TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for May, 2013

May 31, 2013 — Did the Tewaaraton committee get it wrong again?

According to the Tewaaraton Foundation’s website, the annual Tewaaraton Award is given to the most outstanding men’s and women’s lacrosse players in the United States.

And it says here that it didn’t happen last night.

For the second year in a row, Katie Schwartzmann, the attacking midfielder from the University of Maryland, won the award. She is a fine attacker with all of the metrics and statistics of the true greats of the game.

But when you watched any of the three games that Maryland and North Carolina played this year, the most compelling and game-changing figure on the field was Kara Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro plays the game of lacrosse like a wolverine, picking off passes, making checks, and going after 50-50 balls like it was the last game she would ever play.

And that energy and enthusiasm drives the rest of the team. Conversely, if Canizzarro plays at a lower standard, the team does not respond well.

The energy has been noticed by lacrosse fans, who voted the UNC star as their favorite for the trophy, over the other four contenders.

I have called players like these “pepper pot,” “the straw that stirs,” or “luck barometer.”

The committee that votes for this award should have called Canizarro “the recipient.”

 

May 30, 2013 — In selecting the post-WNC pool, Parnham plays a coy hand

After the six-team USA Field Hockey Women’s National Championship tournament, a pool of players was selected to be available to U.S. head coach Craig Parnham for selection to the 2013 World League and for further competition into next year.

The current makeup of the selections is as follows:

  • 12 Olympians
  • 9 players with international experience
  • 9 newcomers

It’s the slice off the top that gives one pause. In the knife-edged balance that American hockey has straddled between experience and vitality, and between exuberance and experience, Parnham is hiding his chips a bit here. We’re not going to know for a few days whether he will choose to put a starting XI together from the 12th-place London team, or whether he will choose to shake everything up and bring an entirely new squad.

Both are possible, and it will be interesting to see which newcomers go where. I think two names to keep an eye on are from your national champions at Princeton University. Teresa Benvenuti is a rising sophomore and I think may earn a serious look either as a back or as a defensive midfielder. Kat Sharkey has shown flashes of brilliance in high-performance play and was a consistent force for the Tigers in last year’s national title run.

The job at hand for the U.S. side is to win their way through not only to the World League final, but to the 2014 World Cup.

The American side avoided Pool B, the Group of Death, which includes Spain, Australia, South Africa, and host England. Instead, the Applebees are in Pool A, which means Argentina, Italy, and China are the opponents.

What this means is this: for the U.S. to make the World Cup, it either needs to be continental champion, or it needs to have a ranking high enough so that when the five continental champions are crowned, the U.S. is one of the six or seven best teams that are not continental champions.

The key, I think, to the entire enterprise, is the first crossover match in London on June 27th. Like recent Champions Challenges, teams are not eliminated from championship contention after pool play. Instead, all eight teams are seeded in a single-elimination format, starting with the quarterfinal round. If the U.S. wins its quarterfinal, the U.S. has the best chance of earning enough world ranking points to get selected to the World Cup without having to win the Pan American Cup.

May 29, 2013 — Seeds of a debate

Yesterday, the undefeated Watertown (Mass.) girls’ lacrosse team suffered its first defeat of the season in an 18-8 loss to Newburyport (Mass.) in the first round of the MIAA North Division 2 Tournament.

It’s an incredibly rare loss for any Watertown team coached by Eileen Donahue, who is the only field hockey coach in the history of the National Federation to have two undefeated streaks of 77 games or more.

But the episode also shows the fallacy of whatever seeding system the MIAA has been using in order to fill out a bracket for the state tournament.

Watertown, despite being undefeated, received the sixth seed in the Division 2 North bracket. Newburyport was the 11 seed.

From my own experiences watching these sorts of things, I know that a seeding system is not infallible: such is the nature of scholastic competition.

But I do think that the primary imperative is for the bracket — no matter how large or complicated — is balance.

This is done through several mechanisms.

One is by mathematical formula. Some states use a formula which rewards a team for defeating a team in a larger school classification. Others use the computer rankings from LaxPower.com.

But most will use a well-versed seeding committee to take a number of teams — at their discretion — and seed them through the bracket to guarantee that either the two, four, or eight best in a particular competition don’t knock themselves out in the first or second rounds of the tournament.

It may be easy, for example, to pick apart Watertown’s level of competition in the Liberty Division of the Middlesex League. Only one regular-season opponent for the Raiders had a winning record.

But that can’t be the only reason for the seeding.

What do you think?

May 28, 2013 — National Schoolgirls Tournament isn’t short on drama

When this site started in 1998, one of the most important events of that first year of (mostly) field hockey coverage was the National Futures Tournament, which has had its home at the University of Maryland, then at the National Training Center at Virginia Beach, and is reportedly set for a 2014 move to Lancaster, Pa.

