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July Motivation of the Month: Leaving Home

As is our tradition here at TopOfTheCircle.com, the July Motivation of the Month is a truly unforgettable first-person account of an actual high-school player as she collected her thoughts in 1999 just before leaving home for college.

This essay, since it can’t fit into the header at the top of this page, is going to remain here for the month; daily posts will appear just below.


A FIELD HOCKEY PLAYER’S JOURNEY FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO COLLEGE

By Jamie Paul
Haddonfield, N.J.

I never thought when I complained and complained about school and all the rules, that when the time came to leave, I would have this empty void inside. People often told me, “Oh you’ll miss this place when you get out,” and at the time, I shrugged them off.

But as the end of senior year neared, I was quite anxious to get out of there. But wouldn’t we all be? Everyone looks forward to a break. But little did I realize that this “break” was permanent and come next September, I won’t be roaming the same old hallways and playing on the same old torn-up fields.

I miss the faces of friends congregating at lockers, I miss the “hellos” from underclassmen friends and senior buddies, and most of all, I miss the teachers, and just plainly the surroundings. Yeah, I was human and I cried at graduation, but that whole “ending” feeling never really hit me. Today, though, today it did.

As I was meandering underneath my bed for my stopwatch — which is still missing in action — I came across my memory boxes from school. And as curious as I am, I just had to open them up and leaf through my collection from these past four years. I pulled out old notes that were passed in hallways, old pictures taken of a field hockey team that was at times a second family, and Christmas and birthday cards, sent from friends that I would have never have come across, had it not been for my times at school.

And then the memories — oh God, the memories! — they haunt me like a ghost. They help at times, but at times, they hurt. Those good times, those funny times, I can’t return to them. That’s the problem: all I can do is remember. But sometimes remembering just isn’t enough.

Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown that is stirring up all these emotions, maybe it’s just looking around, at smiles and at faces of friends, that I know I am afraid to leave. Maybe it’s that fear, that unknowing feeling, that leads me to want only to return to the place that I first learned how to dare, how to dream and how to love.

The ending has ceased though, but that new beginning still awaits me. That door, still yet to be opened, flashes through my mind. At times, I cringe with excitment, and at other times, tears sting the back of my eyes and I know I’m not strong enough. Even with a strong inner faith, I can’t conquer the fear. Even running can’t take my mind off of it.

Every day I arise, knowing we’re getting one day closer. And maybe once I’m settled, once I’ve broken my new environment in, I’ll be just fine. And I’ll laugh at my craziness of wanting to cling to the past, a past of which I said all too often I wanted to forget. But I take one look back and I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to realize that it’s all said and done. No more. No returning.

And everytime I look at my former coach, who has become so much more than a coach since the day she stepped away from the sidelines two years ago, I am convinced that there’s no way I can leave her or forget her. I stood there tonight as she stopped me, when I was out running, but yet there’s nothing to talk about. And as I ran onward and upward, I wondered if this was the way it was gonna be. Maybe being apart will strenghten our relationship, but maybe it will tear me apart before it strengthens us.

Now I wish only to return, to where there were guarantees, and I wouldn’t have to be alone. But now I’m alone and there’s no one. No familiar face to convince me anymore and maybe that’s why I am scared. Maybe this was all a dream, but somewhere I know I can conquer this. But for now, I wish only to return to yesterday.

Jamie Paul, who graduated from Haddonfield Paul VI (N.J.) on June 6, 1999, would attend Elizabethtown (Pa.) College that fall.

July 20, 2017 — Revenge-minded USA takes penultimate step

Because of the length of time between major competitions in international field hockey, rare is the time can a team exercise a measure of revenge for a previous defeat.

The United States women, in the FIH World League semifinals in Johannesburg, are embarking on a bit of a revenge tour for what happened to them last year in Rio. Today, the States got a measure of revenge from last year’s Olympic pool play defeat at the hands of Team GB, beating the England national team 2-1 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation.

