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July Motivation of the Month: Leaving Home

As is our tradition here at TopOfTheCircle.com, the July Motivation of the Month is a truly unforgettable first-person account of an actual high-school player as she collected her thoughts in 1999 just before leaving home for college.

This essay, since it can’t fit into the header at the top of this page, is going to remain here for the month; daily posts will appear just below.


A FIELD HOCKEY PLAYER’S JOURNEY FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO COLLEGE

By Jamie Paul
Haddonfield, N.J.

I never thought when I complained and complained about school and all the rules, that when the time came to leave, I would have this empty void inside. People often told me, “Oh you’ll miss this place when you get out,” and at the time, I shrugged them off.

But as the end of senior year neared, I was quite anxious to get out of there. But wouldn’t we all be? Everyone looks forward to a break. But little did I realize that this “break” was permanent and come next September, I won’t be roaming the same old hallways and playing on the same old torn-up fields.

I miss the faces of friends congregating at lockers, I miss the “hellos” from underclassmen friends and senior buddies, and most of all, I miss the teachers, and just plainly the surroundings. Yeah, I was human and I cried at graduation, but that whole “ending” feeling never really hit me. Today, though, today it did.

As I was meandering underneath my bed for my stopwatch — which is still missing in action — I came across my memory boxes from school. And as curious as I am, I just had to open them up and leaf through my collection from these past four years. I pulled out old notes that were passed in hallways, old pictures taken of a field hockey team that was at times a second family, and Christmas and birthday cards, sent from friends that I would have never have come across, had it not been for my times at school.

And then the memories — oh God, the memories! — they haunt me like a ghost. They help at times, but at times, they hurt. Those good times, those funny times, I can’t return to them. That’s the problem: all I can do is remember. But sometimes remembering just isn’t enough.

Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown that is stirring up all these emotions, maybe it’s just looking around, at smiles and at faces of friends, that I know I am afraid to leave. Maybe it’s that fear, that unknowing feeling, that leads me to want only to return to the place that I first learned how to dare, how to dream and how to love.

The ending has ceased though, but that new beginning still awaits me. That door, still yet to be opened, flashes through my mind. At times, I cringe with excitment, and at other times, tears sting the back of my eyes and I know I’m not strong enough. Even with a strong inner faith, I can’t conquer the fear. Even running can’t take my mind off of it.

Every day I arise, knowing we’re getting one day closer. And maybe once I’m settled, once I’ve broken my new environment in, I’ll be just fine. And I’ll laugh at my craziness of wanting to cling to the past, a past of which I said all too often I wanted to forget. But I take one look back and I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to realize that it’s all said and done. No more. No returning.

And everytime I look at my former coach, who has become so much more than a coach since the day she stepped away from the sidelines two years ago, I am convinced that there’s no way I can leave her or forget her. I stood there tonight as she stopped me, when I was out running, but yet there’s nothing to talk about. And as I ran onward and upward, I wondered if this was the way it was gonna be. Maybe being apart will strenghten our relationship, but maybe it will tear me apart before it strengthens us.

Now I wish only to return, to where there were guarantees, and I wouldn’t have to be alone. But now I’m alone and there’s no one. No familiar face to convince me anymore and maybe that’s why I am scared. Maybe this was all a dream, but somewhere I know I can conquer this. But for now, I wish only to return to yesterday.

Jamie Paul, who graduated from Haddonfield Paul VI (N.J.) on June 6, 1999, would attend Elizabethtown (Pa.) College that fall.

July 23, 2017 — A few takeaways from South Africa

The United States won its semifinal tournament of the FIH World League this morning with a 3-2 shootout win over Germany. The whole competition, held over the last couple of weeks, has given supporters of American hockey a look at a completely new U.S. team, one which defends with tenacity and vigor, one which is cold-blooded in attack and hot-blooded in the challenges.

