She knows that she has spent 33 years as Hagerstown Community College’s women’s basketball coach, but hasn’t realized it until recently. She knows she has spent countless time coaching, but she’s loved the work.
And she knew she had a chance for 600 wins in her career, but she had to realize that it wasn’t a lock.
“I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not get it,” Palmer said. “I reminded myself that I’m not coaching for the individual recognition. That all comes from your assistant coaches and players working hard and luck.”
As luck would have it, Palmer entered her 33rd and final season with 582 victories. There was a chance for a milestone but it wasn’t a given … until now. Palmer will be trying to win for the 600th time on Saturday when the Hawks travel to Howard. A victory would add a degree of relevance to the season.
“I’m surprised,” Palmer said. “If you asked me if I thought we’d be 17-1, it’s unbelievable. It’s because of how we have been winning our games. We have had close games and ones where we didn’t get the lead until the end of the game. We have won by one point, three points, five points and six.
“There have been times where we have been behind at halftime and struggling to find a way to score and just find a way to win. I can give this team the ultimate compliment. They are competitors.”
Palmer looked at her final edition of the Hawks with guarded optimism. They had returning talent and experience, but she admits she didn’t know how it would all play out.
That made an 18-win season a dream. Now, it’s just the end of a difficult trip.
“I’ve been thinking about the journey between my 500th win and the 600th,” Palmer said. “The year we got to 500 (2007), with retirement on the horizon, I was thinking the next 100 would be quick. The next year, we got to 530 because we had 25 wins and I thought this was possible.
“But then, we started to crawl. We were crawling through the middle and then we endured our first losing season (2009-10) since 1992.”
This year’s Hawks burst from the gate, winning their first five games before losing to Montgomery-Rockville. Since then, HCC has won 12 striaght to lift Palmer’s record to 599-351 heading into Saturday.
“I had to be OK with the possibility of finishing with 598 wins,” she said. “I told myself if that happened I know I worked as hard as I could and helped the players as much as I could. I was OK with it.”
HCC has come a long way in Palmer’s 33 seasons, starting as a program that won just two games with six players in 1979-80. The Hawks had their first winning season in Palmer’s third year and went 21-5 and went to the national tournament in her fourth.
“I did some math in my head,” Palmer said. “The big schools play a lot more games than we do. There were years when we just played 20-25 games. When I put 600 into context of how many games we have played, it makes this more significant. I haven’t had as many chances.”
But Palmer has made the most of her chances.
Still, her march to 600 has been kind of quiet. The Hawks have approached the milestone with little fanfare as they have had a string of road games, which might have taken some of the nerves out of the impending accomplishment.
A win Saturday will probably be met with much less fanfare than on Jan. 31, 2007, when HCC defeated Harford for Palmer’s 500th victory.
“I was completely blown away by the interest of that event,” Palmer said. “I was being interviewed and I got emails, postcards and phone calls from people I never heard of. I was blown away by the magnitude.”
This time, it will be different. It is one more irrelevantly relevant number before she ends her long career on HCC’s bench.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Palmer said. “I’m worried about how the team will practice (today) and about making sure they are ready for Saturday. I just feel blessed that we are having this kind of season in my final season. I don’t want the 600th win to be the only thing we accomplished this year. I hope we aren’t done yet. I hope this is just the first of many things to come.“