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Feb. 20, 2020 — The oddest end of a sports career, unless you’ve been paying attention

Alex Danson, a member of the England and Team GB field hockey teams who seemed to have some of her best efforts against the United States in world competitions, announced her retirement early today.

Danson had an international career that began in 2001 as a 16-year-old, and ended with, oddly, a joke. She was on holiday with her husband in 2018 when he told her a funny tale. Danson, according to reports, laughed, lost her balance and hit her head on a brick wall. The resulting post-concussion symptoms lasted nine months, and she could not deal with bright lights or noise.

If you’ve been following news stories over the past decade and a half, from pro football players committing suicide to hockey and soccer players having to retire early, to some athletes having died on the field of play, you know that what Danson had was not a one-off event. I’m certain Danson had a number of closed-head injuries over the course of her 300-game international career, and that this one accidental bump against a wall was just one more bruise that her brain took.

When it comes to brain injuries, they are often fickle. Your Founder is sitting not so far away from the site one of the most written-about traumas in sports history, but for a different reason from Danson’s retirement.

In 1997, a football quarterback named Gus Frerotte celebrated a score for his team by hitting his head against a padded wall at his home stadium. He got a concussion, sprained his neck, and didn’t play another game that season.

Oddly enough, Frerotte, played 10 more seasons in the brutal confines of the NFL without another concussion (that we know of), and eventually helped run a Pennsylvania startup company that uses cloud computing to monitor brain performance.

Danson, it must be said, left field hockey better than when she found it. In a country with more active players than any other on the globe, she helped with moving the game from an amateur sport to one where one could draw a reasonable salary.

“When I was at school, I never dreamt to be a full-time hockey player because they didn’t exist,” she tells The Guardian. “One of the proudest things is I’ve seen hockey transcend from amateur to a professional game.”

And when England Hockey put their minds to it, the fortunes of the national team changed. Before Danson was on the national team, the previous world tournament won by either England or Great Britain was the 1975 International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations Tournament in Edinburgh, Scotland.

After Danson’s arrival, England won bronze in the 2010 Women’s World Cup and Champions Trophy and in the 2013 World League. As Team GB, they won bronze in the 2012 Olympics, silver in the 2012 Champions Trophy, and gold at Rio 2016.

It’s an awesome legacy, and I hope she will wind up giving back to the game.

Feb. 19, 2020 — A reprieve (for now) in Kentucky

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

Immediately, USA Field Hockey took to Twitter, offering to try to expand the reach of the game in the Bluegrass State. “USA Field Hockey is working with leaders in Kentucky to fuel new programs, and has starter packages available,” the social media post said.

With new leadership elected at the US Field Hockey Foundation, I’ll be interested to see the degree to which the sport spreads, seeing as the game of girls’ lacrosse has grown to the point where last year’s national scoring leader comes from a town of about 8,500 located about five miles due west of Lexington.

Feb. 18, 2020 — NCAA Division III preview

The Fearless 5ive

GETTYSBURG
MIDDLEBURY
SALISBURY
WASHINGTON & LEE

WILLIAM SMITH

The good news for the 292 Division III women’s lacrosse teams not named Middlebury is that leading scorer Emma McDonagh has graduated. The bad news is that your defending national champions returns a sophomore as its leading scorer.

Jane Earley, who had the fourth-most goals ever scored in a four-year scholastic varsity career, will be counted on to be a leader. Middlebury returns seven attack players, all of whom recorded at least 20 combined goals and assists a year ago. Earley had 51 goals, while senior Emily Barnard had 43.

The Panthers’ main rival this year will be Salisbury. The Sea Gulls will be led by 54-goal scorer Emma Skoglund, junior Alexis Strobel (73 assists), and seniors Gianna Demato (43 goals) and Taylor Poore (34 goals). Watch out for freshman transfer Anna Robinson, who grew up watching the Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) program from the closest perspective available: she’s the daughter of TopOfTheCircle.com Coach of the Decade Chris Robinson.

Also a threat for the title this spring will be Gettysburg. The Bullets return almost all of their significant scorers, including Liza Barr (52 goals, 75 assists), Kerry McKeever (64-26), Bri Stokes (50 goals), and Courtney Patterson (39). Patterson and McKeever recorded 191 draw controls a year ago.

I think William Smith is a team which, when on form, could threaten for national honors. The Herons were led last year by Ellie Burns (53 goals), who returns for her junior season. Seniors Nicki Santora (32) and Rachel Slagle (28 assists) also return.

A dark horse for the Final Four are the Generals of Washington & Lee. This may be the finest team the school has trotted out since a run to the national semifinals in 2017. Dani Murray will be counted on to lead the attack, and she is surrounded by young talent such as freshmen Allie Schwab, Blake Cote, and Christina Cavallo, along with sophomore Katherine Faria.

