BY JEFF FALK
ELVERSON – OK, so which is more impressive, an overtime walk-off or a state-playoff upset? Well one is more specific and the other is kind of a big-picture item.
But combine the two, and you’ve got the stuff field hockey lore is made of.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon at Twin Valley High School, Mia Julian’s dramatic OT game-winning goal propelled the Palmyra field hockey team to a 2-1 upset victory over Villa Maria Academy, in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs. Julian’s successful stick-handling clinic down the left sideline came 12:28 into the initial, seven-on-seven overtime session and touched off a wild Cougar celebration.
The triumph moved the Cougars to 18-6-1 on the season and into Tuesday’s PIAA Class AA semifinal, against an opponent, and at a site and time to be determined. It marked the sixth time in program history that Palmyra had qualified for the state Final Four.
Villa Maria Academy, the District One champion, concluded its campaign at 18-3.
“You know who the favorite was,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “But we knew we had a tough seed coming in. I’m so proud of these kids. We have now won two in-a-row against District One teams.
“Today, they (his players) stuck together and they played their guts out,” Harshman continued. “It’s a big family we have. I’m just thrilled to death for the kids.”
“I think it was an upset,” said Julian. “It was kind of an underdog thing for us, but not that much of one. We went into the game knowing we had to play well. We thought if we did, they (the Hurricanes) weren’t going to know what to expect. Coach always says, ‘An underdog is a hungry dog.’
“We were definitely tested, especially with Villa Maria being the higher seed,” added Julian. “We all had to fight our hearts out. It’s crazy. We’re in the semifinals of states. I hope we go all the way.”
With both sides feeling the effects that the seven-on-seven format has on stamina in overtime, Julian’s game-winner originated off a long pass from teammate Maddie Hudson.
While shielding off a Villa Maria, Julian dribbled the ball down the left sideline. Julian then cut hard to her right, and going against her body, rifled a ten-yard wrister that beat Hurricane goalie Abbie Zarkowski to the left post.
“It’s like time stood still, from when she released the ball until it hit the back of the cage,” said Harshman of Julian’s game-winner. “They (both of Julian’s goals) were similar in that they were both breakaways and great individual efforts. Sometimes your strong players have to make strong plays. Sometimes great players show up in big games. That was the case today.
“Mia works so hard,” Harshman added. “(Assistant coach, Costello) Kristi deserves the credit for working with Mia’s mental game. Mia has the drive to not only make herself better, but also to understand the game.”
“In seven-on-seven, there’s so much pressure to get the first goal,” said Julian. “We finally got it. I jumped right and when I let go of the shot I said, ‘Please go in’. And it did. We were all so tired.
“I didn’t think I had anything left,” added Julian. “I told myself that I had to keep pushing through.”
Julian had also tallied Palmyra’s initial goal, on a similar move with 14:41 left in the first half. And it too was important, because it came at a time when the mighty Hurricanes were enjoying the better of the play.
Off a counter attack, teammate Lauren Wadas set Julian up for a one-person fastbreak. Going left to right, Julian got Zarkowski moving, then slid a well-placed shot inside the far post.
It came on the Cougars’ first shot of the contest.
“They were tremendous,” said Harshman of his charges. “Villa Maria is clearly an unbondary school that the PIAA is keeping its eye on. They recruit, and they’ve got tremendous players up and down their lineup. But what they don’t have is a group of kids who have been together and played together since they were very young.”
“They both (the goals) were pretty similar,” said Julian. “It was getting to the top, and sort of a fast break. It was being able to get past the defender.
“It was super important to answer (Villa Maria’s early goal),” continued Julian. “It gave us intensity.”
The Hurricanes pressured the Palmyra cage from the opening tap. And that extended pressure resulted in Villa Maria’s 1-0 lead, 4:30 into the contest.
Villa Maria’s Hannah Miller’s reverse shot from the left beat Cougar netminder Ashton Byrd high, inside the cross bar.
But after that, Palmyra’s defense tightened, thanks in part to its ability to limit chances on Villa Maria’s 16 total corner inserts.
“We needed more people around the ball,” said Harshman. “What I remember was that it (the start) was ugly. I think it was definitely a matter of settling in. But we also made a little change tactically, and that helped us.
“Our kids, on defensive corners, were outstanding,” added Harshman. “Anna Miller did a great job for us on the ‘flying’. And Ashton stayed very composed.”
“They caught us on our heels,” said Julian. “We didn’t go out expecting what they gave us. But we woke up and raised our intensity. Our defense was phenomenal.”
At one point in the second half, Palmyra faced a 10-1 deficit in shots. The shots ended up favoring Villa Maria 11-7.
The Cougars were awarded six total corners.
“I thought it went in spurts,” said Julian of the flow of play. “They’d have high pressure on our defense, and then we’d have high pressure on their defense. It was back and forth.”
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2018 Palmyra Field Hockey Results
Wyoming Valley West
|1:00 PM||W 4-0|
|11:00 AM||W 3-0|
|7:00 PM||T 0-0|
|2:00 PM||W 2-1|
|4:00 PM||W 12-0|
|3:45 PM||W 8-1|
|4:00 PM||W 2-0|
|4:00 PM||L 4-6|
|4:00 PM||W 6-0|
|12:00 PM||W 4-0|
|4:30 PM||W 3-0|
|7:30 PM||L 0-2|
|5:30 PM||W 7-0|
|6:00 PM||W 5-0|
@Wilson West Lawn
|5:30 PM||W 7-0|
|7:00 PM||W 8-0|
|11:00 AM||W 3-1|
|7:00 PM||W 4-1|
|3:00 PM||L 0-3|
@Mount St. Joseph
|5:00 PM||W 1-0|
|12:00 PM||W 2-1, OT|
Palmyra Field Hockey
Championship 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
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016