BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – The one would suggest the flipping of a switch or playing better due to some sense of urgency. The other would suggest an improvement continuum where individuals and the group grow and mature throughout the season.
So has Palmyra elevated its level of play in the playoffs or are the Cougars simply a better team now than they were two months ago?
Either way, the Cougars have picked a great time to play their best hockey of the year.
On a calm Tuesday evening at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, Palmyra opened its annual foray into the PIAA Class AAA playoffs with a somewhat routine 2-0 triumph over Council Rock South. With head coach Kristi Costello off giving birth to her second child, the Cougars netted a couple of first-half goals, then controlled the midfield and severely curtailed the Golden Hawks’ opportunities around their cage.
For the District Three champions, it was their tenth straight win overall and fourth consecutive playoff triumph – all of which have come at Henry Hershey Field. In those four playoff contests, Palmyra has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 9-2.
Now 20-2 overall, the Cougars will tackle District One third-place finisher Unionville, a 5-0 victor over District Six champ State College, in Saturday’s quarterfinals, at a time and site to be determined. Palmyra has advanced to the last two state championship games.
Council Rock South, the sixth-place finisher out of District One, ended its year with the loss.
“We like to think we’re able to do that,” said Palmyra interim head coach and Costello’s father, Kent Harshman, of the Cougars’ postseason prowess. “Part of the reason is we focus on a set of skills each and every time we play. What did we do wrong? That’s our focus. Hopefully we’re narrowing down our focus. That would be a strength of focus.
“I would say all of the above (becoming more focused, improving players’ skills and improving as a team),” Harshman continued. “You can talk about things all year long. But the more you enforce things, the more it becomes habit. When you can foster good habits, good things will happen. That’s a sign of good coaching and a good coaching staff. And if we do that, hopefully we’ll accomplish our goals.”
Palmyra grabbed a 1-0 lead 13:32 into the match on a well-place drive by senior sharp-shooter Jess Dembrowski. Dembrowski picked up a loose ball on the left-side of the Cougars’ attack zone, took a couple of dribbles into the circle and wristed a ball inside the far post.
It was Dembrowski’s team-leading 23rd goal of the season.
“We did not play well,” said Harshman. “We looked flat. We looked like a team coming off a huge championship game. We were dribbling too much. We didn’t have our heads up. We had a really good practice yesterday, but the bottom line is we didn’t play the way we’ve been playing.
“You’ve got to remember they’re 14-18-year-olds,” continued Harshman. “From September to December, you see grown men do the same thing on Sundays (in the NFL). You try to keep them from doing that. But we were not sharp.”
Palmyra got itself a little breathing room with a second goal, which came 4:43 before intermission.
A Cougar rush into the Council Rock South circle produced a ball on the pads of the Golden Hawks’ goalie Sabrina Masone. A pair of Palmyra sticks dislodged the ball and pushed it to sophomore Nicole Shank on the next level, and she had an open cage in which to deposit the ball.
Teammate Lauren Wadas drew an assist on the play.
“I would say we weren’t as crisp the whole game,” said Harshman. “Yeah, we got two goals in the first half, but we missed two posts by inches in the second half. That’s not to take away from Council Rock South’s effort.
“We got some good looks in the second half,” added Harshman. “We missed the cage by like a foot twice. We didn’t draw as many corners in the second half. But I don’t think the one (first half) contributed to the other (the second half). We usually do a good job of not taking for granted what we did in the first half.”
The Cougars split their shot totals evenly between both halves and out shot the Golden Hawks 10-3.
“We went down and filmed them (the Golden Hawks) on Friday,” said Harshman. “We knew about them. They’ve got a solid team. They’re big, strong kids and we knew they were playing good hockey. Somewhere along the way they had to have an upset.
“We characterized them fairly correctly,” Harshman continued. “Solid stick skills, but not the speed we have. But no matter what the competition’s strength is, they put forth a good effort.”
Cougar senior keeper Cheyenne Sprecher was called upon for three saves to record her third playoff shutout.
“We do like this place,” said Harshman of Henry Hershey Field. “I think it’s the surface. The surface here is down a little bit, so it plays a little faster. It plays a little more to our liking. And we like that it’s so close to home. We like to play here.
“It (the effort) better be better (on Saturday),” added Harshman. “We’ll hope for that. Hopefully we’ll get the boss back by Friday, and maybe she can get a better reaction than this old man. The next game is the most important game. That’s what we’ll look forward to.”
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2016 Palmyra Field Hockey Results
|10:00 AM||W 2-0|
|4:00 PM||W 5-0|
|11:00 AM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||L 0-1|
|4:00 PM||W 6-1|
|10:00 AM||W 3-1|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|4:00 PM||W 7-1|
@Owen J. Roberts
|7:00 PM||W 3-0|
|9:00 AM||W 4-0|
|2:00 PM||W 4-0|
|6:30 PM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||L 0-2|
|2:00 PM||W 4-0|
|5:30 PM||W 6-0|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|9:00 AM||W 6-0|
|5:45 PM||W 3-2|
|3:00 PM||W 3-0|
|7:00 PM||W 1-0|
|5:00 PM||W 3-2|
Council Rock South
|7:00 PM||Milton Hershey School|
Palmyra Individual Statistics
|THROUGH 22 GAMES…|