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Archive for May, 2007

May 31, 2007 — Hitting the lottery

Over the weekend, the U.S. Lacrosse Women’s Division Tournament was played. As per usual, champions were determined in several age groups, and individual awards were presented to outstanding players.

One award, the Heather Leigh Albert Award, has gone to the top player in the high-school division. It is an award which has been a predictor of great things for its winner over the years: luminaries such as Katie Chrest, Lauren Aumiller, and Sheehan Stanwick have won it.

But over the years, it started to go to rising seniors or younger, not to players who have already been signed and sealed and headed off to college.

That is, until a senior-only division of the Women’s Division Tournament was formed. With it, a new award — the Beth Stone Award — was created for the top player in the senior tournament.

The odd thing is that the winner of the trophy, Mary Dean, is going to a school which doesn’t even have a lacrosse team … yet.

Dean, a senior at Cheltenham (Pa.), is committed to the University of Louisville, which is planning on a full-time Big East schedule in 2009.

For Kellie Young, the former James Madison head coach, being able to attract Dean in her initial recuriting class of 22 women is like hitting a women’s lacrosse lottery. How often does a brand new team in any field of sport get to start off its history with the best available personnel?

Heck, some pro sports in North America don’t let expansion teams have the first pick in the draft anymore; of the expansion teams in men’s pro sports since 2000, only Major League Soccer and the National Football League have allowed brand new teams the first overall selection.

Of all the new teams coming on line the next few years — Georgia, Florida, Miami, South Carolina — the most interesting could very well be Louisville. Keep an eye on them.

May 30, 2007 — The inability to predict

Early this week, the 2007 U-19 World Cup team was chosen for the quadrennial girls’ lacrosse tournament which will be held this summer in Canada.

Usually, being a World Cup team member is an indicator of individual and team greatness at the next level.

The 2003 U19 World Cup team sent all 16 members to Division I schools, and, four years on, 14 out of the 16 team members were on teams that made the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

However, none of the team members went to Northwestern. Only one of the 16 team members has won an NCAA championship. That was when Megan Havrilla played on the University of Virginia team which won the 2004 championship game.

It’s not as though the other team members haven’t tried; Duke, a team with five U-19 veterans, have been knocked out three consecutive years in the national semifinals.

Princeton, with two members, lost the 2004 title match to Havrilla’s Virginia team. Vanderbilt and Georgetown made the Final Four that year as well.

Now, I’ll be interested to see what the 16 members of the 2007 U-19 team do in college.

Even better, I’ll be interested to see what kind of presence Northwestern has on the 2009 World Cup team.

May 29, 2007 — In the upper deck

Saw a few old friends at the 2007 Division I women’s championship game in Philadelphia. One of the first was Team USA’s Quinn Carney, who I first saw as a freshman at Flemington Hunterdon Central (N.J.), then became a member of perhaps the single greatest recruting class in the history of women’s lacrosse, winning four straight championships at the University of Maryland.

Up in the front row of the upper deck of Franklin Field, there were many more orange-clad Virginia fans than Northwestern supporters in the upper deck. Many booed when Northwestern ran its spread-to-score attack in the last 10 minutes. 

A number of outstanding coaches had taken their seats behind me, amongst them Princeton’s Chris Sailer, James Madison assistant Jessica Wilk, UConn’s Bonnie Rosen, and Bowdoin’s Liz Grote. When chatting with them at the interval, I felt like I was doing a soccer halftime for SkySports; the U.K. cable broadcaster usually assembles an all-star panel for halftime analysis.

At the end of the match, I saw another outstanding coach: Jill Cosse of North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), who coached senior Lindsay Finocchiaro and the redshirted Kim Pantages. The last time I had talked to her, her field hockey team had lost the first-in-the-nation Tournament of Champions in New Jersey.

When the Northwestern team sprinted across the Franklin Field pitch, bringing the championship trophy, I said to Cosse, “They even celebrate with intensity, don’t they?”

May 28, 2007 — The mighty wind

It was almost appropriate that a sudden gust of wind swept across the floor of Franklin Field in the final minute of Northwestern’s 15-13 win over Virginia in the 2007 NCAA women’s lacrosse final.

