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It's no big secret that Palmyra and Lower Dauphin are rivals in a number of Mid Penn Keystone Division sports, most notably field hockey and girls basketball.

Palmyra athletic director Brian Weidler took steps recently with hopes that girls soccer remains in the fray.

The Cougars, under coach Katie Stafiej, lost both games last year to LD by an aggregate score of 5-2 and, subsequently, missed out on post-season play after going 11-7 overall and 6-6 in the Keystone. Stafiej resigned last fall, after being in charge of the program for two years.

Into the breach steps former LD standout Alanna Dunkle, who was named Palmyra girls soccer coach in April.

"We welcome Alanna to the head coaching ranks," Weidler said. "She brings a winning spirit and attitude, being part of some very successful programs in her journey thus far. Under Alanna's leadership, we will be direct in our will to win, without losing sight of the purpose of interscholastic athletics."

Dunkle has no head coaching experience. She served as a volunteer assistant last season under Stafiej, in her first year as an elementary physical education teacher in the Palmyra Area School District.

What she owns is an impressive resume as a player. After winning a PIAA championship, she graduated from LD as a Keystone MVP and fourth-leading scorer in school history with 25 goals and 10 assists. She then moved on to a stellar career at Liberty University.

She's hoping her experiences on and off the field will help the Cougars remain competitive in the tough Mid Penn.

"No question, the Keystone is chocked full of great competition," Dunkle said. "Mechanicsburg, Hershey and LD show up every year with a good team ready to compete.

"As far as the LD vs. Palmyra rivalry, I never really thought much about the other team as a player. I showed up every game to give my best effort, regardless of whether it was the state championship game or a scrimmage. I would like to carry that over into my coaching philosophy - be informed, but don't worry about your opponents. Focus on your own game and let them worry about you."

Dunkle is best remembered at LD for being a key player on its PIAA championship team of 2009 when girls soccer was still played in the spring. She assisted on the game-winning goal as a sophomore in the Falcons' 3-2 overtime win over Hershey in the semifinals. She then scored in the final in LD's dominating 4-0 win over Hempfield.

At Liberty, she made All-Big South Conference second team as a junior. Liberty won the conference championship that season, then lost to No. 1 ranked North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament. She also was named to the Big South all-tournament team her senior year.

"Playing at North Carolina-Chapel Hill with coach Anson Dorrance was probably the highlight of my college career," she said. "They beat us, but it still was an honor to play them."

As a former Falcon and life-long member of LDC United club teams, Dunkle knows what youth teams can mean to a high school program.

"Palmyra's feeder program is LVSC, which was formerly CPYSC," she said. "I'm a trainer for LVSC and it's been a great blessing to train these young girls. My team is composed of second through fifth graders."

LD coach Nic Amici, who was Dunkle's mentor throughout her prep career, said he's confident the Palmyra program is in good hands.

"I'm sure Alanna's going to do a great job with that program," Amici said. "I'm looking forward to competing against her teams twice each season."

Dunkle said the biggest lesson she learned from Amici was how to treat players.

"You have to build them up," she said. "That's how they gain confidence. If you tear them down, you won't get any results."

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