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Archive for February, 2007

Feb. 28, 2007 — The end of a goofy month in lacrosse

A few years ago, Bill Tierney and Roy Simmons, Jr. had an idea.

The head coaches of Princeton and Syracuse, two of the best men’s lacrosse programs in the country, wanted to minimize the number of mid-week games played in their seasons leading into the three-week NCAA Tournament. And with the number of allowable regular-season games being raised, it wasn’t going to be possible to extend the season past Memorial Day.

So, when the two schools decided to face each other in the early 1990s, the game was played in Baltimore in February.

The women followed, which is why the Division I season is starting, in many places, in temperatures fit for neither man, beast, or baggataway.

I wonder, however, how many coaches are finding February to be the cruelest month. On the men’s side, several major upsets have taken place already. SUNY-Albany (Albany???) beat No. 1 Johns Hopkins 9-7. Drexel took town defending national champion Virginia 11-10. And Army stopped Syracuse 8-6.

The women have seen similar odd upsets. James Madison bested No. 3 Georgetown 14-10, Massachusetts took down No. 16 Boston University 13-11, and Rutgers edged No. 11 Cornell 11-10.

Perhaps the NCAA coaches will figure out one day that February isn’t a good lacrosse month — for the players or their supporters.

Feb. 27, 2007 — When women coach too well

For the second time this field hockey offseason, a successful scholastic field hockey coach is on the verge of being let go by her school district.

Amanda Jacona has done wonders for Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.) the last four years. She has demanded and gotten the best from her players, has maintained ties to teams of the past, and has instilled a sense of loyalty through moves like starting an indoor field hockey tournament to raise money for an alum who was paralyzed in an auto accident.

The team responded, especially in 2006, going through the regular season undefeated. But the district’s executive committee decided to post the field hockey coaching position as a vacancy last month without due process.

The community has rallied behind Jacona, sending a letter of support to the board, and coming out to a meeting last week to support her. What seemed to be the contentious point of the entire episode was that the motions and motivations to dismiss Jacona have been completely anonymous.

“If anyone knows of any team without a player or parent who thinks their kid doesn’t get enough playing time, please tell me,” graduating senior Leigh McIlvain told the assembly. “I just want other girls to have the same opportunity I had.”

That might not happen if school districts are allowed to operate outside of public scrutiny to remove personnel who threaten their personal fiefdoms.

Feb. 26, 2007 — When a certainty is not certain

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a teenager reading today’s blog entry, and you don’t know what an STD or HPV is, please make sure you’re reading this with a parent or guardian.

You may have heard that there is a new vaccine that may be added to childhood vaccines such as those given out for polio, smallpox and rubella. This vaccine is 100 percent effective and could wipe out the virus called human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a major cause of cervical cancer. The benefits of the vaccine are weighted heavily towards one gender, and that HPV is transmitted normally through sexual contact.

The makers of the vaccine, Merck, have started going to school districts across the country to push for mandatory vaccination for HPV. Almost 20 states started taking up the issue — until it was pointed out that Merck started setting up lobbying groups and shadow agencies in states and used a group called Women In Government to funnel money.

Well, three days ago, Merck announced it was ending its lobbying efforts. That threw even more gasoline on the fire. Conservative groups accused Merck of promoting teenage sex. Parental rights groups said that a mandate would interfere with control of their children.

But Merck and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have replied with an interesting — and somewhat familiar — refrain.

The argument: “It’s for your own protection.”

“Just because you wear a seat belt doesn’t mean you’re seeking out an accident,” National Cervical Cancer Coalition executive director Alan Kaye tells The Washington Post.

Doesn’t this sound like the argument for mandating eyewear in American field hockey when no other country requires it?

Feb. 25, 2007 — The reality of the situation

Yesterday culminated a grand triumph for the Atlantic Coast Conference in women’s basketball. Heading into the ACC Tournament, three schools — top-ranked and undefeated Duke, North Carolina, and Maryland — hold Top 5 rankings in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

On the final day of the regular-season, Duke pulled away from UNC in the last eight or so minutes to win the game 67-62. To me, however, the incident which appeared to spark the Blue Devils wasn’t shown on the national television broadcast.

Heading under the 8-minute mark of the second half, at which point the first stoppage of play would result in a TV timeout, Emily Waner sank a breakaway layup. While the ball was coming through the basket, UNC was trying to take the ball out while Duke wanted to slow down a quick inbound and contested for the ball after the basket was scored.

An elbow went into the face of a Duke player. Whistles sounded. The crowd and benches were in an uproar. But all you could see were the reaction shots. That’s because those were the only views that ESPN would show you.

Were the players confronting each other? Did the officials have to separate the players? We never got to find out, since the stoppage in play led to a TV timeout, and, coming back from the commercial break, the announce team felt it necessary to hand out something called “The Stanley Awards.”

