Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

March 27, 2023 — Has the national power shifted here, too?

With half of the national Final Four in Division I women’s basketball being decided yesterday, there’s a fact that blew my mind when it was broadcast.

For the first time since 1985, neither Stanford, Connecticut, or Tennessee made the final eight of the women’s tournament. That’s an amazing figure, given the fact that there has been some diversity in the ranks of who wins the tournament. The winners have included the likes of Baylor, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Purdue, Texas Tech, and Maryland. It hasn’t been the closed club that women’s lacrosse has been since 1991.

Still, the stable and excellent coaching of Tara VanDeveer, Geno Auriemma, and Pat Summitt have turned their respective universities into perennial powerhouses. The coaching staffs didn’t have to do much in order to attract top talent; they were often sought out by players ambitious enough to find the best competitive environment.

But as we’ve been seeing in many college sports, there have been lots of changes in the landscape — COVID-19, the presence of sports betting and NLI deals, and some coaches who have decided to leave, citing lack of institutional support.

It is troubling to ponder; are we going to see an economic elite of sport, with schools like Alabama, Clemson, Penn State, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona State, Oregon, Michigan, and Stanford who are able to raise and spend millions of dollars on intercollegiate sports in any and every endeavor?

Given what we’ve seen in the collegiate world, with some 900 universities in America closing since 2004, it wouldn’t be surprising if a scholarship arms race for top players in every sport has already begun.

March 26, 2023 — Has the national power shifted?

In the last 20 or so years, you could be guaranteed to find the absolute best girls’ high school lacrosse on a corridor in west suburban Baltimore, as teams like Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), and Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) have dominated their leagues and sent numerous players to championship-level teams.

But yesterday afternoon, Washington Georgetown Visitation (D.C.) edged out McDonogh 12-11 in overtime. The reverse fixture last year saw McDonogh winning the game by 16-4.

It’s only one data point. But it’s a different lacrosse landscape now as opposed to before the pandemic. There are hundreds more schools playing the sport, and tremendous growth in non-traditional areas which have now become fertile recruiting grounds, such as Florida, Washington, and Arizona.

But what I also think is that there is a new generation of club player, with skills and physicality which were unheard of ten years ago. A lot of these athletes are playing lacrosse exclusively and are training themselves with sport-specific exercise programs to accentuate wrist strength for the draw and explosive first steps for the 8-meter free position.

One such player can transform a team; some teams have several of them. And some are concentrating themselves in smaller schools such as Visitation, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), and Charlottesville St. Anne’s Belfield (Va.).

I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from these schools very soon.

March 25, 2023 — World governing bodies are finally acting

It was back in 1976 when an opthamoligist named Renee Richards shook up the world of sports by seeking to compete in the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament after a gender reassignment operation.

After nearly 50 years of inaction, and a number of athletes in sports from track to ice hockey to soccer competing as transgender, there has finally been some movement on regulation and definition from where it should have come from in the first place: individual sport governing bodies.

Last June, the world governing body of swimming effectively banned transgender women from swimming in women’s events unless their transition occurred before the age of 12. And this past week, the IAAF, the international body for track and field, introduced a similar ban but also included a testosterone level regulation for transgender athletes to be able to compete in women’s events.

It’s befuddling to me to see how long it has taken the lords of swimming and track to have figured this out.

Usually, sport is out in front of societal change; Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated baseball decades before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But then again, when you look at the sordid history of world track and swimming since the start of the Cold War, it was the doping of female athletes by Eastern Bloc countries which saw the mining of medals in individual events as a key to winning the medal count.

East Germany, which had a powerhouse women’s swimming and track team in 1976, mined the system for 40 gold medals and 90 overall at Montreal.

Thing is, people in the swimming and track communities knew this was going on, and the IOC, FINA, and the IAAF looked the other way for decades. And when you notice the list of athletes whose medals were revoked over the years, there are still only three entries for the 1976 Summer Olympics — all in weightlifting, none from East Germany.

I’m not trying to change the discussion about transgender athletes into one over doping, but it bears mentioning how out-of-touch and how behind world governing bodies of sport are when it comes to dealing with the situation.

