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Dec. 12, 2017 — The State of Hockey, 2017

The two events which summed up the success of American field hockey in 2017, as well as the willingness and commitment of younger players to make it so, occurred a few months and some 6,000 miles apart in the Southern Hemisphere.

The first came July 23rd, when the United States senior women’s national team defeated Germany in a penalty shootout in the championship game of the FIH World League semifinal in South Africa, thereby winning a berth in the 2018 FIH World Cup.

The second came Oct. 21, when the U.S. indoor national team beat Argentina in the final of the Pan American Cup in Guayana, thereby winning a berth in the 2018 FIH Indoor World Cup.

In these tournaments there were U.S. high school players who gave up all or part of their 2017 scholastic seasons, and played key roles in the American wins. Erin Matson, for example, was the player who made the key penalty shootout goal in the sixth round against Germany. She has missed the last two seasons at Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) playing with the senior national team.

On the indoor side, Sammy Popper, a junior from Fort Washington Germantown Academy (Pa.), was selected as the top young player in the PAHF Indoor Cup. Madison Orobono of Emmaus (Pa.), Paityn Wirth of Greenwood (Pa.), and Anarose McDonough of Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) were also on the U.S. roster.

The continuation of exceptional talent development continued at the scholastic level in 2017. Oddly enough, it wasn’t just on offense (we’ll get that to a minute). This year, Los Gatos (Calif.) became one of only a handful of scholastic teams ever to go through the entire season unscored-upon as the team went 17-0-1, winning the co-championship of the CIF Central Coast Section after a goalless draw with San Jose Archbishop Mitty.

In addition, the nation’s finest team this past fall, Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), played a tough defense that allowed goalie Britt Hook to post 23 clean sheets.

These outliers, however, ran counter to a boatload of goal-scoring that rang goalboards from San Diego, Calif. to Lewiston, Maine. As was the case a year ago, ten individuals scored 50 goals or more this past season, led by the talismanic junior Mackenzie Allessie, who became just the third scholastic player to break the 90-goal barrier for a season.

Allessie also was one of three players nationwide to amass 100 career goals and 100 career assists. Leah Crouse of Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) and Gabby Andretta of Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) also joined this exclusive group.

The unusual amount of scoring this year has also helped drive team successes. The longest all-time scholastic winning and unbeaten streaks were stretched to 184 and 124 games respectively, before Winchester (Mass.) defeated Watertown (Mass.) 3-0 in September. Emmaus (Pa.) extended its winning streak to 81 games, which is the longest in the history of Pennsylvania. Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) pushed its unbeaten streak to 115 games, which is fourth all-time. Los Gatos (Calif.) has not lost in its past 90 games.

A number of championship successes continued in 2017, although one major streak was ended. This year, the Fairchester Athletic Association title has a new holder for the first time in 33 years, because Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.) eked out an overtime victory over Greenwich (Conn.) Academy.

But others have continued: Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) won its 19th straight state championship in New Jersey, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) won its ninth straight New York state championship, and Watertown (Mass.) won its ninth straight Massachusetts state title. Emmaus (Pa.) won its 29th consecutive PIAA District XI championship, and West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.) won its 47th consecutive Shore Conference divisional championship.

In the collegiate ranks, one major story that started to get amplified in 2017 was the expanded role of foreign players in collegiate field hockey. Major additions to even Division II and III teams sent social media conversations into overdrive.

To be sure, the addition of overseas players has accentuated teams’ successes. The No. 1 Connecticut Huskies repelled every opponent on its schedule by teamwork and the sublime finishing of Charlotte Veitner. Nowhere did she influence games more than when the result was most in doubt. Veitner finished her career off with both goals in a 2-1 win over Maryland.

In Division II, Shippensburg, a team with players from Argentina and Holland, won the championship 4-1 over LIU-Post. In Division III, Middlebury’s all-American roster won 4-0 over defending champion Messiah.

In collegiate club play, Virginia Tech won the National Field Hockey League, the University of California and San Diego won the Western Collegiate Field Hockey Conference.

 

 

 

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Dec. 11, 2017 — A series of decisions which do not make much sense

Last week, it was announced that Severna Park (Md.) field hockey coach Ann Andrews would not have her coaching contract renewed for 2018.

The decision is the latest in a series of draconian fiats coming down from school administrators in the wake of the team’s annual prank of toilet-papering the coach’s house if the team wins an important game.

The initial decision was to suspend every member of the team and the coaching staff for a game apiece. A follow-up decision withdrew the team from further participation in postseason play. Severna Park had been on the cusp of winning a class 4A title after a season in which it beat two state champions on the field of play.