After all, on the Christian calendar, May 28 is Whitsunday, a day marking the rush of a violent wind in a roomful of disciples.

And the white-clad women from Northwestern, putting total faith and trust in each other and their decisionmaking, set themselves apart with their third straight title, and second over Virginia.

As befitting a team in its fourth NCAA title match in five years, the Cavaliers did not make it easy for the Wildcats. Virginia opened the game with two goals in the first two minutes by winning draws that the Wildcats originally controlled, but by sending multiple midfielders at whichever opponent snared the draw, managed to disrupt Northwestern from getting into a settled possession.

The Wildcats responded, scoring the game’s next seven goals, threatening to make the game a rout. Sophomore Hilary Bowen, voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the onslaught for the Wildcats, scoring two of her five goals in that span.

Virginia remained close and kept the deficit at five goals at the interval. In the second half, however, Northwestern appeared to lose some of its spring in its offense. That was because the Cavs played a tough matchup defense that would have not been out of place in the Palestra basketball arena next door to Franklin Field. Claire Bordley, Jen Holden, and Jessy Morgan were extremely strong, and frustrated the Wildcat offense for long stretches of the second half.

Virginia, as often as possible, took Northwestern’s speed game and threw it right back in their faces. Leading up to the TV timeout at 37 minutes, the Cavaliers scored four straight goals to cut the deficit to one. But less than a minute after that interval, Aly Josephs responded to make the score 13-11 in favor of Northwestern.

Northwestern attemted to shorten the game thereafter. The Wildcats had a three-minute possession, then a five-minute hold, both of which forced Virginia to chase the ball more than it would like. Virginia got the ball after the five-minute Northwestern possession, but could not find the cage to tie the game.

On the next Northwestern possession, freshman Morgan Dowd completed her hat trick to form the final score.

The intensity with which Northwestern celebrated its third straight national championship — putting itself alongside Maryland’s 1990s-era dynasty as three-time winners — was that of a team winning for the first time.

And after celebrating with the team’s purple-clad supporters, bringing the trophy across the field to the stands, it began to rain heavily.

A purple rain.

Or perhaps, a purple reign.

May 27, 2007 — Northwestern vs. Virginia

The 26th NCAA National Championship will take place this evening at Franklin Field.

Here’s our take on the game:

Northwestern vs. Virginia

All-time series: Virginia leads 5-2.

Last Meetings: May 22, 2005 — Northwestern 13, Virginia 10 (NCAA Final); May 16, 2004 — Virginia 15, Northwestern 11 (NCAA quarterfinal);

When Northwestern Has The Ball: Kristen Kjellman, Hannan Nielsen, Hilary Bowen, and Meredith Frank form a formidable attack quartet, one which took control of Friday’s semifinal against Penn and wouldn’t let go, running out 12-2 winners. Virginia’s defense in front of goalie Kendall McBrearty will have to be at its very best.

When Virginia Has The Ball: The attack unit of Kate Breslin, Ashley McCullough, Blair Weymouth, Megan O’Malley, and Brittany Kalkstein is extremely strong, and, as shown in a 14-13 semifinal win over Duke, very streaky. The opposing Northwestern defense of Christy Finch, Annie Elliott, and Lindsay Finocchiaro play extremely well in front of goalie Morgan Lathrop.

The Skinny: Northwestern has won the last two NCAA championships by refining, not revolutionizing, previously-used tactics. The Wildcats play with blinding speed, excellent fundamental ball skills, and the willingness to take risks.

Virginia is in its fourth NCAA title game in the last five years. They will feel extremely lucky to be there given their historic 10-goal comeback in the final 19 minutes against ACC rival Duke.

The Judgment: Three years ago, people were ready to hand Princeton the national title until Cavaliers’ goalie Andrea Pfeiffer had the game of her life, withstanding 35 shot attempts and a heat cauldron at Princeton Stadium to beat the hosts 10-4.

If McBrearty has the game of her life, Virginia has a chance to win.

May 26, 2007 — A snoozer becomes an epic

You could blame fans at the 2007 Final Four if they had left the Franklin Field bleachers by 10 p.m. last night.

