Aug. 2, 2015 — 60 minutes to a championship

Two weeks ago, the Canada U-19 women’s national lacrosse team dropped its opening pool match to a United States team which had pretty much owned FIL hardware the last decade and a half.

But yesterday evening, Canada was able to flip the script — partially by keeping its center Selena Lasota on the pitch. Lasota had been sent off in the opening seconds of the second half against the U.S. in pool play, but in yesterday’s FIL U-19 championship final, she was magnificent. The Northwestern rising sophomore had three goals, two assists, three draw controls, and two steals as Canada beat the United States 9-8 for the Leafs’ first U-19 world championship.

The American defense, which had kept Canada and just about every other team in the tournament off-balance for the tournament, only caused two turnovers the entire game, seemingly allowing the hosts the possession and the initiative to run its box-based offense. The U.S. offense had its chances, especially at a late equalizer, but Andie Aldave and Francesca Whitehurst didn’t convert on their free-position shots.

Yesterday’s loss was the first time the U.S. didn’t win gold since the inaugural title went to Australia in 1999.

Aug. 1, 2015 — More questions than answers as the domestic field hockey season begins

They’ll be rolling the first hockey balls out in anger in a three of weeks in Louisville as the Apple Tournament once again starts the American scholastic field hockey season.

After some enormous and unprecedented performances last year, the teams looking to win state championships or other honors have a lot to live up to when it comes to these kinds of achievements.

There are, of course, a number of amazing championship streaks which are looking to be added to this year.

The Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) team that scored more goals as a team than anyone else in history will be looking to win its 17th consecutive NJSIAA state championship. Emmaus (Pa.) is seeking its 27th consecutive PIAA District 11 championship (which encompasses titles in both Class AAA and Class AA). Greenwich (Conn.) Academy will be going for its 31st consecutive Fairchester Athletic Association tournament title, and West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.) will be attempting to win a 45th straight Shore Conference league title.

Two teams will be looking to extend their unbeaten streaks towards the all-time record. Eastern has not lost in 106 matches over the last four years, while Watertown (Mass.) ended the 2014 campaign not only with 138 games without defeat, but with a season in which the Raiders shut out every opponent.

Given the scoring output of last year, in which seven players nationwide scored more than 50 goals, that is a near-miracle.

The graduation of Austyn Cuneo, after her amazing 328-goal career, doesn’t leave the cupboard bare when it comes to the talent on display on the hockey fields of America. Meredith Sholder, who will be joining Cuneo at North Carolina in a couple of years, will be looking to lead Emmaus (Pa.) back to the state championship game in Pennsylvania.

Haley Schleicher, who became the first player in recorded Federation history to score 50 goals and 50 assists in one season, is already the leading assister in scholastic field hockey history, and could get 200 assists if her team, Virginia Beach First Colonial (Va.), is able to execute on the attack end. The Colonials have all the tools to reclaim the state championship in the Virginia High School League.

But I think there are going to be some tremendous stories coming from deep in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania. One is Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.), looking to repeat as PAISAA champions with a number of youth national team stars. The other will be Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.), the defending District 1-AAA titleholders, who will be looking to build on last year’s first-round loss to Mechanicsburg Cumberland Valley (Pa.) and should make a strong run in the postseason.

Our coverage ramps up this month with a preseason Top 10 later this month as well as a look at the three NCAA divisions.

July 31, 2015 — Towards a truly movable feast

This morning, Beijing was awarded the hosting duties for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The city isn’t hosting everything; they will have to go to a pair of locales which are up to 100 miles away from the city.

The results of this vote, and the near-royalist demands of the International Olympic Committee disclosed during this cycle of Olympic bidding, have started discussions about perhaps designating permanent sites for Olympic Winter and Olympic Summer Games.

The argument is that you won’t have petro-authoritarian states like Russia, Kazakhstan, Qatar and China having enough money to buy the Olympics and build more opulent structures that, frankly, won’t be used again by the host nation.

But there is a worldwide multisport athletic competition which does not require permanent construction of large structures; instead, they are simply bolted together and assembled for the length of the competition, and disassembled and moved to the next site when it is over.

The name of this competition is The X-Games.

Yep, when the X-Games come to a major city, the city isn’t responsible for building a skate park, the enormous Big Air ramp, or the BMX courses. Instead, it’s the organizers who are responsible for building these structures, making sure the events are run safely on them, and take them down at the end.

I think the International Olympic Committee needs to do the same thing with the Winter and Summer Olympics. The IOC should be working on developing a portable 85,000-seat track and field system all in sections, ready to be bolted or scaffolded together after being flown to the site using military aircraft. The track itself would fit together like an indoor SportCourt, and the plumbing and concessions would be built into the structure. After the Olympics, the stadium can be disassembled and flown to the next Youth Olympics.

As far as I know, this kind of movable system only occurs in three Olympic sports: ice hockey, beach volleyball and track cycling. The people who govern these sports worldwide are experts in making sure their equipment can go from one place to another thanks to advanced construction and engineering techniques.

I think there could be portable facilities for ski-jumping, luge/bobsled/skeleton courses, and even field hockey if you engineered a porous platform with pipes to recirculate the water pumped out to reduce friction.

After the economic disaster of last year with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, after which the world’s second-most expensive soccer stadium has become little more than a bus depot, the people who run the Olympics need to heed this lesson: there are many people around the world who do not want to see public money spent on sports venues especially if there is no return on the investment.

July 30, 2015 — A crossroads

For much of this week, blogs and at least one Reddit thread were abuzz about the results of the World Crossfit Games in Los Angeles.

