Saturday at Whitehall, the Cougars ended a four-game state championship losing streak by edging Archbishop Carroll 2-1 in overtime in the PIAA 2A state title game at Zephyr Sports Complex.
It was Palmyra’s first outright state championship since 2005 and third overall – the Cougars also tied for state gold in 2014 – and served to at least partially erase the bitter memories the program had accumulated after coming up short in title game appearances in 2015, 2016, 2018 and last year.
Anna Miller was the hero of the triumph, scoring the winning goal 1:05 into overtime after she picked up the rebound of her own shot and flicked it into the back of the cage as her teammates rushed in to celebrate with her.
Appearing in their 8th state championship game and sixth in the last seven years, the Cougars (15-2) took a 1-0 lead with 1:24 left in the first half when Keely Bowers scored off a rebound as well.
But Archbishop Carroll, making its first state title game appearance, was undeterred, tying the contest on Sienna Golden’s score midway through the third quarter and ultimately pushing Palmyra into extra time, which Miller quickly ended with a hustling, persistent effort that gave the Cougars the gold.
She got off an initial shot that was saved but quickly pounced on the rebound and lifted it into the cage.
“The goalie made the initial save and the ball was just was sitting on her stick,” Miller said. “The ball seemed to sit there for a really long time. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make this go in.’ So I pulled the ball back with my reverse stick and tried to lift it over the goalie.”
“Sure there’s been frustration down here,” Palmyra coach Kent Harshman said of previous more unfulfilling trips to Whitehall and the state title game. “But what we gotta remember as a coaching staff is, yes, we were all here for those. But the kids are different. They haven’t experienced that. I don’t think that was a factor today. I think it was just, ‘Hey, this is what we gotta do.’ I think we were ready to play, it’s just that they were good.”
The Philadelphia Catholic League reps did indeed prove to be a formidable foe, fighting Palmyra tooth and nail for every ball for 61 minutes. But in the end, it was Miller’s feisty play and never-say-die-hustle that was the difference in a game that the junior forward wasn’t even a lock to play in after missing Tuesday’s semifinal win vs. Selinsgrove.
“She begged to play,” Harshman said. “She said, ‘Big Dog, will you please let me play?’ She’s not been 100 percent, but has so much heart and so many guts. I said, ‘Anna, OK, you can go. But just understand if things aren’t looking good with your leg we might have to switch things up.'”
“I sprained my foot in the district championship game, and it’s been really frustrating,” Miller said. “I’ve been wearing a boot and it took a few days to get back and start practicing again. But today, I knew that I wanted to play. I hadn’t been practicing our seven-a-side team in practice this week, but I asked Coach, ‘Can I please go in? I want to go in.'”
Miller’s goal came just in the nick of time, considering the fight Archbishop Carroll put up. Led by speedy freshman Golden, the Patriots had Palmyra back on its heels quite a bit in the second half and looked ready to finish the job late in regulation.
But with the help of some stellar defensive work from goalie Katie Knol (2 saves) and backs Emily Risser and Morgan Spagnolo, among others, Palmyra survived to fight some more in OT.
“They have good size. They’re tall, fit, physical kids,” Harshman said. “They’re very good, particularly defensively. And No. 20 (Golden) is a fabulous player.”
But after so many disappointments in the final game the last 5 years, Palmyra was determined to depart Whitehall with a smile on its face for a change.
So they battled and scrapped, and battled and scrapped some more until the title was finally theirs and they could say that going through all of the COVID-19 related stress this season was worth it in the end.
“We came here to win today,” Miller said. “It’s been a unique season, but I know that we have what it takes.”
“It’s very nice, it’s a very different change of pace from the last few years,” junior midfielder Maddie Hudson said. “So it’s very exciting to leave here smiling.”
“We’re extremely grateful that we even had a season to begin with.”
PIAA Class 2A Field Hockey Championship
Palmyra 2, Archbishop Carroll 1 (OT)
P-Keely Bowers, Anna Miller, AC-Sienna Golden (Cate McConaughy), 6:53
Shots: Palmyra 9, Archbishop Carroll 3
Saves – Palmyra (Katie Knol) 2, Archbishop Carroll 6.
Corners: Palmyra 10, Archbishop Carroll 2