Eleven Mid-Penn division championships. Eleven District Three titles. Five state final four appearances. Two PIAA crowns.
The Palmyra field hockey program has certainly enjoyed more than its share of success over the years. But the Cougars’ greatest accomplishment is not measured in trophies, but by people – and lives.
In that way, Palmyra is also the most successful athletic program in Lebanon County.
No other local program has sent as many graduates on to the college level as the Cougars have in field hockey. Not even close. Seventy-seven and counting – many of whom have gone on to compete in the sport at the Division One level.
And it is a symbiotic relationship that has evolved. Palmyra couldn’t have won that many championships without having that many good players, and the Cougars couldn’t have produced that many good players without winning championships.
“It’s one of the more fun aspects of coaching, being part of the college recruiting process,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “I enjoy doing it, picking brains about what they want to do next. I’d say the most rewarding thing is when the kids come back. They want to share their experiences with me, good or bad. They’re not always having the best of times. But they appreciate me and the times we shared.
Four key members of the current crop of Cougars – Jess Dembrowski, Cheyenne Sprecher, Katelyn Mark and Hannah Marx – have committed to play field hockey in college, at UConn, Penn and Kutztown, respectively. They are simply carrying on a Palmyra tradition proliferated by Erin Huffman (Old Dominion), Kiley Gallagher (Boston University) and Carli Herman (Towson) last season and one continued by Katie Dembrowski (Penn State) in 2014.
“I think there’s a big difference between God-given talent, and work ethic and desire to compete,” said Costello. “If someone doesn’t have a whole lot of God-given talent, but they’re willing to work, those are the kids coaches will take a chance on because they think they can develop their skills. It’s working with coaches. I’ll ask them, ‘Hey, what are you looking for?’ Or I’ll say to them, ‘I have some good young kids, why don’t you come watch them play?’
“The field hockey world is a small world,” Costello continued. “It’s not played in every state across the country. The pool of athletes is small. What comes with this is a closer relationship between college coaches and high school coaches. Some come back to you year after year, because they like what they get from Palmyra kids. Now I have a lot of friends who are college coaches. Obviously it’s evolved over the last couple of years.”
So college coaches know what they want – fundamentals, work ethic and open minds – and they know where to get it. And while ‘Cougars in College’ overall is a success story, not every one plays out the way it is planned.
“There have been a wide range of successes at the next level,” said Costello. “We’ve had all-Americans. We’ve had national champions. We’ve had conference champions. We’ve had some transfer. We’ve had some stop playing. But all have developed a love of the game through our program.
“We’ve been able to develop a family atmosphere throughout the program,” added Costello, “and some have been able to find it on the next level. You just have a different mentality and different kinds of kids. I’m very proud they had such a good experience in high school. I tell them, ‘You’ve got to make sure this is what you want to do. You’ve truly got to want to be there everyday.'”
But while the Cougars may in some way be a big fish in a little pond, they are also part of a bigger picture. There are very few sports which afford females opportunities at the college level the way field hockey does.
“In our area, it’s one hundred percent true, because of the strength of the high school programs,” said Costello. “You might not be a varsity contributor at the high school level, but you learned fundamentals, you’ve seen good hockey and you’ve been around the game. There are opportunities if you want to explore them. We have a JV captain here who’s going on to Juniata. She’s excited about that. I want my players to be realistic about the next level. If you are, it changes how you look at the recruiting process. We’re in an interesting place here in central Pennsylvania, to be able to send so many players to college because of the rich traditions of field hockey in the area.
“The other thing I’m proud of is the number of alums who went on to college and and wanted to come back and contribute to the program,” continued Costello. “I currently have seven coaches who have played at the college level. That speaks volumes about how much they love the Palmyra field hockey program. And I think it shows that it’s not just about winning – although it is fun.”
But while Costello speaks from the heart, she also speaks from experience. She has seen a great deal of things in the game, from both sides of the coin.
“I lived the ultimate college dream,” said Costello, who played at Palmyra as Kristi Harshman, before going on to play Division One field hockey at Wake Forest. “I got to be in four Final Fours, a part of two national champions and two ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) champions. When I played at Palmyra, I was one of the best players. But when I went to college I was a role player. I’m very competitive. That’s who I am. That’s why I think I’ve wanted to help my players so much. I get a little sad when they don’t find the things I found. It has to be the right fit for them and their personalities. Kids are being recruited so much earlier. Now kids are making official visits as sophomores.
“My college teammates are definitely life-long friends,” added Costello. “Hockey has always give me the opportunity to establish relationships. I love hockey and I love people. That’s a result of mentoring. Those people were people-oriented people who worked hard at building relationships. In season, you’ll find that kids will respond to that. They’ll be more likely to trust you and accept the things you’re teaching them.”
Palmyra Field Hockey Players Who Have Gone on to Play at College
|HS Grad Class
|Jess DembrowskiCheyenne SprecherKatelyn MarkHannah Marx
|Carli HermanKiley GallagherErin Huffman
|TowsonBoston UniversityOld Dominion
|Megan MillerKendall KreiderMegan SoucyKylie HuffmanHaley Bova
|RichmondLaSalleSlippery RockShippensburgCentral Mich
|Olivia YoungAmber Bailey
|Anna ScipioniCasi NeidighEmily SpillarAlex NewhardKasey Hess
|ColumbiaTowsonF&MEast Stroud.Miami of Ohio
|Stefani DayKatlyn SoucyMeredith KrickChelsea Bailey
|Indiana Univ.’Louisville/Boston CollegeRobert MorrisRandolph Macon
|Nikki BarryLindsay Bowman
|Kayla HarshmanEmma KellerAngela Klaczak
|Jenn ScuilliKristen FooreCaryn LambrightAmanda Hollenbach
|Ohio StateWest ChesterTempleEast Stroudsburg
|Amy BonenbergerBrooke HoffsmithBri DaviesKelly Fitzpatrick
|Penn StatePenn StateMarylandMichigan
|Tiff VogelRachel SmithErin Smith
|Laura StranoAmanda PavoneMaggie Hall
|Slippery RockBall StateAmerican
|Kristi HarshmanShannon FitzpatrickMegan Ricker
|Wake ForestAppalachian StateSyracuse
|Heather KresgeHolly FrantzAshley KiscaddenMegan Prifer
|MessiahBall StateSlippery RockTemple
|Louise StranoChristy HersheyCasey LehmanDevon Reichenbach
|Susan SattazahnShelby SummersJamie BowmanCourtney Callahan
|Jennie SheltonBecky Kohler
|Ashley ReichenbachAly FreetKristy WhitmanCorrie Upperman