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July 23, 2021 — The Final Lacrosse Top 50 for 2021

These Top 50 listings are never easy. Throw in a global pandemic which cut down the number of games as well as cutting out some competitions altogether, and the job got a far sight harder.

Fortunately, thanks to copious glasses of water and a slice or two of turtle cheesecake, we were able to come up with a Top 50 girls’ lacrosse list:

1. Northport (N.Y.) 18-0
2. Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) 15-1
3. Delray American Heritage (Fla.) 16-1
4. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 21-1
5. Bayport-Blue Point (N.Y.) 17-0
6. Radnor (Pa.) 21-2
7. Milton (Ga.) 21-0
8. Darien (Conn.) 18-3
9. Westwood (Mass.) 24-0
10. East Chapel Hill (N.C.) 13-0
11. Wilmette Loyola Academy (Ill.) 25-0
12. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 13-3
13. Moorestown (N.J.) 18-3

14. Annapolis Broadneck (Md.) 13-0
15. Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 13-2
16. Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy 17-2
17. Manhasset (N.Y.) 13-3
18. San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.) 17-0
19. Louisville Kentucky Country Day School (Ky.) 25-0
20. New Canaan (Conn.) 20-1
21. Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 20-1
22. Langley (Va.) 16-0
23. Dublin Coffman (Ohio) 18-5
24. Garden City (N.Y.) 14-2
25. Rosemont Agnes Irwin (Pa.) 15-4
26. Franklin (Mass.) 18-1
27. Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.) 11-0
28. Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) 13-5
29. Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.) 17-1

30. Marriottsville Marriott’s Ridge (Md.) 10-1
31. Fort Covington Salmon River (N.Y.) 16-0
32. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 20-4
33. Park City (Utah) 19-0
34. Washington Georgetown Visitation (D.C.) 4-2
35. West Babylon (N.Y.) 13-5
36. South Huntington St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) 12-0
37. Dover-Sherborne (Mass.) 19-1
38. Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 10-3
39. Kennebunk (Maine) 16-0

40. Aurora Evergreen (Colo.) 11-2
41. Fairfield Ludlowe (Conn.) 17-4
42. Cincinnati Mariemont (Ohio) 19-3
43. St. Louis Mary Institute-Country Day School (Mo.) 16-0
44. Bethesda Stone Ridge (Md.) 8-2
45. Richmond Douglas S. Freeman (Va.) 12-1
46. Columbia Bishop England (S.C.) 18-0
47. Olney Good Counsel (Md.) 7-1
48. Nashua Bishop Guertin (N.H.) 18-0
49. Corona Del Mar (Calif.) 17-5
50. South Burlington (Vt.) 14-2

July 22, 2021 — Olympic preview: women’s field hockey

AL’S FEARLESS PODIUM

Netherlands
Germany
Argentina

The Netherlands, coming off a cycle in which they have dominated FIH Pro League play and won the 2018 World Cup, is, I think, a team which is confident and with plenty of swagger. They are a heavy favorite for gold, and they know it. Even without some all-time scorers in the lineup, the Oranje are a loaded squad. Fullback Caia van Maasakker is a deadly sniper on penalty corners, and forward Lidewij Welten is in her fourth Olympics.

But Holland’s last game in pool play, on August 1, is against Germany. I think Die Danas are a team which could send a real message to the Dutch in this situation. Germany will be led by former Maryland star Nike Lorenz, who captained the side in the most recent Eurohockey Nations League championship. Franzisca Hauke, whose brother Tobias won Olympic gold in Beijing and London, is a player to watch.

A star-crossed team, at least when it comes to the Olympics, is Argentina. The Albicelestes, despite winning World Cups, the FIH World League, and multiple Champions Trophies down the years, have never won an Olympic gold medal. The Leonas are going to be looking to all-time leading scorer Noel Barrionuevo, veteran goalkeeper Belen Succi, and forwards Delfina Marino, Victoria Granato, and Maria Jose Granato in order to gain success. As is the case in many years, Argentina usually looks to a single talismanic attacker in order to haul the load, but can the Leonas run a three-pronged attack?

