Palmyra bests Hershey 2-0 in District 3 Class 2A championship to claim 2022 title

Don’t let Avery Russell’s smile fool you.

Underneath her gentle exterior is a goal hungry Palmyra field hockey player just waiting to rock.

And, for two postseason games in a row, she’s scored the game-winner for the Cougars.

Palmyra claimed the gold in the District 3 Class 2A champion round after defeating Hershey, one of the Cougar’s Mid-Penn Conference Keystone Division foes. The final score was 2-0 Palmyra.

“Well, Morgan (Lantz) made a great pass to me, into open space, and I was just trying to get that pass and move around the goalie,” Russell said.

That’s her version.

What everyone else saw was a highly skilled player turn on the heat. She made her scoring attempt look easy, as she marched into the attack circle to accomplish one mission. Score. Her point increased Palmyra’s lead in the third to 2-0.

Hershey, who was unable to find forward momentum, was having difficulties organizing. Palmyra was two-to-three steps ahead of the Trojans. The Cougars were utilizing its entire team to maximize its plays. They stretched passes both far and wide.

“I’m just proud of our team,” Russell said. “I think we played our best today.”

The Cougars’ backfield, specifically Addie Sholly, had a stellar performance. Not only was the Cougar defense preventing Hershey to execute corners, but Sholly was making backfield stick stops – helping goalie Haleigh Lambert – like there wasn’t a gold medal on the line.

“I think we just wanted to keep them out of the circle, try to get the ball forward and just keep the momentum flowing,” Sholly said. “We definitely had the communication like ‘passing left’ or ‘go right’ and just knowing I’m going to have a strong player to pass out wide.”

The Trojans weren’t themselves. They got flustered in the middle and caught up in the details. Their energy didn’t match Palmyra’s.

“I think we definitely got caught on our heels at the beginning,” Hershey head coach Savanna Lenker said. “I think we know that they play fast-paced hockey. They pass quickly, they have good skill that all is done at a high rate, and so I think we just got caught back and it was hard to dig ourselves out.”

Hadley Hoffsmith was the first to score in the game. It was on the Cougar’s first corner. The ball went to the top. It was passed twice, touching two sticks. The ball was dropped to post on one more pass, making Hershey’s goalie Kylie Mullen commit. Hoffsmith had the angle, the finishing shot, and the goal.

“Yeah, I think we’re really excited, and have been working really hard for this the whole season, and I think we really earned it today,” Hoffsmith said.

Russell, Sholly, and Hoffsmith were extremely humble after their win even as they had gold hardware hanging around their necks. They were all still absorbing the victory, especially against Hershey.

“She’s simple,” Palmyra assistant coach Kristi Costello said about Sholly. “That’s why she’s successful. And our team as a whole was just feeding off of that.”

Everyone knew going into the contest that it was going to be top-shelf hockey.

“Our conference is half the battle,” Lenker said. “You’re playing against hard teams the entire time, and that’s a huge piece of it is just getting here in the first place.”

Hershey’s had a “fairytale season,” she continued.

“We started in the beginning, and we said our goal was to make it to the District final and to the State semifinal, so that’s what we have our eyes set on,” Lenker said.

The Trojans are going to work on getting rid of their nervousness sooner among other things heading into states.

“I think it’s just knowing that part of it is the stage and the nerves and all of that stuff,” Lenker said. “I think part of it was just that we got caught on our heels and we couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game. And I think part of that is we’ve had no break. It’s been game after game, and the opponents have not gotten any easier, so just being able to keep our emotions in check and know that we can go further. It’s just being able to come to practice and grind it out and work on things we need to work on.”

A leader can be found among many on the Cougars squad, Palmyra head coach Kent Harshman said. He has emphasized his gratitude to his coaching staff to his senior captains to all the seniors on showing others how to treat one another with respect.

“It’s as good as leadership on any team we ever had,” Harshman said. “And that is a huge part of the success on any kind of a team. But in high school at this level, they’re very mature, and that has been a huge piece of our success this year.”

Palmyra and Hershey split the games between the two during the regular season. Each won one game and lost one. So, with that in mind, Harshman said the Cougars did a few things differently in the championship game.

“I just think our kids know what they want, and they know how hard they need to work to get that, and I think they opened with a barrage,” Harshman said. “I mean, they owned the first quarter. Everybody wants to win but there’s still a certain focus you have to have when you’re talking about 13-to-18-year-old kids that I think can’t always comprehend what it takes to want to win. To really want to win. But I mean I was extremely proud of them.”

Two things Harshman was hoping to see this season were accountability and taking responsibility. He didn’t want to hear “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.”

“Especially with this team, but with most of our teams, there’s never a question about effort,” Harshman said. “We always get a hundred percent effort. The question is, can the execution get above 60 percent, 70 percent? But we’re not perfect, so it’s never gonna get 100 percent. But as you approach that, you get really, really, good if you’re already good. And I think that’s where we’re trying to get right now. So, we have certainly found our way to that point in the last two weeks, and we’ll see what happens on Tuesday night and try to do it for the next two weeks.”

*Cam Eveler contributed to this story.

Cougars: 2

  • Goals – Hoffsmith (1), Russell (1)
  • Assists – Keely Bowers (1), Morgan Lantz (1)
  • Shots – 10
  • Penalty corners – 13
  • Saves – Haleigh Lambert (2)

Trojans: 0

  • Goals – 0
  • Assists – 0
  • Shots – 2
  • Penalty corners – 6
  • Saves – Kylie Mullen (8)
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