PALMYRA – Make no mistake about the fact that the Palmyra field hockey team will do whatever it’s good at, over and over again, until its opponent figures out a way to take it away. But that doesn’t mean that the Cougars ever stop exploring new things at which to excel.
It’s this little team culture thing the Cougars like to call ‘creative persistence’.
On a frigid Tuesday night at Palmyra High School’s OAL Sports Complex, the Cougars’ creative persistence powered them to a dominant 3-0 triumph over Selingsrove, in the semifinal round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs. After assuming a 1-0 halftime lead, Palmyra netted a pair of second-half markers, but the Cougars’ applied near constant offensive pressure throughout.
Again, three different Palmyra players found the back of the cage. All three Cougar goals were scored off corner plays, all inserted by Avery Russell.
The outcome propelled District Three champion Palmyra to 14-2 and its third straight – and eighth overall – state championship game. That game with District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll, a 2-0 victor over Southern Lehigh in the other semifinal, will be contested on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Whitehall High School’s Zephyr Sports Complex.
The Cougars have gone 1-5-1 in their seven previous PIAA title game appearances.
Last night’s result represented Palmyra’s seventh straight victory, and the Cougars have now outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 13-1 in the playoffs.
Selinsgrove, the champions out of District Four, concluded its campaign at 18-2-1.
“Our corner execution was good tonight,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “Ocassionally, we were just missing tips. They’re 13- to 17-year-old kids. Sometimes you get the tip and sometimes you don’t. But some of the credit has to go to their (the Seals’) goaltender (Riley Batdorf).
“Yesterday (Monday) was a really good team-taking-ownership practice for us,” added Harshman. “The girls really came together. I’m proud of them for that. The kind of effort that we want them to play with was there.”
“I think there’s always going to be a little frustration when you don’t score,” said Cougar junior Maddie Hudson. “At halftime, we talked about what we needed to do to connect. We talked about tipping. We had a lot of opportunities in the first half and just didn’t connect.”
After dominating the first half of action, the Cougars finally broke through 6:57 before the intermission. From the left part of the circle, Hudson managed to slide a Russell insert to teammate Keely Bowers stationed on the doorstep of the Selinsgrove cage.
“When you don’t score, there’s a little bit of frustration,” said Harshman. “But you’ve got to try to make sure they (his players) channel their frustrations positively. You have to guard against the quick breakaway. We didn’t let that happen.
“I thought our defensive effort was great all over the field,” continued Harshman. “There was a little bit of that (the best defense is a good offense). We ended up playing the ball well. We didn’t give up anything.”
“I thought we had a lot of opportunities,” said Hudson. “In the second half, we finally broke through. But it was there in the first half. Our intensity was good. We just wanted to be relentless and never give up. We were getting good opportunities and shots.”
Palmyra scored on its first shot of the second half to push its advantage to 2-0. Russell’s insert found Alexa Derr at the top of the circle, and Derr beat Batdorf cleanly with a low blast inside the far post.
“She was outstanding,” said Harshman of Batdorf. “She was keeping them (the Seals) in the game. I told our kids that they had to get her moving laterally.
“You’re always looking to keep the pressure on, and eventually they’ll fold,” Harshman added. “They (the Seals) were overmatched, but they wouldn’t back down.”
“I thought we did really well,” said Hudson. “There was a lot of pressure. It was a big game. It’s a little sad that it’s the (almost) end of the season. But we’ve come together as a team.”
The Cougars’ consistent pressure began to wear on Selinsgrove near the end of the third quarter. With 23 seconds left in the period, Hudson got her stick on an Olivia Kirkpatrick shot and re-directed it by Batdorf for Palmyra’s third goal.
“You don’t have all great players,” said Harshman of his club’s balanced attack. “What you’ve got to have is great players along with some very good players. Our bench is as deep as it’s ever been, our team isn’t only ten deep. We didn’t have (injured) Anna Miller tonight, and she’s a difference-maker for us.
“We went to Penn-Trafford (on Saturday) to see them (the Seals) play,” Harshman continued. “We filmed them and we knew what they liked to do. I thought we were well-prepared. We thought we knew what they were going to do.”
The Cougars’ domination on the field was also reflected in the stats, as they out shot Selinsgrove 27-1. Palmyra was awarded 17 penalty corners and didn’t give up a single one to the Seals.
“I don’t know what’s happened,” said Harshman of Palmyra’s seven previous appearances in state championship games. “I do know that preparation is going to be different this year. It’s not going to be as emotionally-involved as it has been in the past. We’re going to go down there (Whitehall), line up and see what happens. But we’ll be prepared.”
“Not winning it last year, there’s going to be a little more vengeance,” said Hudson. “I think we’ve got a really good shot because we’re playing well. Last year, we didn’t come out with our best. We know we can win it.”
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, 2020
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, 2020 – Kent Harshman
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2019
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016