BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – In many ways, the Palmyra field hockey team’s 2014 season was supposed to happen this way, was meant to unfold in this manner.But make no mistakes about the Cougars’ role in helping to create their own fate.
On Tuesday evening at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, Palmyra realized its destiny by edging Cumberland Valley 2-1, in a semifinal match of the District Three Class AAA playoffs. Junior Erin Huffman’s goal with 9:59 remaining proved to be decisive.
The win set up the District Three Class AAA championship match-up that everyone has been dreaming about, but not necessarily speaking about. The second-seeded and now 20-1 Cougars will clash with rival, top-seeded and 22-1 Lower Dauphin, which took care of fourth-seeded Penn Manor 2-0, on Saturday at 3 p.m. back at Henry Hershey Field, for all the District Three Class AAA marbles.
The Cougars and Falcons are both responsible for each other’s lone loss this season. Palmyra defeated the Falcons 1-0 in Hummelstown on Oct. 7, after Lower Dauphin had won 3-2 in Palmyra on Sept 17.
“You don’t talk about it,” said Palmyra interim head coach Kent Harshman of both teams’ ‘one game at a time’ approaches. “At this point, we have a fierce rivalry with them (the Falcons), but one with great respect on both sides. The coaching staffs play with each other. It’s a great rivalry. Obviously there’s not much you’ve got to say to your kids to get them up. It’s ‘Game on!’. We’re looking forward to Saturday.
“I think we’ve been a solid program for long enough that everyone respects us in the district, whether it’s Class AA or AAA,” continued Harshman. “In our division (Keystone of the Mid-Penn Conference) we play mostly a AAA schedule. And every two years we try to up our competitive level outside the division. Sure we’re thrilled with the accomplishment of playing in a championship game. They don’t grow on trees and you can’t but them. We’re thrilled where we are.”
While Palmyra’s goals last time out against Cedar Cliff were more about desire, the Cougars’ tallies on Tuesday were all about skill and talent.
After being set up by a nifty shuffle feed from Katie Dembrowski, Huffman showed off her hard and accurate drive. Unmarked and with time, Huffman sized up Eagle goalie Jaide Wibley and whistled the ball high over her glove and into the top of the cage.
“We actually moved Erin inside and tried to get her a little more space,” said Harshman of Huffman’s 28th goal of the season. “Erin is a very gifted scorer. If you give her just a little bit of space, her wrists are so strong. A lot of her shots end up being elevated, and those shots are tough to stop. Amy (Assistant coach, Kelly) suggested we try getting her space during a timeout a few minutes earlier.
“We played better in the second half,” added Harshman. “They (the Eagles) had a pretty good game plan. They played tight on us. We made some adjustments at halftime and moved some people around. That Way girl (CV’s Emma) is outstanding. They have some real players on that team. They get after it pretty good.”
The Cougars’ initial tally was a collaboration between sisters Katie Dembrowski, a senior, and Jess Dembrowski, a sophomore, and it came less than seven minutes after Palmyra had surrendered the game’s first tally.
Off of a corner insertion, Jessie D. got the ball high to Katie D. at the top of the circle. Whether Katie D. was intending to shoot or pass is unknown, but her drive appeared to be headed wide of the cage, and Jessie D., stationed on the left post, deftly tipped it home.
“We weren’t sure exactly how they were going to fly on us (on corner plays),” said Harshman. “It turned out we saw something we thought we could utilize. Jess made a nice tip. It was a nice goal. It was important for us to get it back quickly. I think once you know you have more games to play, it’s easier to be relaxed. While it (CV’s goal) was a bad goal on our part, the reaction of the girls was more ticked off than worried. It was a little like, ‘That’s ridiculous. Let’s get it back.’
“Without a doubt, these last two years, these teams are Katie’s teams,” Harshman continued. “We’ve had a lot of two-time captains, but I’m not sure we’ve ever had a leader like Katie. She’s the backbone out there. She’s the field general. The kids rally to her. The kids look to her. When Katie says something, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be tough to see her go.”
Cumberland Valley grabbed a 1-0 lead 4:54 into the contest, on its first shot.
After the Cougars had applied some early pressure, the Eagles counter attacked quickly down the left side of the field. Way found teammate Madi Sauve in the right portion of the circle, and Sauve got Palmyra keeper Cheyenne Sprecher moving, before sliding the ball in on the short side.
“That’s not the type of goal we usually give up,” said Harshman. “We weren’t prepared, they got behind us – they play a big game. There was a lot of open field. I’m not sure even the girls know what happened. They (the Eagles) almost reverse-chip the ball down the field as a matter of course. They did that on the breakaway. It was a nice goal. They like long balls, and running on to them.”
Palmyra out shot Cumberland Valley 4-1 in each half to finish with an overall advantage of 8-2. The Cougars were also awarded eight corners, compared to the Eagles’ one.
Palmyra Field Hockey 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
Pa State AA Champions: 2005
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007