And now, word of Andrews’ dismissal.

It’s already spawned a Change.org petition, and the decision has already been appealed to the county school administration apparatus.

I’m not so sure that the latter will do much; I think the school administration has had it in for Andrews from the beginning of this scandal.

Now, I haven’t been privy to every single conversation that has been held regarding this event. But I do know that there have been plenty of papering incidents throughout history which have not yielded nearly the same kinds of punishment.

One takeaway question: if a boys’ team was caught doing a similar prank, would that team be subject to the same sanctions?

Dec. 10, 2017 — Recognizing a collective

Sports leagues and news organizations have had the same way of recognizing the value of coaching: an end-of-season award which is bestowed upon the head coach. And even as the art of coaching has evolved in so many areas, the attention and reward (and, let’s face it, blame) is focused on one person, whether it is Knute Rockne, Geno Auriemma, John McGraw, or Bill Belichick, no matter who is working with them as assistant coaches.

About three years ago, this site added language to its criteria for selection for the United States Coach of the Year to include and recognize the growing number of schools which have designated co-head coaches.

This year, the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association took it a step further. Instead of bestowing an award for the national or regional Coach of the Year, the organization changed their award to recognize a Coaching Staff of the Year.

The NFHCA has done something brilliant here. For all of the plaudits that coaches may receive for winning games and championships, it’s always an open question whether certain coaches are bolstered by the presence of a top assistant.

How much of the 1985 Chicago Bears championship team can be credited to defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, for example? Or how good would the University of Maryland women’s lacrosse team have been without Gary Gait as an assistant coach? What kind of influence was Mickie DeMoss on Pat Summitt for Tennessee women’s basketball?

It’s a fun mind exercise, one which is likely to continue once more athletic leagues start recognizing coaching staffs and not just head coaches.

It’s also notable that the awards also show the growth of male coaches in the game of field hockey. Each of the five regional awardees for NCAA Division I has at least one male coach on staff, something you might not have seen 20 years ago.

 

 

Dec. 9, 2017 — An appreciation: Neil Rosa, athletic director, Moorestown (N.J.)

The first time I met Neil Rosa, he was a little busy.

Moorestown (N.J.) was hosting a girls’ lacrosse showcase tournament featuring a number of the top-ranked teams in the LaxPower national computer rankings. In the middle of wrangling volunteers and maintenance workers for the multiple pitches on the school campus, he was on the phone.

It seems that one of the two teams ready to take the field for the interstate match was not certain it was allowed to do so given the number of matches already on the team’s fixture list.

A few well-placed calls later, the game went on as scheduled.

We lost Rosa this week at the age of 63 to leukemia. It was a loss to a number of athletic communities in central and southern New Jersey, but especially to the girls’ lacrosse program on which he doted.

Rosa wasn’t much about the bureaucracy of today’s interscholastic competition. He was all about putting good teams on the field, even if one of the teams wasn’t Moorestown Quakers.

For the most part, he wanted to see his black and gold in competition against the nation’s best. There was that one Saturday evening back in 2005 which saw Moorestown travel to Ellicott City, Md. to play Mount Hebron, a program which was in the midst of a 105-game winning streak.

It was an electric, unforgettable atmosphere as Hebron won 11-6.

The following year, the game at Moorestown yielded a throng of nearly 2,000 people jamming the sides of a pitch tucked around the corner from the football stadium. That, I think, is a function of Rosa’s leadership and promotion of the team in the city of Moorestown.

These days, Moorestown’s girls laxers not only play a challenging schedule, they also make a trek to Long Island for the Gains for Brains showcase, a fundraising tournament for spinal cord injuries that brought teams from three states to Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.).

I’d love to see something similar at Moorestown one of these days, shared between the main campus and the North Church Street facility, to raise money to fight leukemia and other blood cancers.

The Neil Rosa Memorial Showcase. Has a nice ring to it; how about it?

Dec. 8, 2017 — United States Coach of the Year, the nominees

The United States Coach of the Year Award is given to a head coach or co-head coaches who made a noticeable difference in the performance of a scholastic field hockey team in a particular season. The coaching performance is not limited to progress made in the year which the award is given.