The wild card in this tournament is Australia. The Hockeyroos have been a team in both transition and turmoil the last five years. Australia failed to medal at Rio 2016 and at the FIH Women’s World Cup of 2018, and a number of players such as Georgie Morgan and Rachael Lynch were left off the roster, even as a number of administrative personnel and coaches have been replaced in a widening bullying scandal. Lynch won her appeal to be reinstated to the national team, and she will lead a very young defense. Attacker Emily Chalker will have to have the tournament of her life in order to bring Oz to the medal stand.

I also think host Japan could represent a threat to the podium. The Cherry Blossoms are a quick and skilled side which also has won the most recent Asian Cup. Interestingly, their recent run of form started under head coach Anthony Farry, who jumped ship before the Olympics to coach the United States. The Sakura, however, could not manage a single corner in a recent friendly against Holland, which means that they need to make a quick jump up in class to compete here.

July 21, 2021 — Olympic preview: men’s field hockey

AL’S FEARLESS PODIUM

Netherlands
Australia
Argentina

The 2021 Olympics may have jumbled world rankings on the lead-in to Tokyo, but a Netherlands team which finished out of the medals in Rio are focused and motivated to win. And think of this: the Oranje will have to open the Olympics against the very team that beat them in the finals of the 2018 FIH men’s World Cup, Belgium. I think that the Dutch will have the goods this time. Veteran forward Jason Hertzberger will have to be at his best, and I think Billy Bakker will tie together the offense and defense nicely.

Vying for top honors will be Australia. The Kookaburras will be led by all-rounder Eddie Ockenden, who has played all positions in his career. Much will be asked of attacker Jake Whetton and goalkeeper Andrew Charter.

Defending Olympic champion Argentina has two members of the 300-cap club, captain Pedro Ibarra and full back Juan Martin Lopez. The Lions, however, are going to have a lot of young players in key positions. Midfielder Thomas Habif, whose older sisters Florencia and Agustina have represented Argentina in world-level competition, has just seven caps coming into the Games.

You can’t have a discussion about the medals table without Belgium, your defending World Cup champions as well as the top team in the current FIH Pro League. Midfielder John-John Dohmen has more than 400 caps for the Red Devils, and forward Tom Boon has more than 300. Boon is going to be the barometer for the team.

The dark-horse team in this tournament, I think, is Germany. However, veteran defenders Tobias Hauke and Martin Haner are going to have to do yeoman’s work in front of goalkeeper Alex Stadler, who has just 10 caps to his name coming into Tokyo. If the Germans can find the goals, watch out.

July 20, 2021 — Final lacrosse Statwatch for 2021

With the latest lacrosse season seen in at least a quarter-century having finished, we can finally bring you our annual soup of lacrosse statistics, numbers which connect the past to the present.

Below are stats which have been culled from a number of places, including MaxPreps.com, NJ Advance Media, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Providence Journal, The Albany Times-Union, Long Island Newsday, The Worcester Telegram, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MassLive.com, the Denver Post, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philly Lacrosse, MSG Varsity, the Ann-Arbor News, and The Washington Post.

I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
191 Francesca Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
145 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
143 Jamieson Meyer, Sandy Waterford (Utah)
137 Alexis Ashton, Blairstown North Warren (N.J.)
133 Alexis Lauricella, Holmdel St. John Vianney (N.J.)
128 Isabella Caporuscio, Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.)
127 Karly Keating, Lisle Benet Academy (Ill.)
125 Izzy Szejk, Mechanicsburg (Pa.)
121 Ryann Frechette, St. John’s Bartram Trail (Fla.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
93 Elizabeth Tausig, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)
84 Emily Phillips, Wake Forest (N.C.)
77 Sadie Salazar, Chapin (S.C.)
77 Caroline Mullahy, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.)
77 Bella Mims, Clermont East Ridge (Fla.)
75 Shoshona Henderson, Princeton (N.J.)
73 Ella Linthicum, York (Pa.) Catholic
73 Bridget Longsinger, Verona (N.J.)
71 Taylor McClain, Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest (Fla.)
71 Sydney Sventy, Mount Holly Rancocas Valley (N.J.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
58 Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.)

