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Archive for June, 2017

June 30, 2017 — Keep reading

Hi, all.

Just a note that, despite the fact that we’re posting our usual July essay from an actual field hockey player on her journey to college, we’re continuing our daily blog posts below that letter. In July, we’re having our national post-season lacrosse posts, a look at the National Club Championships in field hockey, and the World League semifinals for the U.S. women’s national field hockey team.

June 29, 2017 — In U-19 final, defense beats offense and vice-versa

The night before the championship final of the 2017 U-19 National Futures Tournament, it was pretty much a given that the two Region 5 teams representing Pennsylvania — Albertville and Torino — would be meeting each other at high noon at Spooky Nook.

They didn’t disappoint. In one of the most competitive and gripping NFT finals in some 20 years, it was Torino who survived to win a 3-2 shootout victory after the sides tied 3-3 after regulation.

The winning margin came in the fourth round of a penalty shootout after the sides were level 2-2. In the fourth round, Albertville’s shot was tackled and cleared by Torino’s Katie Jean, the state-championship-winning goalkeeper for Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.). Torino was able to lift its final shot past Albertville’s prone goalkeeper for the winning shot.

The shootout was leveled at 2-2 only after a crafty piece of play on the part of Meredith Sholder, the second all-time leading scorer in Federation history. She managed to sneak her goal underneath Jean, with the ball rolling slowly over the goal line, barely beating the eight-second clock.

The teams had traded goals throughout regulation, and Albertville thought it might have the game won when Sholder convered a stroke 5 1/2 minutes from time. But Torino earned a stroke in the final two minutes, which it converted to tie it at 3.

June 28, 2017 — The great divide?

Jonathan Sigal penned this story on espnW about the prospect of a bidding war between two women’s lacrosse leagues.

The title, of course, says it all. And it’s a good read.

June 27, 2017 — Just what the Big Blue ordered: a slice of purple, green, and gold

It’s been four years since the Michigan women’s lacrosse program began. And with the recent firing of head coach Jen Ulehla, there was an outsized opportunity for a coach with the personality and flair to be able to match the resources that the university is putting behind her.

And it seems that coach is going to be Hannah Nielsen. Despite winning two Tewaaraton trophies at Northwestern University as part of a lacrosse dynasty, Nielsen didn’t jump at the first head coaching job that came along. Instead, she got a flavor of several programs: Towson, Penn State, Colorado, and Northwestern over the last several seasons.

Nielsen is now preparing to play in her fourth World Cup along with Team Koala, meaning that she will be coming off an international tournament with all of the training and fitness needed for her to jump into drills and, if need be, scrimmages during fall-ball.

And I think it will be really scary if more than one of her recruits is able to apply what she knows from being taught by the Australian legend. Nielsen is one of those once-in-a-lifetime players who actually understands her role in the history of the game and tries to build on it.

Nielsen’s personal hero has been Jen Adams, the greatest female player ever to walk the earth. She has taken to wearing the number 77 as a tribute when they are on the same team, and has even worn her hair in the short pigtails that were Adams’ trademark.

And the two women have played remarkably successful lacrosse over the years.

It would be a fitting tribute if Nielsen could make a significant impact on the Michigan program, much like Adams has at Loyola.

June 26, 2017 — U-14 Futures: Squaw Valley beats the heat, Grenoble

The way the schedule fell for the medal round for the U-14 National Futures Tournament, the finalists had to earn their medals.

Squaw Valley was required to finish off Pool N play at the outdoor pitch at Spooky Nook, then had to wait an hour as Pool A first-place team Grenoble beat cellar-dwellers Antwerp for the top of the pool, also at the outdoor pitch.

And minutes after that game, the final began at high noon under the bright skies of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Rare has been the time that a semifinal and a final were played back-to-back in Futures play.

In the final, Squaw Valley beat Grenoble 3-2. Squaw Valley, like the other teams in the U-14 Division, did not have a cluster or concentration of players from any single Futures region. It is notable, however, that Squaw Valley boasts U-17 indoor national team Ryleigh Heck, whose older sister Kara was one of the nation’s leading goal-scorers last year for Voorhees Eastern (N.J.).

June 25, 2017 — The helmet debate takes a new turn

The Associated Press has run a story about the advent of new helmets in girls’ high-school lacrosse.

The scenario in the lead paragraph of the story, however, is extremely misleading if outright irresponsible:

Erin Foster was running toward a ground ball at an indoor lacrosse game when she was pushed, sending her unprotected head into a wall.