But this site had not yet laid eyes on lacrosse’s version of a national all-star tournament, the Schoolgirls National Championship.

There are significant contrasts between the two events, not the least of which is location. The Schoolgirls tournament is usually held in close proximity to the NCAA Division I championship, on the same weekend. On the other hand, Futures is held during the summer in a pre-determined location.

Structural differences abound between the two sports’ youth championships. At the National Futures Tournament, each team in the three age divisions has an equal chance of winning the one championship per age group at the end of the tournament. At the Schoolgirls tournament, there are 80 teams playing down two eight championships. Seven of the titles are contested among teams within competitive flights which are altered or adjusted based on their predicted level (a Wyoming team would never be in the same flight as the best team from the Baltimore/D.C./Northern Virginia region).

And while seven of the championship flights are for high-school juniors and younger, the eighth championship is only for seniors.

What this does is significantly shorten the competition: instead of taking the better part of a week to choose a champion at Futures, the Schoolgirls tournament can be over and done with in less than two days.

This puts an enormous onus on the volunteer coaches that run the Schoolgirls teams. This includes Kathy Jenkins, the Hall-of-Fame coach of Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.), who, along with Rockville Connelly School of the Holy Child (Md.) coach Sarah Aschenbach, needed to adjust from coming off their 12-week seasons in the Independent School League into a two-day sprint.

Fortunately for the D.C. Metro 1 team in the top Onondaga flight, Jenkins was blessed with a number of tremendous players from a cross section of schools stretching from the western suburbs of northern Virginia to the streets of Baltimore.

Jenkins also went from one 130-assist player to another; while she had Besser Dyson (149 assists in 2013) as a player for the Saints during the regular year, the D.C. Metro 1 team had Corinne Wessels, the junior spitfire from Manassas Osbourn Park (Va.), who had 136 assists through varsity play by the end of last week.

Wessels not only shares Dyson’s status as one of only two known players with at least 130 assists in a season, Wessels is also believed to be the first girls’ lacrosse player in the 87-year history of scholastic lacrosse in the U.S. to have 100 goals and 100 assists in a season.

Wessels developed an excellent relationship with her attacking teammates, particularly Kelly Myers of Washington Georgetown Visitation (D.C.). And by the time the championship final was played last Sunday, other teams had figured that out. Opponents tried to cut the cord between Wessels and her teammates by executing lacrosse’s version of the box-and-one. However, Wessels served as a willing decoy to open space and occupy defenders to give the rest of the D.C. Metro team extra room in the arc.

That extra space allowed Olivia Mikkelsen, one of Jenkins’ players at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, to score the game-winner in the dying seconds of the match, allowing D.C. Metro 1 to beat Long Island 1 by an 8-7 tally.

Overall, like in the National Futures Tournament, the Schoolgirls tournament usually identifies championship lacrosse players. Sure, there have been times that I have looked back over box scores of NFT finals and wondered why some of the players who excelled in this environment didn’t have the same level of success either at the collegiate or the high-performance level.

But that’s a discussion for another time.

May 27, 2013 — The long process

In 1997, there was a group of strong and fit women clad in matching navy track suits sitting in the vast bowl of Goodman Stadium, observing the championship final of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament — a game in which they would not participate.

This was the University of North Carolina, a team which had made the Final Four in only its second year of existence as a varsity program. I talked with the coaching staff for a few minutes, and the feeling I got was that they wanted to see what a national championship game was like so that they could visualize being there again.

For many athletics programs at UNC, winning championships is not unusual. The women’s athletics program has had the good fortune of having Hall-of-Fame coaches such as Anson Dorrance (soccer), Karen Shelton (field hockey), and Sylvia Hatchell (basketball).

And, as such, they have had an outsized influence on their sports at the next level, preparing players like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Kate Barber, Katelyn Falgowski, Charlotte Smith, and Ivory Latta for professional and Olympic play.

Carolina has had its share of awesome players over the years as well, but they, and the program, was on the verge of being overshadowed by the Maryland and Northwestern dynasties.

UNC made its first NCAA title match in 2009, and it took four more years for them to get back to the championship final. Last night, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse program finally won a national championship with a 13-12 victory over the University of Maryland. The winning goal was scored in the game’s 73rd minute, translating into the fifth overtime period (the NCAA combines the first two periods of extra time into a single OT).

Sammy Jo Tracy, a freshman attacker, ended the game, but it was her classmate, Megan Ward, who proved to be a big difference-maker. She made a number of key saves in the overtime periods, and withstood a shot by Maryland freshman Taylor Cummings that pinged the crossbar.