COACHING WINS
812 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

Thanks for reading our lacrosse stats for the season just past, and we’ll see you in the spring.

June 19, 2021 — The puzzling marketing strategy of Athletes Unlimited

If you’ve jumped onto the ticketing portion of the Athletes Unlimited website over the last few weeks, you’ll notice something odd. It’s impossible to buy tickets not only for Friday’s opening doubleheader, but for 20 of the 30 games that are being held over the next five weekends.

Today, I’ve noticed that, on the 20 games which aren’t being ticketed through the AU website have two words written in red on the logos for the games: “LIMITED ACCESS.”

The home of Athletes Unlimited lacrosse is to be Maureen Hendricks Field, which seats some 5,000 people and has been known to fill up for events such as U.S. Open Cup games involving D.C. United and Washington Spirit home matches.

While one can surmise that the fact that the 20 games with limited access are already sold out (which would be absolutely marvelous), it does call into question whether the limited access is for health and safety. The nation and the world are experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 thanks to the Delta Variant, and large crowds, including those with unvaccinated youth lacrosse players, could lead to an enormous spike amongst unvaccinated people.

Thing is, a couple of the bigger youth lacrosse tournaments on the summer schedule, the World Series of Lacrosse and the IWLCA Champions Cup, have already taken place, and other events are taking place all over the Eastern seaboard, but a good distance away from the Maryland Soccerplex.

Where, I wonder, is Athletes Unlimited going to get the people to fill the seats?

July 18, 2021 — Is the NCAA about to implode?

I wrote this blog entry eight years ago.

The day may be coming for a top-to-bottom reformation of college athletics. And it may be coming quicker than you think.

Last week, Mark Emmert made some remarks in front of a small group of reporters that are going to be poked at like statements from either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve Board. And with good reason: the NCAA should be flush with as much optimism as it is with cash.

However, the name, likeness, and image (NLI) rules which are now the supreme law of the land have promoted Emmert to re-evaluate the landscape of college athletics.

“I think this is a really, really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, ‘You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?’” Emmert said. “What would we change? What would we expect or want to be different in the way we manage it. And this is good. This is the right time.”

One of the major changes would be allowing existing national governing bodies of sport, such as USA Field Hockey, to administer national competitions like they did in the 1970s.

“We need to reconsider delegation of a lot of the things that are now done at the national level,” Emmert said. “When you have an environment like that, it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place ever on college athletes. And it should be the bare minimum.”

A deregulation of college sports would see the abolition of an NCAA rule book which has been seen as cumbersome, anti-competitive, and sometimes contradictory in terms of the rules inscribed therein.

Emmert mentioned a number of single-gender sports which are likely to have to decouple from the rest of college athletics at large.

“We need to be ready to say, ‘Yeah, you know, for field hockey, field hockey is different than football. Wrestling is different than lacrosse,’ and not get so hung up on having everything be the same,” he said.

This site has been tracking these things since the O’Bannon decision came down, and now that revenue streams outside of sneaker companies, ladder companies, and television networks are being identified, I find it interesting that the NCAA is ready to spin off just about every sport that loses money and are looking to maximize profit.

We’ll see what happens when or if the football golden goose is killed by way of head injuries and parents pulling their children from the sport.

July 17, 2021 — More than your typical “opt out”

Yesterday, in what could be a seismic shift in women’s basketball universe, Liz Cambage, the leading scorer in the Rio Olympics and a key player for the No. 2-ranked Australian women, decided to opt out of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cambage cited both physical and mental health as reasons for her to miss the Olympics. But given her behavior in the last few days, you wonder if this is an athlete who is close to an inglorious exit from her sport.

