PALMYRA – Skilled. Disciplined. Intelligent. Team-oriented.
The way it turns out, the legacy is in good hands. And the tradition continues.
On a cool Thursday night at Palmyra High School’s OAL Sports Complex, a fresh group of Cougars honored, upheld and extended their field hockey tradition, via a 3-1 triumph over Hershey, in the District Three Class AA Championship game. Palmyra connected on its first two shots of the contest, while opening a 3-0 halftime lead.
Three different Cougars – Maddie Hudson, Olivia Kirkpatrick and Anna Miller – found the back of the net.
For top-seeded Palmyra, it was its second straight District Three Class AA championship and its 13th overall.
Not only did the victory push the Cougars to 13-2 on the year, it qualified them for a COVID-19-modified PIAA Class AA tournament and moved them into the semifinal round of those state playoffs. That semifinal will be contested on Tuesday at 7 p.m. back at Palmyra High School, against the survivor between District Seven champion Penn-Trafford and District Four champion Selinsgrove.
The result also represented Palmyra’s third win over Hershey this fall. The Cougars had edged the Trojans 4-3 on October 8 and 2-1 on October 24th.
Hershey, the seventh seed, ended its year at 11-5.
“This team is very good, skill-wise,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “It’s a relatively young team. We have five seniors. We have a tremendous nucleus for next year. People were coming out and saying this year, ‘You’re graduating some really good seniors, maybe they’ll finally be down here.’ But we don’t rebuild, we reload.
“We knew we had a lot of skill,” continued Harshman. “But not a lot of varsity experience. We’re getting better every day. Now’s the right time to be getting better. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity. We thrilled with the result. We’re playing in the last week of the season. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“I’m really excited,” said Kirkpatrick, Palmyra’s emerging sophomore leader. “I think this was the best game we ever played. We had great team work overall.”
Palmyra wasted little time taking the fight to its neighboring opponent.
Off a corner play 5:31 in, the ball was inserted to Kirkpatrick at the top of the circle. She got off a strong blast that was tipped by Hudson high into the Trojan cage.
Four minutes later, Kirkpatrick made it 2-0 Cougars by converting a penalty stroke. Kirkpatrick shelfed a high shot past the stick side of Hershey goalie Taryn Dinello.
“We did come out strong,” said Harshman. “It’s never over, but it’s a lot easier playing with the lead than playing from behind. That good start was tremendous.
“It’s tough to beat a great team three times,” added Harshman. “We knew it was going to be a war. They (the Trojans) have great players. They have great coaches. There were no surprises. We know them, just like they know us. The fact is our kids were prepared and ready to play.”
“We came in with a little bit of nerves,” said Kirkpatrick. “But we were ready to get some goals in the net. The start was very important. It affected the entire rest of the game. But we just kept pushing for the next goal.”
Palmyra tallied its third goal 3:08 before the intermission, on a heads-up, hustling play by Miller. Hudson unleashed an initial shot from in-close, and when the ball dropped at Dinello’s feet, a diving Miller touched it into the goal.
“We stayed with the same alignment and the same game plan,” said Harshman, about playing with the lead. “If you tell your kids to play cautiously and play to win 2-0 or 3-0, you’re not going to do it. I don’t think we turned defensive. I thought we managed the game well.
“As a team, you just want to maintain your composure,” said Kirkpatrick. “Maybe you play a little more cautious, and when you get a chance, take it to goal.
“For me, I like to be encouraging and support the team,” added Kirkpatrick. “The most important part is playing within the team.”
Hershey’s goal early in the second half tightened things up a bit.
Off a corner 3:31 into the third period, Emily Beitzel inserted a ball to the top of the circle, where Ashley Arnold was stationed. Arnold ripped a low blast into the right side of the Cougar cage.
But Arnold’s goal would prove to be the Trojans’ final shot of the night.
“It’s one of our better efforts,” said Harshman. “I’m proud of my kids for keeping it together. We lost some players (to COVID-19) for a couple of days each. It’s a very strange time, but the kids have been resilient. If you wanted to move on, you had to win the district championship.”
“It’s (the year) gone pretty well,” said Kirkpatrick. “I think we’ve handled COVID pretty well. We’ve just kept playing through it. Encouraging each other every day is the most important thing.”
The final stats had Palmyra out shooting Hershey 5-2. The Cougars were awarded four corners to the Trojans’ two.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said Kirkpatrick of the state tournament. “Play as a team and play hard. Hopefully that’ll be enough to get us to the gold.”
Capital Division Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2001 – 2009
Keystone Division CO-Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2013, 2014
Mid-Penn Conference Champions: 2009
District III AA Champions: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2019, 2020
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
2019, 2020 – Kent Harshman
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa State AA Runner-Up; 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016