HERSHEY – Is Palmyra trying to be the best team it can be, or are the Cougars trying to the best team in the state? It may be that the two cannot be separated.
On a frigid Tuesday afternoon at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, Palmyra booked its coveted return trip to Whitehall with an overwhelming 4-0 blanking of Twin Valley, in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA postseason. After the Cougars netted an early goal, they tallied two more in a 1:51 span early in the second half to take control of the result.
Five different Palmyra players figured in the scoring, including Mia Julian, who recorded a pair of goals. Palmyra has now won seven straight playoff games and allowed just a single goal in those outings.
With the outcome, Palmyra, now 22-3 and the current District Three Class AA champions, earned a spot in Saturday’s PIAA Class AA title tilt, opposite District Two champion Wyoming Valley West, a 3-1 victor over Villa Maria, at noon at Whitehall School District’s Zephyr Sports Complex in Allentown. The Cougars will be out to erase the lingering memories of last season’s 1-0, overtime loss to Donegal in the state championship game.
It will be Palmyra’s sixth overall appearance in state championship games. The Cougars have gone 1-3-1 in the previous five.
Yesterday’s victory was the Cougars’ third over Twin Valley this season. Palmyra had beaten the Raiders 2-0 in the semifinals of the District Three Class AA tournament at Warwick High School on October 30, and 8-3 during a regular season meeting at In The Net Sports Complex on September 13 .
Twin Valley, the third-place finisher out of District Three, concluded its campaign at 18-9.
“We’re very close. Very close,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman, when asked how good his team is in relationship to how good it can be. “To be honest, we’re right there. There’s nothing more I can say about leadership and roles. How we’ve seen things has changed. We’ve taught specific things to prepare for specific games. We have continued to get better.
“They’re (state championship game appearances) all different,” continued Harshman. “The reason they’re different is it’s a different group of kids. But it never gets old. And we never take it for granted.”
“Throughout the season, we’ve gotten better and better,” said Julian. “We’re trying to reach our potential. We know we can reach higher and higher. I think it’s best to be the best team you can be. If you reach your highest potential, it’s very rewarding.”
Which has been its pattern in the postseason, Palmyra wasted little time jumping out to a 1-0 lead. A mere 4:21 into the game, Julian scored on a rebound, off the Cougars’ first corner.
Initially, the ball was inserted by Anna Miller to Lauren Wadas. Twin Valley keeper Talayra Viscuso made the save on Wadas’ blast, as well as on the initial rebound, but she couldn’t stop Julian from the right side of the cage.
“I thought we played well,” said Harshman. “We played hard and we played well. We ignored the elements.
“It’s great,” Harshman continued. “I would say that this is a mature group. They played a lot of varsity minutes last year. The goal has been, since we walked off the field at Whitehall last year, to get back. This was their goal from the start of the season.”
“I thought we did play well,” said Julian. “We had a lot of hunger in us to get back to Whitehall. It was a lot of family and two-touch hockey.
“In the previous weeks, we’ve been preparing for it (cold weather),” added Julian. “We knew it was coming. But we can’t control what we can’t control, and we knew the other team was going to have to deal with it as well. I honestly think we’re a cold-weather team.”
Despite having dominated the action to that point, Palmyra was still protecting its 1-0 edge, 8:25 into the second half.
That’s when Julian carried the ball down the left side of the field, before unleashing a hard cross in the direction of the Twin Valley goal mouth. No Cougar was there, but the ball bounced off a Raider defender and into the cage.
Then less than two minutes later, Katie Lintz made it 3-0 Palmyra. After Viscuso managed to make an initial save, Cougar Anna Miller got the ball to Lintz, who blasted a shot inside the left post.
“I hope we play the way we’ve been playing,” said Harshman of the last game of the year. “We don’t have (former Donegal star) Mackenzie Allessie to face. We’ve seen both of them (Villa Maria, Wyoming Valley West), and we’ll have some tape to watch. We expect to be ready on Saturday.
“That’s (the one postseason goal allowed) good,” Harshman added. “That’s what we’re always shooting for. Our defense has been good. We’ve really improved defensively since we moved some people around. I’ve got a lot of trust with them (senior captains), because they know what’s on the line.”
“The whole postseason the coaches have been stressing adding on,” said Julian. “We just wanted to make sure.”
With 2:33 remaining, Wadas made even more sure. Ten minutes after being stoned by Viscuso on a penalty stroke, Wadas accepted a feed from Maddie Hudson, made a little move to get Viscuso to go down and then lifted a short shot over her and into the Twin Valley net.
“You try not to dwell on stuff like that,” said Harshman of last year’s overtime loss to Donegal. “We tried to hold Mackenzie Alessie down, and we did that, but there’s a lot of room in overtime. That’s what we took away from it.
“They (his players) have been disappointed,” continued Harshman. “Here’s what you’ve got to remember: the goal was to get back there. I expect very good focus. I expect very good practices. I expect good things on Saturday.”
“We were a young team,” said Julian of 2018. “We were just trying to get as far as we could. We got what was coming. Now we have business to finish.”
Palmyra outshot Twin Valley by an overwhelming 25-2 margin. The Cougars took 15 penalty corners compared to the Raiders’ six.
|2019-09-11||A||vs||Mechanicsburg Area Senior(3)||W||10-1|
|2019-09-21||H||vs||State College Area(3)||W||9-0|
|2019-09-30||H||vs||Mechanicsburg Area Senior(3)||W||8-0|
|2019-10-02||H||vs||Berks Catholic School(3)||W||10-0|
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, 2019
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
2019 – Kent Harshman
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa State AA Runner-Up; 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016