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Archive for May, 2007

May 21, 2007 — The Final Four — Inside Virginia

Today, we look at the 2004 champions, who will be the 3 seed in Philadelphia:

Virginia Cavaliers

How they got here: Received at-large bid on the strength of a 16-3 record, including a victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Road to Philadelphia: Bested Princeton 19-10 in Round 1, then topped North Carolina 14-8 in Round 2.

“Statement” win: Defeated Maryland 15-4 on March 13.

Against the Final Four Field: Lost to Duke 19-18 (2 OT).

When Virginia Has The Ball: Once you get by senior Kate Breslin (65 goals, 27 assists). the rest of the Cavaliers’ attack unit is extremely young: sophomores Ashley McCullough (29-32) and Blair Weymouth (53-26) and freshman Brittany Kalkstein (42-8 ) are strong, and are scoring almost 13 goals per game, shooting around 36 percent.

When Virginia Doesn’t Have The Ball: Opponents, however, are shooting around a 49 percent clip against the Cavaliers. Kaitlin Duff leads the team in groundball pickups, caused turnovers, and draw controls. Thing is, she’s a wing midfielder and not a close defender.

The Skinny: Like Duke, Virginia has to rely on that ragged edge between breakneck 90s-style lacrosse and the execution style of lacrosse that suited the team when Amy Appelt was the Tewaaraton Trophy winner.

The Judgment: You have to like Virginia’s chances against Duke in the semifinal match on the revenge factor alone. The Cavaliers have made it to the NCAA championship game three out of the last four years and five out of the last nine.

May 20, 2007 — The Final Four — Inside Duke

Today, we give you our take on the second seed.

Duke Blue Devils

How they got here: Received at-large bid on the strength of a 14-3 record and a 4-1 record against Atlantic Coast Conference competition, despite being bounced from the ACC Tournament at the hands of North Carolina.

Road to Philadelphia: Thumped LeMoyne 23-7 in the first round, then outlasted Johns Hopkins 12-7 in the quarterfinal round.

“Statement” win: Defeated Virginia 19-18 (2 OT) on March 31.

Against the Final Four Field: Defeated Virginia 19-18 (2 OT), lost 17-5 to Northwestern.

When Duke Has The Ball: Duke has scored 18 goals on six occasions this season. Former U-19 World Cup champion Kristen Waagbo (43 goals, 42 assists) is the focus, while Leigh Jester (40-27) and Caroline Cryer (67-17) help form a formidable attack unit.

When Duke Doesn’t Have The Ball: Defense has been head coach Kerstin Kimel’s strength over the years. Yet, nine times this season, opponents have scored 10 or more goals in a game. Too, opponents are shooting 75.1 percent against the Devils’ cage. Christina Germinario, Kim Imbesi, Meghan Ferguson and Alyana Newton are going to have to find a way to limit opposing shots.

The Skinny: Duke came into last year’s tournament on a mission, daring to wear the word “INNOCENT” on sweatbands to support their bretheren on the men’s team. Though the tactic didn’t work on the weekend, losing to Dartmouth in the semifinal round, the team’s cohesion has held firm this season.

The loss to North Carolina in the ACCs was certainly a wake-up call, further accentuated by a win over Dartmouth that saw Duke yield 14 goals.

The Judgment: The Blue Devils have the capability to play the speed game or the execution game. They will need plenty of both to get past Virginia in the semifinal round. It will be extremely interesting to see if this winds up being another shootout, or whether either team will seek to take the air out of the ball.

If the Blue Devils manage to get past Virginia, they will either have to play host Penn or defending champion Northwestern. In other words, if they win the tournament, it will certainly be well-earned.

May 19, 2007 — The Final Four — Inside Northwestern

So, now that we know who’s in the Final Four after today’s action, here’s a look at each of the four teams who will be competing at Penn this weekend.

First, the defending champions.

Northwestern Wildcats

How they got here: Won American Lacrosse Conference tournament and its Automatic Qualifier bid with a 22-6 win over Johns Hopkins in a game played at the Blue Jays’ home field.

Road to Philadelphia: Beat Holy Cross 19-7 in the first round, then stopped Syracuse 14-9 in the quarterfinals.

“Statement” win: Defeated Duke 17-5 on April 7.

Against the Final Four Field: Defeated Duke 17-5, defeated Penn 13-4.