The win takes the Applebees to the final of this World League semifinal tournament against Germany, the very team that knocked them out of the Olympics a year ago.

In the shootout, it was the former Connecticut star Melissa Gonzalez, the team captain, who was the difference, beating Maddie Hinch in the first and in the sixth rounds of the shootout. Sarah Haycroft answered for England, which, aside from retirements and injury, was essentially the same team that won the Rio Olympics wearing Team GB uniforms.

The English certainly played like Olympic champions for much of regulation, bottling up the midfield and pipping a goal from Hannah Martin to take the lead just after quarter-time. But the Three Lions made a key mistake late on. An obvious pushing foul five minutes from time sent Lily Owsley to the penalty bench for the balance of regulation.

On the yellow-card opportunity, Michelle Vittese, once again playing her best in the biggest games, penetrated the circle on the left wing and drove a ball that Hinch spilled into the goalmouth. Jill Witmer, the leading scorer in the tournament, had nobody between herself and the juicy rebound, and she made no mistake to level the match.

The result represented the first time the States have ever made it this far in a World League semifinal, but it’s one of the rare times that the United States has ever made it to the championship final of an FIH world-level event.

USA 0 0 0 1 – 100001 — 2
ENG 0 1 0 0 – 000010 — 1
ENG: Hannah Martin (Sophie Bray), fg, 16th minute
USA: Jill Witmer (Michelle Vittese), fg, 57th
Shootout goals- USA: Michelle Gonzalez 2; ENG: Sarah Haycroft 1
Shots- USA: 6; ENG: 2. Saves- USA: Jackie Briggs 1; ENG: Maddie Hinch 5.

 

 

July 19, 2017 — The disappearance of an All-Star

Three years ago, Shoni Schimmel was the toast of the WNBA.

The Atlanta Dream guard had schooled the very best that women’s basketball had to offer, scoring 29 points — 24 in the second half and overtime on a variety of shots.

She sank seven 3-point goals. She drove to the hoop, once using the basket as a pick, hitting a twisting layup over Brittney Griner that resembled a similar confrontation that happened in the NCAA Tournament a few years earlier when Louisville took on Baylor.

Today, Schimmel is the property of the New York Liberty, but has not played a game this season, choosing to take time off to be with her family.

Fame, it seems, is a fleeting thing. It can also be a great clarifier as to what is truly important.

Schimmel, remember, is from the Umatilla tribe of Native Americans. She has felt it her mission to use basketball as a platform for understanding and change, hosting tribal nights at WNBA games. She has also represented basketball, and Native Americans at a Nike summit.

But she has also, in the offseason, joined protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and spent time with her ill mother. She has not been one to play basketball overseas to not only earn extra income, but to remain in playing shape.

As good as Schimmel has been, and as many skills as she still has in her frame, having an offseason without basketball is an enormous risk. There are only 12 roster spots available on each of the 12 rosters in the league. Lose your spot, and you may never get it back again. Atlanta, for example, was able to acquire guard Layshia Clarendon a couple of years ago, and she made the All_Star team this year.

Part of me wonders what might have been.

 

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July 18, 2017 — USA 1, Japan 0

POSTGAME That’s all for now; good day and good hockey

POSTGAME The United States now has a year to prepare for the World Cup in London. With this competition and the World League finals in New Zealand, this will give the U.S. coaching staff some room to test a number of young players. As good as players like players like Matson and Hoffman and Shealy are, how good will they get playing this level of high-quality opposition on a regular basis?

POSTGAME Give the American defense a huge call; this is a young team with a number of key retirements in the back, including Julia Reinprecht, Lauren Crandall, and Rachel Dawson. But the defense of Julia Young, Alyssa Manley, Caitlin Van Sickle, Ali Froede, and holding midfielder Katelyn Ginolfi in front of goalie Jackie Briggs were absolutely stellar today

POSTGAME Once again, major credit goes to Michelle Vittese, who scored an enormous goal. Also, Erin Matson and Melissa Gonzalez were all over the pitch chasing down 50-50 balls and attacking space

FULL TIME The final horn sounds! It’s all over! The United States wins 1-0 over Japan, which gives the Applebees their first-ever berth in the FIH World League finals!

