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“Crazy” is the only word that Gracyn Catalano could think of to describe winning the 2022 PIAA Class 2A field hockey championship.
“I’m a little in awe right now, if I’m being quite honest,” Catalano said. “After I scored, I was looking at my teammates, and I was thinking ‘oh, my Gosh. We did it. Like, we did it.’”
There were 30 seconds remaining in overtime when Catalano received a pass from Casey Tyrrell. Catalano was in the circle when she had the ball on her strong side and crushed it into the cage. She had the angle.
Catalano is committed to Lock Haven University, and Tyrrell is committed to Appalachian State University.
“We were all in shock, and I remember Casey Tyrrell, we were in the huddle, we were all cheering,” Catalano said. “She almost passed out and I held on to her like don’t pass out on me.”
The win was Mechanicsburg’s first PIAA Class 2A championship and the school’s first state championship. The Wildcats finished their season 21-4-1. And, Palmyra ended the season 20-3-2. Cumberland Valley hosted the one-day PIAA field hockey championships.
Up until overtime, Palmyra had edged out Mechanicsburg in every stat category. And, Haleigh Lambert, the Cougars goalie, rejected a Cam Standish stroke. The game highly favored Palmyra in every probability. But Mechanicsburg is studious, and each player plays with a “Big Purr” heart.
Tyrrell, who had a breathtaking defensive save during regulation, was laughing along the sidelines after the game with her teammates. She was saying, “this is heavy, this is heavy,” referring to the gold medal around her neck.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “I don’t even know. I just saw the ball coming back to my post and I just dove to clear it out of the circle. I feel on top of the world right now. I’ve never had a win as big as this. I’m so proud of this team. Everybody’s worked so hard this season. And to send the game into overtime, it just really proves that our hard work helped us to finish.”
The game ended when Tyrrell had the ball on the left side in seven-aside. She passed it up to Catalano, who made the simple, but powerful strong side shot that landed in the back of the cage.
“Rachel Buono, who was our previous center back, she was amazing,” Tyrrell said. “And, now she’s off at college playing. I had really big shoes to fill in terms of the role. She was a great player. She taught me a lot of things and I’m really grateful for her.”
Palmyra isn’t an easy program to stop. The Cougars play fast-paced hockey. They look for the foot or a way to foul in the circle. That’s evidenced by the 305 corners they earned throughout the season.
They added 18 more to their overall total during the championship game.
“I watched every game that I had, which is a lot,” Mechanicsburg head coach Tonya Brown said. “I had every single corner that they do. But he puts wrinkles in them a lot. We went over them last night. It was probably just 45 minutes of a walk through in just corners. But it worked. They knew what was coming. There were some obvious variations. It gives them a sense of where the ball is going to go and a sense of confidence. Meanwhile, we didn’t score off any of our corners, but we worked really hard on developing five, six new ones.”
Of Palmyra’s 18 corners, five of them were awarded consecutively at the end of the first after time elapsed. It started with a defensive clear over the endline, which went to an upgraded corner call. There was no time remaining, but Palmyra continued to foul a ‘Cats defender to earn each subsequent corner.
The District 3 Mid-Penn Conference Keystone Division showdown happened between the two 25s. The Wildcats were trying to avoid the ball getting to Palmyra’s Liv Kirkpatrick. And, Palmyra was just trying to get the ball inside the circle.
The ball traveled in an oval for 20 percent of the game, as each team was trying to keep it on their strong side.
Palmyra’s Alicia Battistelli was stealing the ball from Mechanicburg’s Anne Manning. Mechanicsburg’s Alana Shimp worked the ball up the right near the 50 only to have Kirkpatrick take it away. Avery Russell and Keely Bowers would speed up and plow into the ‘Cats unmovable defense.
All which led to the 0-0 score at the end of regulation.
“Work hard and keep believing,” Tyrrell said.
It was the fourth time in the 2022 season that Palmyra and Mechanicsburg met. Palmyra won two, and they tied the third. The Wildcats knew what to do by the fourth game.
“Olivia Kirkpatrick is awesome and controlled the middle of the field,” Brown said. “I felt in the second half, when we finally started cutting in front of her, it was a much different game. That’s what we needed to do.”
Strategically, Mechanicsburg wanted to take Hadley Hoffsmith’s shooting opportunities away, so they put Catalano on her.
Neither the Wildcats nor the Cougars were able to rapid fire at their opposition’s goalie. But, when Palmyra was able to get close to scoring, Alexandra Brady remained poised.
“There was power behind those clears coming out really wide,” Brown said. “That allowed for some of those fast breaks to get started. I was very pleased with her. There’s no doubt about it.”
Brady had a mantra on every corner.
“I was like, look, we’ve got this,” the volunteer firefighter said. “Get the ball out of the circle, and it’s ours to take down the field. It’s always that mindset. Let’s get this out.”
The ‘Cats roster, much like Palmyra’s, is rich with so much hockey talent. Standish, an Ohio State University commit, hustled the ball down the field on several runs, as well as Sydney Aylward, a Temple University commit. Emma Fissel and La Salle University commit Natalie Wilson protected the lanes and sent the ball up, retreating as quickly as they could when it was picked off by the Cougars.
“It’s a lot disappointing,” Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman said. “I mean, it’s very simple. We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities, and they did. And, that’s not for a lack of effort. We just couldn’t execute on our corners. And, they got a breakaway there at the end of the game, and boom. So, hats off to them.”
Lambert’s anticipation of Standish’s stroke, Harshman called it a “tremendous play.”
“But, overall, we just couldn’t execute against their corner defense, and we knew they were very good at that very thing,” he said. “Disappointing, but that’s the way it goes. It’s tough to play a team that’s as good as them four times in the same season and we didn’t win three, but we went 1-2 and tied one, and it’s tough against a team of their caliber to expect to come away with four wins when you play that same quality four times in the same season.”
He later added: “Well, we tried everything. In this hour today, in the state championship game, they just performed better than we did, but understand you’re never disappointed in your kids, you’re disappointed sometimes in their effort. I’m never, we are never, disappointed in our kid’s effort. Our effort is always 100 percent, and so there’s no disappointment that way. Disappointment for our kids that they didn’t come away with another trophy, but not disappointed in their effort at all.”
Brown said she was overwhelmed.
“The memory I’m taking with me is just that there’s 12 seniors that have worked really, really hard since third, fourth grade, and it’ll be a special group that will go down with me to my grave to be honest with you. I will never forget any one of them because they are all very special to me.”
Catalano’s shot was “perfect,” Brown said.
“Our freshman and sophomore years we weren’t very successful,” Catalano said. “Our freshman year, we made it to districts and lost in the first round to Northern. Our sophomore year, we only won four games. And, then last year, we had five program firsts.”
Putting the work in off the field is what matters, Catalano said.
“We’ve always known that we could get here just cause this group is so talented,” she said. “We’ve been playing together so well. So that connection is there. Put in all the work, I promise it does pay off. Grant it, for us, it took until the last game of our senior year, but it paid off. Always work hard and always be positive.”
*Cam Eveler contributed to this story
Wildcats: 1 (OT)
- Goals – Catalano (1)
- Assists – Tyrrell (1)
- Shots – 4
- Penalty corners – 2
- Saves – Alexandra Brady (2), Casey Tyrell (defensive save)
- Goals – 0
- Assists – 0
- Shots – 2
- Penalty corners – 18
- Saves – Lambert (3)