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Jan. 24, 2020 — Programs of the Decade

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This is a difficult list to cobble together, because of the absolute dominance of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) over the course of the last 10 years. But we’re going to try to spread out the plaudits as best we can.

10. Westwood (Mass.) 2014
Record: 24-0, MIAA Division 1 Champion

Led by future UNC star Ela Hazar, the Wolverines bested Longmeadow (Mass.) 9-7. Westwood, already having sent a number of its alumnae to Northwestern, was also spreading its wealth to other campuses during the 2010s.

9. Moorestown (N.J.) 2013
Record: 26-0, won NJSIAA Tournament of Champions

This Quakers team featured senior Marie McCool, and the team won comprehensively against teams like Greenwood Village Cherry Creek (Colo.), Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.), and against ancient foe Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.) in the Tournament of Champions final. Moorestown only yielded double-digit goals twice all season.

8. Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 2013
Record: 29-1, won VISAA Class A championship

For much of their time together on varsity, it was the Besser Dyson and Carly Reed Show for the Saints. But just as good at the other end of the field was their teammate from as early as the U-8 days, Gussie Johns, currently your goaltender for the U.S. senior women’s national team.

7. Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy (N.Y.) 2016
Record: 20-0, won NYSPHSAA Class A championship

The Brothers beat Pittsford (N.Y.) 11-6 to win the title, but in the process pulled off a unique treble. The program, as a private school, sometimes may not know exactly which bracket it will be in from year to year because the administrators may tend to move the squad up from its size designation. During the decade, CBA won state titles in Class A, B, and C.

6. Delray American Heritage (Fla.) 2018
Record: 21-1, won FHSAA championship

If you hadn’t heard of American Heritage and wunderkind Caitlyn Wurzburger before, you certainly knew after this title season. The Stallions beat Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) in the state final, and Wurzburger had her third straight 100-goal, 100-assist season.

5. Glenelg (Md.) 2017
Record: 20-0, won MPSSAA Class 3A/2A championship

The Gladiators dominated the competition during this dream season, including a 12-3 win over Bel Air C. Milton Wright (Md.). Highlights included wins over Marriottsville Marriotts Ridge (Md.) and Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.)

4. Garden City (N.Y.) 2016
Record: 21-1, won NYSPHSAA Class B championship

The Trojans parlayed dominance on the draw circle into a 16-5 win over Yorktown (N.Y.). Kate Muldoon won the first eight draws as the Trojans built an early lead and never let go. Garden City had 17 seniors, and their experience proved critical all season.

3. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 2017
Record: 22-0, won IAAM Class A championship

This was the McDonogh side that beat Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) in the final thanks to a dominating draw performance by Maddie Jenner. The Eagles went 18-for-22 on draws, and 14 of those were Maddie Jenner solo draw controls — similar to what she did here.

2. Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 2018
Record: 17-4, won IAAM Class A championship

This is the Blazers team that looked McDonogh’s winning streak in the eye, and didn’t blink. Thanks in large part to Hannah Mardiney’s all-around game in the midfield, NDP never trailed in the 2018 final, which was moved to Tierney Field at U.S. Lacrosse Headquarters, adding to the gravitas of the occasion.

1. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 2012
Record: 18-0, won IAAM Class A championship

This is a team which posted a pair of “no doubt about it” wins in the New York-Maryland Lacrosse Challenge, thanks to an all-star team including Elizabeth George, Taylor Cummings, Sammi Burgess and Megan Whittle. The team, for most of the season, averaged an eight-goal margin of victory, a ridiculous average score given the fact that the national average for goals scored by both teams in any game the previous three seasons was about 21.

BULLETIN: Jan. 23, 2020 — Unprecedented chaos

There’s supposed to be a doubleheader of field hockey action this weekend at Karen Shelton Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. as the United States is to take on World No. 1 Netherlands in the opening match weekend of the FIH Pro League for both teams.

But there have been significant, and unprecedented, developments in the last two days that have led to a change in the schedule.

First off was the Monday night announcement that U.S. assistant coach Lawrence Amar had died at the age of 48.