Here are a few takeaways from this tournament that you should keep in mind for the next year:

1, The tournament doesn’t mean anything for world rankings … yet. There are no extra ratings points on offer for teams winning a World League semifinal. Only after the end of the World League final are rankings points doled out to the top four in each semifinal round. In other words, despite how well the States played in this tournament, it’s still possible for them to come out with eighth-place points after the WL finals.

2. No matter what today’s result was, the United States would not have avoided the Group of Death in Auckland. Because of the serpentine nature of the seeding for FIH events (top seed goes in Pool A, next two seeds in Pool B, etc.), the United States is going to have a tough go because Australia, ranked higher than the Stars and Stripes, didn’t qualify for the WL finals, meaning the States now have a different group of competitors in its World League Finals pool. Here is how the pools are likely to shake out, if we read the regulations correctly:

Pool A Ladder Pool B
HOL -1 1 ENG-2
NZL-5 2 ARG-3
USA-6 3 GER-7
KOR-9 4 CHN-8

In other words, the States have to play against a Netherlands team which is not only the defending World Cup champion, but the team which won the other World League semifinal in Brussels a few weeks ago.

3. Team defense. The American backline of Alyssa Manley, Julia Young, Caitlin Van Sickle, and Ali Froede have done their best imitation of their soccer sisters Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger. They have been phenomenal, holding the Olympic champion to one goal and holding Germany to one goal in the final.

4. Goaltending, especially in specialty situations. Three years ago, Jackie Briggs would have told you that penalty shootouts were not her speciality. They are now; she was tremendous in holding off the Germans and English in penalty shootouts.

5. The Kid. Erin Matson is the youngest player on the senior women’s national team since the days of Katie (O’Donnell) Bam. Your Founder had a chance to chat with her a year and a half ago after a game featuring her Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) team. I saw a young woman that afternoon who was completely unfazed and unaffected by the attention that had surrounded her since she made the senior indoor national team at the age of 11. Her shootout goal in the championship game is a testament to the confidence that she has in her skills, as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in her.

6. The Comet. The leading scorer in the World League final was none other than Jill Witmer, who has shown her ability in the attacking third at Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), the University of Maryland, and now with the senior national team.

7. The future. I wouldn’t blame U.S. coach Janneke Schopmann if she used next month’s Pan American Cup as a runout for reserve players such as Amanda DiNunzio, Alyssa Parker, and Jess Jecko. There is a points bonus for winning the Pan Am Cup, but it’s not as big a prize as winning the World League Finals or the World Cup.

July 22, 2017 — USA 10, Canada 5

Five days ago, the Canadian women’s lacrosse team was a beaten lot, having dropped a 19-5 decision to the United States in pool play of the 11th FIL Women’s World Cup.

In today’s final at Guildford Sports Park, Canada threw everything but the kitchen sink at the U.S. in the gold medal rematch. And then, followed up with the kitchen sink.

Canada tried everything from faceguarding to quick changes of pace during the game, to even making the rarest of moves: requesting the stick check of the opposing goaltender.

For all that, however, the United States kept their focus, their nerve, and, most importantly, the ball, taking their chances in a 10-5 win. Captain Sarah Bullard, in her third World Cup, had a hat trick for the States, while Laura Zimmerman and Marie McCool had two goals apiece.

Canada got an outstanding performance from goalie Katie Donohoe, who stopped nine out of 19 American shots. The Leafs were led by Erica Evans (two goals, two assists) and Alli Jimerson (2-2).

Canada managed to keep a lid on the American attack by faceguarding Michelle Tumolo and by varying its draw takers. Dana Dobbie was outstanding in the circle, winning five of six draws, but the rest of the team went 5-for-11.

The United States may not have 10-goalled their opponents as in previous games, but did hold an 8-1 lead that partially dissolved in the last quarter-hour.

The Americans got an heroic performance from Taylor Cummings (4-for-8 on draws),

BULLETIN: July 21, 2017 — Beyond “freeze-tag”

Today, the NCAA adopted a number of rules changes which, following on from experimentation at college all-star games and United Women’s Lacrosse, is promising a style of play which you can explain to a parent or bystander more readily than with some of the old rules.

