BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The Palmyra field hockey team is constantly searching, seeking, probing for new ways to get better, for more details to fine-tune. For the Cougars, the resulting improvement is its own reward.
But that pursuit of excellence sure does come in handy at this time of the year.
On a bright Saturday afternoon at Palmyra High School’s OAL Sports Complex, the Cougars put forth one of their best efforts to-date, at one of the most opportune times of the season, during a 7-0 domination of Ephrata, in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AA postseason. Palmyra jumped on the visiting Mounts for a three-goal first period, then employed a suffocating defense to advance.
Keely Bowers registered a hat trick and an assist, while teammate Morgan Lantz scored twice, as seven different Cougars made their marks in the scorebook.
With the outcome, top-seeded Palmyra moved to 15-2-2 on the season and into Wednesday’s District Three Class AA semifinal, where it will host the winner of the Mechanicsburg-Northern York contest. The triumph also qualified the Cougars for yet another appearance in the upcoming PIAA Class AA playoffs.
The loss dropped eighth-seeded Ephrata to 12-6-1 overall.
“I had someone tell me once, ‘What I love about your program is that I can come to a game early in the season and you look good, but not great by your standards,'” said Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman. “‘Then, when I see you later in the season, your teams are much improved.’ Throughout the season, we get better and better and better. It’s very nice to have at this time of the season.
“What happens with us is that we play so much that we’re ready to go at the beginning of the season,” continued Harshman. “We’re not like most teams who are trying to find themselves in the middle of the season. Now making ‘that play’ 70 percent of the time isn’t good enough any more. Now the goal is to make it 80 or 90 percent of the time. It’s never a matter of effort with our kids. It’s always a matter of execution.”
From the outset, the Cougars went on the attack.
Some 6:06 into the contest, senior Alicia Battistelli took a feed from Hadley Hoffsmith and beat Ephrata netminder Hannah Popolis high to the right side of the cage. Then just 1:52 later, Bowers was camped on the left post and jammed home a rebound to make it 2-0 Palmyra.
Off a corner with no time showing on the first-quarter clock, Cougar Morgan Lantz pushed a rebound just inside the right post for the home side’s third goal.
“It’s never by design,” said Harshman. “But the better the start, the better things are going to go. It gives us confidence and sets the other team back. But more important than the goals was how we were playing. Were we playing our game? Yes. It was beautiful hockey in the first quarter.
“We work on rebounds in practice. We work on rebounds on corners,” added Harshman. “We keep challenging them (his players). We had a tough practice on Thursday. A lot of that showed today. We really, really played well today.”
Just 1:55 into the second quarter, Bowers included Mallory Hudson in the fun, as the Palmyra advantage reached 4-0. Off the ensuing scramble from a Kirkpatrick corner insert, Bowers got the ball to Hudson, and she poked it home.
The Cougars netted a pair of goals in the third period, both off corners. Bowers finished a dynamite pass from Battistelli, and Lantz scored on a precise short-side shot, after being set up by Kirkpatrick.
“We felt like if we played our game we’d be in a good position,” said Harshman. “I’m thrilled with how we played, especially in the first quarter. I’m proud of our kids. We had a good day.
“It’s tough to prepare for you if you have distributed scoring,” Harshman added. “You can’t just focus on one or two players. We’re proud of that. We love it when the scoring is distributed.”
Bowers completed her hat trick 1:44 into the final period, with a quick shot, off a pass from Brie Eckenroth and another corner.
Palmyra out shot Ephrata 25-1, and posted a 19-1 advantage in penalty corners.
“They do take our direction well,” said Harshman of his charges. “When we get in a happy place, we start drifting left. We want it to be on the right side. We don’t want it on our reverse.
“Our coaching staff is amazing,” Harshman continued. “We have such good coaching, and they’re all former players of ours.”
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2022 Palmyra Field Hockey Results
PIAA District Three Class AA Power Rankings
|16||Spring Grove Area||9-||6-||2||0.568558||0.619048||0.506849||10.40||148.00||6.40||144.00|
Palmyra Field Hockey
Championship History Since 1998
Capital Division Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2001 – 2009
Keystone Division CO-Champions of the Mid-Penn Conference: 2013, 2014
Mid-Penn Conference Champions: 2009
District III AA Champions: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2019, 2020
District III AAA Champions: 2015, 2016
1984 – ???
1991 – Ann Gruber
2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 – Wendy Reichenbach
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 – Kristi Harshman-Costello
2019 – Kent Harshman
Pa State AA Champions: 2005, 2019, 2020
Pa State AAA Co-Champions: 2014
Pa State AA Runner-Up: 2007
Pa State AA Runner-Up; 2018
Pa State AAA Runner-Up 2015
PA State AAA Runner-Up 2016