Here are this year’s nominees:

Cheryl Capozzoli, Newport (Pa.): Led the team from the banks of the Juniata River to within a game of the Class AA state finals

Jackie Ciconte, Houston Kinkaid (Tex.): The former University of Maryland forward brought her passion and energy to the Deep South and guided Kinkaid to the Southwestern Preparatory Conference championship

Roxanne Courser, Lyndon Center Lyndon Institute (Vt.): In her 19th season, her team was able to win its first state title this season

Erin Creznic, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.): In her 15th season, might have had her best team, which went 20-0 and conceded just three goals all season

Jodi Byrd Hollamon, Delmar (Del.): Brought the small-town team with the big-time work ethic back to the state championship and won it for the second year in a succession

Kent Houser, Millerstown Greenwood (Pa.): After 35 years and more than 1,000 wins in three sports at the school, brought the field hockey team to its first state final and won it

Michelle Johnson, Winchester (Mass.): The Sachems beat both Watertown and Acton-Boxborough in the same season; in the former matchup, a 184-match unbeaten streak ended

Starr Karl, Chantilly Westfield (Va.): In her final season as a scholastic head coach, was able to coach her daughter and a determined group of seniors to a state championship

Stanley Phulpagar, Christian Academy of Louisville (Ky.): In his fourth year at the helm, the Centurions entered the Apple Tournament for the first time, and won it. The team then went on to win the KHSAA state final

Henry Reyes, Los Gatos (Calif.): The team went the entire season unscored-upon as its undefeated streak reached 90 matches

Julie Smith, Tabernacle Seneca (N.J.) — There have been expectations heaped on the newest of the Lenape Regional School District schools since its 2003 opening, but Smith guided the team to its first appearance in the state title game

Mary Werkheiser, Norfolk (Va.) Academy: Over the course of more than a decade, carefully built a program around tactics and a water-based artificial turf, one of only four such at a U.S. secondary school. In 2017, NA was undefeated and was, for the first time, ranked as the No. 1 team in Hampton Roads

The recipient will be announced December 29.

Dec. 7, 2017 — An unprecedented ban and some possible political blowback

Day before yesterday, the International Olympic Committee handed down an unprecedented ban just two months before the upcoming Winter Olympics in Korea.

The ban was on the Russia Olympic Committee, its athletes, its sports ministers, and even political figures. The reasons given were all found in the McLaren Report, a scathing document from a year ago which detailed a comprehensive doping regimen as well as countermeasures that were used in Russian anti-doping labs to fool officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

A lot of the trickery was done with the knowledge of top sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who was banned from the International Olympic Committee for life. Mutko, however, has found himself chair of the local organizing committee for next year’s FIFA World Cup, which has already found itself under a cloud for creating a ridiculously easy group for the hosts, and putting top contenders Germany, Argentina, and Brazil into difficult pools.

Now, it’s been more than 80 years since Adolf Hitler attempted to use the 1936 Olympics to show off Aryans as a master race, but there have been plenty of other nations who have tried to use the power of international sport to exhibit the superiority of a culture, a political idea, or a system of government.

And, truth be told, it’s not just Russian athletes from today’s era, or East Germans from the 1970s, or Chinese swimmers from the 1990s who deserve this kind of scrutiny.

After all, it was an American firm named BALCO which created a designer drug that was formulated to beat any and all drug testing apparatus. The BALCO scandal reached deep into North America, affecting a generation’s worth of baseball statistics to the point when a large part of the last quarter century is being called “The Steroid Era.”

It also had an effect on world sport, as athletes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones were stripped of their wins and records around the globe.

So, why am I mentioning U.S. athletes in a story in which the Russians got caught and punished? Though a third of Russia’s medal haul from Sochi has been affected by this cheating scandal, there have been times when Americans have not been clean, especially in the mid-1980s. Look at enough film, and you can see the differences of several athletes over time as well as their performance abilities.

Too, there was the famous Wade Exum list of track athletes, including Carl Lewis, who failed drug tests during the same era in which Ben Johnson was caught.

I get the feeling this won’t be the last ban.

Dec. 6, 2017 — A rare occasion

We didn’t want to let too much time go by before making an observation on one of the 1,950 varsity field hockey seasons that were played in the last three months.

Because, as it turns out, Los Gatos (Calif.), the co-champions of the CIF Central Coast Section, did something that only nine other teams (that we know of) have ever done in a minimum eight-game season.

That feat was to shut out every opponent.

I had to re-read the school’s entry on MaxPreps twice in order to confirm it, but there it is: 18 games, 110 goals scored, zero goals conceded.

It’s the first time in three years that a team has managed this feat, and that’s when Watertown pulled off the trick as part of a two-season string of giving up exactly one goal in that time frame.

It’s amazing to me, that, in this the Score-O Decade for American schools, we’ve had teams play such quality defense. Then again, one shouldn’t be surprised. It’s amazing what the game can give as well as take away.