It will cause substantial tremors in the sport at all levels, even though today’s changes only govern the college game. We do not know when or if U.S. Lacrosse or the National Federation of State High School Associations will follow suit.

So, as a public service, we are going to take the rules changes one by one, since each of them will make a discernible change in the pace or the flow of the game;

1. FREEZE-TAG
Old rule: All players stop on the whistle
New rule: Unlimited movement on dead-ball situations
The skinny: The most distinctive and unique rule in sports is no more. But the loss of the rule means so much more than just appearance and flow. The game is going to open itself up for multiple changes in substitution strategy, since there will be truly unencumbered free substitutions. Having players being able to move on a dead ball will also make DIRO (draw in, run off) more of a strategy. The only weakness, I think, is that umpires aren’t going to be able to issue a four-meter penalty for someone making a bad check in the midfield. But there are other penalties which are available

2. BREAKDOWN IN THE MIDFIELD
Old rule: Unlimited number of fouls allowed
New rule: On any given possession, a defense is allowed only two fouls until the attack is able to clear the ball into its attacking 35-yard zone. A third team foul is a one-minute penalty.
The skinny: This is a rule borrowed from water polo, a game which saw defenses use multiple minor fouls to try to disrupt their opposition. But the persistence part of the rule in lacrosse is only in the midfield

3. THE DRAW
Old rule: Three players on each team may be on or in the draw circle, but once the draw is up, any player from either team could contest the ball in the midfield zone
New rule: Only the two centers and four wing players are eligible to contest the ball until possession is established
The skinny: This is one of the few times that the National Federation was ahead of the NCAA in terms of rulesmaking. This rule will make DIRO players (as well as all-rounders who are good on draws) even more important

4. PLAYING A LET
Old rule: If an umpire spots a shooting-space violation, the whistle is blown and the ball is dead, no matter whether or not a player takes a shot on goal
New rule: If a shot is taken and the ball goes in, the goal counts. If the goalie saves the shot, the save counts
The skinny: A number of games in the history of lacrosse have turned on a sequence in which a goal is taken off the board because of a shooting space violation, only to have the goalie make the save on the follow-up chance. Here, it’s “play on.”

5. IT’S GOOD IF IT GOES
Old rule: The ball has to be over the line when the clock (game clock or possession clock) hits zero
New rule: A shot taken before the expiration of the clock counts as a goal even if the clock expires with the ball in the air
The skinny: A number of sports, including water polo and basketball, has the standard of whether a shot is released before the clock expires, rather than having to judge whether the whole ball is over the whole line before the clock hits zero. I believe this is an easier standard for the umpires.

6. TEAM YELLOWS
Old rule: Any team can accrue an unlimited number of yellow cards in a match
New rule: A team is allowed three yellows, but on the fourth and subsequent fouls, the resulting two-minute penalty is non-releaseable
The skinny: This is a happy medium between the NCAA’s old rule and the NFHS rule which says that a team must play short the rest of the game on a team’s fourth yellow card

 

July 21, 2017 — The “other” semifinal

The United States women’s national lacrosse team did the expected yesterday, outclassing and overmatching England by a 19-8 score.

But in the other half of the championship draw sat a semifinal between Canada and Australia. The game was one for the ages, and was settled only after extra time.

For most of the last 20 years, Australia has been the team chasing the Americans for world championship honors. Indeed, it was a superteam featuring Sarah Forbes, Jen Adams, and Courtney Hobbs which beat the United States at the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis.

But since then, it has been the Canadians on the ascendancy. taking bronze in 2009 and silver in 2013. Young women from Canada are being encouraged to play box lacrosse at earlier ages, learning stick skills and passing angles in tight spaces that are being brought to bear in the outdoor game.

