Palmer Ridge beats Kent Denver in shootout for first field hockey state championship

Palmer Ridge field hockey team champions

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

DENVER — The trophy, in recent years, had lived just beyond their grasp.

But this time, Palmer Ridge field hockey seized it just as it looked to be slipping away. No amount of adversity — nor snow, nor wind — was going to pry it from their grip. The Bears beat Kent Denver in a shootout to win field hockey's championship, the program's first title.

"That was one of our things: We said, 'We do not want to go to a shootout. It's not our thing, we are a field team, we want to win this on the field,'" said Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis. "But when the going got tough, man, they got up and did it. It was awesome."

Thursday marked the fourth time in six seasons that Palmer Ridge appeared in field hockey's title game. In the three prior trips, they'd finished runner-up.

But not tonight.

"It's awesome," Lewis said. "I couldn't be more proud of these girls. They come and they work so hard. We have such a special group, it's been a special bond. They really came together. It's just exciting to be a part of it and coach it and see it all unfold."

Liz Phillips, the Bears' senior leader, put away the winning goal with a nifty move in the shootout round, giving Palmer Ridge a 3-2 (5-4) win over Kent.

Palmer Ridge field hockey team champions

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

"I was just thinking about how much work this team has put in, and how close of a team we are," Phillips said. "And I was thinking that all this hard work that we've put in for the last four years has all paid off. For some of us, this is our third state championship (game). Third time's a charm."

A light, steady snow began to fall about two hours prior to the championship game. It continued throughout, causing workers to clear lines with shovels. Just before the shootout, they worked to clear the entire semicircle area so that players had a clean surface to play on.

The weather didn't seem to faze Palmer Ridge, which jumped out quickly in the first half by grabbing a 2-0 lead.

Jordyn Isner, Palmer Ridge's leading scorer, put her team up 1-0 following a scramble in front of the goal 10 minutes into the first half. Sydney Chytka picked up an assist, her third in two games.

Then Abby Hermann followed that with a deflected goal on a corner. Chytka set it up with a shot, notching yet another assist.

At that point, the Bears looked to be in firm control.

But Kent Denver, arguably field hockey's most storied program in this state which won last season's championship, fought back firmly. Maddy Johnson scored two goals less than three minutes apart to tie the game at 2.

"We've been in this situation before, and we know what it's like to come back and lose, and that's not a fun situation to be in," Phillips said. "We just knew that if we kept pushing, and we kept playing, then we could pull it out."

Things stayed tied until the end of regulation, and through two overtime periods. It set the stage for the shootout — the fourth in the 21-year history of field hockey's championship games.

In that shootout, both teams traded goals until Palmer Ridge goalie Reece Wagers forced a shot wide with a sprawling dive to her left.

"It's really nerve-wracking," Wagers said of the shootout round. "I've been working on that all season. I was so nervous at the beginning, but I knew I couldn't look that way because they would get me then. You just have to try your best."

The win is a fitting end to a career for Lewis, who said after the game that he plans to retire. Mallory Cuccio, an assistant who played for Lewis, will take over the program.

"This is my year to retire," Lewis said. "It's a good way to go."

Palmer Ridge field hockey team champions

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Palmer Ridge field hockey team champions

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)