This morning at 10 a.m., it was announced that U.S. captain Kat Sharkey would retire altogether from the U.S. women’s national field hockey program, leaving a significant leadership and attacking void just two days before the first scheduled Pro League tilt this Friday.

Late today, there was an announcement by the FIH, the world governing body of the sport, that the Friday match would be cancelled altogether out of respect for Amar’s death. Instead, the Sunday game against Holland will count double in the standings. In other words, a regulation win would be six points, a shootout win four, and a shootout loss two.

This is the most chaotic period for an American field hockey team, I think, since April and May of 2002, when the U.S. had to play India in a three-game last-chance series in order to qualify for the FIH World Cup that year. Borne out of the terrorist events of Sept. 11, the Americans had to travel to five continents and more than 10,000 miles in order to meet up with the Eves in England.

The current U.S. players all have to be looking at each other as well as inward: who steps up for us now? Who can we rely upon?

It also is head coach Caroline Nelson-Nichols’ first test of leadership — and the players haven’t even set foot on the turf for their first game.

We’ll see Sunday how the players respond.

Jan. 23, 2020 — Morgan Wootten, 1931-2020

There are some people in various Halls of Fame whose work transcends their line of work.

One such person was Morgan Wootten, who coached basketball at Hyattsville DeMatha Catholic (Md.), a small campus just south of the University of Maryland, for 46 years.

His longevity was just one of the hallmarks of his career. There was also his loyalty: despite overtures from North Carolina State, Duke, and Georgetown, he remained at DeMatha (although it’s been said he might have taken up an offer had there been one from Maryland, his alma mater).

He was also one of only a handful of coaches to have ever exceeded 1,000 wins at any level, joining figures such as Don Nelson, Tara Vandeveer, Bob Hurley, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summitt, and Gregg Popovich.

But he is also known for touching many lives, getting his players to college on scholarship, and for the loyalty that has been given back to him over the years.

One of the best exhibits never played an NBA regular-season game.

Back in the early 1970s, when UCLA was stringing together seven consecutive NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships, it was thought that one contender would be, of all teams, Harvard. There was one year when a press poll made the Crimson the preseason No. 1 team in all the land. That team was led by, amongst others, a player named James Brown, who has become an icon in TV broadcasting. And he was a former player at DeMatha.

The problem for Harvard (as well as many other contenders for UCLA’s crown) was that the NCAA Tournament was a Tournament of Champions, where you didn’t get to go if you were not your conference champion. Brown’s senior year, a Penn team led by head coach Chuck Daly (a man who once got to coach the greatest team in the history of team sports) won the Ivy League.

Years later, in discussing life and basketball, Brown’s touchstone example of goodness and integrity was Morgan Wootten.

“Morgan Wootten was such a wonderful example and influence in my life, because he modeled the behavior that he preached,” Brown says. “He set the example, yet he was a master motivator. He worked harder than he wanted us to work. He was well-read. He put in the hours necessary to be the excellent coach that he was, not only a coach of basketball, but a coach who helped to shape us and influence us for the game of life. I can look back and say: “Coach, thank you.'”

Jan. 22, 2020 — Lawrence Amar, 1972-2020

It was only a few days ago that Lawrence Amar was appointed to the position of manager of the U.S. men’s and women’s national sides, in addition to his duties as women’s assistant coach.

Last night, the shocking news came of Amar’s death.

He had represented the United States between 1987 and 1999, through many lean years. Indeed, his only moments in the sun came through the fact that the United States hosted the 1996 Olympics. That year, he was captain of the U.S. men’s national field hockey team.

But you probably don’t know the half of Amar’s life. You see, there was a period of his life after his hockey-playing days and the time he became an assistant coach with Kent State.

That was a six-year period during which he served in the U.S. Army, which included two tours overseas in the period of the early Desert Shield/Desert Storm military actions.

Amar eventually attained the rank of Staff Sergeant, receiving two Army Commendation and Army Achievement Medals.

His death was a sudden blow — not only to USA Field Hockey, but his wife and children.

Commendations have been written about him on social media, and deservedly so. He is already missed by so many in the American field hockey community.

Jan. 21, 2020 — Coach of the Decade: Chris Robinson, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.)