North Carolina could very well be on its way to stringing a number of titles together. The program adds 475-goal scorer Carly Reed to its lineup in 2014.

But what the Heels’ victory may also signify is the start of an era in which high-profile athletic programs such as Florida, Syracuse, the University of Southern California, Colorado, Michigan, and Oregon start winning national championship in women’s lacrosse.

None of these schools’ women’s lacrosse programs are more than 20 years old.

Something to think about.

May 26, 2013 — The Red Book, Part 10

One in a series.

You probably have noticed that there is a certain section of the Red Book that has been consistently absent whenever I have made a submission.

The segments are for the disclosure of marital and family statuses.

The short answer? None. But not for the lack of trying.

Back at sixth grade graduation, I wrote an essay in which I envisioned having a large family and getting married at the age of 25. But that hasn’t happened. I have not had that many relationships that could be called “serious.” Part of that was being in a career which required you to work from 4 p.m. until sometimes well past midnight.

Part of it is my risk-averse self, unwilling to be hurt after seeing friends having to put themselves together after bad breakups.

Part of it, I think, is the impossible Venn diagram of interests. There are not very many people, I have discovered, who cite both field hockey and vernacular jazz partner dancing.

And let’s face it. My choice and taste in music has made me so unhip to today’s pop charts it isn’t even funny. I don’t know the difference between Faith Hill and Faith Evans, the difference between Keith Urban and Toby Keith, or which boy band launched which solo artist. For someone who grew up listening to those four-hour pop chart countdown shows with Casey Kasem, it’s kind of pathetic.

Back in the 1990s, I liked certain kinds of alternative dance music. Then, in 1998, I discovered swing, jazz, and blues — passions which I follow to this day.

That passion is manifested anywhere from two to four times a week on the social dance floor. And it is manifested in 4 1/2-minute increments.

Whenever I dance, the end goal for me is the short term: good form, enjoying the music. Marriage is the furthest thing from my mind when I do a good eight-count whip turn.

In short, dance for me is the ultimate in “speed dating.” I have had occasion to date people I have met dancing; heck, I thought I was going to marry one of my favorites.

But it hasn’t happened yet.

Part of me wonders if it’s because of the social media trend I discussed last week, one where people can feel very isolated and very connected at the same time.

Part of me wonders whether it’s because of the rules changing so rapidly when it comes to social interaction.

I haven’t found the right person at the right time in history.

Still looking, though.

May 25, 2013 — Wild night at Villanova results in a derby for a final

Last night’s national semifinals in the NCAA Division I semifinal match were a tale of two results which had divergent paths of how they arrived at their destinations. A few thoughts:

1. Northwestern left its scoring back at home. After an absolutely magical performance a week ago against Penn State in the national quarterfinals, the Wildcats went 1-for-11 on the 8-meter, which is not the best way to try to win the game.

2. Kara Cannizzaro was not ready to let her team go gently into that good night. The heart and soul of the Tar Heels pumped in four goals and made just about every key hustle play imaginable.

3. Megan Ward, the freshman goalie from Annapolis St. Mary’s (Md.) has seemingly won the hearts of her teammates after getting the starts over Lauren Maksym.

4. Northwestern’s power outage on attack came from a lack of quality shots; Northwestern usually can be counted on for up to 60 shots a game, but UNC allowed just 16 attempts at goal.

5. The Wildcats had a surprising lack of discipline, picking up six yellow cards, all in the second half. Two very important players, Gabriella Flibotte and Alyssa Leonard, each received two and were disqualified.

6. Syracuse had a lack of discipline late in its match with Maryland. In the last 13 minutes, Syracuse picked up four consecutive yellow cards. If you’re going to be even only five minutes late in a game, there’s not much way you’re going to win.

7. The Orangewomen had scored four straight goals to to take a 10-9 lead, but committed a cardinal sin: they forgot what got them there. They had more turnovers in the final 18:31 of regulation than shots on goal. Remarkable.

8. On the biggest stage, freshman Taylor Cummings came up with big draw controls, especially the one after the game-winning goal. She was hammered by three Orange players in the midfield; and Alyssa Murray was shown to the sin bin.

9. For about two hours, there were three teams eligible for the NCAA Tournament title. All three are going to be in the same conference in 2014.

10. Maryland and North Carolina have met twice this year, with the Terps winning both. Will the Jim Davis First Law of Field Hockey apply here?

11. It’s befuddling why the playing surface at Villanova Stadium was shortened to about 110 yards with the blue lines used on the turf. Under the old rules, the effective playing area was much, much bigger. I find it interesting that only one of the Final Four teams plays its home matches on something other than a football or a soccer field. That team is Maryland, which plays at The Lacrosse & Field Hockey Complex (yep, that’s what we’re calling it), with a playing area of only about 115 by 60 yards.