It was reported that Cambage got into a physical and verbal altercation during a closed-door scrimmage a few days ago against Nigeria, the country of her birth father.

Too, she was reported to have left the confines of the Australian national team’s health and safety protocols and was enjoying the sights of Las Vegas, where the Opals have been training. It is an allegation Cambage denied this morning on Instagram

I think there’s more to this. She has had a lot of pressure put on her ever since she was identified as a U-20 player on the world scene. She once had an issue playing for the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA, leaving the American professional circuit for five years before coming back to play for Dallas and Las Vegas in recent years. She has also complained about the lack of aboriginal and minority representation on Australian Olympic advertising, and has even pushed for the aboriginal national flag to be displayed on the Opals’ uniforms.

The off-court distractions, I think, have made an impact. And not necessarily a positive one.

It’s a shame because this is a good Opals team, one which beat a stacked U.S. team yesterday in a pre-tournament friendly in Las Vegas. Imagine what the Aussies could do with her at center.

July 16, 2021 — Game of the Year for lacrosse, 2021

The pandemic girls’ lacrosse season has changed the available pool of matches to consider for the best one of the season just past.

There were almost no interstate games this past spring. There were also very few interconference matches of note. And even in the postseason, you didn’t see quality competition in many states. Indeed, the semifinal and final rounds in Colorado had five of six games going to the running clock.

Indeed, it took all the way until the penultimate day of the domestic season until we saw the one game which had storylines, top players, and a thrilling finish

1. Westwood (Mass.) 6, Franklin (Mass.) 5
July 1, 2021
MIAA Division 1 final
So, let’s set the scene. Westwood is a team of great championship lineage, having won eight state championships. The Wolverine program has sent a number of players to Division I, such as Tewaaraton Award-winner Kristen Kjellman, Alex Frank, and Ela Hazar. The Wolverines, however, have not had a state championship since Margot Spatola took over for the legendary Leslie Frank five years ago.

About 15 miles away, Franklin (Mass.) has been on the front foot because of head coach Kristin Igoe, who has played with distinction for Boston College, the United States, and in pro lacrosse with the Boston Storm and the New England Command. Franklin was looking for its first state championship in 2021.

As it turns out, Spatola and Igoe were teammates at Boston College. Both Franklin and Westwood are located in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, just southwest of Boston. They were, however, seeded in different divisions for the state championship. The MIAA put Franklin in MIAA Division 1 East, and Westwood in MIAA Division I South. The tournament, because of the pandemic, took place in the last half of June and was to finish off the first weekend of July, the latest state championship final in girls’ lacrosse in at least 25 years.

Westwood, as is its wont, stamped its authority on the contest in the first 23 minutes, racing out to a 4-0 lead. But under volatile skies in the early summer, Franklin started a comeback, which culminated in Jamie Tanner’s game-tying goal with eight and a half minutes to go.

In a game played without a possession clock, draw controls and ball security were imperative. As if on cue, the heavens opened, pouring water on the Franklin home turf, the players, and spectators.

The teams played on. Westwood had the first good chance with a pass into the fan, but the ball was saved, and the rebound was shot wide. On the ground-ball pickup, Franklin drew a two-minute yellow card with 5:44 remaining.

Westwood had a chance on the man-up situation about halfway through the penalty, but the shot found the goalie stick of Brigid Earley. Franklin, off a timeout, gave up the ball deep in its third, which allowed Westwood to work the attack once more. Earley made a stop, whereupon Franklin saw out the penalty.

Franklin then had a chance to run out the clock to allow Westwood little to no opportunity to respond to a late goal. However, the Panthers went to goal within 30 seconds of getting the ball. Westwood then held the ball, allowing time to tick off the clock. The Wolverines’ Ava Connaughton, a sophomore, made an ill-advised pass into double-coverage, leading to a ground-ball pickup for Franklin. However, Franklin, in circling behind the goal cage, lost the ball. Connaughton, who was still following the play, caught the ball and saw that the Franklin goalie had left her crease to help with the clear.