Indeed, Canada made an enormous breakthrough two years ago when its junior national team beat the U.S. in the U-19 World Cup. Players from that team started having influence on U.S. collegiate programs, and Canada became the home to the first “superprep” girls’ lacrosse team on the continent.

Yesterday, Canada and Australia battled to a 6-6 draw in regulation. Canada center Dana Dobbie had the game-tying goal with under three minutes to go. Teammates Megan Kinna and Allie Jimerson would follow on in extra time for the 8-6 win.

Today’s rest break for the Final Four not only gives the other participants in this year’s FIL championships a last hurrah in their classification matches, but it also allows an extra bit of speculation regarding how Saturday’s games will go.

Given the fact that the United States beat Canada 17-3 in pool play, I have a feeling that the Maple Leafs are going to have to try something different, such as strategic doubling on the ball or running a slow-down offense (no shot clock in this tournament, mind you).

Canada head coach Scott Teeter, associate head coach Gary Gait, and assistant coach Katrina Dowd will have it all to do in order to get the Maple Leafs to buy into their strategy, but given the fact that there are four years in between World Cups, I’d expect nothing less but Canada’s best effort against the thus-far bulletproof American side.

July 20, 2017 — Revenge-minded USA takes penultimate step

Because of the length of time between major competitions in international field hockey, rare is the time can a team exercise a measure of revenge for a previous defeat.

The United States women, in the FIH World League semifinals in Johannesburg, are embarking on a bit of a revenge tour for what happened to them last year in Rio. Today, the States got a measure of revenge from last year’s Olympic pool play defeat at the hands of Team GB, beating the England national team 2-1 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation.

The win takes the Applebees to the final of this World League semifinal tournament against Germany, the very team that knocked them out of the Olympics a year ago.

In the shootout, it was the former Connecticut star Melissa Gonzalez, the team captain, who was the difference, beating Maddie Hinch in the first and in the sixth rounds of the shootout. Sarah Haycroft answered for England, which, aside from retirements and injury, was essentially the same team that won the Rio Olympics wearing Team GB uniforms.

The English certainly played like Olympic champions for much of regulation, bottling up the midfield and pipping a goal from Hannah Martin to take the lead just after quarter-time. But the Three Lions made a key mistake late on. An obvious pushing foul five minutes from time sent Lily Owsley to the penalty bench for the balance of regulation.

On the yellow-card opportunity, Michelle Vittese, once again playing her best in the biggest games, penetrated the circle on the left wing and drove a ball that Hinch spilled into the goalmouth. Jill Witmer, the leading scorer in the tournament, had nobody between herself and the juicy rebound, and she made no mistake to level the match.

The result represented the first time the States have ever made it this far in a World League semifinal, but it’s one of the rare times that the United States has ever made it to the championship final of an FIH world-level event.

USA 0 0 0 1 – 100001 — 2
ENG 0 1 0 0 – 000010 — 1
ENG: Hannah Martin (Sophie Bray), fg, 16th minute
USA: Jill Witmer (Michelle Vittese), fg, 57th
Shootout goals- USA: Michelle Gonzalez 2; ENG: Sarah Haycroft 1
Shots- USA: 6; ENG: 2. Saves- USA: Jackie Briggs 1; ENG: Maddie Hinch 5.

 

 

July 19, 2017 — The disappearance of an All-Star

Three years ago, Shoni Schimmel was the toast of the WNBA.

The Atlanta Dream guard had schooled the very best that women’s basketball had to offer, scoring 29 points — 24 in the second half and overtime on a variety of shots.

She sank seven 3-point goals. She drove to the hoop, once using the basket as a pick, hitting a twisting layup over Brittney Griner that resembled a similar confrontation that happened in the NCAA Tournament a few years earlier when Louisville took on Baylor.

Today, Schimmel is the property of the New York Liberty, but has not played a game this season, choosing to take time off to be with her family.

Fame, it seems, is a fleeting thing. It can also be a great clarifier as to what is truly important.