ESPN really missed a story there. But then again, it’s a network that believes that poker and “Magic: The Gathering” are actual sports.

Feb. 24, 2007 — Booked!

Went to the Maryland-Boston College match yesterday, and saw something I have never seen before in domestic play. A team was made to play short because of a new rule on penalty cards that is being implemented in the NCAA and under U.S. Lacrosse rules.

Under the new stipulation, major cards accumulate for the team and not just for a player. The fourth time a yellow or red card is shown for any particular team, that team plays short for three minutes.

Depending on the circumstances, the penalty can be incredibly substantial, or it can be no penalty at all. Here’s why: a team playing short is still allowed to push seven players forward of the 35-yard line on attack and can drop seven back in defense. That means the team doesn’t have to play 6-v-7 in either end of the field, unlike the men’s game.

When the ball is settled in either end, there are seven players lurking in the midfield (four on one team, three on the other). A team with a steady rotation of substitutes and a deep bench can simply keep the midfield fresh if it has to play short. And if the team with the deficit is able to get the ball into the attack end, it can simply run down the penalty time since there is no “stall” rule in women’s lacrosse.

In the end, despite playing one short for three minutes deep in the second half, Maryland ran out 18-8 winners over Boston College.

The rule, to me, is aimed towards coaches who would send in reserve defenders to simply get them to use their allotted two yellow-card fouls to either take out or unnerve a star player. What that often did, especially in NCAA Tournament matches, is drag out the last few minutes as substitutions took place.

But what happens if a team on three yellow cards, after both teams have made wholesale substitutions, has one of those late subs commit her team’s third green-card foul of the match, giving her a green-red card which pushes the team-foul limit past four? Should a delay-of-game penalty be punished with a suspension with no substitution?

I’ll be interested to see is this rule lasts in its present form.

Feb. 23, 2007 — An encounter with many ramifications

At 6 o’clock this evening (3 p.m. Pacific) at Chapel Hill, N.C., there will be a women’s lacrosse match with all of the backstory, intrigue, and drama of the men’s basketball games played this time of year on Tobacco Road.

Today, North Carolina’s women, now holding the No. 1 ranking in the weekly polls, will take on the University of Oregon, which is in the Top 20 for the first time after a shocking opening win against Stanford.

That, however, is just the start of the intrigue. Jen Larsen, the Ducks’ coach, used to be assistant coach at UNC under current head coach Jenny Slingluff-Levy. Larsen has also tapped into the long blue line for coaching talent. She lured former Carolina player Beth Ames to be her assistant coach.

It also turns out that the Ducks’ lone senior player is Brooke Dieringer, who tied for the UNC team lead in goals in 2006. The redshirt transferred after her junior season of eligibility.

This game is the first of two Eastern road trips for Oregon, and this one game will set the tone for the eight-day, four-game trek which sees the team hit North Carolina, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Click here for live game stats if you can’t make it there yourself.

Feb. 22, 2007 — The Championships, equalised

There is a private organization near London called The All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club who sponsors a tennis tournament in late June of some importance. It has held such importance in England that the tournament is simply called “The Championships.” No qualifier, no adjective, no pronoun, no corporate sponsor.

We simply know the tournament by the London suburb in which the tournament is held: “Wimbledon.” It is a tournament which has developed tradition, pageantry, simplicity, and prestige over the past 123 years. But through the beginning of the Open Era of tennis, Wimbledon has slowly shed its more conservative image. It allowed some of its participants to add some color to their tennis attire in the mid-1990s, as long as the garments remained predominantly white. The yellow tennis ball came to Wimbledon in 1986.

The Wimbledon title, until 1921, came with a measure of tenure. The winner of the previous year’s tournament had to play only one match to retain the title, while the rest of an invitational field had to play down to one challenger.

But some traditions remain. The women play in the Ladies’ Singles tournament, the men play for the Gentleman’s Singles title. It is the only one of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments with a royal box, in front of which participants are obligated to bow or curtsy if royalty of a certain rank are present. The tournament’s post-championship ceremony has traditionally been unmiked; any remarks the Duke and Dutchess of Kent make to participants or staffers are kept private. The BBC, however, sends a reporter courtside for live remarks via the public address system.

Some of the traditions, however, are quite sexist in nature. Athough married female tennis players are no longer listed under their husband’s last name (Chris Evert-Lloyd, for years, was listed in the Wimbledon program and scoreboards as Mrs. J.M. Lloyd), the chair umpire always uses a “Miss” or “Mrs.” in front of the surname of a female participant, and not for a male.

And until today, there was a similar patriarchical attitude towards the pay that female tennis players received for winning a championship. Today, Wimbledon became the last of the four Grand Slam events to offer the same top prize to “The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World” as to the winner of The Venus Rosewater Trophy.