Seizing her moment, Connaughton rounded the cage, sprawled to the ground, and shoveled a backhander past a closing Earley. There were 12 seconds on the clock, and the Wolverines had a 6-5 lead, which they were able to maintain after winning the final center draw.

This championship match, featuring a pair of neighborhood rivals and two coaches very familiar with each other, had everything you wanted in a game. It is therefore the TopOfTheCircle.com Game of the Year for 2021.

July 15, 2021 — Has the Ivy League become an igloo in the middle of a heat wave?

The Ivy League will be making a sporting comeback, albeit a cautious one, after an entire academic year away from the athletic field, courts, and pools of America.

Being an Ivy League coach is tough enough, with restrictions on recruiting budgets, lengths of season, and the postseason which are not found in any other college conferences across America. But the pandemic has thrown obstacles, dilemmas, and Kafka-esque situations at the Ancient Eight that are unprecented.

One major result has been that a number of Ivy League student-athletes have withdrawn from school — sometimes for a year, but on other occasions, making a transfer to another school. This is because the Ivy League has not allowed current student-athletes a fifth year of eligibility, which has led to students seeking other options.

Today came news of two recent transfers from Penn’s field hockey team to that of Duke — goalkeeper Grace Brightbill and outfielder Marykate Neff. They join a number of other former Ivy League athletes to move to other sides, which include Maryland’s Juliana Tornetta and Northwestern’s Maddie Bacskai.

These are game-changing players, and could very well shift the balance of power in field hockey the same way that Charlotte North did when she transferred from Duke to Boston College, where she won a national championship and a Tewaaraton Trophy.

But think of this from a coach’s perspective. You’re trying to fill out your roster, a fourth of which (theoretically) graduates every year, but your own conference rules do not allow any leeway for an event which is out of your control.

Perhaps the regulations regarding graduate-student play in the Ivy League were a mistake.

July 14, 2021 — The impossible Olympics

A week from today, competition in the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will begin with preliminary-round games in soccer and softball. While these two sports will have the eyes of the world on them for a couple of days, it is on the following Friday when the Opening Ceremonies begin.

What will follow, instead of 16 days of glory, will be 18 days of uncertainty. This Olympics is taking place during a slackening of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic — not at its denouement. This is in stark contract with the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, which took place shortly after a worldwide H1N1 flu pandemic that killed millions in four separate waves. That fourth wave ebbed in April 1920 — just four months before the Olympics.

Here are some of the over-arching stories and issues which are going to be in the news in the next month:

1- COVID, COVID, COVID. You thought there were hair-trigger actions regarding schoolchildren or food-service workers and the Coronavirus pandemic? The regulations put in place for the Olympics are pretty stringent as is, but I’ll be interested to see what happens with the metrics. You have 100,000 athletes and other members of national delegations coming to Tokyo. Some will be athletes from countries which have had very little access to vaccines. Others might be VIPs who may have never gotten the vaccine in the first place. And I’ll also be interested to see if Michael Andrew, an American swimmer which has been resistant to getting the vaccine, will ultimately be allowed to compete.

2- Can anyone police athlete speech? The International Olympic Committee has had to walk back on Rule 50, a regulation which bars political protest, speech or political displays during the window of competition. While that is mostly in place, the IOC is allowing certain types of athlete speech as that speech is not targeted against people, not disruptive and not otherwise prohibited by the international governing body of sport, or by the national Olympic committee. Still, a year after the murder of George Floyd and worldwide protests regarding everything from Coronavirus to Israeli occupation of the West Bank to indigenous murders of children in Canada, there is a lot of potential for all manner of athlete protests.

