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Aug. 17, 2017 — Has the war for pro women’s lacrosse gone nuclear?

Today, in addition to announcing five pretty high-profile coaches for the inaugural Women’s Professional Lacrosse League season next year, the league announced an inaugural kickoff weekend in late September during the fall-ball season.

The location? U.S. Lacrosse’s new headquarters in Sparks, Md.

“We are very supportive of the opportunities WPLL will be offering elite women’s lacrosse players who want to play at the highest level, while inspiring future generations of youth athletes,” said U.S. Lacrosse’s Ann Carpenetti in a press release.

The WPLL has certainly been busy in the last few weeks. They have been accumulating star players, even picking up players from the World Cup-winning U.S. national team. The league also has five teams, the coaches to run them, and the greatest player who ever lived, Jen Adams, as league commissioner.

And now, the WPLL has received a tacit seal of approval from U.S. Lacrosse. The closest thing the current United Women’s Lacrosse (UWLX) was able to secure in terms of approval from the national governing body of the sport was some technical support for umpires, and the privilege of playing the championship weekend at Homewood Field, the ancestral home for the game in the United States.

But to play at the new home of the game? That’s a pretty ambitious statement on the part of the league.

Aug. 16, 2017 — The war on ice goes international

The last we checked with the two stalemated pro women’s ice hockey leagues in the United States, there were still four Canadian teams in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the four U.S. franchises in the National Women’s Hockey League, and the city of Boston playing out as the battleground between the two, as the only market with two teams.

Recent plans for both leagues are showing that while the American league is remaining pat for a third season, the CWHL is looking east. Make that the Far East. China is the home of two new CWHL teams, Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays. While Kunlun has rapidly organized, holding training camp and hiring a general manager, the Rays team’s plans have been on a stealth level. The Rays’ intention of joining the league were reflected in a social media post that disappeared on a weekend.

So, Thursday night is the CWHL’s entry draft. I’ll be interested to see of the Rays will participate.

 

Aug. 15, 2017 — Towards the “Golden Hit”?

OK, so the FIH, NCAA, and the National Federation have made dozens of rules changes over the last two decades which have sped up the game, made it safer, and cleared up complications for some parents. Not all, since one sometimes has to bring up the subtleties of the rules governing the second shot on a penalty corner.

But I have one problem with a particular rule which is being implemented in U.S. high schools this year. The rule governs a situation when a defender unintentionally causes the ball to go across the end line. Instead of restarting the play deep in the attack end off a hashmark on the endline or the sideline near the corner flag, the ball is trotted all the way back to the 23-meter line, in line with where the ball left the pitch.

Your Founder has never been a fan of the new “long hit.” There are two reasons for this. One, the flow of the play is disrupted. The attention goes all the way from a possible goal-line chance all the way out to the 23-meter stripe. The intensity on the part of the attacking team is gone, and so is any numerical advantage that may have been part of the reason for the attack in the first place.

But second, there is no other sport on the planet that penalizes the offensive team a quarter of the pitch for not putting in a scoring chance. It would be like a tackle football team having missed a first-and-goal at the one, then having to start its next play at the 26-yard line.

A solution, I think, may be found in amongst the new rules for women’s lacrosse. If you have seen a schematic of field markings in recent weeks, you’ll know that there are two added dots on the field so as to help administer free positions now that the “freeze tag” rule has been eliminated in the NCAA.

But while these two dots are set behind the goal line on a line extending from the edges of the 12-meter arc, I believe that field hockey should have two contrasting yellow dots on the field 21 yards from goal, located on a line extending from the penalty corner hashmark intersecting with the white dashed line outside the striking circle.

A further rule is that the long hit need not be played indirectly into the circle, but can be fed directly to a teammate from that spot and that spot only. Given the contrast between the white lines and the yellow dots, this could also give commentators a chance to rename the long hit to a “golden hit.”