When Northwestern Has The Ball: The offense has scored about 16 1/2 goals per game with freewheeling, speedy, offense built on precision of execution. Kristen Kjellman (62 goals) has deservedly been the focal point of the offense, but sophomores Hannan Nielsen (48), Hilary Bowen (54), and Meredith Frank (58 ) are just as good on the attack end.

Nielsen leads the team in assists with 65. She is an Australian wearing the No. 7 jersey. Sound familiar?

When Northwestern Doesn’t Have The Ball: Defensively, the Wildcats have allowed less than six goals per game and allows its opponents to shoot less than 30 percent. At the rate of defense, an opponent would need to shoot about 53 times in order to meet Northwestern’s average offensive output this season.

Its smart use of doubling the ball has forced the opposition into 362 turnovers, and defenders have vacuumed 346 ground-ball pickups. Junior Christy Finch leads the defensive unit alongside Annie Elliott and Lindsay Finocchiaro.

Oh, and when the ball is turned over, the Wildcats have a 78 percent success rate on clears. It’s almost unfair.

The Skinny: Northwestern’s success the last seven years has been mysterious to some, but not to those in the know. The team is a reflection of its coach. Like Kelly Amonte-Hiller, the players are fit, quick, and execute the offense with an almost Lombardi-esque precision. You may know what is coming if you’re an opposing coach, but stopping the play is another matter entirely.

Northwestern also appears to have a gift of playing to the style of its opposition. When it needs to, it can outrun an opponent. Or it can slow down the game and frustrate the team that likes to run.

The Wildcats, like Amonte-Hiller’s alma mater, the University of Maryland, have employed a sports psychologist. The team not only believes in what it is doing, it looks askance at those who don’t believe it can achieve its goals. This tactic has worked splendidly in winning the 2005 and 2006 NCAA championships.

The Judgment: Not to take away from either ACC team waiting on the other side of the semifinal bracket, but the most dangerous team to Northwestern is the host team, the University of Pennsylvania. But that’s only on intangibles; the talent pool alone makes the Wildcats the heavy favorite.

May 18, 2007 — When participation doesn’t matter

Yesterday’s ruminations on the relaunch of the varsity field hockey team at The Institution Formerly Known As Keystone Community College got me thinking about a collegiate sporting activity which has been almost completely wiped out, to an almost greater degree than junior-college field hockey.

Think of this: when was the last time Mike Krzyzewski had to call up a center from the Duke junior varsity because of an injury? Or Pete Carroll giving a JV fullback a callup to the USC varsity?

Can’t remember? Well, the fact is that entire conferences, entire campuses, and entire sports in the American collegiate sphere are completely devoid of junior varsity play.

You remember JV, don’t you? It was the place for those too small or too slow or too young for the big boys (or big girls), but were given a chance to play for love of the game, whatever that game may be.

Time was, there used to be as many as four football teams on some college campuses: varsity, junior varsity, freshman, and lightweight football. Every college sport had a varsity, a JV, and a freshman team, and in some endeavors such as rowing, even had a third varsity team, sometimes called a “thirds” team.

In the 1970s, however, college freshmen were allowed to play on varsity teams. College administrators saw how much money was saved by not having separate freshman teams, so eventually junior varsity teams have been slashed to almost nothing.

Look for current junior varsity athletics teams on college websites, and they are limited to Ivy League, Patriot League, and some small Division III schools.

But there is one significant exception: rowing. By necessity, participation is encouraged on the part of universities, since a single 2,000-meter race lasts but 6 1/2 minutes, on average. A full regatta of varsity, JV, thirds, and freshman crews for men’s lightweight, men’s heavyweight, and women’s crews is a better spectacle than a single race.

Aside from that, there are very few places, aside from intramurals and pay-to-play club teams, where the not-so-athletically gifted can participate in physical education activities on most college campuses.

Regrettably, you’re beginning to see similar cuts in public high school athletics programs from Massachuetts to Pennsylvania to California. School budgets, constrained by property tax caps to the draining of revenue by the bursting of the housing bubble, are being balanced on the backs of junior varsity and freshman players.

Yet in many places, there is a building boom for secondary schools. Think the rise in availability in artificial turf is a trend? It’s just the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to schools construction. An entire athletic complex was plowed under to make way for a new building. One school spent $25 million to build its gym, and a couple more are working on building underground facilities with artificial grass pitches on top.

I just hope that in most of these schools, there will be enough sub-varsity participation to justify the expense.

May 17, 2007 — A 20-year dormancy

The late 1970s had a rich history of community college field hockey in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Teams from the Southern Tier to the Jersey Shore to the Poconos regularly met each other.

