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Dec. 2, 2020 — A season 38 years in the making

Yesterday, with the start of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association tournaments as well as scattered games in North Carolina and Maryland, we are seeing something that we have not seen in American scholastic field hockey in 38 years.

You see, it was December 1982 which saw the start of the last winter field hockey season in the CIF San Diego Section. And as far as we have been able to tell, it’s the last time an official scholastic field hockey game was held after Thanksgiving.

While the North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware portions of the field hockey calendar are likely to finish out without any major Coronavirus incidents, the same cannot be said for the California Interscholastic Federation.

California’s field hockey teams, as well as the remainder of the state’s scholastic and recreational sports apparatus, are still awaiting word from the state capitol and the governor’s office about the standards and guidance for return to play, and yesterday issued a memo stating that sports were unlikely to start up until Jan. 1, 2021 at the earliest.

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has already caused other government actions at the local level. Thanks to health restrictions in Santa Clara County, a large population cluster at the southeast edge of the San Francisco Bay, the San Francisco 49ers NFL team is having move out of its home ground and move its next two home games to Glendale, Ariz. In addition, the college football teams at San Jose State and Stanford are having to make alternate plans.

The Santa Clara County order runs through Dec. 21, and not only prohibits contact sports activities at the professional level, but also at the collegiate and scholastic levels. Santa Clara County, as it turns out, holds a majority of the 37 field hockey teams that compete in the CIF Central Coast Section, including long-time rivals and perennial sectional title contenders Los Gatos (Calif.) and San Jose Archbishop Mitty (Calif.).

I think all of this puts California’s entire field hockey season in peril. Why? Geography.

The three sections that hold championships — the Central Coast Section, the Southern Section, and the San Diego Section, all are within large population centers in the Golden State. The Central Coast Section includes a big segment of the San Francisco Bay area, which counts about 7.7 million people. The Southern Section is contained within the five-county area near Los Angeles, which counts more than 18.8 million people. The San Diego section is within San Diego County, which is about 3.3 million people. Combined, that’s about 75 percent of the state’s population.

Given the fact that any communicable disease thrives in densely populated areas such as these, I would not be surprised if field hockey in California is faced with insurmountable health and legal hurdles in order to be able to even get to the start of practice.

Dec. 1, 2020 — Top 10 for games played through Oct. 29

It’s December, which will see the end of play in Delaware and the beginning of play in California, subject to the issuance of return-to-play guidelines by the office of the Governor.

The month of November saw the end of play in most hockey-playing states. But in many, the terminal matches were not state championship finals. New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey ended field hockey with sectional championships, which has robbed field hockey aficionados of the opportunity to see some of the better teams in the country getting tested deep into a postseason.

Our RightToRightIsRight.com No. 11 Team of the Month is Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.). The school is well-known for nationally-ranked players and teams in basketball, soccer, and lacrosse. But in 2020, the field hockey team made the PIAA Class AA final. It was the first time a team from District 12 had ever made a PIAA field hockey title match, and they may have been a chance or two away from being the champions but for the stellar play of Palmyra (Pa.).

1. Delmar (Del.) 12-0
Heading into the DIAA Division II tournament later this week, the Wildcats yielded exactly one goal during the season. In addition, this quality side spreads its scoring around; who do you try to mark out of the game if you’re an opposing coach?

2. Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) 14-0
Season complete: Vikings got by Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.Y.) 9-0 to win NJSIAA Southwest D sectional championship

3. Emmaus (Pa.) 11-0
Season complete: Solid team effort gave the Hornets a 4-0 state championship win against Harrisburg Central Dauphin in the PIAA AAA final

4. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 14-0-1
Season complete: Beat Summit Kent Place (N.J.) 3-0 in NJSIAA Central-East E sectional final

5. Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) 17-0
Season complete: Beat Millerstown Greenwood (Pa.) 3-0 to win PIAA Class A final

6. Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.) 0-0
Season complete:
 Sacred Heart has finished its playdays and did not have a timed, scored, and umpired game during the open week of competition in November

7. St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.) 14-0
Season complete: 
Won Midwest Field Hockey Association championship with a 1-0 overtime win over St. Louis John Burroughs (Mo.) on a clutch goal by Taryn Tkachuk

8. Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) 0-0
Falcons won’t start their season until March 2021

9. San Diego Serra (Calif.) 0-0
Serra’s first possible varsity date is scheduled to be somewhere between December 12th and 16th; depends on whether the Governor’s office provides guidance for the return to play

10. Franklin (Mass.) 11-0
Season complete: Dominated all comers in the Hockomock Conference; it’s an open question how they would have done in the Division 1 North sectional against the likes of Walpole and Plymouth North

11. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 10-2
Season complete: Lost 2-1 in overtime to Palmyra (Pa.) in PIAA Class AA final

And bear in mind:  San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.) 0-0, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.) 0-0, Longmeadow (Mass.) 6-0, Walpole (Mass.) 8-0-1, Andover (Mass.) 6-0, Dexter (Mich.) 16-0-1, North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.) 12-0-1, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) 13-1, Charlotte Providence Day School (N.C.) 12-0, Columbus Bishop Watterson (Ohio) 18-3, Palmyra (Pa.) 15-2, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) 16-2, Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.), East Greenwich (R.I.) 9-0, Langley (Va.) 0-0, Virginia Beach First Colonial (Va.) 0-0

Nov. 30, 2020 — CANCELLED: No. 1 Delmar (Del.) vs. Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.)