 

 

 

Feb. 17, 2020 — A prominent result from the weekend

The game of lacrosse — in both men’s and women’s versions — has begun to put extra emphasis on specialists for the faceoff and the draw, with the theory that teams given extra possessions are the most likely to get a result on the day.

Saturday, Shannon Kavanaugh, the center for the University of Florida, was outdrawn by her opposite number Kali Hartshorn 14-5.  However, Kavanaugh had the statistic that counted the most: she had eight goals to pace the Gators to a 15-14 win against defending national champion Maryland.

The astonishing fact about the result was not just the fact that a defending champion was beaten, but the fact that Maryland lost at home. For most of the last eight years, the Lacrosse & Field Hockey Complex (yep, we’re calling it that) has been an absolute fortress for the Terrapins. The team utilized its speed on the turf, its ingenuity on small passes near the goal cage, as well as occasional field hockey skills (I kid you not), to build an 82-game home win streak.

Now, this game is sure to upset the notion of where both teams are in terms of the elite Division I sides. Maryland, after a true purple patch which saw the team make the national final eight times in the last 10 years (winning five), was due for a drop in form despite a gamechanger like Hartshorn.

Florida, for its part, has been on a journey to try to find the form it had when it was the No. 1 overall seed, making it all the way to the national semifinals before losing to Syracuse on, of all things, a late stick inspection that found a pocket that may have been a Newton or two lacking in tensile strength to keep legal.

The Gators have not made the Final Four since. But I think Saturday’s result will go a long way to restoring their confidence.

Feb. 16, 2020 — Firmly in the cellar

The U.S. women’s field hockey team’s difficult journey in the 2020 FIH Pro League continues.

With twin 3-1 defeats in two matches against New Zealand this weekend, the Americans are looking upwards at a very tall mountain — and it’s not just in the standings.

The tactical gap between a very experienced New Zealand Black Sticks side and a U.S. high-performance program that has seen a near-total turnover since 2018 is evident. American midfielders and others have the skills, but watch when they’re hemmed in by three or four players, and a turnover almost always is the result.

The thing is, the Americans have the raw materials — speed and strength. The problem is that the States don’t have the experience as a group to use them effectively. This is a direct result of the lack of long-term adult playing opportunities to play high-performance field hockey in an American league.

I’m hoping improvement is on the horizon in time for the home fixtures against China.

Feb. 15, 2020 — Out in plain sight

A few days ago, I picked up a friend from their office building, located in a metropolitan area in the eastern U.S.

As I was waiting, a group of women wearing blue work uniforms were rolling trash cans in the lobby near the elevators. These were the workers who, evidently, picked up the trash from the office cubicles in the evening, and were almost exclusively women.

There was one figure in the group, however, who seemingly didn’t belong. She was shorter than the rest and was being led by one of them by the hand. The short figure was also toting along a wheeled trash can.

“How old is that girl?” I asked myself. “Is she being conscripted to do work by her family or something? Is she being trafficked?”

I didn’t think much more about it until last night, when I went to a Chinese restaurant in a neighboring suburb.

The restaurant was nearly empty, but it appeared to be unnaturally busy behind the scenes. Three people waited in line for takeout, and the woman behind the counter was taking orders on the phone. She looked like she was overtaxed in terms of work duties.

Eventually, I received a menu and sat down. Then I heard a small voice asking what I wanted for dinner.

The child could have been no older than eight. He had been watching a cartoon on a tablet computer as I was walking in, and playing with toy slime. And now, he was taking my order. While awaiting dinner, my server rolled on the floor, played with a blowgun made with a straw, and played some more with the slime.

I was also thinking a bit about the concept of child labor. It seems to have returned after being largely legislated away after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster more than 100 years ago. However, in recent years, child labor done at home has been legalized by the U.S. government.

Which made me wonder if, this family-run restaurant also qualifies as this kid’s “home.” He certainly seemed to make the main room of the restaurant his home. That is, until he rang me up on the electronic devices needed to process the credit card.

Yep, an eight-year-old processing a cash register.

Is this what we’ve come to?

Feb. 14, 2020 — The unusual answer

In the world of collegiate women’s lacrosse, there are plenty contenders for championships every season. The perceived “elite” teams number but a few, and the number of actual winners are even smaller.

So, can you name the team which is going now for its fourth straight national title?

Meet the Savannah College of Art and Design, the reigning champions of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a national collegiate sanctioning body of about 250 smaller schools that includes institutions in the U.S., Canada, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas.

Watch this segment from WSAV.

And if you have a chance to see the team, do it. In 2020, the team won its first two games by scores of 23-13 and 29-0.