BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Gritty. Talented. Resilient. Classy. Composed. Accountable. Determined. Character.
This District Three Class AA winning Palmyra field hockey team was like no other one that came before it.
Not better. Not worse. Just different.
On Saturday afternoon at Milton Hershey School, the 2011 version of the Cougars carved out their own special place in the storied history of Palmyra field hockey. Anna Scipioni’s goal with 3:19 remaining lifted Palmyra to a 2-1 victory over Greenwood in the District Three championship game.
Scipioni’s clutch marker settled a tight, close-to-the-vest battle between two evenly matched opponents. It also helped the Cougars erase a 1-0, early-second-half deficit.
For the top Class AA field hockey program in the area, it was its sixth District Three title since 1999, and seventh overall. Since 1999, Palmyra has not in a district final.
As the District Three champion, Palmyra, now 16-6 overall, will meet Gwynedd-Mercy Academy, the third-place finisher out of District One, on Tuesday – at a site and time to be determined – in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs. The loss dropped Greenwood to 18-2-2.
“I’m just so excited,” said Scipioni, a senior midfielder. “I’m just so glad it worked out this way. Us seniors have played together for so long. I know Palmyra has been in the district final before, but this was our first time.
“We didn’t beat our backyard rivals,” Scipioni added, “but…”
“In the preseason, we wrote this down as a goal,” said Cougar senior Emily Spillar. “We made a list of them and this was our number one goal.”
“Since 199, we’ve been in the district final six times and won it six times,” said Palmyra assistant coach Kent Harshman, the program’s unofficial historian. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Every kid who has played field hockey at Palmyra since 2001 has been in at least one district championship game. We needed to get to this district final for our seniors to play in one. But that’s a strong statement for the history of the program.”
Scipioni’s championship goal came off a scramble in the circle, following a corner play which had broken down. Greenwood goalie Katie Osborne stopped the initial Cougar drive, but Scipioni was there to collect the rebound, and she rifled it home.
The Cougars had taken a timeout just 15 seconds earlier to set up the play.
“It was a broken down corner,” sad Scipioni. “I got the rebound, I took it and it went in. We’ve been working on the things that weren’t working for us, like corners and attack.”
“I thought we played really well at the beginning of the year,” said Kent Harshman. “We sort of nose-dived over the middle and end of the year. But I think this week we’ve seen the level of play go back up. We started to realize the potential we thought we had all along.”
Having relinquished the contest’s first goal just 2:46 earlier, Palmyra generated the equalizer with 17:19 remaining. And as usual, Scipioni was right in the middle of everything.
Off a corner play, Scipioni unleashed a good hard shot from the heart of the circle. Sophomore Megan Miller managed to get a tip on the drive and re-direct it past Osborne.
“We definitely came together as a team in the second half,” said Palmyra defender Casi Neidigh. “We knew they were going to be a tough game. They took it to us. It was a great game.”
“All we had to do was connect our passes,” added Spillar.
“We played the toughest schedule in District Three, bar none,” said Kent Harshman. “That’s not my opinion, that’s the numbers. Hats off to District Three for giving more weight to strenth-of-schedule in its rankings. It paid off for us in the end.”
Following a first half in which neither team mustered much offense, Greenwood took a 1-0 lead, 9:55 into the second.
Wildcat forward Salene Shaffer carried a ball through the middle of the circle, with Brittany Fleisher flanking on the left. Shaffer served up a perfect little shuffle, and Fleisher ripped a well-placed shot to the far post.
With eight of their attempts coming in the second half, Palmyra out shot Greenwood 11-5. The Wildcats posted an 11-6 differential in penalty corners.