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Palmyra sweeps Lower Dauphin, clinches 1st PIAA berth

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NEFFSVILLE – Beating one division rival a third time during the course of a season is already not an easy task. Having to beat a second opponent for a third time is an even tougher task.

But don’t say that to this Palmyra Cougars girls volleyball team, which was also looking to create an unprecedented moment in the program’s history.

After sweeping Hershey on Saturday in the first round, the Cougars followed suit with a 3-0 win (25-17, 25-7, 25-17) over Lower Dauphin on Tuesday at Manheim Township High School in a District 3 Class 3A quarterfinal.

With the win, Palmyra has clinched a spot in the PIAA Tournament for the first time ever.

“The girls understood the situation," said an emotional Cougars coach Clark Sheaffer. "They were motivated knowing with a win we would be in states. We knew all we had to do was earn 75 points against a good Lower Dauphin team, and that’s what we did. It means a ton.”

Kirstin West led the Cougars with 26 assists, five aces, 10 digs, and two kills – both coming in the first set – helping Palmyra mount a comeback and eventually take the lead for good at 17-16, digging out of a 9-4 hole.

“I just relied on my team the whole time because they pick me up whenever I’m down,” West said. “On the court, I was just talking and that helped us to succeed.”

The Cougars carried the momentum into the second set, while also taking advantage of numerous Falcons mistakes, jumping out to a 12-4 lead before eventually cruising to a commanding 2-0 lead.

Palmyra found itself in a see-saw affair to start the third set, tied at eight early, but then erased a 14-13 deficit thanks to an 8-1 run, making it 22-14 before going on to clinch the victory.

The biggest key to the run so far for the Cougars has simply been rest, after grinding through a tiring season with tons of long road trips. The most recent was Chambersburg for the Mid Penn Conference tournament a week and a half ago, where Palmyra eventually lost to State College in the championship match.

“It did allow us to recharge the batteries and get reset for this,” Sheaffer said. "It was disappointing to lose to State College, but it’s just bragging rights. It didn’t mean anything as far as district seeding. We didn’t even know we’d have Mid Penn championships, so that wasn’t even a goal at the beginning. It’s still something we’d love to have, but hopefully we’ll achieve our goal coming up.”

But despite the time off, the Cougars still had to overcome some adversity, dealing with the death of a teammate’s family member.

Sheaffer said, “One of my players lost her grandmother, which set us back during that time. The fact they had two days off and then that emotional piece is a motivator for some players, especially for the one who lost her grandmother.”

Now that Palmyra has regained momentum, only two wins away from a district title, Sheaffer says everyone just needs to stay focused.

“At this point we get one practice and we play again. That practice is just an emotional release and letting them enjoy the game again, or else they won’t respond well,” Sheaffer said. “So practice will have a release, and then we’ll be back at it Thursday.”

Thursday’s semifinal opponent is West York, which swept Susquehanncock in their quarterfinal match. A time and place is to be announced.

“We’re just pushing the whole time. We’re ready for it,” West said.