The gradual decline of community college field hockey, however, coincided with the repurposing of some two-year college campuses. One of these, Keystone Community College, became a four-year institution in 1998, a decade after it dropped field hockey.

But Keystone College recently announced its intention to revive the varsity field hockey program for the fall of 2008.

Keystone had its greatest moment in 1977, when it reached the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship game. But it will be a different world when the new varsity team steps out back onto Bailey Field the autumn after next.

Keystone will have to compete directly with area colleges such as King’s, Wilkes, Misericordia, and Scranton for Division III recruits. All the while, Division I schools have mined the rich talent of the region, which now boasts many of the best high school players and teams in the country.

And it will be a while before Keystone gets a sniff of the postseason; of the schools in the North Eastern Athletic Conference, only Wilson College, Wells College, and Philadelphia Biblical University have the sport, meaning that an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament is out of the question.

The coaching staff will have several very difficult years ahead, but that’s the nature of starting up a field hockey program after a 20-year dormancy. I’ll be interested to see how this team evolves and emerges.

May 16, 2007 — History in Division III

Over the weekend, there was plenty of women’s lacrosse tournament action in all three levels of the NCAA. In Division III, the quarterfinal round was played, and a bit of history was written.

Middlebury College defeated The College of New Jersey in an 11-10 thriller which was worthy of a final — but it’s something you expect when the Panthers and Lions are on the field. After all, two years ago in the Final Four, Middlebury was denied a chance at a late tie when a shooting space call negated a shot into the goal cage, after which the resulting free position was saved.

Last weekend’s memorable play was Claire Edelen’s free-position from the center hash that broke a 10-all tie with 12 seconds remaining.

Here’s the enormity of the result: the last time The College of New Jersey didn’t make the NCAA women’s Division III lacrosse semifinals, none of the members of the team had been born yet, and the school was called Trenton State College.

Indeed, the Lions had been participants in the NCAA Division I tournament before 1985, and almost won the first NCAA crown in 1982 before losing 9-6 to a Massachusetts team led by Pam Hixon, who would eventually become head coach of the U.S. senior national women’s field hockey team.

I didn’t expect the Lions to make such an early exit, given what I had seen from them this season. I watched Sharon Pfluger’s team make an incredible second-half comeback to beat Cortland State, then I witnessed the Lions lose an overtime thriller in Gettysburg.

It’s usually this time of year when the Lions could put two good halves together, and do it consistently. However, in this match, an early second-half lull allowed Middlebury to score five out of six goals to take command by the game’s 50th minute.

Now, I was a witness to the first time TCNJ exited the NCAA field hockey tournament short of the Final Four. It was a rainy day at Rowan in 1997 when the Lions met up with the University of Scranton and couldn’t put those final passes together.

To me, that game was a watershed event; since that day, the Lions have won only one NCAA field hockey championship. Will that happen in the world of women’s lacrosse, over which the Lions have exercised some legendary domination over the past three decades?

May 15, 2007 — Beware the ides of May

Ten years ago today, Tiffany Bashore, field hockey coach at Ewing (N.J.), died suddenly.

This was her Game Plan, which appears as every May’s Motivation of the Month on our field hockey site. It also appears from time to time on the back of your Founder’s business card.

1. Respect the contest, yourself, and your opponent.

2. Adopt a “winning is third” concept. That is, a commitment first to doing your best, second to team loyalty, and third to the highest total on the scoreboard.

3. Determine to enjoy competition, doing whatever it takes for you and the team to have fun at whatever you are doing.

4. Determine to make each practice and game a learning experience to better understand yourself and others.

5. Understand that regardless of athletic shop talk about sacrifice, discipline, commitment and all the rest, unless it is wrapped in an expressed love for the game and all its participants, this game plan is meaningless “jock talk.”

6. The moment you become satisfied with how well you are doing, you start to back off and falter.

Ten years; and it feels like it was only yesterday when I got the news.

May 14, 2007 — A long way to go

Last Thursday night, Fox Soccer Channel broadcast a replay of an English Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal.

The game, however, was not one presented with the traditional team of announcers. Instead, the game was called by two opposing fans of the two teams. FSC showed the “Fan Zone” feed that is part of every EPL telecast in England. The country has had digital television for several years, and Sky Sports has several different feeds that can be accessed through the remote, including Fan Zone. This option shows the game, but also crawl along the bottom of the screen with text and email messages from fans, and the voices of the two amateurs calling the match.

