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Feb. 25, 2017 — ADVISORY: Liveblogging North Carolina at Maryland

PREGAME The start of the game has been delayed by lightning twice, and it’s estimated the game may not get underway until after 4 pm. Torrential rain is pelting Capital One Field, but it is FieldTurf and should dry quickly

PREGAME 

PREGAME But what also makes this game a titanic matchup is the fact that the sides have played a number of memorable games the last five years, including a triple-OT classic in 2013

PREGAME This is a game featuring former conference rivals in the ACC, and these are also two of only five universities to have won the NCAA title since 1990 

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Maryland Stadium for this  interconference women’s lacrosse match between UNC and Maryland 

Feb. 24, 2017 — To assemble a collegiate schedule

Tomorrow, a No. 1 and a No. 2 in women’s college lacrosse meet up in a pivotal match that could set the tone for the entire season.

A pivotal match in February.

The last quarter-century has seen lacrosse go from an 11- or 12-game season with matches chiefly being held in April and May to a schedule of games played at one-week intervals so that the 18-game season begins in many places where there are feet of snow on the ground.

Wait. Eighteen? Isn’t the NCAA maximum number of games 17?

Well, read up on this story from The Syracuse Post-Standard about how teams have found a loophole in the scheduling rules and are now adding games through the use of doubleheaders.

But what I’d like to see is more of either the Friday/Sunday scheduling that collegiate field hockey has adopted, or more midweek games.

Seriously. With global climate change being the way it is, I can’t see the reason why the U.S. collegiate women’s lacrosse schedule can’t begin in mid-March and finish off its conference tournaments by the first weekend of May, allowing for the Division I tournament to be played over three weekends leading into Memorial Day Weekend for the final.

Feb. 23, 2017 — From the penthouse to the outhouse in fewer than 10 months

It was the first weekend of May 2016 when Leicester City F.C., a middle-sized soccer team with middle-sized support and located, fittingly, in the Midlands of the British Isles, clinched the 2015-16 Premier League championship.

In an era of enormous money being poured into professional soccer, creating a class system, Leicester were the rank outsiders, coming into last season at 5,000-to-1 odds to win the league.

The Foxes, playing an all-for-one, one-for-all style of team football, became the darlings of not only soccer, but in all of sport because they played a simple game, set simple team goals, and came together as a fist to defeat some of the richest sports entities on the planet.

This evening the architect of the miracle season, Claudio Ranieri, was fired. The current Foxes side has many of the same players as it did a year ago except for back Ngolo Kante (more on him in a minute). But the team currently lies in 17th place in the league, and is in danger of losing its membership in the Premier League and may have to move down a level to play smaller-market teams such as Norwich and Brentford next season.

How did this utter collapse occur?

Some of it is the trappings of being the champions of England. Leicester, reluctantly, had a cameo role in the Guinness International Champions’ Cup, managing a penalty-shootout win and two defeats in three matches scattered between Europe and North America. Too, the Foxes were obligated to take part in three tournaments over the course of the season: the League Cup, the F.A. Cup, and the UEFA Champions’ League.

As Leicester had never won anything in the course of its 133-year history, there was nobody to advise the players or coaches how to deal with the overnight success. Or how to deal with big-money transfers. The big loss in the transfer market was when Ngolo Kante left the team in the offseason to join with Chelsea F.C. in London for a reported 32 million pounds.

Kante, the rock of Leicester’s defense, was gone. And the club would miss him more than you can imagine, despite playing a better team game than anyone else in England last year.

The attack has also suffered. Jamie Vardy has just five goals this season, and Riyadh Mahrez has just five points this season (3 g, 2 a).

The road ahead is clear for Leicester, however. By Monday night, the Foxes will know where they will have to play from; depending on results from the weekend, they could be anywhere from 17th to 20th in the league. And in a couple of weeks, Leicester City will host Sevilla in the second of a two-game, total-goal series in the Champions League.

But pro soccer is one of those sports where it is difficult for a team to turn around solely on the personality and disposition of the head coach. Swansea City turned to former U.S. boss Bob Bradley for help, but he was sacked after winning just two times in 11 fixtures.

For interim manager Steve Shakespeare, it’s all about winning now and winning decisively. The players are in place, but it’s all a matter of self-believe now. Let’s see if they have another “great escape” in them.

Feb. 22, 2017 — An age-old problem

This Saturday, the top two women’s lacrosse teams in the country are going to be playing perhaps the single most critical game of the entire season, one on which the balance of the entire narrative may turn. A win by North Carolina would validate its status as the nation’s top dog, but a win by Maryland would validate the youth movement the team has made in bringing in the nation’s finest recruiting class.

A men’s lacrosse game between Yale and Maryland, to be broadcast on ESPNews, will precede this game. Yet, ESPN, your once-proud worldwide leader in sports, is not going to be broadcasting this game, instead handing it off to BTN Plus for streaming.

What’s wrong with this picture?

