PALMYRA – The Palmyra Cougar faithful is doing its darndest trying not to think about what could’ve been. And how Palmyra is lessening that blow is by reminding itself how good things will be.
There is absolutely no girls’ basketball program in Lebanon County which can endure the losses of players the caliber of sisters Maddie and Callie Good like the Cougars can. Even though the Goods are no longer around, Palmyra will be athletic, talented and deep, or put another way, the best girls’ basketball squad in the County.
Maddie Good, a junior and the most talented girls’ basketball player locally, and sister Callie, a senior and a hard-working, defensive stopper of a role player, decided over the summer to forgo this current basketball season to focus on their soccer playing careers. But don’t shed too many tears for the Cougars.
Even without the Goods, the Cougars sport one of the deepest collections of female athletes ever assembled on the Lebanon County hardwoods.
“I’d have to say they’re either the most or second most talented group I’ve ever coached,” said veteran Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “We have to try to get the most out of them by putting them in positions to be successful. We want to make it more of a four-quarter game in a controlled environment.
“Maddie and Callie informed us in June that they would be playing indoor soccer over the winter,” Berman continued. “They are such classy kids. They told us early so we knew we weren’t going to have them. Now with our top seven, we’re back to being a young team. A couple of years ago, we thought this was going to be our year. But there are no hard feelings. We’ve had the Goods over to the house since then, and there were some tears shed.”
With M. Good’s decision not to come out, the moniker of ‘Lebanon County’s finest player’ has been passed to former teammate Carly Richardson, a versatile, inside-outside junior swing player. Richardson, 5-10, entertains aspirations of playing basketball in college, as does fellow Cougar and 5-10 senior Kait Carmo.
Palmyra also sports 5-7 sophomore point Katie Dembrowski, the locale’s top field hockey player who was named the Outstanding Athlete at the Lebanon County Track and Field Championships this spring, as well as 5-7 sophomore Maria Tukis, the reigning District Three Class AA cross country champion. And at least on the basketball floor, 5-10 sophomore forward Kristen Smoluk might be more athletic than that pair.
Gabi Gundermann, a 5-9 senior, is a solid contributor who will share time handling and bringing the ball up with Dembrowski. Katie McClellan, the Cougars’ soccer goalie, is a 5-9 sophomore forward, while senior Alison Langley makes Palmyra legitimately eight-deep.
With the loss of the Goods, some of the younger players will be provided with an opportunity – and asked – to step up their games.
“We’re very athletic,” said Berman. “They’re athletes who want to compete. And we’re getting it. I’m a fan of kids who play two or three sports, but you also need two or three basketball players.
“Gabi Gundermann has improved a great deal with the ball,” Berman added. “Katie Dembrowski is the kind of point guard you’d like to have. It takes her a little while to go from field hockey to basketball. But we’re hoping we can use them to offset the other team’s point guard. But it’s (the point guard play) something we’ve got to continue to develop and work on.”
Despite their weapons, the Cougars will be hard-pressed to duplicate a 2011-12 campaign when they went 23-5 overall, finished third in the District Three Class AAA tournament and qualified for the PIAA postseason. Palmyra is the two-time defending Mid-Penn Keystone Division champions.
“We were much better record-wise last season than I anticipated,” said Berman. “We won a lot close games early and we gained some confidence. (graduated senior) Chelsea Ebersole made other players around her better. Her development helped us get better offensively.
“I definitely thought we were one of the top three or four teams in our league,” Berman continued. “And we always anticipate getting to districts. The whole district-state run were battles. Our ability to compete was real special to that group.”
Under Berman’s guidance, the Cougars’ consistency has been remarkable.
Consider that Palmyra has turned in 11 straight winning seasons, and has qualified for the District Three Class AAA playoffs for ten consecutive years. From those District Three appearances, the Cougars have advanced to states eight times.
“These girls don’t know anything but winning and success,” said Berman. “They expect to be successful. Their goals are probably higher than the coaching staff’s. They say tradition never graduates. It’s ‘who’s up next?’ It’s not like the kids don’t think they can do it.
“We always start with the same goal,” added Berman. “We want to be competitive in the Keystone Division. We never talk about winning things. The thing we always preach is play hard, play smart, play together and have fun. We tell the girls, ‘Give us energy, effort and enthusiasm and my coaching staff will teach you to execute.’ We’d be very disappointed if we’re not very, very competitive this year.”