BY JEFF FALK
BOILING SPRINGS – Has the postseason brought out the best in the Palmyra girls’ soccer team? Or is the Cougars’ perceived spike in performance a result of a drop in their level of competition?
Or maybe, just maybe, a difficult regular-season schedule has prepared Palmyra to play its best soccer of the season.
On Thursday night at Boiling Springs High School, in the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AA playoffs, the seeds didn’t hold true to form, as number-ten Palmyra knocked off number-two Greencastle-Antrim 3-1. In opening a 3-0 lead ten minutes into the second half, the Cougars got goals out of senior leader Maddie Good, sophomore Emily Salvagio and junior Kristen Smoluk.
Palmyra was the better team for the better part of the evening and improved to a deceptive 11-9 overall. Up next for the Cougars is third-seeded Northern York, which dispatched Schuylkill Valley 3-0, and Monday’s district semifinal at a site and time to be determined.
The Cougars can earn a trip to states with a win in either that contest or the bracket’s consolation match.
The loss ended the Blue Devils’ campaign at 17-3.
“We have a hard schedule,” said Palmyra head coach Amber Miller of the rigors of the Mid-Penn’s Keystone Division. “We play some tough teams during the regular season. That helps us get ready for this point of the season. It definitely helps us. Our athletic director (Brian Weidler) does a good of scheduling for us.
“We played phenomenally,” Miller continued. “We had Maddie (Good) step up. Every girl on the field gave their absolute best. I couldn’t be more impressed. I’m very proud of my team.”
The Cougar goal that proved to be the game-winner came off the right foot of Salvaggio 2:28 into the second half. At the time, it gave Palmyra a 2-0 cushion and perpetuated momentum it had created late in the first half.
Smoluk created the play by going hard to the net. And when she was denied the ball bounced out to Salvaggio, who scored from a hard angle from the right post.
“I thought all of them were good goals,” said Miller. “It wasn’t one girl taking it and scoring. Maddie’s doing her part. Anna’s (Kauffman) doing her part. Smoluk’s doing her part. And then you have a bunch of girls with assists.
“One of the things we’ve been doing well is locking down with our defenders,” added Miller. “I think our biggest struggle has been scoring goals.”
With the play mostly confined to the midfield, both sides experienced difficulties generating scoring chances in the opening 30 minutes. Then with 12 minutes remaining before halftime, Smoluk created a near-miss for Good, and it would prove to be a preview of upcoming attractions.
Three minutes later it was Kauffman who sent Good ahead into the back half of Greencastle-Antrim’s defense. While shielding off a defender, Good was met by Blue Devil keeper Jenay Faulkner, but Good kept her balance and managed to knock the ball by the fallen Faulkner.
Cougars 1-0 with 9:24 left in the first half.
“It was important because the girls are realizing the level they can perform at,” said Miller. “The girls are realizing how talented they are. I don’t know that they were committed to the idea earlier in the year. I think we’ve played better, but when you’re talking about 80 minutes with limited substitutes, we can compete with anyone.
“I’m never confident we’re going to win,” continued Miller. “With any team you wonder who’s going to show up. But the girls have been strong lately. They don’t want their season to end.”
Another good individual effort from Smoluk put the Cougars up 3-0 with 31:12 to go. She settled a loose ball in the middle of the box, beat her defender with a touch, looked right and then fired a shot inside the left post.
“We were disconnected early in the season,” said Miller. “It just didn’t start the way I wanted it to, or the way the girls wanted it to. But it doesn’t matter what happened early. When you have 11 starters and one or two girls coming off the bench, you’re asking a lot of the girls.
“Maddie’s (Good) definitely stepped up,” Miller added. “Tabitha Fake has definitely stepped up in the back. We have a lot of other girls stepping up and being vocal. And some girls are leading by example, by their strong level of play.”
Palmyra also performed admirably defensively, limiting the Devils to just a couple of dangerous scoring chances. Greencastle-Antrim did cash in on one of those opportunities with 21:43 to go, when sisters Alyssa Rudy and Tabitha Rudy collaborated on a play to the left post that beat Cougar keeper Katie McClellan.
Palmyra enjoyed a 7-6 edge in shots.