WHITEHALL – For members of the Palmyra field hockey program, there exists this generational bond. It’s a special sisterhood that transcends time.
But each team is different. Each year is different. Each experience is different.
Those experiences are so fleeting, so precious, that each team must play for itself. There’s no transference, no projection, no vindication.
On an overcast Saturday afternoon at Whitehall High School’s Zephyr Sports Complex, a special group of Cougars took ownership of their very own state championship, with a 2-1 overtime victory over Archbishop Carroll in the PIAA Class AA final. Determined junior forward Anna Miller netted the game-winner for Palmyra, a mere 1:05 into the extra session.
Even though Palmyra may have benefitted from former PIAA experiences, in no way was the outcome any sort of redemption for old disappointments or some conciliatory worship to the ‘ghosts of state championships past’. This one was all about the here and now, and the 2020 edition of the Cougars accomplishing everything they can.
Palmyra had entered the fray losers of the last two PIAA Class AA championship games, and with only a shared title to show for five state final appearances in the last six years. But yesterday’s triumph pushed the Cougars’ all-time record in state championship contests to 2-5-1.
Two weeks earlier, the now 15-2 Cougars had also won a District Three Class AA title. Archbishop Carroll, the champions of District 12, concluded its season at 10-2.
“I don’t look at it that way,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “I’m not into vindication. It’s a different group every year. They’re their own team. They create their own destiny. As a coaching staff, you’ve got to be careful to not let those things figure into it.
“Sure, there’s frustration,” continued Harshman. “This was our sixth state championship game appearance in the last seven years, and our first outright title. We did not play well here last year, but we felt we should’ve been there. What we’ve got to remember is that we’re here for that. But the kids are different. Some of them haven’t experienced this.”
“For me, the last two state championship games impacted this one because I was involved in them,” said Miller. “Palmyra has always done very well. Those two games were disappointing. Today we proved we could do it. This one is ours.
“We were the runner-up the last two years,” added Miller. “In my freshman year, we lost in overtime and it was very frustrating. Last year was also very frustrating. Both were close games, but today we proved we wanted the gold.”
Miller’s game-winning goal was more about guts than ability.
Off a corner insert from Miller, Palmyra’s Alexa Derr uncorked a good reverse shot on the Archbishop Carroll cage. The ball didn’t make it all the way through to Patriot goalie Courtney Keith, and Miller found it at her feet, to the right of the goal.
Miller’s first attempt was low and kicked out by Keith. But Miller, who did not play in Tuesday’s 3-0 semifinal win over Selinsgrove because of a foot injury, stayed with the rebound and lifted it over the sprawled Keith and into the cage.
“It was a persistence goal,” said Harshman. “It came off a rebound. It was a second shot. Anna did a nice job of pulling the ball back and lifting it over the keeper.
“She begged to play,” Harshman continued. “She said ‘big dog, please put me in.’ She’s been nicked up. But that child has so much heart and so much guts. She finished.”
“Initially, it deflected off a stick,” said Miller. “The goalie made the first save. It took a few seconds, but I realized it, I pulled it back and shot it over her. I thought to myself, “I have to get it over her. I have to get it over her.’ Everything’s a blur after that.
“I was feeling unsure about what to do (because of an injury),” Miller added. “But this was a huge deal and I wanted to take part in it. There was a lot of adrenaline and my foot felt fine. I asked Coach to play and he put me in.”
After Derr had clanged a couple of shots off the Patriot goalpost, Palmyra assumed a 1-0 lead with 1:23 left in the first half.
From the left portion of the circle, Maddie Hudson smacked a high shot that Keith knocked down. The ball landed at Keith’s feet and when she lost sight of it for a split-second, Cougar Keely Bowers there was there to knock it home.
“I thought we had the better of the play,” said Harshman. “But you’ve got to finish plays. They (the Patriots) did a great job of taking away our plays. They have good size. They’re big, fast and physical kids. They’re very good, particularly defensively.
“Some of the things we’re used to doing, they took away,” added Harshman. “We saw them on film. But on the field, beside them, you find out about the little things they do.”
“I thought we dominated in the first half, with our passing game,” said Miller. “And we were able to score in the first half. The second half was definitely an even competition. It was harder for us to connect.”
Archbishop Carroll had forced overtime with a Sienna Golden goal that tied the score at one, with 6:53 left in the third quarter. Golden’s score also came on a rebound, off an assist from Cate McConaghy, one that originated from a corner play.
“We changed some things from last year,” said Harshman. “We tried to eliminate the distractions. We prepared to play hockey. Our kids play hard all the time. Was our execution perfect today? No, but we played hard.
“But Archbishop Carroll was great defensively,” added Harshman. “They were great with their jabs. I think we were a little frustrated not being able to do the little things we like to do.”
On the final stat sheet, Palmyra out shot Archbishop Carroll 12-4. The Cougars were awarded nine penalty corners compared to the Patriots’ two.
“This year, things have been so different,” said Harshman. “Maybe that made it easier today, dealing with little frustrations, if there were any.”
“It’s really hard to describe,” said Miller, of her emotions. “I’m proud of the whole team. We came here and lost the last two years. Now we can finally leave with the gold. There’s definitely a lot of adrenaline.”
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: 2020
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
2020 – Class AA, Palmyra 2, Archbishop Carroll 1, OT
2019 – Class AA, Wyoming Valley West 2, Palmyra 1
2018 – Class AA, Donegal 1, Palmyra 0, OT
2016 – Class AAA, Emmaus 5, Palmyra 1
2015 – Class AAA, Emmaus 1, Palmyra 0, OT
2014 – Class AAA, Palmyra 1, Penn Manor 1, OT
2007 – Class AA, Mifflinburg 2, Palmyra 1, OT
2005 – Class AA, Palmyra 4, Oley Valley 0
1994 – Class AA, Villa Maria Academy 1, Elco 0, OT
1992 – Class AA, Upper Moreland 1, Elco 0, 2 OTs
1979 – Class AAA, Great Valley 2, Northern Lebanon 1
1978 – Class AAA, Delaware Valley 3, Cedar Crest 0
1977 – Class AAA, Cedar Crest 3, Southern Columbia 0