April 16, 2014 — Lessons learned from the WNBA draft

Monday night, the draft for the WNBA’s 18th season was held, and there were a handful of trends that evinced themselves over the course of the evening.

1. The Seattle Storm needs help. With Lauren Jackson missing the entire WNBA season with injury and with the retirement of Tina Thompson, the Storm went big. They traded for 6-foot-2 Crystal Langhorne, then drafted 6-foot-4 forward Michelle Plouffe and hot-and-cold shooter Mikaela Ruef. And let’s face it: Brian Agler never met a trade he didn’t like.

2. The Washington Mystics got help. The franchise once known for having two “attendance champions” banners in the rafters have made a number of moves to fill seats. After acquiring Kara Lawson from Connecticut, the Mystics drafted Stefanie Dolson from the University of Connecticut, then traded for her former UConn teammate Bria Hartley as well as forward Tianna Hawkins. But what allowed Washington to improve to last year’s 17-17 mark was rebounding; the team was fifth in the league in team rebounds. And with Australian center Carley Mijovic possibly joining with Belgian Emma Meesseman and Dolson in what could be a loaded center-forward position, I somehow think rebounding isn’t going to be a problem.

3. Pocket centers. Speaking of Mijovic, she’s not the only draft pick that was made with a long-term goal in mind, even though the players selected may not play immediately. Mijovic, currently playing in the Australian women’s pro league and currently training with the Opals (the Australian national team) for this summer’s World Cup, is not expected to join her team this fall. Neither is Jennifer Hamson, the 6-foot-7 part-time volleyball player who is staying a fifth season at Brigham Young University. A wild card in this is Indiana Fever draftee Natalie Ochunwa, who was injured in the national quarterfinals for Notre Dame. Ochunwa may be the best female basketball player that Canada has ever produced, but we’ll know a lot more about her grit and dedication. She goes in for surgery this Friday and will be out from six to nine months.

4. Stars in the backcourt. The San Antonio Stars went with a pair of aggressive shooters in Notre Dame star Kayla McBride and Bri Kulas. Will that allow 15-year veteran Becky Hammon to retire gracefully?

5. Tina Charles is back in the city. With Charles, a former No. 1 overall pick, unhappy with playing for the Connecticut Sun, the team traded her back to the New York Liberty. Aside from the obvious expectations for the team, especially now they’re back at Madison Square Garden after a two-year exile to Newark, the episode raises a question about how the WNBA structures its contracts with its players. Charles may play at “home” for the Liberty (she is a native of Queens), but she also plays basketball for Galatasaray Medical Park in Turkey, and makes more in salary overseas than she does here, despite being one of the best at her craft.

It should be a transformational season for the league.

April 14, 2014 — An achievement ladder

Starting today, the girls’ lacrosse team from Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) makes its final assault on some all-time team records. Every game this week represents a particular step in the Eagles’ program’s march to a very elusive place — and, much like the way that Austyn Cuneo ran roughshod over the record books through most of the 2013 field hockey season, this week represents a time during which McDonogh can set some sort of record every game.

Today, against a very good Ellicott City Marriott’s Ridge (Md.) team, McDonogh looks to become the third team in recorded scholastic lacrosse history to win 103 games in a row. To do so, Chris Robinson would tie a record co-held by his former school, Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.). Robinson coached the first five games of that streak, which Brooke Kuhl-McClelland took to 103 before it ended in 2007. The record would also tie a mark set between 1973 and 1982 by Towson Loch Raven (Md.).

Later this week, McDonogh is scheduled to play against Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.), which throttled McDonogh to within an inch of its lacrosse life in the IAAM Flight “A” championship last spring. Since then, the program has taken on Courtney (Martinez) Connor as head coach, but St. Paul’s has not been on a good run of form lately. The Gators have lost three of four coming into this week, but with the pressure of breaking the existing national best for girls’ lacrosse wins and tying Loch Raven’s 104-game unbeaten streak (which had begun with a tie back in 1973), this should make this a compelling contest.