59:00 One minute to go; can the States hang on?

58:00 Woods is fresh off the penalty bench and is open on the left side, but chooses to take the ball to the corner flag rather than attack the gaping goal

57:00 All hands on pumps now as the States put everyone behind the ball against Japan’s 11 outfielders

55:30 Japan attacks left baseline and feeds the ball into space, but cannot latch the extra player onto the pass

55:00 Now the umpires make Nagai change into a black shirt

54:33 Japan sends on Hazuki Nagai, an orange-shirted kicking back, in place of goalkeeper Kageyama

53:25 JPN PC Option left is sniffed out by Alyssa Manley

52:37 USA YELLOW Nicole Woods is off for five minutes for a stick tackle which seemed innocuous on replay

51:00 The United States’ Julia Young, who has quietly had a tremendous tournament, makes a key clear on a dangerous Japanese opportunity

49:00 Yuri Nagai can’t get her stick on a cross in front of goal that bounces a bit dangerously

47:49 JPN GREEN Hazuki Yuda is off for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

45:40 Japan is pushing players forward and the Americans are taking advantage, but couldn’t find a good-enough shot

45:00 The fourth quarter begins

THREE-QUARTERS TIME But the lead is just one; there is the possibility that this game could end with the lottery that is the penalty shootout

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Here’s how monumental this achievement could be: the United States have never made a World League final in its three iterations

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Michelle Vittese, the Virginia product, always seems to come up with big goals in big games, and she has done so once again for the Applebees to gain the advantage here

THREE-QUARTERS TIME With the horn, the United States leads 1-0

41:58 USA GOAL Michelle Vittese attacks the circle and banks it off Japanese defender Naho Ichitami’s stick into the goal; Japan asks for a referral and is denied; USA leads 1-0

40:10 Vittese brings the ball into the U.S. circle, feeds to Sharkey, but the former Princeton attacker can’t latch onto it

38:30 Japan with some innovative play into the circle, but Ashley Hoffman with the clear

35:45 Yuri Nagai with a shot from a deep angle, but Briggs makes the stop

34:00 Ambitious ball by Nagai finds nobody

31:55 USA GREEN Gonzalez is sent to the sideline for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

30:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME Japan, despite scoring only three goals in this tournament, have confidence from their win in pool play over an England team which, for all intents and purposes, was the Team GB squad which won the gold medal in Rio

HALFTIME The United States has had possession, and lots of it. But the Americans have not created a lot of chances. The attackers are possessing the ball in the final third, but have not been cutting and completing passes in the attack

HALFTIME The horn sounds; the sides remain level 0-0

28:05 Gonzalez goes baseline and puts it off a Japanese foot off the side of the goal; no corner?

27:10 Japan has numbers forward, but fumbles the pass over the end line

25:20 Gonzalez with a diagonal to an open Witmer, but the pass is just off the mark!

19:04 JPN PC Another hi-lo to the inserter, but Briggs makes another enormous stop on Segawa!

18:52 JPN PC The hi-lo is shot from a deep angle by the inserter Maho Segawa, but Jackie Briggs makes a diving save!

18:52 JPN REFERRAL The Blossoms are asking whether there is a foot in the circle, and the replay shows there is; penalty corner to Japan

17:20 Japan’s first attack of any consequence is cut out and sent the other way by Matson; what a game she is having thus far

16:45 The United States have possession and space on the right wing, and, once again, are unable to generate a goal shot or a penalty corner

15:00 Second quarter is under way

QUARTER TIME The Americans have had possession and some circle penetration, but have not been able to manufacture a penalty corner; the Cherry Blossoms have been guarding their feet well

QUARTER TIME The horn goes off with the sides level 0-0

13:30 Vittese up the left wing but can’t get anything on the dead run

12:30 Japan with some possession in the forward third, but spills it over the end line

10:30 Michelle Vittese attacks the space at the top of the circle and almost finds Witmer with a diagonal

9:30 The United States have all the possession, but Japan is content to play nine behind the ball

7:14 JPN GREEN Nomura is off for a stick obstruction

6:30 Matson attacks the right wing and pounds a backhander which is just wide!