ADVISORY This evening’s rescheduled Henlopen Athletic Conference championship game between Delmar and Cape Henlopen has been called off. Given the fact that these two sides are starting playoff games in the DIAA Tournament this week, I am not sure that, barring a hasty rescheduling for Tuesday, that this match will get played. Stay tuned to this space for more info

Nov. 29, 2020 — The facelessness of professional sports today

It was in the mid-1990s when I went to a computer/peripherals show and sale at a horse-racing track near my home. This being the era before Gateway, Apple, and Microsoft stores, these shops were the best way to find that rare peripheral or gadget you needed to make your computer work better.

I was a computer owner, having bought an Apple PowerBook 100 for my studies at graduate school, and was looking for some cool add-ons and perhaps a box of disks.

After going through the booths a couple of times and making a small purchase, I went outdoors to take a look at the track, which was holding races that afternoon.

The park used to have outdoor seating for 11,000, but through the evolution of the facility over the years, virtually all of the spectator capacity at the facility was indoors. A five-story-tall glass-enclosed building overlooked the front stretch, with all of the betting windows, hospitality, and seating climate-controlled from the cold December weather.

I thought for a few minutes; could this be the future of pro sports? Could we see stadiums with an acre of grass as your competition surface, but entirely surrounded by hundreds of glass-enclosed luxury boxes overlooking the action?

We’ve seen a lot of this before, as the Bombonera, the home stadium of Boca Juniors in Argentina, underwent a 1996 renovation which saw the construction of an entire sideline’s worth of luxury boxes stretching four stories tall.

There’s also been new construction which has seen luxury boxes brought to the fore, such as the 1,241 suites at the Monumental Stadium in Lima, Peru, or the banks of boxes at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., or at North Carolina State University’s football stadium.

The current global pandemic has seen many pro sporing events around the world held without spectators, including a soccer game in Istanbul today between Besiktas and Fenerbace. Normally, the crowds in this Super Lig match would be chanting loud enough to create small earthquakes detectable by seismic equipment nearby.

Now, given the fact that many pro sports franchises actually make a profit without a single ticket being sold to the general public, I do wonder if our society is heading towards the all-suite method of the game experience. I know there has to be owners contemplating an all-suite stadium with climate-controlled seats for well-heeled corporate customers (which actually makes it easier for social distancing), especially since a lot of fans of some pro sports are finding that the entertainment experience is better at home rather than seeing the game live.

Nov. 28, 2020 — A million times over

You don’t have to read this blog to understand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the sports world, even as entire field hockey teams either had to pause or cancel activities because of an outbreak, or even opted out of play altogether.

All you have to do is watch the news. Prominent athletes and coaches, and the heart of some entire teams have been infected with Coronavirus, leading to governing bodies of sport having to scramble in order to ensure that games get played.

Ohio State University’s football team isn’t playing today. Neither is Florida State’s team. Villanova’s men’s basketball team had to fill in a slot when Temple had to pull out of a game scheduled for the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Yesterday, when the United States was being Holland 2-0, the Hammers were without star midfielder Lindsay Horan, who tested positive.

And the Thursday night football game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore had to be moved to Tuesday night because of a sudden outbreak amongst the Ravens’ team, including quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The numbers amongst the U.S. population at large are stunning. In the last week, more than a million new COVID-19 cases were reported. More than 4 million new positive tests were reported in the United States in November alone. That represents about 30 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since the first case was reported in Washington in late January.

It’s a frightening number. And it’s why our society should not let down our guard.

Nov. 27, 2020 — Giving even more thanks

Good story today in the Portland-Press Herald regarding a pair of coaches, Suzanne Bourgeault of the U.S. O-45 Masters team and former Boston University captain Hayly Holman.

Bourgeault recently donated a large portion of her liver to treat Holman’s husband Eric, who needed a donor organ with a blood type of A-positive.

Turns out Bourgeault was a match. Here’s the story.

Nov. 26, 2020 — Giving thanks

Usually, on Thanksgiving Day, I’ll link to a good local story about a field hockey or lacrosse player who has overcome misfortune or circumstance in order to find success or even to find their way back to the field of play.

