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How the Palmyra boys lacrosse team found unprecedented success

Palmyra's Pete Robertson, Jared Richard and Caleb Buckwalter have just taken the SATs, but thoughts of a nap, down time or even upcoming plans are farther from their minds than you'd expect.

They're simply hustling.

The lacrosse-playing trio must quickly be off to another can't-miss obligation on this Saturday.

What could be so important?

Well, a two-hour shift working at a lacrosse event in Campbelltown for youth players of all ages. And they hustle because they have good reason to.

First-year Palmyra coach Dave Ondrusek has required each of his players to work one shift at the event. And to date, Ondrusek has yet to steer the Cougars wrong during a season that's brought on all kinds of change they could have instead resisted.

Such community service efforts are as prime an example as any for how different this spring has unfolded compared to years past in Palmyra.

But there's one specific change that's caught most everybody's attention: the winning.

Through a 13-3 rout of Mechanicsburg in their season finale Tuesday, the Cougars notched their 13th win of the spring, a new all-time high for the program. The victory also guaranteed Palmyra's first-ever district tournament trip, a certainty that had actually been long in the making thanks to a season-ending roll of nine wins in 10 games.

Any explanation of the Cougars' newfound success undoubtedly boils down to the same reasoning behind any example of sustained athletic triumph: quality coaching, sufficient talent and the occasional brush with Lady Luck. However, there's one more piece, rather a phrase, at the center of all these ripples of change:

"We're better than we were yesterday, but we're not as good as we're going to be tomorrow."

The motto, recited as often by Ondrusek as any given command or play-call, has come to define this team.

For after dropping consecutive nail-biters to Cumberland Valley and Carlisle at the outset of its season, Palmyra managed to improve so steadily and significantly it began beating programs that previously took the black and orange for granted. In particular, the Cougars edged Trinity for the first time ever, 10-9, on April 12th, which sprung them to later victories.

"That was the turnaround moment," Ondrusek said of the Trinity win. "The biggest thing for my guys was the fact they needed self-confidence. Coming off years of not playing bad, but mediocre, they didn’t expect to win. After winning that game, it became 'We can do this.' And they have.”

Even when Palmyra has inevitably stumbled since those opening losses, such as in one-goal defeats at State College and Lampeter-Strasburg, they've still been highly competitive. In fact, the Cougars' average goal differential in defeat, 1.2, is the lowest of any Mid-Penn team. That figure is also slightly ballooned by a two-goal home loss against Hershey, a game in which Palmyra led during the second half.

Otherwise, it's been smooth sailing.

The Cougars toppled district qualifiers Central Dauphin, Central York and Red Lion all within the same week. And they ventured through the Mid-Penn Keystone perfectly unscathed, save for the understandable Hershey loss.

In turn, Ondrusek has been quick to remind his team that a fall back to the bottom can come even quicker than their recent rise to the top.

"They needed reminders every so often that you’re good, but you’ve got to prove it still," Ondrusek said. “Some of these teams that we’ve been playing, this is their Super Bowl, district championship or league championship. I have to tell them that now you’ve got the target your backs.”

Ironically enough, Palmyra's next chance to avoid complacency will come against Trinity in the opening round of the district tournament. Having already beaten the Shamrocks, who play Hershey for the Mid-Penn title Thursday, the opportunity to shrug and take them lightly is there for the taking.

Instead, Ondrusek and his talented senior class, featuring five players headed to play in college, are compelling the Cougars to write more chapters of brand new program history.

And incredibly enough, the best may still be yet to come.

Palmyra's JV team went undefeated this spring, meaning these Cougars may not only be better than they were yesterday. Next season, they may be even better than they were this year.

And they're not done yet.