3:30 Looks like it is Shihori Oikawa who is marking up the States’ Jill Witmer; this will be a critical matchup

1:20 Erin Matson, the high-schooler, clouts a backhander which is saved by Megumi Kageyama’s blocker

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME The United States is in its traditional red kits with white, blue, and gold trim; Japan is in the royal blue with white cherry blossoms stenciled on the front

PREGAME Compare that to the other World League semifinal in Brussels, when 42 penalty corners were converted in 33 games

PREGAME Japan has only scored three goals as a team this entire competition; indeed, as a group, there is an odd dynamic when it comes to the method of scoring. In 20 games, only 14 penalty corners have been scored

PREGAME The Americans are led by Jill Witmer, who leads this World League semifinal with four goals. Also look for the energy of Melissa Gonzalez and the power of Michelle Vittese, who seems to play her best in big games

PREGAME The United States last met Japan a year ago in Olympic pool play, with the States coming out ahead 6-1

PREGAME The loser of this game has to fight through the consolation bracket for placings. The States would get to the World Cup regardless with a fifth-place finish, but any lower than that would have the Americans having to depend on either winning month’s Pan American Cup or hoping that already-qualified teams in the top 10 win their continental competitions

PREGAME I’ve used the term “tipping point” as a metaphor for a game which sees great rewards over and above winning the game, versus losing the game. This is very much a tipping-point match today, as the winner of this game not only goes on to the Final Four of this competition, but qualifies for the World League Final later this year as well as the FIH Women’s World Cup next year

PREGAME This is easily the highest-stakes field hockey match the United States has played in about seven years

PREGAME Japan, the third-place team in Pool A, is 2-1-1 in the tournament; the United States took second in Pool B with a 2-2 record

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Wits University in Johannesburg for this FIH World League Semifinal match between Japan and the United States

July 17, 2017 — The Dominators

The last time the United States women’s lacrosse team played Canada in an FIL World Cup, it was in the 2013 Word Cup final. On that day, the States 10-goalled the Maple Leafs by halftime on the way to a 19-5 win.

Yesterday, in the fourth round of pool play, the United States beat Canada 17-3. This was a Canada team that many (including your Founder) thought would have given the defending champions the greatest amount of trouble.

For a few minutes, Canada was able to slow the high-flying Americans down; the game was a 2-1 nailbiter about 10 minutes in. However, the United States went on a 14-0 run to put the game away.

The United States, in winning their four games in Pool A thus far, have outscored their opponents by a combined total of 69-15. Alex Aust and Brooke Griffin have led the States in goals, but another player who has excelled thus far is Syracuse’s Kayla Treanor, who has 10 goals and 12 assists thus far.

The Stars and Stripes have Wales tomorrow to close out pool play.

Given how well the States are playing, I think Wales is in trouble.

July 16, 2017 — Has India struck a fatal blow against a sport it once dominated?

One week ago, India announced that it would be pulling both its men’s and its women’s programs out of the Hockey Pro League, a forthcoming FIH competition promising a series of competitive international matches on the home soil of the competitors (except for the Pakistan men, who will play their home matches in Scotland).

For India, a nation which dominated the 20th Century in men’s field hockey and which has been pioneering the professionalism of the sport in the last couple of years with a professional men’s league, it’s mind-boggling decision.

In the history of international sport, there has been plenty of nationalistic overtones when it comes to whether a country would even participate in a particular competition. England refused to be part of any FIFA World Cup until 1950 because of disputes over the ownership of the game of soccer.. Canada sat out international amateur ice hockey competition from 1970 to 1979 in a dispute over the use of professionals. Sweden joined Canada in sitting out the 1976 Olympics.