But, if you’ll indulge, this year’s Thanksgiving story is about me.

About 2 1/2 weeks ago, I was in a hospital room. I had traveled from my apartment to see a field hockey game involving Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) and Hope Rose, the senior attacking midfielder who was the nation’s leading goal-scorer.

But about 20 minutes before the game started, I felt overheated. I drank a 28-ounce bottle of Gatorade Zero before heading into the game, but it didn’t do any good. I felt unstable and woozy, though I was lucid. I knew where I was, I knew multisyllabic words, and I cracked jokes.

The Central Dauphin athletic trainer and one of the vice-principals at the school called in an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. Once there, after a liter of IV fluids and a blood test, I was admitted to the hospital. I was not exactly thrilled because of this, given the fact that our nation is in the midst of a global pandemic, and hospitals are notorious germ factories. Also, I felt somewhat guilty that I might have been taking a hospital room away from a COVID-19 patient who might have really needed it.

For the next two days, I was hooked up to an IV to administer heart medication. The doctors thought I had a heart attack, even though I had no symptoms to indicate that. Fortunately, three screenings found that there were no blood clots in my lungs and my bloodstream, and no evidence of a heart attack.

Still, the cardiologist at the hospital gave me a raft of prescriptions and had me stop taking a diuretic that I had been taking for hypertension (it’s that diuretic which I believe was the cause of the whole episode).

In the aftermath of all this, I am thankful for several aspects. First of all, I’m glad I had this episode where I had it: central Pennsylvania. The reason why is that I learned over the course of talking with my doctors is that there were no available hospital beds in the facility which I might have gone to if I had this episode in my backyard.

Second, I’m thankful that the location of my episode, the hospital, and the hotel I stayed in the night afterwards (to recuperate for the drive home), were all within a two-mile radius of each other. Bonus: I was able to become a Lyft subscriber for the first time.

Finally, I’m thankful for health insurance. My plan is paying for everything — tests, medication, transport, the works. At the same time, I recognize that there are more than 40 million of our fellow citizens who do not have health care coverage, coverage which is in jeopardy thanks to the current makeup of our Supreme Court.

My friends in field hockey and lacrosse, this health scare may have knocked me off-stride, but you may not have noticed it at all. I posted a blog entry here every day, and pretty much on schedule.

And I’ll continue to do this as long as I am able.

Nov. 25, 2020 — Diego Maradona, 1960-2020

Diego Maradona was not my favorite soccer player growing up. Indeed, I actively disliked him because of a horrific challenge in the 1982 World Cup which saw him sent off for a studs-up kick to the stomach of an opponent.

But I came to respect him, mostly because of his actions in one game: Argentina vs. England in the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals at Estadio Azteca, June 22, 1986.

In the 51st minute of the game, Maradona went up for a headball, and his hand came up in an unnatural position. The ball glanced off his fist, supported by his forehead, and nestled in the net behind goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

In a political climate still raw from the Falklands War just four years previously, it was easy to portray Maradona as a cheating villain. But not necessarily in a nefarious way: soccer is one of those games in which there are laws, but if you can find a way outside the Laws of Football and outside the referees, it’s a reasonable question if you shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

Four minutes later came not only a touchstone moment in Maradona’s history, it was voted as the greatest goal in the history of the FIFA World Cup.

On the play, Maradona received the ball about seven yards behind the midfield stripe, then charged forward on a breathtaking 60-yard run, beating four players and the goalkeeper, slotting the ball from an angle on the right wing.

As a field hockey writer, I sometimes look to the game of soccer to compare and contrast tactics, coaching, and team culture. I always found it interesting that Argentina’s field hockey and soccer teams routed their play through a single talismanic player, whether it was Maradona, Luciana Aymar, Mario Kempes, Noel Barrionuevo, Juan Roman Riquelme, Delfina Merino, or Lionel Messi.

I find it interesting that, when you look at what has been going on in the youth movement in field hockey over the last 10 years, American players from the national team on down have been scoring exceptional goals. When you look at footage of Erin Matson, either with North Carolina or with the U.S. women’s national team, you see a lot of Maradona-esque skills and use of space.

And, of course, you’ve read in these pages about three exceptional goals scored on the scholastic level that are very much on the same level as Maradona’s “Goal of the Century” back in 1986.

There was Mackenzie Allessie’s overtime goal in the 2018 PIAA Class AA final against Palmyra, Hope Rose’s overtime goal in the 2020 PIAA District 3-AAA final against Lower Dauphin, and Alexandra Mega’s goal in the 2020 RIIL Division I final against La Salle Academy. All three started deep in the defensive end, with speed and skill to beat three or more players in the field of play, then the finish.

