The United States Coach of the Year: 2018
Briana Price, Hershey (Pa.)

It was 13 years ago when Briana Davies helped Palmyra (Pa.) to a dominating PIAA Class AA championship over Oley (Pa.) Valley.

Much has happened to her since. She won two national championships at the University of Maryland. She had a cup of coffee with the U.S. women's national team in the run-up to London 2012. She got married and became a personal trainer.

But whenever she and her former Palmyra teammates got together, the topic always turned to that November 2005 day when the Cougars played near-perfect hockey.

It was that experience that Price drew on the morning that the team she now coaches, Hershey (Pa.), met up with neighborhood and conference rival Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) for the 2018 PIAA Class AAA title.

"The memories you will gain from this, you will take for a lifetime," she told her team before the game. "It doesn't happen that often, but if you are able to do this, you're going to remember this forever."

The Class AAA final was indeed a memorable game, decided in overtime after some swings in momentum the last 15 minutes of regulation. For her efforts, Briana Davies is the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2018.

To understand Price's coaching job in 2018 and in the three previous seasons, you need to understand the geography of the Susequehanna Valley near the state capital of Harrisburg. Of the six teams in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference, four are located in just an eight-mile radius. And three of them -- Lower Dauphin, Hershey, and Palmyra -- are located right next to each other along Route 322.

As such, the players and families in the area all know each other throughout generations. The derby matches featuring the Route 322 sides are often moved to the early evening to bring out more supporters.

And it was a full house in November 2018 as Lower Dauphin met Hershey for the large-school Pennsylvania state championship. Both teams had borne witness to their conference rival Palmyra losing in overtime to Donegal, and it was understood that this final would be equally close.

The first 40 minutes were full of taut, defensive hockey, especially in the short-corner phase. Hershey took the lead on a deep-angle shot from Alex Held, but Lower Dauphin drew level in the 51st with a Kate Sparks rebound.

But the intensity ramped up as the clock ticked towards the end of regulation. With the implications of every play magnified, Lower Dauphin was awarded a penalty corner with three minutes remaining. The Falcons ran a round-the-horn play, sending the play through more than one player towards the wing. The Falcons shook a player free with a clear lane to goal, and that player was fouled by the Hershey defense.

A penalty stroke was called for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

Lower Dauphin's Lauren Hunter, who had become the team's go-to stroker late in the season, was sent to the stroke mark, a mere seven yards from goal. Kit Olmstead, Hunter's teammate on the Nook Hockey club team, knew what she had to do.

"They know me already, so they don't want to do what's predictable," Olmstead said. "I don't watch the body; I just watch to see where the ball goes and react to it."

She made the stop, and the game continued into overtime. Davies, facing Lower Dauphin for the fourth time this season, had to come up with the speech of her life.

"Guys, play with heart," she told the huddle. "One chance, one championship, and you're making history."

And they did, Hershey took advantage of an ill-timed Lower Dauphin yellow card, shaking free forward Kalie Obenstein for the game-winning goal in the 65th minute.

ALSO CONSIDERED:

Caitlin Albert, Biddeford (Maine): Coached team to first state championship since 1990

Cheryl Capozzoli, Newport (Pa.): Two years ago, she led the Buffalos to their first state tournament appearance in decades. This year, the team made the Class A state final

Diane Chapman, Garden City (N.Y.): One of the all-time great coaches in New York public school history, she guided the Trojans to a state title win over Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.), breaking their nearly decade-long grip on the Class B title

Jen Crook, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.): Won first state championship despite controversy over having a pair of males on the team, including one of her sons

Kathryn Dolan, Andover Phillips Academy (Mass.): Won third NEPSAC Class A title in the last four seasons with a 19-0 record

Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.): Coached her side to a 20th straight state championship which included wins over five state champions

Jodi Byrd Hollamon, Delmar (Del.): Guided an impressive side to a third straight state title with some help from a couple of eighth-graders

Shannon Horosky, Danbury Immaculate (Conn.): Coached team to first state championship

Mary O’Connor, Dennis-Yarmouth (Mass.): Team won first state championship since 1987

Sarah Pallino, Millburn (N.J.): In an area of the country dominated by long-time powerhouses, she was able to coach the Millers to their first sectional title in 36 years

Spencer Wagner, Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.): Piloted team to first state championship
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