I’d like to think that the ham-fisted attempts by state governments in the U.S. to ban transgender athletes from schools (much less school sports) is prompting these actions.

March 24, 2023 — Another reboot, coming soon

The third season of Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse has been teased in ads in the last few days, and it appears as though the first match weekend will begin Thursday, July 20th. The format, apparently, is identical to 2022, where four teams play three games each during a weekend, a total of three doubleheaders per weekend.

At the end of play on Sunday, the four players who have the most points for ground-ball pickups, shots, goals, and saves will get to choose the next week’s teams.

As far as we can tell, all games this year, as was the case in 2022, will be at Tierney Field at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters.

We know that there are some athletes which have already been signed up for the season, including the players in last year’s recount, forward Sam Apuzzo and goalie Taylor Moreno. The two luminaries had been tied on the scoreboard headed into the final three minutes of play, and finished Matchday 12 almost level on points, but after the post-game vote and re-checking of the results, Moreno won the second-year championship by 16 points over Apuzzo.

Moreno and Apuzzo are two of 14 players who have signed on for the 2023 season, but we don’t know who else will be added as the spring and summer evolve. And we don’t know whether a certain Charlotte North will be one of them.

March 23, 2023 — The next big thing, augmented

Last year, the Next Collegiate League brought together six historically-Black colleges together for several weeks’ worth of 6-v-6 lacrosse action, leading to the crowning of a champion at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md.

This year, the league will be adding two new teams: Norfolk State and Howard University. They join Morgan State, Coppin State, Lincoln University, Bowie State, Delaware State, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore in the 2023 version of the league. As far as we know, the league consists of eight weeks of round-robin play, with a championship weekend to be determined.

I’ve always thought it was pretty cool that HBCUs have been coming together in this league, and there have already been bonds and friendships made though not only gameplay, but in league administration.

The match tickets are $10 for each octupleheader, which has to rank as the greatest bargain in sports. I think it would behoove any of us near there to make a pilgrimage to Tierney Field for a match weekend.

March 22, 2023 — Is this a good time for U-16s in pro women’s soccer?

Back in 2016, Mallory Pugh raised some eyebrows when she turned down an athletic scholarship to UCLA in order to ply her trade as a professional soccer player, singing with the Washington Spirit. At the time, she was 18.

In the last few years, however, some signings by National Women’s Soccer League have pushed the envelope when it comes to youth signings with pro teams. Two years ago, Olivia Moultrie signed with the Portland Thorns. In the last couple of weeks, the Washington Spirit signed 15-year-old Chloe Ricketts and the San Diego Wave has signed 15-year-old Melanie Barcenas to a three-year professional contract.

Now, we’ve seen teenage males sign professional contracts before; Lionel Messi left Argentina for Barcelona at the age of 13, but it took him four years to work his way up to the first team. John O’Brien was in the Ajax youth academy at the age of 12, working his way up over several years to the level of senior football.

But for this group of teens in the NWSL, there’s no developmental network, no U-18 division for the league. The player has to be good enough and fit enough to make the senior team, and that’s what the owners of these teams are counting on.

And yet, the NWSL is coming off a period of scandal in which coaches with questionable pasts and disturbing behavior almost brought down the league. Numerous published reports have painted a portrait of permissiveness and a lack of due diligence as well as a lack of adherence to what would have been normal practice in other professional sporting environments.

As one Twitter user put it so clearly:

Can we stop signing children into this league until maybe we can have at least one year that doesn’t have some sort of abuse scandal?

@Jalisa6661 on Twitter

It is a pertinent question.

March 21, 2023 — A second mid-season coaching announcement

John Sung has been an up-and-coming women’s lacrosse coach who has done stints at, amongst other places, Winthrop University and Virginia Tech before his most recent position in as a coach and administrator at Carthage College, a Division III institution in Kenosha, Wisc.

After a career with the Firebirds and a record of 21 wins and five defeats, Sung posted his decision to step away from coaching today. His Instagram post doesn’t mention whether or not the departure was with immediate effect; as of today, the school’s website shows that he is still the head coach as well as assistant athletic director for external relations.

