Each team is different. Each squad has its own personality. Each journey is unique.

But there are certain distinct characteristics that every Palmyra field hockey team shares. They’re traits like being fundamentally sound, well prepared, and mentally focused.

Palmyra and Hershey line up before the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA playoff tournament, held Tuesday evening at Lower Dauphin Middle School. (Will Trostel)

On a cool Tuesday evening at Lower Dauphin Middle School, the 2023 Cougars followed a long-standing program tradition in besting Hershey, 3-1, in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA playoff tournament.

After relinquishing an early goal to its rival, Palmyra netted a pair of goals 2:45 apart late in the final period to advance to yet another state championship game.

Hershey freshman forward #19 Emma Wyckoff attacks the goal. (Will Trostel)
Hershey celebrates an early goal. (Will Trostel)

With the outcome, District Three champion Palmyra improved to 21-1-1 on the year and moved into Saturday’s 1 p.m. Class AA state championship game at Cumberland Valley High School, opposite Villa Maria, which edged Gwynedd Mercy 2-1 in the other semi. The Cougars are now 8-0 in their last eight state semifinal contests.

Palmyra has not historically fared as well in PIAA championship competition – the Cougars are 2-6-1 all-time in state championship games, including last season’s 1-0 overtime loss to Mechanicsburg.

Last night’s triumph over Hershey was the Cougars’ fourth this season. The Trojans, the fifth-place finishers out of District Three, concluded their campaign 15-7 overall.

“It’s been good coaches, great preparation and overall, our kids are always hungry,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman’s of his side’s traditional success in state semifinal games. “I like to look at the program and how it’s done overall. But each group of kids is different.

“What stands out to me about this team is how tight the group of eight seniors is,” continued Harshman. “They’re as tight as any group of seniors we’ve had. They do everything together. They have shared in a couple of family tragedies. We’re extremely proud of them.”

“This team is very similar to last year,” said Cougar junior forward Hadley Hoffsmith. “We have a great team culture. We get along on and off the field. We have a lot of fun with it. We have high intensity and great focus in practice.”

Palmyra junior forward #26 Hadley Hoffsmith attacks Hershey’s net. (Will Trostel)

It was Hoffsmith who netted Tuesday’s game-winner, with 6:45 left in the final quarter, after the Cougars and Trojans had battled for 29 minutes tied at one apiece.

Stationed at the right post and unmarked, Hoffsmith accepted a feed from teammate Mallory Hudson at the top of the circle, and made no mistakes to the short side of the cage. But the decisive play had been created by a skillful rush up the field by Jovie Weaver.

Palmyra junior forward/midfielder #28 Mallory Hudson drives the ball downfield. (Will Trostel)

“She found a ball on her stick and popped it in,” said Harshman of Hoffsmith. “Hadley’s a great player and she’s in the United States (field hockey) pipeline. When we play her at forward, she can finish. She doesn’t get a lot of recognition. We don’t care who scores, but she deserved to be the one to get that goal.”

“It was all teamwork,” said Hoffsmith. “Mallory saw me at the post and passed it right to me.”

Then, with 4:00 remaining in the contest, Addie Sholly all but settled the outcome with an insurance tally for Palmyra. Off a right corner insert from Kelly Bowers, Sholly rocketed a blast from the right that caromed off Hershey goaltender Kylie Mullens’ pad and into the cage.

Palmyra junior forward/midfielder #28 Mallory Hudson drives towards the net against Hershey’s #8 Lexi Schulz. (Will Trostel)

“We moved a couple of people around during the game, just to give them (the Trojans) a different look,” said Harshman. “We have tremendously skilled kids who can play anywhere. I thought we were carrying the play.

“I thought we played well,” Harshman added. “We will talk in practice about what happened on the (early Hershey goal) corner. Otherwise, we played fundamentally sound. We just thought it was a matter of time. When you’re not getting penetration and not getting chances, that’s another thing. But that wasn’t the case tonight.”

“Definitely when Hershey scored in the first quarter it shook us up,” said Hoffsmith. “But our mindset shifted, and we picked up the momentum. Then we were on a roll.”

Hershey took a quick 1-0 lead on a goal by Taylor Valoczki just 3:15 into the contest. The score stayed that way until 3:23 before halftime, when Bowers converted a rebound from the right post off a corner play.

Palmyra in a halftime huddle. (Will Trostel)

“The first corner just happened,” said Harshman of the Hershey tally. “I don’t think we were slow getting started. They’re good.”

“Obviously this is important because it gets us to the state championship game,” said Hoffsmith. “But Hershey is one of our rivals. Any time you play Hershey it’s going to be a tough game.”

Palmyra celebrates a goal. (Will Trostel)

Palmyra outshot Hershey 17-5 and enjoyed a 15-4 advantage in penalty corners.

“Just to get the kids there is a great accomplishment,” said Harshman of the PIAA final. “We’ll work hard in practice and see what happens.”

“I remember that we put all of our effort out there,” said Hoffsmith of last year’s 1-0 overtime loss to Mechanicsburg. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But we’re looking to put that total effort out there again on Saturday.”

Lebanon County History in State Field Hockey Championship Games

  • 2021 – Class AA, Mechanicsburg 1, Palmyra 0, OT
  • 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

Palmyra regular season results

2023-08-31HvsCentral York(3)W8-0
2023-09-13AvsEast Pennsboro(3)W6-0
2023-09-18AvsLower Dauphin(3)W2-1
2023-09-20HvsRed Land(3)W6-0
2023-09-21AvsManheim Township(3)T2-2
2023-10-02HvsEast Pennsboro(3)W9-0
2023-10-04HvsLower Dauphin(3)L2-1
2023-10-09AvsRed Land(3)W1-0
2023-10-13AvsPenn Manor(3)W3-0
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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...


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