The Cougars fell behind 3-0 at the half and couldn't recover en route to dropping Saturday's 3A state championship game to unbeaten Emmaus

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WHITEHALL - True competitors will never casually accept defeat, especially in something as important as a state championship game.

But true competitors are also honest with themselves. They know when it's just not their day, and they know when it's because the team on the other side of the field is simply better.

The true competitors that make up the Palmyra field hockey team will feel the sting of Saturday's 5-1 loss to Emmaus in the PIAA 3A state title game for a little while, but the pain should quickly subside.

After all, there is no shame in accepting defeat when it's handed down by the 28-0 top-ranked team in the nation on the way to its 11th state title.

Emmaus backed up its reputation and then some, taking the lead for good just 2:40 into the game and pouring it on from there en route to denying the feisty Cougars a happy ending in their third straight state championship game appearance.

"They were great. They were really good," said Palmyra coach Kristi Costello of the Green Hornets. "I was very proud of my team to even be here, and we knew what we were up against. We had a little luck going our way in a couple of the other games and today we didn't necessarily have that same luck to get a couple of goals back that would have helped us. But I was very proud of the way we were fighting to the end. That's what our team is about - not giving up. It was a great ride."

Indications that the final ride for Palmyra (22-3) would not be a smooth one came early and often, beginning  with 27:20 still to play in the first half, when Emily Ingalls tipped in Meredith Sholder's blast from the right side of the circle on a corner play.

The Cougars held their own for a while after that and drew three straight corners later in the half in a bid to tie the game. But on the third straight corner that failed, Emmaus quickly transitioned to a fast-breaking offense that resulted in a Leah Zellner score and a 2-0 lead with 7:49 left in the first half. North Carolina recruit Sholder made it 3-0 1:35 later to ultimately put Palmyra in a daunting 3-0 hole at the half.

"You'd always like to score a goal in your first five minutes of play to get the kids to settle in," said Emmaus coach Sue Butz-Stavin. "But then sometimes you can get back on your haunches and bad things can happen, so it was a matter of us still playing to our intensity throughout the game and not letting them (back into the game)."

"Their transition was amazing. I've never seen anything like it, just the way they could get down the field," Costello said. "Hats off to them, they're a very good team and they're very good at executing and scoring goals."

Not that Palmyra didn't do its best to cut into the deficit, getting on the board with 22:36 left when freshman Lauren Wadas slammed in Nicole Shank's corner insert from the top of the circle. And if not for 13 saves in goal from Cheyenne Sprecher, Palmyra would have had an even steeper hill to climb.

But Emmaus just kept coming, and in waves, eventually answering Wadas' goal with a Kayla Kisthardt score with 11:04 to play that all but put the curtain down on yet another memorable season for Palmyra, which included a surprise 3A district title win over Penn Manor on the way to the program's fifth state finals appearance.

"I don't think anyone (at the beginning of the season) had us coming to this game and making it this far," Costello said, "except the players, coaches and the families. I'm very proud of what we were able to string together here in the postseason. It was a great year."

"The growth of this team has been unbelievable. We were very young starting out and our seniors, particularly our captains, really took those young kids and helped to mold them and helped them to grow. I'm really proud. It takes a lot just to get here, and to have the opportunity to play on the last day is amazing."

Emmaus 5, Palmyra 1

Palmyra 0 1 - 1

Emmaus 3 2 - 5

Goals: P - Lauren Wadas, E: Emily Ingalls, Leah Zellner, Meredith Sholder, Kayla Kidthardt, Madison Dill

Assists: P - Nicole Shank, E - Sholder, Kacie Patton 2, Madison Orobono

Shots: Emmaus 18, Palmyra 4

Saves: P - Cheyenne Sprecher (13 saves), E - Claire Nielsen (3 saves)

Corners: Emmaus 11, Palmyra 9

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