BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The million dollar question in Palmyra right now is: ‘Can the Cougar girls’ basketball team appraoch greatness?’ The challenge that Palmyra faces is whether or not its athleticism, depth and team work can overcome certain personnel deficiencies.
So far, so good.
On Friday night, Palmyra won its eighth straight game by shading Cedar Cliff 57-48. After establishing a comfortable margin in the second stanza, the Cougars held the Colts at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Despite the absence of two regulars, Palmyra, Lebanon County’s top girls’ club, improved to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. Cedar Cliff slipped to 5-4 on the season and 1-3 in the division.
“I know my kids and I’m very pleased,” said Palmyra’s veteran head coach, Ron Berman. “They’re competitors. We have some good athletic talent. But I don’t know if we have the top skills to be one of the best teams in the district or in the league.
“To me, we have a lot of big guards, small forwards and big forwards,” continued Berman. “What I don’t have is a true point guard and a true center. We’re kind of a funny team. We’re very athletic. At any given time, we could have any one of our five players bringing the ball up.”
Following a bit of a sluggish start, the Cougars got it going in the second period. Off a little passive fullcourt pressure, Palmyra changed the tempo of the game and scored in bunches in transition.
The Cougars held Cedar Cliff without a point for a five-minute stretch, during which they turned a 16-all deadlock into a 27-16 lead. Senior guard Chelsea Ebersole and junior Gabi Gundermann combined for nine points in the run.
“We finally started rushing a little more defensively, got a little more pressure on the ball,” said Berman. “We got the ball out of number four’s (Kianna Williams) hands. Plus we started scoring so we could set up our press. More than any other quarter, I thought we looked energetic in the second.
“It’s (the eight-game win streak) nice. It’s a good feeling,” continued Berman. “We’ve played some really good games and won. We played some games and hung in. We’ve overcome some adversity. I think we only had one game where we had all eight of our top players. But we are developing some depth.”
Ebersole drained a quartet of three-point field goals and totaled a game-high 20 points. Sophomore Carly Richardson complemented her with 11 points and G. Gundermann contributed 10.
The fact that Palmyra only went 10-for-24 at the foul line prevented it from deciding the outcome earlier.
“Chelsea has a great release,” said Berman. “A quick shot, and she’s learning how to get open more. She’s definitely a Division Three college guard if she wants to be. She’s a solid player as a senior.
“She’s only 5-5, but she wants to play at the next level,” Berman continued. “She has several colleges very interested in her. She can shoot it, and she doesn’t need much room.”
Ebersole opened the second half with a three-point bomb, as the Cougars upped their advantage to 32-18. But Palmyra went without a point over the next three minutes and the Colts closed to within seven points.
“Before the game, if you would’ve told me we’d win by nine, I would’ve said, ‘Sign, seal and deliver the contract,'” said Berman. “They’re (the Colts) a good team, and we split with them last year. And they give us real match-up problems.
“Our kids battled well,” added Berman. “We were down our best defensive player (Callie Good) tonight. Now, we could’ve handled the fourth quarter better. We got sloppy. But it was a lot of fixable things.”
While Palmyra never fully put Cedar Cliff away, it also never allowed the Colts to seriously threaten its lead.
“It was six several times in the fourth quarter,” said Berman. “I never felt comfortable. I knew they (the Colts) wouldn’t quit on us. When they started trapping, they’re pretty tough. We started to throw the ball to the wrong places. It shows that we don’t have that true point guard.”
It may be that the Cougars’ toughest tests are still ahead of them.
“Our record is very good,” said Berman. “But we’ve been a little lucky. When we’ve had injuries it hasn’t been against our toughest opponents. Now we’re hitting the meat of our schedule. We have the four top teams in our division in-a-row, with two non-league games in there. We’re getting into the tougher part of our schedule. I still think our division is the best that I’ve seen it.”