Schimmel, remember, is from the Umatilla tribe of Native Americans. She has felt it her mission to use basketball as a platform for understanding and change, hosting tribal nights at WNBA games. She has also represented basketball, and Native Americans at a Nike summit.

But she has also, in the offseason, joined protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and spent time with her ill mother. She has not been one to play basketball overseas to not only earn extra income, but to remain in playing shape.

As good as Schimmel has been, and as many skills as she still has in her frame, having an offseason without basketball is an enormous risk. There are only 12 roster spots available on each of the 12 rosters in the league. Lose your spot, and you may never get it back again. Atlanta, for example, was able to acquire guard Layshia Clarendon a couple of years ago, and she made the All_Star team this year.

Part of me wonders what might have been.

 

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July 18, 2017 — USA 1, Japan 0

POSTGAME That’s all for now; good day and good hockey

POSTGAME The United States now has a year to prepare for the World Cup in London. With this competition and the World League finals in New Zealand, this will give the U.S. coaching staff some room to test a number of young players. As good as players like players like Matson and Hoffman and Shealy are, how good will they get playing this level of high-quality opposition on a regular basis?

POSTGAME Give the American defense a huge call; this is a young team with a number of key retirements in the back, including Julia Reinprecht, Lauren Crandall, and Rachel Dawson. But the defense of Julia Young, Alyssa Manley, Caitlin Van Sickle, Ali Froede, and holding midfielder Katelyn Ginolfi in front of goalie Jackie Briggs were absolutely stellar today

POSTGAME Once again, major credit goes to Michelle Vittese, who scored an enormous goal. Also, Erin Matson and Melissa Gonzalez were all over the pitch chasing down 50-50 balls and attacking space

FULL TIME The final horn sounds! It’s all over! The United States wins 1-0 over Japan, which gives the Applebees their first-ever berth in the FIH World League finals!

59:00 One minute to go; can the States hang on?

58:00 Woods is fresh off the penalty bench and is open on the left side, but chooses to take the ball to the corner flag rather than attack the gaping goal

57:00 All hands on pumps now as the States put everyone behind the ball against Japan’s 11 outfielders

55:30 Japan attacks left baseline and feeds the ball into space, but cannot latch the extra player onto the pass

55:00 Now the umpires make Nagai change into a black shirt

54:33 Japan sends on Hazuki Nagai, an orange-shirted kicking back, in place of goalkeeper Kageyama

53:25 JPN PC Option left is sniffed out by Alyssa Manley

52:37 USA YELLOW Nicole Woods is off for five minutes for a stick tackle which seemed innocuous on replay

51:00 The United States’ Julia Young, who has quietly had a tremendous tournament, makes a key clear on a dangerous Japanese opportunity

49:00 Yuri Nagai can’t get her stick on a cross in front of goal that bounces a bit dangerously

47:49 JPN GREEN Hazuki Yuda is off for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

45:40 Japan is pushing players forward and the Americans are taking advantage, but couldn’t find a good-enough shot

45:00 The fourth quarter begins

THREE-QUARTERS TIME But the lead is just one; there is the possibility that this game could end with the lottery that is the penalty shootout

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Here’s how monumental this achievement could be: the United States have never made a World League final in its three iterations

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Michelle Vittese, the Virginia product, always seems to come up with big goals in big games, and she has done so once again for the Applebees to gain the advantage here

THREE-QUARTERS TIME With the horn, the United States leads 1-0

41:58 USA GOAL Michelle Vittese attacks the circle and banks it off Japanese defender Naho Ichitami’s stick into the goal; Japan asks for a referral and is denied; USA leads 1-0

40:10 Vittese brings the ball into the U.S. circle, feeds to Sharkey, but the former Princeton attacker can’t latch onto it

38:30 Japan with some innovative play into the circle, but Ashley Hoffman with the clear

