PALMYRA – Palmyra is the torch-bearer, the gold standard by which all Lebanon County field hockey teams are measured. There exists this prevailing theory locally that some county field hockey programs have made progress in their quest to measure up to the Cougars.
While that theory may or not be valid, it certainly didn’t play out that way on the turf yesterday.
On a warm Saturday afternoon at Palmyra’s OAL Sports Complex, the Cougars dominated up-and-coming Elco 7-0, in a rare District Three Class AA semifinal match-up between two Lebanon County teams. Palmyra opened a 3-0 lead right before halftime, then outscored the Raiders 4-0 in the second half of play.
Sophomore Olivia Kirkpatrick posted a hat trick for Palmyra, while teammate Anna Miller registered a pair of goals and an assist and Avery Russell contributed a goal and two assists. The Cougars did not allow an Elco shot on goal and surrendered only one corner.
Up next for the top-seeded Cougars, now 12-2 on the fall, will be Wednesday’s District Three Class AA championship game, at home opposite seventh-seeded Hershey. Palmyra defeated the Trojans twice during the regular season, 4-3 and 2-1.
Palmyra, the reigning District Three Class AA champion, will be making its 15th overall apearance in a district title tilt. The Cougars have won 12 District Three championships.
Elco, the fourth-seed, concluded its campaign at 13-3 overall.
“I don’t necessarily look at it like that,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “A few years ago, there was talk about Palmyra moving to the Lancaster-Lebanon League, and the field hockey team was in favor of it. But it’s a tribute to our kids, who keep their level of play high, no matter who they are. They put a lot of time into field hockey. Pressure comes from within. Would we be proud to have other programs in Lebanon County aspire to our level of play? Yes.
“Elco’s a solid team,” continued Harshman. “In the division they play in (Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League), they’re deservedly a strong team. This year was different in terms of a lot of teams didn’t play outside of their own leagues. They don’t see the kind of hockey we do.”
“Palmyra has a reputation for being a strong program,” said Elco head coach Kelsey Thorley. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from them. They’re a young team. They play a different caliber of hockey.
“They definitely are the standard for Lebanon County field hockey,” added Thorley. “But you’ve got to look at the size of the schools and resources. We’re a small school, and we have a lot of good athletes who are playing soccer.”
The Cougars didn’t necessarily start slow, but they certainly picked up the pace as the contest wore on.
Kirkpatrick opened the scoring for Palmyra 2:38 into the game, when she successfully converted a penalty stroke with a high shot to the stick side of Raider netminder Anissa Machamer.
Palmyra struck twice in the second stanza, first on a lifted shot from Miller over the head of a leaping Machamer. But the one that really stung was Kirkpatrick’s tally with no time remaining on the first half clock, following a corner insert from Russell.
“What we did was play hard, and the girls tried to do the things we asked them to do,” said Harshman. “I thought the ball movement was excellent. Could we execute better? You can always play better. Some of the things we’ve been practicing and spending time on were excellent today.
“We were pretty confident,” Harshman continued. “Elco had a great record. But I firmly believe that there’s not a division in the state that prepares you for the playoffs like the Mid-Penn Keystone. That’s all six teams. It’s a tremendous league, from top to bottom.”
“Our expectation was for our girls to play their game,” said Thorley. “We just wanted them to play as hard as they can play and not put pressure on themselves.
“I wouldn’t say the result was a matter of them playing well or us not playing well,” Thorley added. “They’re a strong program. It’s a standard for county field hockey. It’s a level of play we’re looking for, just getting to the next level. Our defense worked hard the whole game.”
Palmyra netted three third-period goals, all off of corner plays. Kirkpatrick and Miller collaborated for the second time, Russell scored on a corner she had inserted and Miller tipped home a Maddie Hudson blast.
The Cougars’ final tally came with 6:20 remaining, on an unassisted reverse shot from Alexa Derr at the top of the circle.
“What we liked about our goals was the distribution,” said Harshman. “When you have so many players contributing, it’s hard to focus on one. We had a lot of opportunities in the second half. We’re rotating some kids at forward, just hoping to keep them fresh. But it’s nice to get a lot of kids playing time.”
“They earned a lot of corners,” said Thorley of the Cougars. “All of the goals were earned, they weren’t given up. They weren’t freebies. They moved the ball well.”
When the dust had settled, Palmyra had piled up 29 shots and had been awarded 21 penalty corners. The Raiders’ only penalty corner came with four minutes left in the first half.
“I’ll say we’re guardedly thrilled with how things have gone through the whole COVID landscape,” said Harshman. “They (his players) know who they want to be. Just because some great kids left, doesn’t change what we expect.
“With this team, the sky’s the limit, if we keep making great strides,” added Harshman. “This team is playing well, and accelerating the way we felt they were capable of playing.”
“We knew we could have a good team,” said Thorley. “But it’s hard to have expectations when you don’t know if you’re going to play. We took every game one-at-a-time. I didn’t think we’d be playing on November 7th. We’re thankful we got the season in.”
at Hamburg Area H.S.
at Garden Spot
at Conrad Weiser
at Conrad Weiser
|4***||Eastern Lebanon County||12-||1-||0||0.682899||0.923077||0.389349||12.00||65.80||1.00||103.20|
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