After watching Northwestern dismantle host Penn 12-2 in the opener, the Duke Blue Devils seemed to be on their way to preventing Virginia from making its fourth championship game appearance in five years. Duke held a 13-4 lead in the game’s 41st minute, having scored five straight second-half goals to make Julie Myers spend a timeout.

Whatever Myers said in that huddle might become the stuff of legend. Virginia responded with a comeback which is probably greater than Trenton State College’s comeback in the final nine minutes against William Smith in then 1995 Division III final, and Georgetown’s second-half comeback against Maryland in the 2001 Division I final.

The Cavaliers poured in 10 straight goals in the final 20 minutes, the last off the stick of Jess Wasilewski with nine seconds remaining, as they beat Duke 14-13. Duke, however, had a chance to tie the match in the final two seconds of play, but Caroline Cryer’s shot was stopped by Virginia goalie Kendall McBrearty.

Virginia had fired 16 shots on the Blue Devils’ goal cage in the first half, and only found rope three times. That’s because of inspired goaltending by Duke’s Kim Imbesi, who had nine first-half saves.

But as has been the case so many times in 2007, the Blue Devils’ defense had a hard time against an opponent capable of manufacturing a large volume of shots; Virginia had 44 shots on the cage, 28 in the second half.

Blair Weymouth, the sensational sophomore, had four goals, all in the second half, to lead the Cavs’ charge.

May 25, 2007 — Through the eyes of a teen

I’ve been privileged to see a lot of pinpoint passing, amazing goalie saves, dead-eye shooting, and phenomenal athleticism this year in lacrosse.

And then there’s my niece’s 8th-grade team, which played to an 8-8 draw last night against one of its top rivals.

My niece is one of today’s typically over-scheduled children. She swims, plays viola in a youth orchestra, and sings in a traveling girls’ choir.

But in talking with her in the car on the way back home from the game, I didn’t feel as though she had a sense of passion in any of her extracurricular pursuits.

She like to swim; so much so, she quit the middle-school field hockey team to concentrate on the early start of her club season. Yet she doesn’t make the regional time cuts that her older brother does.

She likes music — and the travel. But she doesn’t much go for the “performance” aspect of singing. “I could never be on American Idol,” she says, preferring to be part of a group.

She likes classical and some jazz — “That’s elevator music!” she says of some of today’s smooth-jazz artists. But she doesn’t like singing it. “It’s too simple, and it’s all in thirds,” she says.

She likes the comraderie of lacrosse, and likes to play in the goal cage. But she doesn’t like playing the entire game. “It’s not fair to the other goalies on the team, and I’m not getting any development out in the field.”

Take yesterday’s match. She played goal the first half and the team held a 6-2 lead; it should have been 6-1, but there was an incident where she put the ball down, exited the crease, and let a deputy scoop up the ball. The deputy shoveled up the ball, but it fell over the goal line and into the cage.

They’re middle-schoolers, I kept reminding myself.

But the opposing team came back against the my niece’s replacement in the goal and tied the match. My niece, after her stint in the goal pads, had been playing close defense in those final frightful minutes, then was switched to defense wing in the final minute of play.

With the game tied, the two centers took the final draw. The ball kept squirting out of the draw at about a 30-degree angle and I noticed my niece lining up at the center stripe.

I felt I had to give her a hand. “It’s going left!” I said. “Snap to the draw when the whistle blows!” She moved three steps left where the last couple of draws had landed.

Maybe, just maybe, she’s getting it. She says her top college choice is the University of Oregon, which just happens to have a pretty good lacrosse program developing.

It’s four years before she hits college. I hope she does so with a sense of purpose.

May 24, 2007 — Behind the headlines

A few days ago, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the NCAA released injury information on many sports in the June 2007 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.

But in our “News McNuggets” world, many Associated Press subscribers nationwide used a variation of this headline: “Study Says Contact Is Common Cause In Injuries.”

The Jay Leno in me says, “You needed a study to say that?”

Thing is, you have to look behind the headlines in order to understand what is going on. The NATA has studied data in some 15 NCAA sports and have determined that there is a substantial overall rise in injuries in contact sports like ice hockey and football.

But there was also a section studying field hockey data. In the report, study directors representing the NCAA, the University of Minnesota, West Chester, North Carolina, Penn State, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have recommended mandatory helmets in the sport of field hockey. In the study, a text of which was obtained by TopOfTheCircle.com, the narrative does not necessarily support this conclusion.