After that, the Eagles participate in the Fight for Five lacrosse tournament at Mount Hebron, where Robinson once coached. Between 1996 and 2001, Robinson’s Vikings had won 107 games, drew one, and lost eight. A win in the opening game at 11 a.m. against Pylesville North Harford (Md.) would allow the current McDonogh team to stand alone in terms of both winning and unbeaten streaks. The afternoon game would see the winner of that game playing against either the hosts or Edgewater South River (Md.).

Saturday’s match is no less notable than the games occurring this week, especially since McDonogh hasn’t had to play two games in a day except for last year’s Hebron tournament.

There isn’t much time for the Eagles to celebrate; after this weekend, they take on the oldest girls’ lacrosse program in the country, Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.) in their next game.

April 12, 2014 — Reverse travel

For much of the last decade, the state of Florida has become the single most improved region for the sport of lacrosse.

Much of it is because Florida has become a destination spot for cold-weather teams to start their practices or to scrimmage teams in mid-season form, since high-school teams in the state start their seasons earlier than just about everywhere else in the Union.

Few, however, have taken advantage of their destination status like Vero Beach (Fla.). Over the last decade, the Indians have taken on all c0mers, including playing Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) the last three seasons. The team has improved through its competition and a few years ago made a good case for being the finest team in the country.

But aside from an occasional trip over the border to Milton (Ga.), they haven’t taken their act on the road.

Today, however, Vero Beach finishes a two-game road trip at Moorestown (N.J.) after yesterday’s 11-9 loss to South Huntington St. Anthony’s (N.Y.). It’s a game which finishes Vero Beach’s regular season, but it is only the Quakers’ sixth game of the season.

There is a lot on the line for Moorestown in this match. The team is currently the No. 1 team in the LaxPower.com computer rankings (albeit it takes about 10 games to calculate a ranking), and it’s one of only a few opportunities for the team to remain in the upper echelon because of its Burlington County Scholastic League schedule. Moorestown, over the next few weeks, takes on Suffern (N.Y.) and Wallingford Strath Haven (Pa.), teams which will aid in the computer rankings when it comes to strength of schedule.

But for Moorestown, this game is big because it is a rare trip for their opponent. It should be a great match.

April 10, 2014 — A closure that leaves more questions

Last weekend, the manager of a bar who accused the Penn women’s lacrosse team of theft and property damage was on full backtrack mode, according to statements made by head women’s lacrosse coach Karin Brower Corbett.

“The general manager of the bar sent an e-mail retraction to me and some officials on campus saying that he cannot say that our girls did anything.” she said after last weekend’s loss to Northwestern. “They were there but it was a packed bar and he can’t attribute any of it to us.”

And herein is the problem: nobody was able to put an identification on any of the alleged acts which were detailed in the April 1 email to the Penn athletic department and the news media.

The problem: the story spread like wildfire last week, even making British tabloid media.

And, regrettably, any retraction won’t get the same level of coverage.

April 9, 2014 — BULLETIN: USA Field Hockey elects first male Hall-of-Fame member

This morning, USA Field Hockey announced its first new class of Hall-of-Fame members since 2004.

This class is notable in that former U.S. international Nigel Traverso, who has given of himself for decades to host tournaments and leagues in the New York metropolitan area, has become the first male player ever selected for induction.

In addition, the class includes Tracey Fuchs, who was, until last fall, the leading single-season goal scorer in National Federation history. Other inductees include the 1984 Olympic Team (members of whom have already made the Hall), Duke head coach Pam Bustin, Brown coach Jill Reeve, and former U.S. captains Katie (Kauffman) Beach and Kate (Barber) Kinnear.

Now, that’s not the only story here. The Hall of Fame committee for USA Field Hockey also added five honorary members. That’s notable because only four people had been inducted as honorary members since the first Hall of Fame class was inducted back in 1988, but there had been honorary members dating back to 1922.

The honorary members include Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) head coach and former U.S. international Linda Kreiser, American University coach Steve Jennings, former USA Field Hockey chairwoman Sharon Taylor, former U.S. coach Pam Hixon, and Cal Cup founder Tom Harris.