35:45 Yuri Nagai with a shot from a deep angle, but Briggs makes the stop

34:00 Ambitious ball by Nagai finds nobody

31:55 USA GREEN Gonzalez is sent to the sideline for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

30:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME Japan, despite scoring only three goals in this tournament, have confidence from their win in pool play over an England team which, for all intents and purposes, was the Team GB squad which won the gold medal in Rio

HALFTIME The United States has had possession, and lots of it. But the Americans have not created a lot of chances. The attackers are possessing the ball in the final third, but have not been cutting and completing passes in the attack

HALFTIME The horn sounds; the sides remain level 0-0

28:05 Gonzalez goes baseline and puts it off a Japanese foot off the side of the goal; no corner?

27:10 Japan has numbers forward, but fumbles the pass over the end line

25:20 Gonzalez with a diagonal to an open Witmer, but the pass is just off the mark!

19:04 JPN PC Another hi-lo to the inserter, but Briggs makes another enormous stop on Segawa!

18:52 JPN PC The hi-lo is shot from a deep angle by the inserter Maho Segawa, but Jackie Briggs makes a diving save!

18:52 JPN REFERRAL The Blossoms are asking whether there is a foot in the circle, and the replay shows there is; penalty corner to Japan

17:20 Japan’s first attack of any consequence is cut out and sent the other way by Matson; what a game she is having thus far

16:45 The United States have possession and space on the right wing, and, once again, are unable to generate a goal shot or a penalty corner

15:00 Second quarter is under way

QUARTER TIME The Americans have had possession and some circle penetration, but have not been able to manufacture a penalty corner; the Cherry Blossoms have been guarding their feet well

QUARTER TIME The horn goes off with the sides level 0-0

13:30 Vittese up the left wing but can’t get anything on the dead run

12:30 Japan with some possession in the forward third, but spills it over the end line

10:30 Michelle Vittese attacks the space at the top of the circle and almost finds Witmer with a diagonal

9:30 The United States have all the possession, but Japan is content to play nine behind the ball

7:14 JPN GREEN Nomura is off for a stick obstruction

6:30 Matson attacks the right wing and pounds a backhander which is just wide!

3:30 Looks like it is Shihori Oikawa who is marking up the States’ Jill Witmer; this will be a critical matchup

1:20 Erin Matson, the high-schooler, clouts a backhander which is saved by Megumi Kageyama’s blocker

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME The United States is in its traditional red kits with white, blue, and gold trim; Japan is in the royal blue with white cherry blossoms stenciled on the front

PREGAME Compare that to the other World League semifinal in Brussels, when 42 penalty corners were converted in 33 games

PREGAME Japan has only scored three goals as a team this entire competition; indeed, as a group, there is an odd dynamic when it comes to the method of scoring. In 20 games, only 14 penalty corners have been scored

PREGAME The Americans are led by Jill Witmer, who leads this World League semifinal with four goals. Also look for the energy of Melissa Gonzalez and the power of Michelle Vittese, who seems to play her best in big games

PREGAME The United States last met Japan a year ago in Olympic pool play, with the States coming out ahead 6-1

PREGAME The loser of this game has to fight through the consolation bracket for placings. The States would get to the World Cup regardless with a fifth-place finish, but any lower than that would have the Americans having to depend on either winning month’s Pan American Cup or hoping that already-qualified teams in the top 10 win their continental competitions

PREGAME I’ve used the term “tipping point” as a metaphor for a game which sees great rewards over and above winning the game, versus losing the game. This is very much a tipping-point match today, as the winner of this game not only goes on to the Final Four of this competition, but qualifies for the World League Final later this year as well as the FIH Women’s World Cup next year

PREGAME This is easily the highest-stakes field hockey match the United States has played in about seven years

PREGAME Japan, the third-place team in Pool A, is 2-1-1 in the tournament; the United States took second in Pool B with a 2-2 record

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Wits University in Johannesburg for this FIH World League Semifinal match between Japan and the United States