From 1988 to 2003, the data shows a significant annual decrease in game injury rates. In addition, the data shows significant injury rates in the ankle and knee, as well as the upper hip.

The data shows that 9.4 percent of injuries in field hockey are concussions. Data, however, also shows that almost three-quarters of practice injuries are from no contact with a player, stick, or ball whatsoever.

In the raw data, spread out over 15 years, about 130 head injuries — concussions, lacerations, broken noses, etc. — reported. That’s less than 10 per year.

And in game situations, 10 concussions were reported that resulted in more than 10 days of “activity time loss,” a measure which attempts to quantify the severity of a particular injury. Remember: this is over a 15-year period.

And for this, there is a recommendation for helmets?

Not one of the other studies in the June 2007 issue makes a blanket call for fundamental changes in rules and equipment. Not in baseball, where batted balls have killed some pitchers because of aluminum bats. Not in lacrosse, where a Cornell player was killed a few years ago from a blow to the chest. Not in softball, where a high-school team in Garden City, Mich. has required some of its fielders to wear full-face helmets.

Then again, I hadn’t seen a study in which one of this website’s editorials was cited.

I was shocked when I saw the citation next to the phrase, “Resistance to mandated head and facial protective equipment within the sport is likely to be considerable.”

And the John Paul Jones in me says, “We have not yet begun to fight.”

We’ll take a closer look at some of these injury studies and compare their tone, texture, and statistics with that of the field hockey study in the coming weeks.

May 23, 2007 — Hold off on those Beijing tickets

Last Sunday, the United States women’s national team won a four-nations tournament in Chile with a 1-0 win over Argentina.

It was a fine win, and it is helping our core of elite players break the mystique that the Albicelestes have held the last couple of decades.

It is very important to note, however, that the team that Argentina put on the field in that tournament did not have the services of several players who, in total, have amassed more than 1,300 caps.

That’s why I think the Pan Am Games are still going to be a tough assignment, despite this win and last year’s Miracle on Turf in College Park.

May 22, 2007 — The Final Four — Inside The University of Pennsylvania

Our look at the Division I women’s finals takes a look at the hosts.

Penn Quakers

How they got here: Won the Ivy League championship’s Automatic Qualifier bid with a 7-0 record. The Quakers clinched the AQ berth with back-to-back wins against Dartmouth and Princeton.

Road to Philadelphia: Defeated Boston University 11-5 and topped Maryland 9-7 in the quarterfinal round.

“Statement” win: Defeated Johns Hopkins 12-4 on March 28.

Against the Final Four Field: Lost 13-4 to Northwestern.

When Penn Has The Ball: The Penn offense is a little like the professional running back Eric Dickerson. The Quakers don’t run up the score in a short period of time; their style is to ease into command without the opponent being able to do much about it.

Junior Rachel Manson (36 goals), freshman Ali DeLuca (34), sophomore Becca Edwards (31), and junior Melissa Lehman (25) are the top scorers, but senior Chrissy Muller (25 assists) stirs the drink.

When Penn Doesn’t Have The Ball: Opponents are only shooting 32 percent against the Penn rearguard. On free positions, that percentage drops to 25 percent. Give big credit to goalie Sarah Waxman and defenders Karen Jann, Sarah Eastburn, Hilary Renna, and Tarah Kirnan. And the team’s clearing rate — 86 percent — is Northwestern-esque.

The Skinny: When Karin Brower came to the Penn head coach’s office, the women’s lacrosse program was an absolute shambles. Players had rebelled against the coaching staff, even going so far as to write a petition to the administration.

The healing and reconstruction has taken a long time, but today’s Penn player is buying into Brower’s system. It’s getting to the point where Penn is now competing with the ACC powers for top players. If the Quakers doesn’t win it this year, you can be sure they’ll be a threat for some time.

The Judgment: The Quakers have been the danger team in this tournament. They have defended their home turf — whether it was Franklin Field or the soccer-specific Rhodes Field where they played their first-round match — splendidly. They say that home field in a World Cup of men’s soccer is easily worth two goals per game. If this is the case in this Final Four, watch out.