With a program as consistently good as the Palmyra Cougars girls basketball team has been in recent memory, talking about a fresh start is a rare conversation – especially coming off a 15th straight winning season.
But that’s where the Cougars find themselves heading into the 2016-17 season, after long-time coach Ron Berman stepped down at the conclusion of last season.
Luckily, the Cougars have brought in someone very capable of keeping up with its winning tradition, who just happens to be looking at a fresh start, too.
Seven-year Dallastown coach Mary Manlove takes over for Berman after a successful run with the Wildcats. Her teams posted a 114-77 record, including a York-Adams tournament title in 2014, and a YAIAA division title in 2015.
The ending, however, was ugly, as Manlove was fired following complaints from some players and their parents about her coaching style. Manlove strongly denied the accusations, and was never disciplined after investigations by Dallastown High School and local law enforcement.
Having moved on, Manlove found a special connection with Palmyra, and now is ready for a new beginning.
“I’m thrilled with the players, parents, administration and community. It’s a dream job for me," Manlove said. "The kids are ready to work hard and are so accepting and welcoming of feedback. Palmyra has an incredible reputation. Coach Berman’s a legend. He helped me understand the great things about Palmyra and is there when I need him. He’s created this culture of success. I’m just fortunate to be a part of it and hope to continue his success.”
After seeing the Cougars in action during her Dallastown days, Manlove already knew the transition would be made easier with a strong core of players returning.
“I just thought the kids were fundamentally sound. I looked at Palmyra and wished I could get our program to that level,” she said. “I never thought in a million years I’d be here. I feel incredibly supported here and couldn’t do this without it.”
Part of that core looking to lead the way is senior forward Hayley Schultz, who says she and her teammates have already bought into Manlove’s system.
“It’s been a little different, but I think we’re adjusting to it pretty well and we’re just trying to get better,” Schultz said. "I think the changes for us are good. I can already see improvement. Our focus has been a lot better.”
A lot of the improvement has come by Manlove simply taking the rock-solid system left by Berman and tweaking it, in hopes of creating something many opponents could find very difficult to stop come tip-off.
Manlove said, “I think Coach Berman had a really strong philosophy of how to move the ball and attack. Those pieces are in place and that’s easy to coach when kids know how to move the ball and make smart decisions. We’re just trying to be a little more up-tempo because our kids can move the ball so well, that I think we can get buckets in transition. We also just need to add in more communication and trust with what we’re executing.”
Besides Schultz, the Cougars have Jordyn Garcia and Mara Bowman returning for their senior seasons, as well as junior Hannah McLucas.
“Jordan has been doing an incredible job as a leader, setting the tone for the underclassmen. Hannah adds a little piece of a fire. She’s really explosive in transition and crafty,” Manlove said. “Our young kids, Amelia Baldo and Olivia Richardson, have also been workaholics in practice.”
Bottom line, Manlove says it’s vital to listen and learn from everyone.
“I want to establish relationships with the kids better, and find out their learning and competitor styles,” she said. “If you have a good relationship with them, they’ll want to work hard for you. They’re very respectful and appreciative.”
With that comes the biggest challenge for Manlove – adjusting on the fly while trying to maintain this team’s excellence as a constant contender.
But her players are very confident a season of transition could be a season to remember.
“Our expectations haven’t changed. I definitely think we can make another playoff run,” Schultz said.
Coach: Mary Manlove
Last year: 13-10
Returning players: Hayley Schultz (sr.), Jordyn Garcia (sr.), Mara Bowman (sr.), Hannah McLucas (jr.)
Season opener: Friday, Oct. 9 at Kennard-Dale, 5.