The concept of a postseason competition in any form of sporting endeavor is to identify the best person or team by process of elimination.
Ideally, this means closer games or races in a tournament or meet as it winds to its conclusion. But occasionally you get situations such as in last summer’s Olympics when Katie Ledecky won the 800-meter freestyle by 11.38 seconds.
Now, we’ve seen some lopsided results in field hockey tournaments over the years, starting a few years ago when a Northwest Virginia regional semifinal game got out of hand and resulted in a 14-0 victory.
And, there have been any number of 10-goal victories in the postseason where Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) is concerned. Take, for instance, this year’s Group IV state semifinal victory over Freehold (N.J.) Township, which resulted in a 13-0 win.
Last night, in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, both games had the “mercy rule” invoked, where the clock would continue to run if one team built a five-goal lead.
Let’s refocus your attention. This happened to two teams which had already won state championships in one of the elite field hockey states in America.
You’re also beginning to see a sea change in the level of competition in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. From the start of state tournament competition in 1974, only a handful of games in our back-of-the-envelope count ever went into “mercy rule” territory; there were four games which were 6-0 shutouts between 1974 and 2001 (except 1975, where there are no records available).
But in 2002, three teams scored six goals or more. That year, West Chester (Pa.) East set a high-water mark for goals scored and margin of victory in an 8-1 win over Red Lion (Pa.) Area. Those marks were exceeded when Allentown William Allen (Pa.) defeated Philadelphia Northeast (Pa.) 9-1 in the first round of the 2005 Class AAA Tournament.
In 2007, Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.) beat Dillsburg Northern York (Pa.) 10-0, which was one one of three “mercy rule” shutouts in Class AA alone; in the others, Mifflinburg (Pa.) beat Bellville (Pa.) Mennonite 6-0 and Selinsgrove (Pa.) stopped Big Springs Bermudian Springs (Pa.) 8-0. Over in the AAA bracket, Flourtown Mount St. Joseph Academy (Pa.) beat Allentown Northampton (Pa.) 8-0.
From 2010 until this year’s PIAA Tournament, there has been at least one “mercy rule” result, in which the margin of victory is five goals or more.
In 2016? Thus far, there have been nine. This includes a 10-1 Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) win over Mount St. Joseph Academy, and 8-0 shutouts by Merion (Pa.) Mercy, Wilkes-Barre Holy Redeemer (Pa.) and Lehman Lake-Lehman (Pa.). Emmaus (Pa.) also rolled up eight tallies on Buckingham Central Bucks East (Pa.).
What’s going on here? I think it’s a case of, once again, a large gulf between the haves and the have-nots in scholastic field hockey, where teams with multiple players in the high-performance system are on another level of play altogether from their opponents.
But, I also think there’s also a winnowing away of the unwritten rules of the game, such as pulling a star player after a hat trick, not trying for goals after a team gets a five-goal lead, or the goal-scorer retrieving the ball after a goal is scored.
Is that progress, or is it the undermining of sportsmanship? I leave that for history to decide.