But the focus was not on the winners. Instead, the focus was on the major injuries that were suffered by the competitors not only at the finals, but even the preliminary regional events held around the country.

Crossfit is a type of fitness training that is not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit. It is practiced in facilities around the country and around the world, and combines calisthenics, weightlifting, and agility and speed training. 

Many swear by its results. At least four people I got to know through field hockey are hardcore practitioners. All four were selected to represent the U.S. at some point in their field hockey careers.

Crossfit participants have turned their love of tough exercise into a competitive sport. Herein is the problem. As time has gone on, the exercises have gotten tougher, and the nature of the events are not revealed to the competitors until just before the start of each individual event.

That’s a little like turning the Olympic shotput into a game of bocce or into a free throw shooting contest five minutes before the event starts.

This kind of system, based on the kind of unpredictability you might find in current reality TV, makes a farce of then concept of “competition.” 

The beauty of many sports and games is that they are timeless. Baseball is predicated on throwing a five-ounce ball from a distance of 60 feet, six inches, and four bases 90 feet apart. It has been that way basically since the days of Alexander Cartwright. 

The football gridiron is still 120 yards long and 54 yards wide after more than a century. Outdoor lacrosse uses a goal that remains six feet tall and six feet wide.

Basketball’s target is still a circle 30 centimeters wide and ten feet off the ground. Only the goal is made out of nylon cord attached to a metal hoop instead of being a peach basket.

There have been a number of extreme athletic competitions over the years which have tested the limits of human beings. There was the Eliminator round of the American Gladiators, the obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior, and the various obstacle courses on the show Wipeout. For the most part, contestants knew the obstacles beforehand and knew what they were getting into.

Crossfit, however, is a series of moving targets set by organizers with little or no oversight by any governing body.

And it’s led to some of the dangerous injuries and heat-related illnesses of last weekend.

July 29, 2015 — Another coach strikes back, and is fired

Last Sunday, the men’s national soccer team from Mexico won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Philadelphia.

But as the team and staff were leaving town, head coach Miguel Herrera got into a physical and verbal altercation with TV Azteca Christian Martinoli in the security line at Philadelphia International Airport, punching him in the back of the head.

It’s a particularly dumb thing to do in any circumstance, much less in a high-security area such as an airport.

Given the speed which the Mexican soccer federation fires manager, it’s pretty amazing that it took fewer than two days to get rid of Herrera. Herrera had been brought in after CONCACAF qualifying to basically save the game. The Mexican national team had a poor Hexagonal, finishing in fourth place (and would have placed fifth had the United States not scored two goals in the final 90 seconds of play to beat Panama).

The fourth-place finish meant that Mexico had to win a two-game playoff against New Zealand in order to make the 2014 World Cup. That being done, El Tri survived its group at Brazil 2014 before losing to Holland in the octofinal round.

Herrera gained a lot of support and attention because of the unbridled enthusiasm with which he celebrated his team’s goals. He also was a proven winner with Club America and with the Mexico national side.

But like managers who have crossed the line when it comes to assault — people like Mike Rice, Billy Martin, and Bob Knight — Herrera was seen as a liability rather than an asset. The coaching move comes only weeks before the second round of World Cup qualifying for 2018 as well as a one-game playoff for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.

I guess the revolving door for the coaching position for Mexico has just revved up again.

July 28, 2015 — One coach strikes back

Yesterday, numerous reports indicated that former University of Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The complaint alleges gender bias on the part of the Iowa athletic department in connection with her firing last year.

The dismissal of Griesbaum, which came just weeks before the 2014 season began, was as a result of a university investigation into abuse and misconduct charges. The reaction, within the team and within the U.S. field hockey community, has been one of universal condemnation of the human resources practices of the athletics department. The track record of the university has not been kind to female coaches at the school, with at least six coaches being made to resign or fired over the last decade and a half.

The civil rights complaint is one of the last steps required before the filing of a lawsuit against the university. That makes the filing of this complaint a sizable step forward in this episode, because Greisbaum and her legal team aren’t likely to file the complaint without following through with the full lawsuit against the university.

The suit cannot be filed for another 60 days, whereupon the complainant can request a letter requesting the right to sue.

The next move, it seems, is up to the University of Iowa. It will have to respond to the allegations in the complaint to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Or it can do so in court. Stay tuned.

July 27, 2015 — A different kind of coach

As jobs go, assistant coaching for NFL teams is not the most stable or lucrative careers.

Which makes the decision made late yesterday by the Arizona Cardinals to hire Jen Welter as a linebackers coach at once a good human-interest story as well as a rather low risk for head coach Bruce Arians.

Welter is a former rugby player from Boston College who won gold for the United States in the IFAF women’s tackle football championship. She has also made a career as a player and coach for the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League.

But what makes Welter an interesting candidate — and one likely to stick around a while — is the fact that she has a PhD in psychology and a master’s degree in sports psychology. It’s not likely to matter whether she can demonstrate a skill during training camp, but instead she will be more than prepared to get the most out of the linebackers in her care because she will know how to motivate them.

Since women’s tackle football started growing in the late 1990s in the United States, I’ve been waiting for former players to take over from the former NFL pros who have been on the sidelines. Having spoken to women’s football players off and on for the last decade and a half, there are a number of them who came into the game not only as players of other sports, but as coaches of other athletic endeavors.

If given a chance (she joins three other linebacker coaches employed by the Cardinals), she’ll do just fine.

After all, men have had about a 100-year head start on women when it comes to the gridiron.

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