Could the luster ever be removed from trophies?
Could championships ever become uninteresting?
Could winning ever be boring?
The answer to those questions is a resounding ‘No’. But more than any team that has come before it, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team has made us wonder them aloud and forced us to consider the concept of winning in an entirely different light.
On Saturday afternoon at Hershey’s Giant Center, the Cougars won the District Three Class AAA championship in a predictably routine fashion, trouncing Susquehannock 46-30. Focused, well-coached and well-prepared, the confident Cougars left little doubt as to which was the better team on the expansive floor, or in the entire Class AAA field, for that matter.
After shutting out Susquehannock for the entire second period, Palmyra missed out on a chance to finish the deal in the third quarter. Instead, the Cougars took care of their business in the fourth.
The win extended Palmyra’s school-record of consecutive wins to 28. For the Cougars, who had earlier claimed Mid-Penn Conference and Keystone Division titles, it was their first district championship in program history.
The next and final phase of the Cougars’ 2012-13 campaign promises to be their most challenging. Palmyra will open play in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs next Saturday, March 9, against the fourth-place finisher out of District 12.
“Absolutely, we’ve gone beyond my expectations,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “Whoever thinks they’re going to have this kind of team or year? We lost three key players from last year’s team and that allowed others to step up and get more reps in practice. And those reps allowed the talent to come out.
“It’s sweet to get one (a district title),” Berman continued. “I lost two, so it’s nice to get one. I thought that Mid-Penn Conference (championship) was special. In the eyes of everyone else, this is bigger, but I’m not sure. Talent usually wins in districts.
“They refused to not compete. They love to compete.”
Despite a few tense moments in the third quarter, Palmyra was never seriously threatened after opening a 28-10 halftime bulge. In addition to whitewashing the Indians in the frame, Palmyra got every rebound but one and received six points from Kristen Smoluk, a three-point play by Kate Carmo, an inside maneuver from Katie McClellan and a stick-back from Carly Richardson.
“They had a lot of shots go in and out,” said Berman of the Indians. “We’re not 18 points better than this team. At that time, we played not to lose more than to win. We just didn’t adjust to the tempo.
“I’d like to think it was our defense,” Berman added. “But we didn’t change anything.”
When Richardson nailed a trey 3:17 into the second half, most of the Cougars’ halftime lead was still intact, up 33-17. But at that time, Palmyra got sloppy with the ball, became tentative on the offensive end and went without a point for the final 3:25 of the third quarter.
Susquehannock clawed to within 33-26, but that was as close as it would come. With the Cougars in the foul bonus early, Palmyra drained 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, while holding the Indians scoreless for a 4:16 span.
“When you get in that position you tell them (his players) you don’t want to do anything different,” said Berman. “But kids are kids. They know they’re up 18. And they’re thinking about standing with their gold medals. It’s hard. You’re in between. Do you attack or don’t attack?
“We always talk about a made foul shot or a made lay-up in the first half is just as important as the fourth quarter,” Berman added. “We knew Susquehannock was going to come back. Fortunately we had a big enough lead.”
Richardson went for a team-high 14 points, including the 1,000th point of her career off an offensive rebound 46 seconds into the second quarter. Smoluk backed her up with 12 points and Carmo contributed ten.
Taking advantage of a 20-6 foul discrepancy, Palmyra drilled 18 of 21 foul shots and outscored Susquehannock by 16 points there.
“I congratulated them and told them how proud I was of what they accomplished,” said Berman of the Cougars’ post-game locker room. “We lost three key players (from last year) and it didn’t phase them. They work hard for me everyday in practice. I’m so glad them got this reward, for them, their school and the community.
“Down the road, I’m going to look back and say this was awesome,” Berman continued. “The Mid-Penn got us here. I thought it raised us to another level of play. When you do well against the bigger schools, it means you’re going to be tough in districts. To me, things have lined up the right way. And obviously we took advantage of it.”
Palmyra broke away from an early four-all deadlcok, on the strength of an 11-4 burst that gave it a 15-8 lead. Tukis got six of those points on strong moves to the hole, while Richardson contributed a three-pointer and Smoluk added a drive.
“We can. Will we? I don’t know,” said Berman to the possibility of a state championship. “When you play in the (district) championship game (is when you begin to consider it). But you have to play the next game. The next goal is to win the next game.”
LEBANON COUNTY DISTRICT THREE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Cedar Crest: None.
Lebanon: 1936 (single class), 1940 (A*).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 2000, 2005, 2006, 2013
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 1949 (B*), 1957 (B*), 1996 (AAA).
Cedar Crest: 1976 (AAA), 1991 (AAAA), 1994 (AAAA), 2003 (AAAA).
Elco: 1997 (AA), 1999 (AAA), 2001 (AAA).
Lebanon: 1980 (AAA).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 1980, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012.
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 2013 (AAA)