Of course, the fans shout and preach, and comment on everything from the tampering of player negotiations (“tapping up” in English parlance) to player salaries. But the two fans last week were discussing why Arsenal fans were leaving home games before their conclusion. Speculation ranged from the lack of public transportation to the new Emirates Stadium to the lack of bars and restaurants in the area.

The argument settled on the different kind of fan that is coming to watch games in the EPL since the Premiership started in the 1990s and player salaries began to skyrocket. The Arsenal fan in the Fan Zone related a tale in which a group of men and women in the stands weren’t singing and chanting, but were talking on their cell phones during the match and insisting on sitting down and asking that others in the section do the same.

The Chelsea fan, Barry Cracknell, said this:

“I mean, I like women, generally, but they shouldn’t go for football. Generally, they’ve got to be busier than that; there’s got to be things they’ve got to be getting on with, surely. I mean, it’s a man’s world. Listen, this is true … my wife, she loves ironing and cooking and providing and being a homemaker. And to me, that’s a woman. I’ll say no more.”

Uhhh, has anyone ever heard of Don Imus?

May 13, 2007 — Pretty in pink

The U.S. women’s soccer team bested Canada last night 6-2 in what could very well be a foreshadowing of the power and flair of a team which could be playing at its highest level ever.

That’s right; despite the lack of Hamm, Foudy, Chastain, MacMillian, Overbeck, Fawcett, and all of those names of the past, this U.S. player pool is playing some absolutely wonderful football.

Last night’s dismantling was not of some backwater country which has made its women play in head coverings or has defunded its national team in favor of its men’s team. This was Canada, a team which has given the U.S. fits over the years, including extending the Stars and Stripes to double-overtime before falling on a 120th-minute penalty kick in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Canada has several physically-imposing players such as Kara Lang, Kristina Kiss, and Christie Sinclair. The country has several great goalkeepers such as Katrina LeBlanc, Taryn Swiatek, and Erin McLeod. The head coach, Even Pellerud, is one of the few coaches who knows how to beat the United States, having coached the Norwegian women to Olympic gold and the 1995 World Cup.

From the opening moments, Canada had no chance. Why? Right now, the American team has a raft of young, speedy, and gifted players who collectively have the potential to be as good or even better than the ’91ers ever were.

You might have heard of Heather O’Reilly, Lori Chalupny, and Lindsay Tarpley. But what about Natasha Kai, Carli Lloyd, Leslie Osborne, or Stephanie Lopez? If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will. Trust me.

These young people will be grafted into a lineup which includes veteran backs Cat Whitehill, Christie Rampone, and Kate Markgraf — not to be confused with Cat Reddick, Christie Pearce, and Kate Sobrero. Shannon Boxx and Angela Hucles are amongst the midfield anchors and have proved themselves the last five years.

And how about the rejuvenated attackers Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly? Wambach, who was alternately praised and criticized for her physicality in the last Women’s World Cup, showed a creative flair in last night’s match that few knew she had. Taking a pass in the attacking third near the left touchline, she shook two Canadian defenders off the dribble and knocked a well-weighted diagonal that Lilly (playing in her 325th international) couldn’t quite track down.

Frankly, despite China’s home-field advantage and Germany’s status as defending champion, this fall’s World Cup is the United States’ to lose.

May 12, 2007 — A lot to a little

There will be a smorgasbord of lacrosse tomorrow as two quadrupleheaders will fill the airwaves on ESPNU.

It will be an unprecedented weekend not only in terms of the programming, but the personnel. Dave Cohen (ESPN), Dave Ryan (ESPN), Rob Simmelkjaer (ABC News Now), and Eamon McAnaney (TNT and NBA-TV) will call the games and analysis will be provided by Mark Dixon (ESPN), Quint Kessenich (ESPN), Jack Emmer (MASN), and Lindsey Biles (ESPNU).

Thing is, Biles is probably the only female lacrosse player you’re going to see over the weekend if you’re a couch potato. The reason? Not a single match in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament is going to be televised over the air.

And it’s not as though the schedulers at the host institutions couldn’t spread out their matches like on the men’s side; there are eight games in the Round of 16, but all of the games are going to be played Sunday in the early afternoon.

I mean, would it have been too much to ask if North Carolina could play its game at noon and allow Duke to schedule its game at 3 p.m. so that folks in the Triangle could attend both games?

If the game is going to grow, a little thing like scheduling could go a long way.