HERSHEY – Every Palmyra field hockey team has taken on its own identity, its own unique personality. Just like every championship has been different.
What made this one special was how much the current group of Cougars has improved, the caliber of the competition and the way they got it done.
On Saturday evening at Henry Hershey Field, on the campus of Milton Hershey School, the Cougars captured yet another memorable District Three championship, in dramatic fashion. After being out played most of the way, Palmyra tied the Class AAA title tilt against Penn Manor with 27 seconds remaining, before winning it 3-2 in overtime.
And it was vintage Palmyra.
Freshman Lauren Wadas netted the game-winner 3:48 into the the initial 15-minute, seven-on-seven, sudden-victory overtime session. It was teammate Alexis Smith who had sent the game to OT with a second-chance goal as time was winding down.
Smith’s score was reminiscent of Kylie Bomgardner’s goal scored with 21 seconds remaining during Wednesday’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Hershey, also at Henry Hershey Field.
But for the second-seeded Cougars, it was their ninth District Three championship over the last two decades, tenth overall and second over Penn Manor in as many years. Now 19-2 overall, Palmyra will open play in the PIAA Class AAA postseason on Tuesday against Council Rock South, the sixth-place finisher out of District One, back at Henry Hershey Field at 7 p.m.
Top-seeded Penn Manor slipped to 22-2 on the year. Last night’s contest also evoked memories of the 2014 PIAA Class AAA championship game, in which Palmyra out played Penn Manor, but the teams were declared co-state champions after the game ended in a one-all draw.
“I’m just unbelievably proud of my team for not giving up,” said Cougar head coach Kristi Costello. “We executed when we had chances. It might be more special because of how good Penn Manor is. We have a lot of respect for them.
“Our word all year has been ‘rise’ and I thought we rose to the occasion,” Costello continued. “I just feel like we found a way the other night when we scored with 21 seconds left. And tonight we scored with 27 seconds left to get to overtime. But Penn Manor has an amazing team.”
With momentum clearly on its side from Smith’s late goal, Palmyra went on the attack immediately in overtime. Four Cougar corners produced three shots, the last of which turned into the decisive tally from Wadas.
It was actually Wadas who started the play with an insert from the left hash. The ball momentarily popped out of the circle, before Nicole Shank got the ball to Katelyn Mark, who went hard to her right.
Mark threw an attempt at the Penn Manor net, which was appeared to be headed wide. But Wadas was there, at the left post, to slam it home.
“It was a broken corner,” said Costello. “Nicole Shank passed it to Katelyn, and she got a lift on it. And Lauren hit it in. She made a great play on the goal, but she was playing well all over the field. But we had a lot of people contributing. As a freshman, there’s a learning curve, but she’s really come through for us.
“I think scoring in the last 27 seconds gave us momentum,” added Costello. “As we were getting ready for overtime, our kids said, ‘We got this.’ I think it really gave us a boost. I told them, ‘The less time it takes you to score, the less you’ve got to run.'”
Down 2-1 with time running down, and without a second-half shot or corner, the Cougars were awarded one with 40 seconds left in regulation. Penn Manor goalie Brit Hook kicked out Palmyra’s initial attempt, but Smith was there to knock the rebound inside the right post.
“We had a close game to get here,” said Costello. “Sometimes it only takes one chance. You’ve got to take advantage of opportunities. We’ve been practicing our corner plays a lot.
“We did a lot of preparation before hand,” Costello added. “Our girls were aware they could fall behind. But we told them they can’t get down. We did get one chance and we scored.”
Trailing 1-0, Palmyra scored on its first and only shot of the first half, which came 2:13 before intermission. That too came off a corner, this one taken by Shank.
But the Cougars’ prosperity was short-lived. Just 56 seconds later, Penn Manor regained the lead when Emma DeBerdine and Brooke DeBerdine hooked up on their own corner play.
“Their (the Comets’) speed is amazing,” said Costello. “It’s like they have 11 thoroughbreds on the field. They just come at you. We told the girls to attack as much as they could. But we were under attack a lot.
“There’s so much respect between the two teams,” Costello continued. “Just the speed at which they are able to play. They’re a measuring stick. They think they’re the best.”
And for much of the evening the Comets were the better team.
Just 2:25 in, Penn Manor grabbed a 1-0 lead after generating pressure on the Palmyra cage with a rush up the left side of the field. Cougar net minder Cheyenne Sprecher knocked away an initial attempt, but Comet Anna May Barbusca stuck with the play and scored on the rebound.
“I don’t remember that game that much,” said Costello of the 2014 PIAA Class AAA championship game between the Cougars and Comets. “I remember it being even. Tonight, they had the better of the attack. You can’t fudge the statistics. But we took advantage of our opportunities. That’s a good lesson.
“They’ve (the Cougar captains) made the younger players better and they’ve helped them grow,” added Costello. “Where we were at the beginning of the season and where we are now, it’s amazing. I’m just so pleased with the journey. I still think we haven’t peaked. And I’m excited because we have the state tournament coming up.”
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 Three Class AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007