May 24, 2014 — Inside the Final Four, Part 2: Northwestern vs. North Carolina

Records: Northwestern 19-2, North Carolina 16-3.

Against the rest of the Final Four: Northwestern 1-1, North Carolina 1-2.

When Northwestern has the ball: Despite injuries to Christina Esposito and Kara Mupo, the Northwestern attack is still its usual high-octane self. The execution last weekend against Penn State was nothing short of relentless. Erin Fitzgerald, Alyssa Leonard, Amanda Macaluso, and Taylor Thornton can go off at any time. UNC will have to counter with Margaret Corzel, Sloane Serpe, Caileigh Sindall, and Mallory Frysinger.

When North Carolina has the ball: Kara Canizzarro and Abbey Friend are an awesome scoring tandem, but need another option. Aly Messinger had an awesome outing in the regular-season confrontation with Maryland. Northwestern’s defense will primarily come from Thornton, but Gabriella Flibotte makes all the right plays. Christy Turner and Kerri Harrington will also have to step up.

The skinny: The last three times these two teams met, Northwestern won by a goal each time. Carolina has not beaten the Wildcats since April 2010. And it is not a stretch to believe that UNC is snakebitten when it comes to NCAA Tournament play. But the Heels have more than enough talent to pull this off.

But will Northwestern let them? A month ago, many pundits thought that the Wildcats were going to be “just another team” in the NCAA race after they lost 22-4 at Florida. And many (including your Founder) thought this was going to be a sign of things to come in Division I as more and more high-dollar athletics programs such as USC, Michigan, and Colorado adopt the sport.

Instead, Northwestern controlled the clock and Florida’s attack on the way to an 8-3 victory in the American Lacrosse Conference final. If this turnaround, plus last weekend’s performance, are any indication, the rest of the Final Four teams aren’t going to know what hit them.

May 23, 2013 — Inside the Final Four, Part 1: Syracuse vs. Maryland

Records: Maryland 21-0, Syracuse 18-3.

Against the rest of the Final Four: Maryland 2-0, Syracuse 0-2.

When Maryland has the ball: With top guns Alex Aust, Brooke Griffin, and your Tewaaraton Trophy-winner Katie Schwartzmann, the Terp attack is one of the most formidable since the simultaneous graduation of Jen Adams, Quinn Carney, and Allison Comito. Syracuse has good defenders in Becca Block, Kasey Mock, and Erica Glanell, but covering the Terrapin attack is a different assignment altogether.

When Syracuse has the ball: Alyssa Murray and Katie Treanor each have more than 60 goals this season, but Michelle Tumolo has been injured the second half of the season. Tumolo got about a minute’s worth of action last weekend in the defeat of Florida, but it’s hard to envision her having a role when there are so many talented players on the Orange roster. The defense for Maryland includes Iliana Sanza, Megan Douty, Alice Mercer, Shanna Brady, and Melissa Diepold.

The skinny:  The game is a confrontation between two branches of the Cindy Timchal coaching tree. Cathy Reese learned a lot of lacrosse from Gary Gait as a player, and it will be interesting who breaks out what new wrinkle for this game.

Each will try to find a weakness to exploit. For Maryland, I think it will be trying to press out on any Syracuse player not named Murray and Treanor and let someone else beat them. I think the Terrapins also sense uncertainty in the goal cage with the recent platooning of Kelsey Richardson and Alyssa Constantino.

Syracuse will try to exploit matchups on draw controls. Maryland freshman Taylor Cummings has been the main draw-taker, but Reese has been quick to try other people on the circle if the Terrapins lose consecutive draws. If Syracuse has the right matchups, they can control the midfield and the clock. I think the play of Kailah Kempney and Madison Huegel will determine who wins this semifinal.

May 22, 2013 — The provider does the providing

Yesterday evening in Manassas, Va., a lacrosse player who had helped her teammates finish goals more than 130 times this season was given the opportunity to carry her team’s offense on her shoulders.

Corinne Wessels, the fiery junior for Manassas Osbourn Park (Va.), scored 10 goals to lead the Yellowjackets to a 15-14 overtime victory over Ashburn Broad Run (Va.) in the semifinal round of the VHSL Class AAA Tournament.

As befits the semifinal round of a VHSL championship, the win not only sends Osbourn Park into the Northwest Regional championship Thursday against Haymarket Battlefield (Va.), but sends the team to the four-team state tournament.

And, as befits “tipping-point” games, players and coaches are liable to take as many tactical and personnel chances in this one game than in the sum total of the entire season.

Broad Run did what it needed to do: force Wessels to take the ball to goal more, which she has done splendidly in her high-school career thus far. Her output last night gave her 94 goals and 136 assists for the 2013 season.