The list of previous honorary members, which include a galaxy of builders in the sport such as Constance Applebee, Bess Taylor, Jen Shillingford, Betty Shellenberger, and Anne Townsend, may be found here.


April 9, 2014 — Not enough depth for Notre Dame

Last night was one of the rarest kinds of sporting events: one that didn’t require a lot of hyperbolic language in the buildup, or very much in the way of analysis.

These were two undefeated women’s basketball teams, the University of Connecticut, and Notre Dame. They were former league rivals before a split resulted in two conferences, the Big East and the American Athletic Conference.

And the veteran coaches, each of whom have won national championships and immense respect within coaching circles, don’t like each other.

But the result of the NCAA women’s Division I final didn’t come down to likeability, the sense of occasion, or even the depth of the teams.

Instead, it was Connecticut’s relentlessness, top-level skills executed at speed, and their work ethic that won the day.

Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson were both in double figures in points and rebounds, and they were dominant in the paint in the absence of Notre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa, who had torn a knee ligament the week before.

Stewart, just a sophomore, won her second Most Outstanding Player award for the Final Four. During the game, she showed an array of catching and shooting skills that remind me of Basketball Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. Dolson, the happy-go-lucky senior, may have upped her WNBA draft stock with her final collegiate game, and I sincerely hope she goes to a team that can use her array of physical talents to best advantage.

Now, there is going to be a lot of talk about whether this ninth national-title team for Geno Auriemma is the best to ever walk through the doors at Storrs. Though the talent on the 1995 and 2002 teams lead the conversation, I think that the Huskies’ Iron Six from this team may have done a better job.

The team didn’t get into foul trouble in big games, but still played tough defense. They ran up and down the court while opponents tired. They shot daringly from deep. And in the biggest game of the season, UConn won by more than 20 points.

I have a feeling that basketball pundits are going to be confounded with this team. It is difficult to rate outstanding teams within a “dynasty” era, and trying to figure out where this team fits is going to be difficult.

But for now, just call them “champions.”

April 7, 2014 — The latest strange tale in the history of a very successful brand

Last night, it was announced that U.S. women’s national soccer team coach Tom Sermanni was being relieved of his duties in favor of long-time assistant Jillian Ellis.

All Sermanni did in his first year as coach last year was pilot the team to a 13-0-3 record, but the 2014 year has been a bit dodgy. The team has won five, lost two, and drawn one this year, which isn’t bad for international soccer.

But you can say the same thing about what happened with Paul Ryan, whose record as manager was 45-1-9 — and that one loss, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil in the 2007 Women’s World Cup, is all that people remember. It wasn’t necessarily because of the margin of defeat, but because of the poor way that Ryan handled his decision to play Briana Scurry in the goal for the game rather than Hope Solo.

Solo’s words to pool reporters after the game could have, and should have, resulted in sanctions against her. But the fact that there weren’t any long-term punishments added to a perception that there is a different kind of behavioral standard afford players and coaches of the U.S. women’s national soccer team than anywhere else.

There has been wide speculation for years about how members of the elite high-performance player pool, such as Brandi Chastain, Wendy Gebauer, and Julie Foudy, have married men who coached them. It has been observed that a former member of a broadcast teams assigned to the women’s national team was a financial advisor for several star players.

As for this situation, I think the U.S. Soccer Federation was more than a bit concerned about the American women’s performance at the 2014 Algarve Cup, a tournament the U.S. had pretty much owned since 2000. The U.S. finished seventh in this tournament, and the poor showing included a 5-3 loss to Denmark. The five Denmark goals were the most that the women’s national team had ever conceded in a match.

Now, I can understand if U.S. Soccer wanted to make a move even though it’s more than a year until Canada 2015. That’s because qualifying for the Women’s World Cup isn’t done over a long period of time; CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying takes place over a 10-day period in Mexico this October. With Canada qualifying automatically, and with the number of CONCACAF teams boosted to three automatics and one playoff berth, the U.S. should qualify with ease.

Which makes the Sermanni firing more puzzling.



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