The game where the injury occurred was not a high-school game, but a weekend rec league game which is not covered by National Federation rules.

Yet, the story was all about how players need protection, not whether helmets actually prevent concussions. Indeed, this story is one of the few that deliberately eliminates the fact that no helmet can prevent a concussion.

What is happening is that the vote two years ago, which was made in spite of the science that existed at the time and still exists today, is leading to a hard-shell helmet which is being imposed on Florida players next year.

The problem is that few journalists have bothered to mention the fact that Massachusetts went to mandatory headgear in the 1990s, which led to rough play and the inability of some players to get recruited because of the lack of stick skills on defense.

There has been little discussion about how the Federation’s rules on protecting players has affected their chances at getting recruited at the NCAA level. Look at field hockey, which has had about six or seven years of eyewear. The rule has had a particular effect on attacking players, who are now unafraid of carrying the ball into opposition territory without a defensive tackle popping the ball upward.

At the same time, however, the presence of foreign players on every Division I team and even now some D-II and D-III teams has kept some Americans off of college rosters.

Will this happen in lacrosse? Given the box-lacrosse skills of players like Selena Lasota, Kenzie Kent, and Danita Stroup, you get the feeling that those kinds of players are going to be the ones more sought.

June 24, 2017 — U-16 NFT: Atlanta chalks up a dominating gold medal

Picking the winner of the 2017 U-16 National Futures Tournament was a matter of looking at the rosters.

On Team Atlanta, you had Lauren Wadas from PIAA Class AAA runner-up Palmyra (Pa.), Madison Orobono from PIAA winner Emmaus (Pa.), Sophia Gladieux and Sophie Mackrella from PIAA Class A runner-up Oley (Pa.) Valley, and Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) sophomore Mackenzie Allessie, she of the 76 goals scored last season for the state Class AA champs.

The results were predictable.

The loaded Atlantans not only won the gold medal in the tournament, they waylaid opponents doing it. They won all five matches by a combined score of 33-2, ultimately winning the gold medal over Cortina d’Ampezzo 4-1. As it turns out, the Cortina team also represented Pennsylvania, and had players such as Emma Deberdine of Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), Kayla Kisthardt of Emmaus (Pa.), Adele Iacobucci of Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.), and Sarah Beers of Oley (Pa.) Valley.

June 23, 2017 — From early commitment to early matriculation

There have been plenty of stories about the excesses of college sports, where coaches have gotten verbal commitments from middle-schoolers in the revenue sports.

More recently, the controversy was about how non-revenue athletic programs, such as those found in field hockey and lacrosse, were seeking verbal commitments from ninth and 10th-graders. And it even got to the point where a verbal commitment from a seventh-grader got the NCAA lacrosse coaches to write regulations preventing that from happening again.

In field hockey, there have been plenty of pressures felt by players as young as ninth grade to make a commitment. And it’s gotten to the point where high-school seniors have begun to gray-shirt (or green-shirt, depending on the terminology) onto college teams as students who finish their high-school curriculum a semester early.

Because of spring field hockey, it is thought that bringing in second-semester seniors would help in their overall development not only as an athlete, but as a student.

Chantae Miller, who was a six-year varsity player with Williamsville (N.Y.) North last decade, was persuaded to join the Michigan State team six months early. There have been others, including prominent youth national teamers such as Mayv Clune, who left Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.) just weeks after leading them to a state title and joined up with the University of Maryland.

But more recently, there have been players who have taken an even greater leap. At least two Division I players have, or are in the process of, skipping their senior years of playing field hockey to join up with a college program a year before schedule.

It’s happened at Princeton University, where Elise Wong finished up her high-school credits at Lake Forest (Ill.) and by the fall of 2015, was starting for the Tigers before she could earn a learner’s permit in some states.

This past week, goalie Emma Likly of Wilton (Conn.) graduated from high school a year early so that she could attend Syracuse University.

“It was definitely a difficult decision because I wasn’t thinking about going to college next fall,” Likly tells The Hour. “But I already was so excited to go there and I just know that it’s such a great program, it’s such a great school, so I thought, ‘Why not get a head start on it?’ ”

But given the talent identification and development apparatus for USA Field Hockey now targeting younger players such as Erin Matson for senior duty, having colleges coming in and getting early matriculations of high-school players is a different matter altogether.

You see, in many athletic competitions, having an extra year’s maturity is seen as a plus. Preparatory schools in the northeast U.S. give football and basketball players a chance to get one or two years more size and speed before entering college a year or two later than their peers.

