BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – It wasn’t supposed to end this way. In fact, any loss would’ve been difficult for the Palmyra field hockey team to wrap its comprehension around.
On Tuesday night at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, one of the greatest statistical seasons in the history of Lebanon County field hockey seasons came to an unfulfilling end, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA tournament. The Cougars were shocked, stunned and dismissed by Gwynedd-Mercy Academy, 2-1.
The Monarchs scored on their first two shots, four minutes apart late in the first half, and after the Cougars had lost star midfielder Katie Dembrowski to an apparent wrist injury. To its credit, Palmyra generated numerous dangerous chances over the final 30-plus minutes of play, but every time it did, there was Monarch goalie Ava Rosati standing in the Cougars’ way.
Yet in the end, the difference in the styles of play between District Three and District One field hockey may have proved detrimental to Palmyra.
The loss was only the second of the season for the District Three champion Cougars, who ended 2013 21-2. During its run, Palmyra outscored its opponents by a whopping total of 114-11, one of the greatest goal disparities in the history of the sport locally.
Gwynedd Mercy, the third-place finisher out of District One, improved to 19-3.
“It’s really hard to lose any of your seniors,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello, composing herself. “These girls had a lot of expectations. I told them I was proud of them. I thought they gave me everything they had. I’m very proud of the way they kept their composure. They kept playing Palmyra field hockey.
“I thought they played their hearts out for Katie,” Costello added, “and for each other.”
“What we had in our favor was we know our talent, and they didn’t,” said Gwynedd Mercy head coach Sue Persichetti. “We parlayed it off that. They (the Cougars) didn’t know our structure. We stayed true to our style of play. We pressure the ball. We’re very aggressive.”
The Cougars spent the entire second half desperately clawing for the equalizer that never came.
Ten minutes into the half, Palmyra missed out on a golden opportunity to tie it at two when reserve Carli Hermann was stoned on a penalty stroke by Rosati. Bomgardner picked a pretty good place for her attempt – the upper left-hand corner of the cage – but Rosati got a pad on it to deflect it wide.
Rosati also robbed Cougar forward Kendall Kreider with 8:16 remaining, after Kreider had gotten off a hard low drive from a corner play. And then after a Palmyra timeout and corner play with 3:34 remaining, Rosati – with the help of a save from a defender – turned away a flurry of three Cougar shots.
“She did really make a great save,” said Costello of Rosati on the penalty stroke. “I wouldn’t have changed my decision (as to who should’ve attempted the stroke). I had all the confidence in the world in Carli.’
“Ava’s been tested a lot lately,” said Persichetti. “She’s been tested by some great offensive players, and she’s come out on top.
“I was expecting them (the Cougars) to read our game plan,” Persichetti continued. “I don’t think they knew how we played. We were really on it.”
The Cougars assumed a 1-0 lead 9:39 into the contest, and eight seconds after K. Dembrowski went down with her injury.
Off a corner play, the ball was inserted to right wing Haley Bova. Bova didn’t hesitate, sliding a ball across the Monarch circle to teammate Kreider, who one-timed the ball along the ground and into the cage.
“They put us under a lot of pressure,” said Costello of the Monarchs. “It was hard for us to get momentum going. There wasn’t a lot of flow.”
“I feel really bad about that,” said Persichetti of K. Dembrowski’s injury. “We didn’t know their players. I didn’t know who they were losing.
“At this age level,” continued Persichetti, “it’s about staying focused and not forgetting what you’re trying to do.”
Gwynedd-Mercy knotted the score at one 8:24 before the half.
Off a little counter-attack, Monarch Coreinne Persichetti found teammate Nicole Catalino alone in the left portion of the Cougar circle. Catalino uncorked a blast that beat Palmyra keeper Nicole Berger to the near post.
Then 4:25 before the break, Catalino struck again. This time as the result of a semi-rush, Catalino turned her stick around and ripped a ‘backhander’ high into the Palmyra cage.
“I really don’t know if there’s a difference between District One and District Three field hockey,” said Persichetti. “I know my district. We play pressure ball, and we don’t play on turf. In District Three they play a lot on turf and they play a very structured game with less possession.”
“Things didn’t go our way,” concluded Costello. “We didn’t have fate.”
The final stats saw Palmyra out shoot Gwynedd-Mercy 15-4. The Cougars were awarded 11 penalty corners to the Monarchs’ six.
In going 4-1 in the postseason, Palmyra outscored its opponents by a collective margin of 15-4.
With 31 goals, sophomore Erin Huffman paced the Cougar attack in 2013. Kiley Gallagher contributed 17 goals and 18 assists to the Palmyra cause, while teammates Bova collected 15 goals and 16 assists and K. Dembrowski added 12 goals and 17 assists.
No less than nine Cougars scored five or more goals during the campaign.