BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – They use words like ‘fierce’, ‘friendly’, ‘intense’, ‘healthy’ and ‘respectful’ to describe the Palmyra-Lower Dauphin field hockey rivalry. But make no mistake about the fact that both sides are quite aware of their role in it.
From the Cougars’ perspective, they are the rebel, the little sister, the underdog. And while Palmyra seems perfectly content with its role, there’s just a little part of the Cougars that wants what the Falcons have.
On Saturday afternoon at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, a championship spin was placed on the the Palmyra-Lower Dauphin rivalry, and it was the Falcons who maintained the status quo with a 1-0 triumph. The only goal scored during the District Three Class AAA championship game came off the stick of Falcon Maddie O’Neil, 7:12 into the second half.
Because of Palmyra’s recent promotion to Class AAA, yesterday’s meeting was believed to be the first-ever between the neighboring schools in a District Three title tilt. During the regular season, the two clubs had split Mid-Penn Keystone Division clashes – Palmyra winning 1-0 in Hummelstown on Oct.7 and the Falcons scoring a 3-2 triumph on Sept. 17 at In The Net Sports Complex.
As the District Three runner-up, the Cougars, now 20-2, will take on the District Six champion in its own backyard, on Tuesday, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. A year ago on the same field, Palmyra earned the District Three Class AA title.
Lower Dauphin, the two-time defending Class AAA state champion, improved to 23-1 on the year.
“We love to play Lower Dauphin,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello, who was on the sidelines for the first time since being injured in an automobile accident 11 days ago. “I don’t care what classification we are. I think we can play in both classifications. We play good hockey so it doesn’t even matter. We have a very healthy rivalry with them. They played better than us today. But I don’t like losing. My girls don’t like losing. And I don’t like losing to them.
“I think the most important part of it is playing good hockey,” continued Costello. “They (the Falcons) would be disappointed if either one didn’t play good hockey. We have a lot of respect for each other. We love hockey. We want to play good hockey.”
“It’s been a healthy rivalry for many years, even going back to when Coach Costello played,” said Lower Dauphin head coach Linda Kreiser. “We just really look forward to playing them. They play great hockey. They have great athletes. We love playing them. We have a lot of respect for them.”
Following a scoreless first half, the Falcons made the most of an opportunity eight minutes into the second stanza.
Falcon Ally Bitting played a long ball into the Palmyra circle that Cougar goalie Cheyenne Specher cleared with pads. But the ball caromed to O’Neil right on the Palmyra door step.
O’Neil wasted very little time lifting a shot high into the short side of the cage, above Sprecher’s glove hand.
“It was an unbelievable goal,” said Costello of O’Neil’s tally. “It was a great goal. I thought Cheyenne Sprecher had a great game today. Sometimes you’ve just got to give it to your opponent.
“I have no idea (if the ball originated from outside the circle),” added Costello. “I only saw the shot. But it was a beautiful goal.”
“Ally Bitting had the ball in the right corner and centered it, and the goalie got her pads on it,” said Kreiser, who’s in her 37th season of heading the Falcons. “Maddie one-timed it, and it was a beautiful one-timer.
“We do rebound drills in practice,” added Kreiser. “But that was a good shot, and she (O’Neil) got it off quickly.”
The Cougars’ attack was severely limited by the Lower Dauphin defense.
Palmyra picked up its first of two overall shots with less 13 minutes to play, and it resulted in the Cougars’ initial corner of contest.
Palmyra did create a second corner as time was expiring. But captain Katie Dembrowski’s attempt clanged harmlessly off the right side of the Falcon cage.
“My team fights,” said Costello. “You saw that. They have a lot of heart. We gave ourselves an opportunity, and it just didn’t go our way.
“We were a little off today,” Costello added. “We just weren’t connecting the way we normally do. We couldn’t get anything going. Lower Dauphin did a great job of taking away our short passing game.”
“Our corner defense takes a lot of pride in its defense,” said Kreiser. “You keep evolving your game because you have to. I saw them (the Cougars) play twice, and we had to change somethings.”
The majority of the action in the first half was confined to the midfield. The superior stick skills from each team served to offset one another.
“I’m happy to be here and coaching,” said Costello. “We talked about the Lower Daupin rivalry being important. But we wanted to win. Hopefully this will fuel them (her players) in the next playoffs.”
“I thought we had better ball possession this game,” said Kreiser of her team’s previous meetings with the Cougars. “We were getting shots on goal, but they weren’t great shots. We couldn’t finish.”
The Falcons counted nine shots and collected ten corners. Sprecher was credited with six saves.
“It was a goal,” said Costellof the third meeting with the Falcons. “All year we’ve been wanting this. We wanted to play the best. I think they (the Falcons) would say the same thing.
“We have games to play,” continued Costello. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. But if we see them (the Falcons) again that would be great.”
Palmyra Field Hockey History Since 1998
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
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007