What is wrong is that it is the very same gripe. Despite the fact that there is more airtime available for collegiate athletics thanks to the proliferation of TV networks, the imbalance of men’s to women’s athletics not only remains prevalent, it has gotten worse.

In 2017, there are going to be 130 men’s college games televised on major, regional, and streaming networks. The women? They’re getting 73, barely half as many.

It’s idiotic.

Feb. 21, 2017 — A different-looking medals table

Last weekend, the National Indoor Tournament for under-16 field hockey teams was held at Spooky Nook.

Only this year, the results don’t look quite the same as in past years. There were times when the WC Eagles club side would win a dozen or so of the six-team pools in the competition. This year, the Eagles club only won two. The Eagles Blue team, led by Palmyra (Pa.) defensive midfielder Lauren Wadas, won Pool D by holding all opposition to just two goals. Meanwhile, the Eagles Red team won Pool F.

The Eagles could have a third pool title, but a Diamonds team including Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) freshman sensation Kara Heck and Emmaus (Pa.) sophomore Madison Orobono lost Pool A on goal differential by a single goal over the XCalibur Knights as final pool matches took place on Sunday. The Diamonds, having to play against an Alley Cats team featuring Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) wunderkind Mackenzie Allessie, managed to win 12-6 to post a +42 goal difference, but the Knights got a +43 in the fifth and final pool match by winning its match 13-2 over Northeast Elite Gold.

XCalibur club side, having entered seven teams in pool play, won four pools, including the A pool and the B pool. The Knights won A led by Oley (Pa.) Valley star Sophia Gladieux, and the XCalibur Freedom team boasted another Oley (Pa.) Valley luminary, Sophia Mackrella. In addition, XCalibur Lancers won Pool O and XCalibur Titans won Pool V.

Amongst the pool winners were several good stories. Shore Byrds Purple, the winners of Pool I, featured a number of players from the state championship-winning Delmar (Del.) side. The home team, Spooky Nook, took a pair of titles as Nook Hockey won Pool C and Nook Green won Pool M.

Feb. 20, 2017 –The stateside superprep

Last Thursday, it was announced that Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) would be adding a girls’ varsity lacrosse program beginning this fall.

IMG Academy is a fully-developed sports academy formed from the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy that produced players such as Hall-of-Famers Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. The Academy has also gained a certain degree of notoriety for signing on players as young as the age of nine to get them primed for professional tennis careers.

IMG Academy has gotten more recent fame (or infamy, depending on your perspective) for developing high-school all-star teams that play the best competition from all over the nation.

Take, for example, the varsity football team at IMG. Last fall, the school played not only teams from Florida, but teams from Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, California, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The Ascenders finished with an 11-0 record and a No. 4 ranking from the MaxPreps computer ranking service.

In boys’ lacrosse, IMG already has a 4-0 record this year, and the team’s regular season, as per usual, stretches only until mid-March. But the varsity season is not the ultimate goal of the IMG program. Indeed, the varsity season is only one of three components for IMG players. There is a box lacrosse season for the student-athletes to work on skills during the winter, and the team also relies heavily on fall ball for development.

Given the growth of the sport of lacrosse in Florida and Georgia the last few years, I’m interested to see how the presence of IMG will affect the competitive balance of the sport. Yes, the fall-ball component, where a lot of the college recruiting currently takes place, will be a draw for some players. But I think the program has a chance to draw players from a nationwide base if the program’s ambition is big enough.

I guess we’ll know once the first group of young women hit campus this fall.

Feb. 19, 2017 — Magic of the Cup

Yesterday, Lincoln City F.C. scored a last-minute header to beat Burnley F.C. in the octofinal round of the F.A. Cup, an annual competition in England for which every single soccer team in the land — from the multimillion-dollar club side to the Sunday amateur pub team — is eligible.

Much of the so-called romance of the F.A. Cup is the theory that any team can win, but it’s a romance ginned up by television, radio, and sponsors trying to focus interest on a match between, as they might say, “chalk and cheese.”

But the last couple of years have been ones in which conventional wisdom — in soccer, politics, and the World Series — have been turned on their heads.

Lincoln City is just the latest sporting upset. To understand how rare their achievement is, consider that the last team outside the main professional group of clubs to make the final eight of the F.A. Cup was in 1914.

The rough equivalent of this in American sports is if, say, a summer wooden-bat league team similar to those found on the Cape Cod League was to make the MLB playoffs.

I’ve always liked to compare the F.A. Cup to the county tournaments in both field hockey and lacrosse in New Jersey. Though the field hockey county tournaments have crowned many repeat championships the last half-decade, the county-tournament in girls’ lacrosse is a relatively new construct, developing its own traditions as well as bracket-busters.

My favorite one to watch, of course, is Mercer County because the capital region’s public, private, and parochial schools all compete for one trophy. Since the first Mercer County girls’ lacrosse tournament in 2007, the trophy has been taken home by one private school, one parochial school, and four different public schools, one of which isn’t even in Mercer County.

And, like in the fall, there will be nine other county tournaments in New Jersey this spring, and each of them will have their own storylines and narrative that are sure to live long in the memory.