PALMYRA >> As it has evolved into a consistent regular season winner and postseason contender over the last few years, the Palmyra girls volleyball team has displayed a knack for rising to the occasion and thriving in the face of the formidable challenges that comes its way.
So it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Cougars did so again on Tuesday night.
Facing backyard rival Hershey in a battle of Mid-Penn Colonial Division unbeatens at Palmyra Area High School, Palmyra showed off its big-game chops and then some, rolling to a highly impressive 3-0 victory in front of the home folks.
After taking the opening game 25-15, the Cougars, led by the trio of senior co-captains Josie Stovall and Molly Gundermann and sophomore setting sensation Kirstin West, overcame an 8-4 deficit to snare the second game 25-22, then rolled out the heavy artillery with a dominating 25-6 triumph in the third and final game.
The outcome left Palmyra in the driver's seat for another division crown at 10-0 overall and 8-0 in the Colonial, while Hershey dropped to 7-1 overall and in the division.
"They were really excited and really wanted to win, but I really thought we handled them well," said Stovall, a force at the net and on serve on Tuesday night. "I think it shows where we are in the league, that we're on top. We love big games."
"If we just play the way we should play, I think we'll be OK," said Palmyra coach Clark Sheaffer. "Rising to the occasion, I don't know, I guess that's true.
"I thought the first game we came out and played pretty well and played our game. The second game we laid off a little, and sometimes we do that. If we win the first one, we don't come out as well the second game. But then the third game we performed."
Actually, the Cougars performed at a mostly high level throughout, save for some stretches early in the first two games. Hershey, led by junior middle blocker Katie Stevens' five blocks, took the first two points of the opening game and grabbed the aforementioned 8-4 lead in the second game in which they took Palmyra to the wire.
But outside of that, it was all Palmyra, with Stovall, Gundermann and West setting the tone for what was a total team effort in all phases.
"They're our leaders," Sheaffer. "They played pretty well tonight. But I don't know if anybody stood out tonight. They played their normal game."
Except, that is, for a scintillating stretch in the final game, when, on Stovall's serve, the Cougars ran off 15 — count 'em — straight points to turn an innocent-looking 6-2 lead into a ridiculously commanding 21-2 advantage.
"It was sad that ended because I wanted to serve the rest of the game," Stovall said with a laugh. "It was a good run. We were just trying to target the libero, because she was their leader and if she wasn't playing well the team followed her. We really keyed on her."
As good as the Cougars were on Tuesday night, Stovall thinks they can be better, which should be a rather scary thought for the rest of the division and beyond.
"I think we should be playing a little better," Stovall said. "We haven't really played our best. We played pretty well against Mechanicsburg, but tonight, we didn't make them earn their points. We need to work on cleaning that up."
Palmyra 3, Hershey 0 (25-15, 25-22, 25-6) at Palmyra
Hershey stats — Kills: Katie Stevens 5, Blocks: Shaye Carver 5, Aces: Ashley Centeno 2, Digs: Hannah Ferrara 8, Assists: Lily Strader 11
Palmyra stats — Kills: Josie Stovall 3, Blocks: Stovall, Molly Gundermann 3, Aces: Melanie Sheaffer 2, Digs: Stovall, Gundermann 3, Assists: West 10
JV Score — Palmyra 2, Hershey 1