I recognize that a direct play into the circle, especially from so close, could become a hazard, especially in the men’s game. But in the game of field hockey, it is rare that you hear the phrase, “free hit from a promising position” because, frankly, the free hit from close quarters is more of a tactical move to earn a penalty corner rather than an actual scoring move.

Think of it: when was the last time you saw a scoring play off a 23-meter “long hit”?

I rest my case.

Aug. 14, 2017 — A little expansion, here and there

Last year, a major story in the world of scholastic field hockey was the fact that one of the nation’s fastest growing areas — Loudoun County in northern Virginia — had added 14 varsity field hockey programs amongst its 15 high schools. The presence of these teams necessitated a doubling of the size of the state tournament, from two brackets to four.

Loudoun not only retained the 14 teams they had last year, but added one more: South Hill Park View (Va.).

It’s not the only new team in the United States this fall. Arlington Heights St. Viator (Ill.), a team built largely through  the efforts of the Windy City club program, will play a junior varsity schedule in suburban Chicago.

Also, the small village of Belchertown (Mass.), tucked away at the foot of the Quabbin Reservoir in the central part of the state, will have field hockey for the first time.

But there are places in the United States where numbers are expected to be very low — if not this year, then in the future. In at least two states — Maine and New York — contingency plans are in place to allow combined, unified, or co-op teams to remain in a lower enrollment classification rather than have to move up to reflect the combined population of multiple schools.

I believe this is going to be an enormous issue coming down the pike, especially in football, where it takes 15 players to at least field a team, and the negative publicity surrounding head injuries has cut down youth participation noticeably.

Aug. 13, 2017 — How to fix women’s field hockey in the United States

This afternoon, it took a pair of second-half goals for the U.S. women’s field hockey team to take the bronze medal at the Pan American Cup with a 2-1 win over Canada. The third-place finish at Spooky Nook was the worst showing for the American women in a continental qualifying tournament since 1991, when the States took bronze at the Pan American Games in Havana.

That’s hard to fathom, given the fact that the product on the field is basically the same team that won its World League semifinal a month ago in South Africa. It should be said that the States were, at times, unlucky in the Pan Am Cup, with chances that yielded yawning goal cages and with injuries befalling key team members.

While the United States has already qualified for the World League final later this year as well as the 2018 FIH World Cup, the result was costly when it comes to world rankings points. If the United States had beaten Chile last Friday, the States would have been guaranteed 700 points. However, playing in the bronze medal match only yields a maximum of 390 points. Such a drop would put the United States somewhere around seventh in world rankings, albeit we don’t know what the Applebees’ points haul will be at the World League final.

In recent years, the U.S. field hockey team has proven itself to be a regional and world powerhouse. But the results of this past week’s tournament shows that there is room for improvement when it comes to how the sport is administered and played nationwide.

Think of this: two of the Americans’ toughest games were against Canada, a nation which has barely a dozen collegiate programs and plays scholastic field hockey in only four provinces.

It is possible to right the ship. If two subtle moves are made, the field hockey culture could be improved significantly.

The first is to have a national professional league. If two pro women’s lacrosse leagues can be envisioned to come out of a girls’ and women’s lacrosse infrastructure that is dwarfed by that of field hockey, there is no excuse for there to not support a field hockey league.

Now, I’m not talking about the single-entity group of eight teams that play a single tournament at Spooky Nook in the summertime. I’m envisioning a trade league, one which has hockey-related sponsors whose players wear and/or use the actual product on the front of their jerseys. The products could be sticks (Dita, Harrow, STX), athletic wear (Under Armour, Nike), or sports drinks (Gatorade, Advocare). The league, like United Women’s Lacrosse, would be a movable feast, playing their games at the same location as summer tournaments and/or camps around the nation.

The second change is that USA Field Hockey should take charge of all U-21 (college) and U-17 (high school) competition with as much dispatch as it can. I’m not necessarily saying that there should be a water-based turf pitch at every high school and college in the United States, but there should be a push towards transforming the game to the way the rest of the world plays it.