This July, the pay gap, which had been about £30,000, will be eliminated, according to Tim Phillips, who heads the All-England Club. He had justified the pay gap because, in Grand Slam tournaments, the men play best-of-five sets, while the women played best-of-three.

“This is a private tennis club,” Phillips says. “We don’t have public funds given to us each year. We have to justify the decisions we make. This year we’ve made our judgment and judged it on what we believe to be the best for Wimbledon.”

What Phillips could not ignore was the star power of today’s female players such as Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters, and the fact that only five men have won the Gentlemen’s Singles title since 1993. He also couldn’t ignore how few rallies there are amongst the men’s top players when the court gets lightning-fast in the tournament’s second week.

It’s not known yet whether the entire purse for the men’s and women’s draws will be equal, or whether that equality will be extended to the doubles competition.

But it’s a start.

Feb. 21, 2007 — Unique field hockey program could use a helping hand — and a home.

The DC Starzz field hockey program is being forced to move from its Southwest DC home, where it had free time on Saturdays, into another recreational center in the District of Columbia where it is going to have to buy its floor time.

The new facility, writes coordinator Ann Hayward, will not have nearly the storage space that the King Greenleaf Center has; there is currently no room for the goal cages in the new center. In addition, a new funding source has to be found by May since the current funding from the District of Columbia expires.

The Starzz program is one of the only youth programs in the country where parents don’t have to pay to have their children play. It is also one of the few minority-oriented programs for field hockey in the United States, and one of the only ones where boys and girls participate on an equal basis.

If you are in Virginia, Maryland, or DC and can help, or know someone who can help, you can contact Ann by clicking here.

It’s a program which deserves your support.

Feb. 20, 2007 — An XM-ination of Sirius business

Yesterday, in the culmination of years of rumors, it was announced that the only two providers of satellite radio services, XM and Sirius, have finalized a merger plan.

I heard an interesting perspective on this last night on a Canadian radio show. The combined company would have to work their way out of a combined $2 billion in debt. That’s right, two billion. From a business perspective, this is very much reminiscent of two sinking ships trying to lash themselves together in order to remain afloat during a hurricane.

And the future business model does not appear to be too optimistic. It’s likely that one or the other satellite infrastructure (either XM’s or Sirius’s) will have to be completely abandoned to save money. Prices of subscriptions could double or even triple. Commercials may soon dot the airwaves. Stations with little listenership could find themselves shut down completely.

Ultimately, high-priced talent lured to satellite radio could very well find their contracts terminated or renegotiated. This could affect everyone from Howard Stern to Opie & Anthony to Oprah Winfrey to Bob Edwards.

It could also affect a number of other voices, including a former schoolmate of mine who was recently given his own XM show.

A lot of pundits have seen iPods and other MP3 players, plus internet connections to independent radio stations as the big reasons why the two satellite radio conglomerates have found it difficult to win subscribers. But to me, the biggest competitor to satellite radio is going to be HD radio, which is a process by which a single radio station can broadcast several programming streams at the same time.

A number of radio stations already broadcast several HD signals. This can allow a radio station to change formats on its primary station while shunting the old format onto one of the digital backup stations.

HD radios for the automobile have required a separate unit to be installed behind the dash, much like satellite radio. However, newer decks are the same size as regular in-dash radios, which could be very bad news for the satellite radio industry.

Feb. 19, 2007 — The road to 105 will not be easy

In 2007, a national record could fall in girls’ lacrosse. As of now, Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.) has won 97 straight matches. The longest known unbeaten streak was 104 games, spun by Towson Loch Raven (Md.) between 1975 and 1982.

The math is simple: the Vikings need seven straight wins to tie, eight to break that national best.

The job, however, is anything but easy.

The team will play Brooklandville St. Paul’s School for Girls (Md.) in its fifth match of the season in the Maryland Showcase at Johns Hopkins, then at the weekend, will host its two-day tournament where it will take on Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.) and either Annapolis St. Mary’s (Md.) or Camillus West Genesee (N.Y.) the next day.

Barring rainouts or last-minute schedule changes, the tournament championship game will be the game needed to tie Loch Raven’s mark.

Looking ahead, barring further rainouts or last-minute schedule changes, the record-breaking game will occur the week of April 16th, when the Vikings take on Columbia Oakland Mills (Md.) and Columbia Long Reach (Md.). And given the fact that Mount has not lost to a Howard County team since many of today’s varsity team members were in elementary school, it is a foregone conclusion that the week of the Maryland Showcase and the Hebron Invitational will determine whether the record will fall.

Question is, can the Vikings do it? The team has graduated so many seniors the last two years, including the amazing Meggie Bosica. One of the team’s talented Rekart twins, Katie, is out for the season with a knee injury. In addition, the opening of the new high school at Marriott’s Ridge has taken a good chunk of what was supposed to have been the team’s junior class.

Should be an interesting season off Route 99.