” Miller continued. “I left the girls know that they were better than that. They (her players) have the talent, it’s a matter of if they wanted it or not. In the second half they really responded to my message. They were, by far, the better team. They just had to show it.”
“We struggled in the first half,” said M. Good. “We weren’t connecting. We weren’t working together. Coach basically told us we needed to strengthen our midfield. Just put it together. Work together.”
A Wentzel misplay of a ball sent in on goal by Palmyra’s Anna Kauffman resulted in a 3-0 Cougar advantage, 16:46 into the second half. Wentzel appeared to head the wrong way, and then when she tried to stop, she slipped and the ball rolled past her and into the net.
“Defensively, I don’t think we were was solid as we typically are,” said Miller. “We corrected things at halftime, and our backs did a better job of getting the first touch.”
The final statistics had Palmyra out shooting the Saints by a dominating 21-3 margin. Berks Catholic avoided the shutout with 48 seconds remaining when Morgan Lutz assisted Mackenzie Kroekel.
“Maddie is obviously one of our stronger players,” said Miller of Good. “If a team is shutting us down we have to find a way to get her more touches. She’s typically a girl who would be up top. But she’s extremely versatile. We definitely want her getting touches.
“Maddie has the ability to use her body, and she does it well, but we’re still working on that,” added Miller. “She’s not a selfish player. She has a lot of passion for the game.”
“When I play forward, I try to score goals,” said M. Good. “When I play center-mid, it’s easier to play people in and set other people up. I think my role is to just basically do what Amber asks me to do. Where I play kind of depends on how the game is going and just where it can benefit the team.”