Yet, at least in the case of Wong and Likly, it’s the polar opposite.

Asking young people’s bodies to adjust to situations more suited to the mature athlete is a risk. Just ask legions of burnt-out and injured gymnasts, soccer players, and figure skaters. I’ll be interested to see if this trend works out for all concerned.

June 22, 2017 — One missing piece

They held the graduation ceremony yesterday for Philadelphia Strawberry Mansion (Pa.) at the Independence Seaport Museum.

In attendance was Jazmine Smith, the lacrosse and field hockey impresario who has invested more than a year of time and some of her own money into bringing these two sports to the school, which at one time was the epitome of decay and violence in inner-city America, but has now brought hope to players in the Eyekonz field hockey and lacrosse programs, as well as the Mansion Knights varsity programs, which Smith has coached.

But next year, the high-school programs will no longer have Smith’s imprint. According to this ESPNW story, she was dismissed from varsity coaching just this past May, as the Knights’ lacrosse season ended.

The ESPNW story, plus this one from The Huffington Post, neatly show an interesting dance between the behemoth School District of the City of Philadelphia against a one-woman titanic Title IX tornado, having to fight to get everything from equipment to uniforms to transportation for the teams.

And it is that last element which was a particular sore spot for the Strawberry Mansion kids. On many gamedays this year, nobody within the School District of the City of Philadelphia bothered to schedule a bus for the Strawberry Mansion field hockey and lacrosse teams.

That, in an of itself, is a blatant and naked violation of federal law under Title IX of the 1972 Civil Rights Act.

Smith called the city out on it.

And was let go.

That does not sit right with me at all.  You’d think that, after the money damages that Tracey Greisbaum and her life partner won after filing suit against the University of Iowa, that other institutions of higher learning would have learned their lesson.

They haven’t.

Yet.

June 21, 2017 — Tony DiCicco, 1948-2017

As long as there has been a U.S. women’s national soccer team, there have been great players and teams which have won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. The women have blazed a trail for personal and team success that has impacted American and world culture far beyond what had ever been dreamed about when the States first created a select team for a game in Blaine, Minn. some 30 years ago.

While there have been gritty defenders, stellar goalkeepers, steady midfielders, and electric attackers, there has also been talent on the bench. Anson Dorrance won the inaugural Women’s World Championship with its ersatz 80-minute halves (it would only be recognized as the first World Cup years later. Greg Ryan had a remarkable run of success in the 2000s, losing only a single game in regulation over his 55-game tenure, but it was that one game — a 4-0 defeat by Brazil at China 2007 — that has defined his legacy.

Pia Sundhage, the first foreign-born coach and first woman to coach the team full-time, coached the side not only to two gold medals in the Olympics, but was the coach on the sidelines for two of the most dramatic goals in the history of football, regardless of gender.

But what started the hype machine for the U.S. women’s national team effort were the players who matured and then excelled under Tony DiCicco.

DiCicco had the unenviable task of replacing Dorrance as the U.S. manager for FIFA’s second world-level championship tournament in Norway in 1995. It was an opportunity for the U.S. women to defend their M&M’s Cup from China in 1991, but it was also an opportunity for the women to get televised exposure in the States.

In that second Women’s World Cup, the games were on ESPN2 live from Norway, usually in the morning. And they made for great theater, especially when DiCicco had to roll the dice in a group-stage match against Denmark and put scoring star Mia Hamm in goal for the last couple of minutes when Briana Scurry was sent off for leaving the 18-yard box in the act of punting the ball downfield.

DiCicco was therefore used to playing a hunch and gambling a bit when the 1999 Women’s World Cup came down to a penalty shootout against China.

What most people don’t know is that the fifth shooter for the States in that game was supposed to have been Julie Foudy. However, DiCicco had noticed that defender Brandi Chastain was almost machine-like in practice taking them with her non-dominant foot.

Plus, given Chastain’s history with the team, having had to earn her way back into the lineup after some time out of the elite pool. DiCicco knew she had the determination in that moment to beat Gao Hong with a shot into the side netting.

Without Tony DiCicco, there wouldn’t have been the bra-bearing celebration, or 90,123 people in the Rose Bowl clapping and cheering, or even a sustainable professional league like there is today. While he could have used his considerable pull within the industry to become a motivational speaker or a guest coach anywhere in the world, he instead stuck with the WUSA’s front office, and coached the WPS version of the Boston Breakers.

Tony DiCicco died on Monday evening. And the world of women’s sports is diminished without him.