PALMYRA – Every season has its defining moment, its turning point. When players and coaches look back and reflect on the success of every year, they circle one particular point in time when the season changed course.
Last night, the Palmyra field hockey experienced its defining moment.
On a crisp Wednesday night at Palmyra High School’s OAL sports complex, the reigning PIAA Class AA champion Cougars were shockingly upset by Mechancisburg, 3-1, in the semifinal round of the District Three Class AA playoffs. While Palmyra was only able to make good on one of its 13 shots on goal, opportunistic Mechancisburg scored on three of its four shots.
Although the setback means the top-seeded Cougars won’t be afforded an opportunity to defend their District Three championship, the defense of last season’s state title is still very much in play. Palmyra, 16-3-1 overall, will begin that defense on Tuesday on the road as the third- or fourth-place finisher out of District Three, against an opponent and at a site yet to be determined.
The victory propelled fourth-seeded Mechancisburg to 16-5 on the season and into Saturday’s District Three title tilt at Central Dauphin Middle School’s Landis Field. The Cougars had defeated the Wildcats twice during the regular season, 1-0 in Mechanicsburg on September 14 and 5-1 at OAL Sports Complex on September 30.
The Cougars, who have captured a total of 13 District Three championships, are now 84-24 all-time in the District Three playoffs. This season marked the 33rd straight year that Palmyra had qualified for the District Three tournament.
“We talked about that,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “The sun will come up tomorrow and we’ll go back to work. We aren’t going to play for a district championship, but another championship postseason begins on Tuesday. We’ll see what we’re made of. I told the girls, ‘This does not define you. How you respond will define you.’
“We move forward,” continued Harshman. “Nope, nothing has changed. Our goal for the state tournament remains the same.”
Down two early goals, the Cougars shaved their deficit in half, 1:23 into the fourth quarter.
Off a corner play, the ball was played to the top of the circle, then dropped to Maddie Hudson in the middle. From there, Hudson found teammate Anna Miller to her left, and Miller guided the ball into the short side of the cage.
But despite possessing the ball in the Wildcats’ end of the field and generating a ton of opportunities, Palmyra just couldn’t come up with the equalizer. That was before Anne Manning finished a hard rush down the left side of the field with 5:09 to go, to give Mechancisburg all the insurance it needed.
“They were very good defensively,” said Harshman of the Wildcats. “We had the ball in their end of the field and just couldn’t finish. The credit goes to them. Ultimately, their corner defense was the difference, for them and for us.
“We were pushing so hard to score, I thought we got caught up in some things,” added Harshman. “We had a couple of breakdowns defensively.”
Mechanicsburg scored on its first two shots of the game, and led 2-0 with 13:13 left in the first half.
Exactly 9:52 into the contest, the Wildcats’ Gracyn Catalano accepted a pass from teammate Cam Standish and scored long side. Then four minutes later, Mechanicsburg’s Lauren Mark stick handled around Cougar goalie Haleigh Lambert, before depositing the ball into the left side of the cage.
“They get a lot of the credit. They’re good,” said Harshman of the Wildcats. “When we played them up there (Mechanicsburg) it was a war. You never like to play a good team three times in one year, especially one in your division. It’s not an excuse. We knew they were good.
“They were very opportunistic,” Harshman added. “They have a couple of Division One players who are only juniors. They made the most of a couple of opportunities.”
Palmyra also inserted 17 corners, but didn’t really generate a lot of good scoring chances from them.
“Even though we’re down 2-0, we’re still playing our game,” said Harshman. “Basically, nothing has changed. The majority of the second half was played in their end of the field. We just couldn’t score.
“It’s been a good season. It’s been a great season,” added Harshman. “Tonight, they (the Wildcats) got the better of us. They deserved to win.”
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: 1984, 1991, 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, 2020
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa. State Runner-up 2019
Pa State AA Runner-Up 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016