But this is different. India based a lot of its post-colonial identity on its dominance of men’s field hockey in the Olympics. India developed heroes, a narrative, a significant player development infrastructure, and success on the world stage.

That success has dwindled on the men’s side, but the women’s team has seen a rise in form that saw them win the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup. The Eves also qualified for the Rio Olympics, its first go at the tournament for 36 years.

But despite the fact that the Indian women have improved significantly, the powers-that-be at Hockey India have not started a companion women’s league to go with the Hockey India League.

Indeed, Hockey India has claimed that the men’s league has lost money over the five seasons the circuit has been run, despite sizable crowds, exposure over television and the Internet, and the substantial salaries of the players in the league.

The logic is that Hockey India needs to direct its resources to the domestic men’s league, rather than try to spend money for both its men’s and women’s national teams to compete in the new FIH Pro League.

I’m not buying the logic, or the official story from Hockey India. You have to ask how the revenue from the league not directed toward player salaries was spent or mismanaged.

Worse, the optics indicate that Hockey India is, again, treating its men and women hockey players unequally. In closing off Indian participation in the Hockey Pro League to prop up Hockey India’s finances, it has deprived half its population of the opportunity to play its favorite sport at a professional level.

I guess we’ll find out what Hockey India is going to do after a reported July 26th session.

 

July 15, 2017 — United States Coach of the Year: Alyssa Frazier, Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.)

Alyssa Frazier is a busy woman. As both head field hockey and girls’ lacrosse coach at Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.), she coaches two teams which are perennial contenders for state championships. With all of that comes certain off-season responsibilities such as running summer camps for both teams.

But during an unforgettable 2017 girls’ lacrosse season, Frazier added a new member to her team.

BULLETIN: Argentina 4, USA 0

Given the number of players who retired from the U.S. women’s national field hockey team since Rio last year, it was expected that the learning curve of international hockey from some very young players thrown into the side would be very steep, especially against the defending World League champions, Argentina.

Today’s 4-0 win by Argentina shows just how far the young Americans have to go in order to remain competitive within the Pan American Hockey Federation, much less the world stage.

The United States started slow and seemed to be content to let Argentina have the ball, completely opposite of the “first tackle, first foul, first shot, first goal” ethic of the past decade. The States had exactly one shot on goal all game.

The results after Matchday Four of the World League has confirmed the fates of a number of teams. In Pool A, Poland will not advance to the quarterfinals, having lost all four of its matches. Pool A positioning is incredibly fluid, with Japan, Ireland, Germany, and England all capable of finishing in multiple different permutations after Sunday’s final day of pool play.

In Pool B, Argentina and the United States have both qualified for the quarterfinal round. Argentina needs a win or draw against India to take the top spot and to confirm the United States as second in the pool. India would have to beat Argentina and the States would have to lose to South Africa for the USA to finish third in Pool B.

Here’s why this is important: the pool crossover round next Tuesday is a double “tipping point” match; winning a quarterfinal not only gets you into the World League final later this year, but also qualifies a team directly into next year’s FIH World Cup.

At the end of today, here’s how the pools match up:

Pool A Rank Pool B
JPN 1 ARG
ENG 2 USA
IRL 3 IND
GER 4 CHI

The thing to remember here is that the four Pool A teams are within three points of each other, and, theoretically, could finish just about in any of several permutations.

But the most advantageous scenario for the Applebees is this: if Japan beats Germany and if England beats or ties Ireland, the United States will cross over against Ireland, the 15th-ranked team in the world and lowest-ranked in Pool A.

Alternatively, if Germany beats Japan by three goals or more and if the England-Ireland match does not result in a draw, then the States will take on 11th-ranked Japan, a team the USA beat 6-1 in the Olympics a year ago.

Otherwise, the Americans could wind up playing the Olympic champions (England, which filled out the entirety of Team GB’s roster) or a German side ranked seventh in the world.