BY JEFF FALK
SHIPPENSBURG – For any coach who’s ever blown a whistle, the ultimate goal is to have his or her charges become the best team it can possibly be. It really doesn’t occur all that often in scholastic sports, but the Palmyra field hockey team is approaching that level.
For the Cougars, it just happens to be happening in the state playoffs.
On Saturday afternoon at Shippensburg University, Palmyra advanced to the final four of the PIAA Class AA postseason with a dominant performance, a 3-0 whitewashing of previously unbeaten Shady Side Academy. The Cougars took it to the Indians from the opening whistle and left no doubt as to who was the better team.
Freshman Katie Dembrowski set up sophomore Megan Miller on Palmyra’s first two tallies, inclduing one 12:20 in that staked the Cougars to a 1-0 advantage. The Cougars’ didn’t even allow Shady Side to sniff a scoring chance, and surrendered just a single corner, which came as time was expiring.
The win pushed District Three champion Palmyra to 18-6 overall and into Tuesday’s PIAA semifinal against Wyoming Seminary at 6 p.m. at Emmaus. Competing in states for the fifth straight year, the Cougars will be gunning for their first trip to the PIAA title tilt since 2007.
Shady Side Academy, the District Seven champ, ended its year with but a single setback.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Harshman to the notion that her club might be self-actualizing. “We’re peaking at the right time. We’re playing together and we’re pulling for each other. That’s awesome to see. If you’re getting everything out of every single kid, that’s all you can really ask of them.
“They’re just playing together right now,” Harshman added. “We have a lot of skilled players, individually. They can play one-on-one, but that’s not how we’re going to get things done. Everybody is embracing their role. We even have people coming off the bench and contributing. At this point it’s like ‘Hey, whatever it takes.'”
Miller’s opening goal resulted from a corner play initiated by Dembrowski. From the top of the circle, Miller blasted a ball through a crowd and by Inidan netminder Erin Gorse.
“It’s awesome. I’m so excited,” said Harshman. “I’ve never coached in a final four before and I never played in one in high school. I’m just proud to be here. We’re going to continue to play as hard as we can and see where the chips fall.
“We didn’t know a whole lot about Shady Side,” continued Harshman. “We knew they were undefeated so they had to be a good team. We just focused on what we needed to do. But I don’t like going into a game not knowing about an opponent.”
Despite dominating the first 30 minutes of play, the Cougars only led 1-0 at the break. But Miller took care of that 6:12 into the second half.
Taking a feed from Dembrowski, Miller dribbled the ball to her right and slipped a well-place shot inside the near post.
“I thought we played well,” said Harshman. “We just weren’t finishing plays. We could’ve scored a couple of more goals. It was 1-0 at halftime and I didn’t feel comfortable. Overall we played all right. We can always play better.
“I would say this wasn’t our best played game,” Harshman continued. “On the field, we were all right. I’m talking about our corner plays. The last game, we were flying up and down the field. But we got it done. They’re not always going to be pretty.”
The Cougars received a contribution from reserve Amber Bailey with 2:09 to go. Off a corner play, Kasey Hess unleased a rocket into Gorse’s pads. But Gorse couldn’t control the rebound and Bailey jammed it home.
“I don’t think our defense touched the ball at all,” said Harshman. “We controlled the midfield. Most of the game was spent on their side of the field.”
Palmyra generated a staggering 26 penalty corners and counted 18 shots on goal.
“We have like probably 40 corner plays, but there’s variations depending on personnel,” said Harshman. “Which one is called depends on the defense. That’s why we have so many. It’s like any other sport where you call a play based on what the defense is giving you. And we have a couple of bread-and-butter plays.
“We practice corners at least 30 minutes every practice,” Harshman added. “We’re starting to settle in with it. Ultimately, that’s what you want because corners are so important.”