BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – From the outside looking in, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team simply possesses a strong desire to succeed. But from the inside looking out, what the Cougars are really motivated by is fear of failure.
On Thursday night, Palmyra just kept keeping on, as they pulled away from Elco for a 54-33 non-league triumph. After a tight opening quarter, the Cougars employed their patented full court man-to-man pressure defense to out score the Raiders 29-12 during the middle stanzas.
The win lifted Palmyra to 4-0 overall, while the Raiders dropped to 0-2. Over the last two-plus seasons, the Cougars have compiled an astounding 61-5 overall mark – that’s a winning percentage of .938.
“They motivate themselves,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman of his troops. “Pride. Heart. Expectations. They expect to win. We want to play hard, play smart, play together and have fun. We talk almost every day about if we did that or not. I don’t put heart in some of these kids. But we do work on motivation.
“The kids are great. They compete,” Berman continued. “They’re very good athletes and they’re used to winning. They bring the winning attitude. And we have a strong program in terms of teaching. I have a great coaching staff.”
“I’ve been there as a player,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay of the Cougars’ amazing success. “I can appreciate what they’re doing. In this area, they are the most talented team. They’re all scorers. They’re all great defenders. They’re all good rebounders. They are a very, very good basketball team. They expect to win, and every team that comes in here knows it. They’re just on a run.”
Palmyra’s pressure really began to take its toll on the Elco ball handlers late in the opening quarter, and the resulting run spilled over into the second. The Raiders went without a point for a total span of 7:22, as the Cougars ripped off 13 unanswered.
Junior Maria Tukis notched six of those Palmyra points, and when Josie Stovall scored on a stick back three minutes before the intermission, the Cougars were well on their way, up 21-10.
“We’re getting there,” said Berman, who will be without both junior starters Katie Dembrowski and Kristen Smoluk until at least Jan. 15. “We’re a little sloppy, but I’m playing with three sophomores. We have a pretty good five players sitting (with injuries). We’re kind of learning as we go. You’re not going to be real sure until you see what they can do.
“We’ve always got where we are with defense,” added Berman. (Elco’s Cheyenne) Hassler hit a couple of threes, but she had to work her tail off.”
“We’ve got to be tough with the ball,” said Shay. “This is (point guard) Andrea (Harpold) first year starting and it’s certainly a learning curve. I think for the most part she held her own. Not all of those turnovers were her fault. For the most part, she did everything she could.
“She’s (Harpold) a tough kid. She’s a smart kid,” Shay continued. “We try to stay on top of her to be mentally tough. But everything to Palmyra. They did a phenomenal job of pressuring the basketball.”
Senior guard Carly Richardson led Palmyra with 15 points and Tukis counted a total of 14. Hassler paced the Raiders with a dozen points.
The Cougars held Elco to just two free throw attempts.
“Before the game, somebody said it looked like Maria was limping. But Maria limping is faster than 95 percent of other players,” said Berman. “As good an athlete as she is, she really is a better person.
“Maria Tukis can run all day, and so can Katie McClellan, and Carly’s in great shape,” added Berman. “They won’t let up. Their hearts won’t let them. I don’t think there’s many kids in that great of shape, so we can wear teams down. We’ve always been great in the second and fourth quarters.”
“I was expecting our best effort, and for the most part, that’s what we got,” said Shay. “We kept it close, but the third quarter they (the Cougars) sort of stepped it up a notch. I can’t say we didn’t play hard.
“In the first half, I thought we did some nice things,” continued Shay. “Would’ve we had enough in the second half? We were pretty much where we could be against a team like that. We got out of them (her players) what we could’ve expected.”
Thanks to an offensive rebound from Victoria Sweatlock and a jumper by Hassler, Elco stayed within striking distance early in the second half. That was until Palmyra forced another Raider dry spell, one that lasted 4:23.
A Richardson offensive rebound pushed Palmyra’s advantage to 36-19 late in the third. And a jumper from Stovall five minutes into the final period gave the Cougars a 52-27 bulge.
“Carly’s doing a great job,” said Berman. “I’ve had some great leaders. Last year, she was a tri-captain, and I think Carly learned so much from Gabi (Gundermann). We’ve talked to Carly, ‘It’s your team’. She’s a terrific kid, and she’s doing a great job of being a leader for us.
“I think Elco is a good team, not a great team,” Berman continued. “They’ll win 12-15 games. I think it helped us this being our fourth game, and it being their second game. That showed up.”
“I think we’re coming along,” said Shay. “We saw a lot of good things. Once it got out of reach, we wanted to get some starters some rest. We did a very nice job of rebounding. They (the Cougars) one of the best rebounding teams I’ve seen. They really crash the offensive boards.
“I thought we did some really nice things in the first half, especially in the first quarter,” added Shay. “We’re trying to point out the positives. But we can’t forget the fact that we’re 0-2.”
The Raiders will open their Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three slate on Friday. Palmyra is already 1-0 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference.
“The league is good, not great,” said Berman of the Keystone. “I think the league is as solid top to bottom as any year. But I don’t see a great team.
“I’d like to be eight or nine deep by the postseason,” concluded Berman. “Each night they (his players) learn more. (Sophomore) Molly Gundermann is still nervous. She’s more emotional. (Sophomore) Josie (Stovall) is much more cool. I don’t like Carly out as a point guard, but it is what it is.”