There are plenty of reasons, and they go beyond the dreaded mandated goggles. I believe that there is no reason for young players to have to navigate three sets of rules in their developmental years, and having one rulebook would help in our nation’s development.

Also, I’d like to see college-level programs playing Test rules — that is, a team would have to declare a roster of 18 (16 outfielders, two goalkeepers) for use during a game. This would, I think, spread talent around the country and allow more colleges to adopt the sport instead of having a small number of teams with bloated rosters.

At the same time, sanctioning field hockey at colleges and schools could also give an opportunity to mandate men’s and boys’ programs. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be right away, but could be made into a goal to be attained within five to 10 years.

Aug. 12, 2017 — How to fix men’s field hockey in the United States

This evening at Spooky Nook, the U.S. men’s field hockey team won the bronze medal in the Pan American Hockey Federation’s Pan American Cup with a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

You might say, given the fact that the States are the third-ranked team amongst the Pan American teams in this competition, that the team finished where it should have.

But the thing is, men’s field hockey in the United States has had six decades in the wilderness. The U.S. men has never qualified for a FIH World Cup, and has only qualified for the Olympics as the host nation since Melbourne 1956.

The reasons, of course, are legion. The game is not offered at the varsity level anywhere in the United States, and boys have faced opposition and barriers to entry from entrenched interests in the sport.

USA Field Hockey has tried a handful of initiatives in order to try to attract more willing male hockey players and keep them in the sport.

But it’s not enough. It’s time, I believe, to invoke “affirmative action.”

As defined in Merriam-Webster, it is an effort to “an effort to promote the rights or progress of disadvantaged persons.”

This would mean intentional action on the part of people in charge of the sport to attract people other than its majority demographic.

While there are a number of commendable efforts which have brought ethnic minorities and immigrant families into field hockey, gender is the 800-pound elephant in the room. I believe that there must be intentional acts designed to bring more organized men’s and boys’ field hockey to the States.

Our national governing body can only do so much, but could help by publicizing more and more boys’ hockey in youth leagues across the country. It could also help by speaking out every time there is a newspaper article detailing the struggle of a teenager looking to play but being turned away by either a school or a recreational programs, simply because of gender.

The goal, ultimately, must be boys’ field hockey played on boys’ teams.

Now, I understand that affirmative action is controversial in many political circles and remains so even today. It’s to the point where the Department of Justice has, according to a leaked New York Times memo, begun soliciting personnel to investigate whether race-based discrimination has been occurring in college admissions.

But for the overall good of the sport, I think affirmative action is what will lead the necessary cultural change necessary in order to lead to acceptance of boys’ field hockey as a construct.

BULLETIN: Aug. 11, 2017 — Chile 4, USA 3

Denise Krimerman, unlike a number of Chilean field hockey players of recent vintage, has taken the usual road to the national team. She prepped for her national team career playing in Chile while attending Universidad del Desarrollo in Concepcion.

Krimerman has also has scored a number of important goals in her life, including game-winners in the World League and in last year’s Junior World Cup, hosted by her home nation.

The attacking midfielder scored a brace in this evening’s Pan American Cup semifinal match, including the game-winner in the 60th minute, to defeat the United States 4-3.

The States had actually tied the game seconds before Krimerman’s game-winner, but made a couple of mental errors. One was that they had an uncharacteristic let-down after leveling the match with about a minute and a half to go. The other was that the defense didn’t mark Krimerman, one of the few people the American defense needed to seal off in order to win.

The Chilean win was significant on several levels. It was the first win by the Red Fury in a full international match. The win also kept Chile’s dream alive for a World Cup berth, which can be cashed in on Sunday evening.

But what this does is relegate the United States to the bronze-medal match against Canada. The U.S. team has never finished below second in the history of the Pan Am Cup, and the last time the women’s national field hockey team has finished outside of the championship match was the 1991 Pan American Games.