3- New competitions: who will watch? There are a number of sports which are entering the Olympic stage — or, in the case of baseball and softball, re-entering. Thing is, a number of these sports are those are derivatives of other competitions. Karate joins judo, boxing, wrestling, and taekwondo as another combat sport. Another version of basketball, the 3-on-3 half-court variation, comes into the Olympics.

4- Attempts to appeal to the world’s young people. Millenials are being targeted with the addition of skateboarding, surfing, and sport-climbing adding to the Olympic program. A lot of these have professional competitions outside of the Olympic umbrella, and it will be interesting to see whether the top athletes in these competitions will be willing to spend time away from the traveling circuses of extreme sports competitions in the midst of a pandemic.

5- Are the American basketball teams ripe for a fall? It was nearly 30 years ago when a group of 11 future Naismith Hall-of-Famers would change basketball from an American sport into a truly world-level event. Since the addition of professionals to international basketball, the slow-building drama has surrounded the question as to when other nations would break the American grip on the sport.

Early indications show that the American men are in a transitional period. While the team has the likes of Draymond Green, Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, the pre-Olympic period has been rough. The United States lost its first two tune-up games, without three players who are currently playing in the NBA Finals. However, it must be noted that the struggles for the United States in men’s basketball are not limited to the five-a-side game; the U.S. 3-on-3 team didn’t even qualify.

On the women’s side, the team is star-studded, but it is an older group. Diana Taurasi is 39, and Sue Bird is 40. Friends, that is your likely U.S. starting backcourt. The U.S. frontcourt is missing the star player of the last Olympics, Elena Delle Donne. She has been out with back surgery. The U.S. team is also missing players like Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery who have turned their attention away from basketball to focus on social justice issues.

This leaves the 5-on-5 team vulnerable to other national teams, which could take advantage of their quickness and shooting. But I think the American 3-on-3 team, including Stef Dolson and Katie Lou Samuelsson, is a lock for gold.

6- White elephants, unoccupied. The Tokyo Olympic organizers and government have spent more than two billion dollars on the Games, including building all-new stadiums for sports like field hockey, volleyball, and swimming. Many such specialty buildings have, regrettably, been left to rot after Olympics past. For example, you haven’t seen field hockey at purpose-built stadia in the last several Olympics. Some venues have been left to rot, others were deconstructed and repurposed.

In Tokyo, however, all of these stadia will have one thing in common: they will be unoccupied. A national state of emergency will be keeping people out of the stands, and will cost the International Olympic Committee a billion dollars’ worth of lost ticket revenue.

I’ll also be interested to see which sports team will take over the timber-covered Olympic Stadium, which is not only a central location for the Games, but has been a logistical and political issue since 2012. Is this stadium going to host a J-League side, a new pro baseball team, a future NFL team, or might the site become Japan’s equivalent of Wembley Stadium, reserved only for the national team and/or cup-final level events?

7- Gender and mixed competition. There has been much made of transgender athletes over the last couple of years, with a number of track athletes running afoul of allowable testosterone levels in the runup to the games. I’ll be interested to see if the IOC will want to see a controversy surrounding a trans athlete in these Games.

Almost as if on cue, a number of mixed-gender events are debuting at these Games. Normally, the only mixed-gender competitions at an Olympics are found with the equestrian events (the horse is the real star here) and mixed doubles in tennis. But in Tokyo, you’re going to see mixed-gender relays in triathlon, swimming and track, mixed team events in judo, archery, and shooting, and the mixed doubles in table tennis.

8- What will all of this mean for next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing? Next February, the Olympics are going to come to Beijing, where it does not snow all that much. Instead, many of the events will be held in a cluster of towns in the neighboring Hebei province. Still, some of the big youth-oriented events, such as big-air snowboarding and freestyle skiing, are scheduled to be held in urban Beijing. That could be a problem if the temperature does not support a snowpack.

One major overarching issue for next year is whether and which a further variant of the Coronavirus will be entering the general population next winter. Will world health authorities be able to stay out in front after playing catch-up in the last year?