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The decade of the 2010s ended just as it began: with Chris Robinson steering a girls’ lacrosse team to a championship.

But the two title-winners were 900 miles apart — one in suburban Baltimore, one of the cradles of the sport; and the other a mile from Orlando’s city hall, in a quickly-developing area for lacrosse.

To understand Robinson’s decade, it’s necessary to understand his career arc and his impact on girls’ scholastic lacrosse.

Chris Robinson had a hand in two of the longest unbeaten streaks in the history of the game. One was the first few years of the 105-game unbeaten streak for Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), and the other was the first 177 out of the 198-game win streak for Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.).

In a move that surprised many in the lacrosse community in 2018, Robinson moved to Florida and latched onto Lake Highland Prep. The chemistry was immediate.

“Coaching at LHP definitely was a life changing event that recharged my batteries,” Robinson says. “This group was special because they had not won anything before. This community wanted a lacrosse championship for the girls so badly.”

Robinson, with a 23-2 record his first season at the helm in the spring of 2019, won the Florida state final with an 11-6 win over Palm Beach Benjamin (Fla.).

For Robinson, there is a simple formula, and it all starts with getting the center draw. He has been blessed with a number of great centers over the years, such as Maddie and Olivia Jenner and Taylor Cummings, but he cites the other facet of winning the draw: the scramble to win the ball in the midfield.

“If a team is going to beat us on talent or skill that is fine,” Robinson says. “But there is no excuse for a team to outhustle us.”

But what also has been a hallmark of Robinson-coached teams is the ability to learn. On Feb. 23, 2019, Robinson lost his first game as coach in the decade of the 2010s, a 17-8 loss to Delray American Heritage (Fla.). A few weeks later, when the teams met in the FHSAA semifinals, the Highlanders pulled out a 10-6 win, setting up the their championship final a few days later.

“To win a championship in a different state away from a lacrosse hotbed was really special,” Robinson says. “Having a Florida team that beat some national powers and ended up 4th in the nation in the Inside Lacrosse end of season rankings was so exciting.”

But as with all things in high-school sports, the work begins anew. In one week, tryouts for the girls’ lacrosse team at LHP begin.

Jan. 20, 2020 — A seismic shift north of the border

I ran across a statistic the other day, one which, given the culture of the Dominion of Canada, is incredibly shocking.

The figure is that in the last few years, participation in ice hockey nationwide is down 15 percent. In Canada.

In a nation which sees ice hockey as something akin to a birthright and a sacred trust, this should be absolutely alarming — not only for Canadians, but for anyone who sees sport as something which is a democratizing force that brings people together.

But there are other larger forces which are changing the way the game of hockey is scouted, coached, and administered.

Yep, Canada is slowly going towards a pay-to-play system, which favors players from major cities and whose families are well-off.

“People used to say it was the everyman’s game, and it’s certainly not that anymore,” says Sean Fitz-Gerald, author of the new book Before The Lights Go Out. “Dave Keon doesn’t get down to the Maple Leafs from Rouyn-Noranda unless he has a skating and skills instructor when he’s 10.”

You can say the same thing about Bobby Clarke being discovered from the tiny mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Canada’s results on the world scene have not suffered — yet. The Leafs won its 18th World Junior Championship earlier this month with a 4-3 win over Russia.

But the question is, for how long?

Jan. 19, 2020 — A surprising start to the FIH Pro League season

While the United States won’t be making its 2020 season debut in the FIH Pro League for several days, there has already been a pair of eye-opening results on the men’s side this weekend.

India, which for years has been seen as a faded world powerhouse in men’s field hockey, came up with a pair of tremendous wins at home against the Netherlands at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar. The opener was a 5-2 regulation win, with the second a shootout win after a 3-3 draw after regulation.

India showed itself to be made of stern stuff; Holland had taken a 3-1 at the interval of the second game today, and had even a 10-minute power play because of a yellow card to captain Manpreet Singh. But India scored on a pair of penalty corners in the last nine minutes to send the game to the penalty shootout, which India won 3-1.

This result, coupled with the women’s team’s Olympic qualification, is an indicator of the degree to which the nation is applying the necessary resources to make its national teams more than just competitive.

Which could make for an interesting Olympics.