The Palmyra field hockey squad does everything as a team.
The Cougars work as a team. They play as a team.
The Cougars laugh as a team. They cry as a team.
The Cougars win as a team. They lose as a team.
On a windy Saturday afternoon at Cumberland Valley High School, the Cougars lost a state championship as a team.
After securing an early 1-0 edge, Palmyra dropped a tough 3-1 decision to Villa Maria in the PIAA Class AA final.
With the setback, Palmyra concluded its splendid fall campaign with a 22-3-1 mark. The Cougars, who have advanced to the state championship game eight times in their last ten season, fell to 2-7-1 overall in state championship games.
This season, Palmyra also captured PIAA District Three Class AA and Mid-Penn Keystone Division crowns.
Villa Maria, the champions of District One, finished the year 22-4.
“This group is very tight, maybe tighter than most,” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “They are supportive of each other. They do everything together. Those relationships will help them move on from this.”
“We’re very close,” said Palmyra senior captain Keely Bowers. “We have a lot of seniors. It’s going to be really hard. I’ll miss the time spent with my teammates.”
Opportunistic Villa Maria tallied two goals in the final 4:30 of the contest to snap a 1-1 tie and claim the title.
Caitlin Connell’s sharp cross from the left side of the field found Hurricane teammate Lauren Kurek in the goal mouth for the eventual game-winner. Then, off a corner with 1:45 remaining, Naomi Newinski tipped home some insurance from an initial attempt by Ella Cellini.
“We just didn’t make two plays on corners,” said Harshman. “They’re (the Hurricanes) dangerous. They put the ball in the net. They were no surprises. They made the plays.
“If people want to say, ‘They get there and lose,’ that’s on me,” continued Harshman. “That’s not on the kids. I could care less. Getting here eight times in ten years is pretty healthy.”
“It’s very big,” said Bowers, of reaching this point in the season. “We’ve been putting work in all season. Just getting through it one game at a time. We trusted each other.”
With 1:35 left in the opening quarter, Palmyra struck first.
Off a right corner inserted from Bowers, Hadley Hoffsmith gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead. Positioned at the left post, Hoffsmith deftly tipped home a high shot from Mallory Hudson, who drew an assist on the play.
It was Hoffsmith’s ninth goal of the season.
“I thought we played very well,” said Harshman. “They (the Hurricanes) just executed on their corners. We didn’t after the first one. There isn’t one thing I’d do differently.
“I thought we did fine offensively,” said Harshman. “When you get to this point, you’re going to be playing great defensive teams. You’re not going to get many opportunities. They capitalized and we didn’t. It’s never a matter of effort with our kids.”
“We went hard,” said Bowers. “We gave it all we had. It just didn’t go our way.”
Palmyra maintained its 1-0 advantage until 1:48 of the third period remained. Villa Maria scored on its initial shot of the game, Erin Mitchell’s redirection off an attempt by Connell.
“It was a great start,” said Harshman. “You just hope you can maintain it. We didn’t execute our corners well enough.”
“State championship games are a high level of competition,” said Bowers, who played in three during her scholastic career. “This is the best of the best. We see a lot of good teamwork. It’s just good field hockey.”
In the final tally, Villa Maria out shot Palmyra 4-3. The Cougars inserted eight corners, compared to four by the Hurricanes.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year,” said Harshman. “We always lose a lot of seniors. It’s always devastating losing seniors. They’re really great kids. But I expect our kids to be back. We’ll move forward with another group.”
If there’s been a common theme to Palmyra’s ten appearances in state championship game, it’s that the Cougars have played well, but perhaps not their best. When they’ve lost it’s been to superior performances by opponents.
“We talk about that,” said Harshman. “If you don’t show up with your game face, and you lose, that’s almost shameful. It is never shameful to get beat. If a team is a little better on any given day, it’s not shameful. We’re proud of them (his players) for getting to this point of the season.”