So, I’m saying it right here: those three goals were right out of the Diego Maradona School of Finishing. And the fact that two of these were in 2020 is a tribute to the man, the athlete, the legend.

Nov. 24, 2020 — A numbers game

Saturday, Alexandra Mega put herself in the pantheon of great clutch field hockey goals with her 70-yard solo goal for East Greenwich (R.I.). On her back and front was a number you might expect for a goal-scorer: the number 10.

The 10 jersey has been given an almost mythical status in soccer over the years. Now, there had been a system which came into being in the United Kingdom in the early years of the 20th Century in which you were numbered from back to front and from right to left. In other words, if you were the right-most defender, you wore the number 2. If you were the center forward in a three-player front line, you wore the number 10.

Numerous creative, powerful, and incisive attacking players gravitated towards the 10 shirt.

Oddly enough, that has not been the case in field hockey. Take a look at the list of the greatest goal-scorers in history, and their high-school numbers were, frankly, all over the board:

2 Mackenzie Allessie
30 Austyn Cuneo
11 Hope Rose
2 Meredith Sholder
4 Sophia Gladieux
1 Haley Schleicher
20 Ryleigh Heck
32 Lexi Smith
10 Charlotte de Vries
29 Paityn Wirth
16 Sammy Popper

Yup, of the top scorers of all time, only Charlotte de Vries, whose father was a professional soccer player and coach, took on the No. 10 when she was in high school. Turns out she’s also wearing the 10 shirt at Syracuse.

I’m hoping more good scholastic players are able to embrace the responsibility of having those two digits on their uniform.

Nov. 23, 2020 — On the other side of the river

Over the weekend, the Pennsylvania field hockey hit a climax with three well-contested PIAA championship finals, plus the wrapup of open-season play amongst some private schools as well as a Central League championship game.

But go east of the Delaware River, to New Jersey, and the weekend ended with a kaleidoscope of 17 sectional championship games. Well, actually, there were 16, but we’ll get to that in a second.

The one thing about the sectionals is the number of “no doubt about it” results. Three quarters of the sectional final games were won by shutout. There were three 1-0 shutouts, but there were four shutouts which required a running clock once the goal difference was five or more.

As the games unfolded, I had a little bit of an uncomfortable moment: what about overtime? This year, all of the sectional finals were “terminal” games — that is, when both team’s seasons end no matter the result. As such, there was the possibility of the four most upsetting words in field hockey: “Co-champions shall be declared.”

New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut are, I think, the only states that do not break ties after overtime in a “terminal” situation. Everyone else goes to one of the main tiebreakers as spelled out in the NFHS rulebook: either the FIH penalty shootout, penalty strokes, or alternating penalty corners.

We were getting pretty close to an overtime tie in a couple of situations over the weekend. Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.) and Haddon Township (N.J.) went all the way to the 78th minute before a late corner yielded a winner, and Ocean City (N.J.) bested Egg Harbor Township (N.J.) in the 74th minute.

So, we’ve gone over what happened in New Jersey’s 16 state sectional results over the weekend. But there was a 17th game, in the Southwest C bracket, that did not get played.

The game was to have featured a mouthwatering matchup between the previous two NJSIAA Group III champions, Mullica Hill Clearview (N.J.) and Moorestown (N.J.), but the game was called off because of a Coronavirus outbreak at Moorestown, a school with a documented history of field hockey dating back to 1909.

The Moorestown shutdown came as a result of the school going to full remote-learning, starting today. But the school had announced that all interscholastic athletics, including a football game, a boys’ soccer game, and the field hockey sectional final, were to be cancelled.

The field hockey team organized an in-school protest on Friday, which attracted a Philadelphia TV station’s camera crew.

According to The Newark Star-Ledger, the school’s athletic director consulted with the office of the Moorestown superintendent of schools, which gave the green light to extracurriculars.

The boys’ soccer sectional final was played on Saturday, but the field hockey game was not. According to the Ledger, the two schools could not agree on the comfort level of playing, given the outbreak at Moorestown.

“We did what we could to get the game reinstated,” Moorestown AD Shawn Counard tells The Star-Ledger. “It’s unfortunate the season ended the way it did. We’re very happy and proud of our girls. We wish our seniors nothing but the best and we look forward to seeing the underclassmen back in 2021.”

We don’t know the extent of the outbreak amongst the school population, though we’ve seen school districts close even if an infant in the home of a student catches the Coronavirus and no actual symptoms develop.

It appears as though both Moorestown and Clearview have finished their seasons; it’s not known whether a champion will be declared for the bracket.

“It’s not like we didn’t know something like this could happen; we played the entire season under the threat of something like this happening, but I wish we could’ve played,” says Moorestown head coach Ali Collins. “But more importantly, I’m just really proud of all we accomplished this season.”

A season like no other.