It is in this role, I think, which Sung is taking pride. On another one of his Instagram posts, he has a picture of a 2022 national championship ring, one of 23 that the university athletics department holds.

Sung has been respected enough within the women’s lacrosse community that his Virginia Tech teams evolved away from the “easy win” category. In addition, he was hired to be a coach in the second and final year of United Women’s Lacrosse.

I’m interested to see how the team responds to this news.

March 20, 2023 — Who’s No. 1 now?

Yesterday, the No. 1 teams in Division I and Division II women’s lacrosse lost, knocking them off their perches at the top of coaches’ and media polls.

In Division I, it was North Carolina losing 13-9 at Northwester, its first regular-season defeat in more than a thousand days. And in Division II, Indianapolis lost to Regis University 14-12.

It’s not that often when two defending national champions, much less two that hold down the No. 1 ranking, lose on the same day.

But that’s the nature of the game of women’s lacrosse, where any team can win on any given day. But you can make the argument that the “any given day” trope is not well-proven in the postseason.

When you look at the history of Division I women’s lacrosse since 1990, exactly seven schools have won the tournament. And none of them are named Syracuse, which is a team that just about everyone is tapping for the D-1 title this year. In Division III, since 2010, five schools have won the titles on offer.

In all three NCAA divisions, the lack of parity has been on display. The domination of teams like Maryland, TCNJ, Northwestern, Adelphi, and Middlebury have manifested themselves every May. These are programs that have the institutional knowledge of how to win games, win tournaments, and win in the final two minutes of games.

A lot of this is because coaches have instilled winning traditions into generations of student-athletes. For successful programs, winning is a habit as well as a tradition. This is very difficult to do in stick-and-ball games such as field hockey and lacrosse, which are complex to learn and master but when careers in the sport span roughly from ages 14 to 21.

March 19, 2023 — Pernicious “bots” causing trouble

I’ve noticed something weird over the last three or four days when I try to use the Internet to search for field hockey stories.

If you go through Google News, searching for the term “field hockey,” a number of the results refer to events which have already occurred, and a bunch of unfamiliar sites have taken these stories and have redirected them to foreign websites with nothing to do with field hockey.

I tried changing my browser, and I find the same phenomenon: if you try to sort field hockey news stories by date, you get a lot of junk rather than the latest and greatest from the world of field hockey.

Oddly enough, I don’t see this happening in other sorts that I have done, such as for lacrosse. Why this is so, I have no idea.

All I know is that the marketers and hackers from all over the world have somehow targeted the game of field hockey for their nefarious schemes.

Makes you wonder what the next kind of world wide weirdness will be.

March 18, 2023 — Mourning a desperate refugee

Ten years ago, a delegation of 10 field hockey athletes who visited the D.C. metropolitan area 10 years ago, learning about soccer, rugby, and even watched a women’s tackle football game involving the D.C. Phoenix, all in the name of empowering girls and women through sport. The tour of the U.S., sponsored by the State Department, also took the players to North Carolina for a field hockey clinic.

I scanned pictures and video footage of that trip in the last few days when I heard the news about Shahidi Razi, the former captain of the Pakistan women’s field hockey team. She had ended her international career when she started a family, but her first-born son suffered a stroke, and her husband subsequently divorced her.

But late last month, a boat carrying Razi and hundreds of refugees from east and central Asia crashed off the coast of Italy. These migrants, from various locations, were seeking a better situation for their families. Razi was killed in the crash.

As far as I can tell, Razi was not in any of the publicity footage or photos of the trip. It does, however, give thought to what might have happened if she had been chosen for the trip. Would she have made different choices in her life had she been exposed to the way other women live their lives through sport?

It does make me think about the choices she was forced to make because of differences in health care systems, or social structures. How desperate Razi must have been to feel as though she could only find medical care for her son by traveling on a boat with little more than the clothes on her back.

As much as some people belittle the American health care system, it cannot be worse than what this family was facing. I shudder to think what kind of life this special-needs child now faces in Pakistan.