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Archive for July, 2019

July 31, 2019 — Pan American Games men: USA 16, Peru 0

With apologies to an entire Southeast Asian nation and the women who play soccer therein, the following can be said about the opening pool match against Peru for the U.S. men’s field hockey team at the Pan American Games.

The United States found its Thailand.

Thanks to five goals from Deegan Huisman, the States plastered an overmatched host side by a score of 16-0. It was the most lopsided win by a U.S. team in an international competition since beating the Dominincan Republic 23-0 at the Pan American Games 16 years ago.

Then, as now, the U.S. men are a rag-tag collection of amateurs, first-generation Americans whose families come from hockey nations, and the occasional import like Huisman, who is from Holland.

That being said, the confidence coming from this match is likely to come crashing down to earth in the second round of pool play against Canada, a medal favorite. The job Thursday is to keep the goal differential to a place where a tie in the final pool match against Mexico can see the States through to the knockouts.

July 30, 2019 — Pan American Games women: USA 5, Mexico 0

If nothing else, the U.S. women’s field hockey team’s 5-0 thumping of Mexico in the first matchday of the 2019 Pan American Games showed that any one of several players have the capability of putting the ball into the goal cage.

Danielle Grega, Lauren Moyer, Ashley Hoffman, Amanda Magadan, and Erin Matson scored for the Americans in a span of just 14 minutes. For that segment of the game, it was very much U.S. women’s soccer vs. Thailand revisited.

Mexico, it must be said, had its chances including a series of five penalty corners to end the third quarter, but the U.S. defense survived the onslaught.

The women take on Chile tomorrow, a team which pounded host Peru 13-0 in the other Pool B match from yesterday.

July 29, 2019 — Bravely waging the good Fight

The WPLL Fight, a team which had posted an undefeated regular season thanks to all-star players such as Tewaaraton Trophy winners Taylor Cummings and Megan Taylor, had just taken a 12-9 lead in the championship final yesterday in the heat of the day at U.S. Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Md.

But the WPLL Brave, the team that lost last year’s WPLL title match, had it all come together. Thanks to the Brave winning 14 of 17 draws in the second half, the team scored four consecutive goals to close out a 13-12 win.

Amanda Johansen, late of USC, had three of the four goals, the last of which came with about two minutes to go. Dempsey Arsenault of Boston College was named game MVP with a four-goal effort.

But as you might expect, it was the third member of the Brave’s midfield unit, Marie McCool, who was the key cog in the team’s comeback effort. McCool took almost all of the draws in the second term and gave the team more attack zone possessions.

July 28, 2019 — Five things that have to go right

There have been the usual previews written about the Pan American Games women’s tournament. But this one is going to be different.

The Applebees, two-time defending Pan Am champions, are facing a Hobson’s choice when it comes to trying to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The U.S. could make it to Tokyo by beating the No. 3 team in the world once, if the team meets Argentina in the knockout stage of the tournament. Failing that, the U.S. would have to beat another Top 10 team twice in the winner-take-all Olympic qualification series.

Now, the last two Olympic cycles, the States came in as heavy underdogs while Argentina was piling up videogame-type numbers of goals in the prelims. The U.S. was able to beat Argentina through the goalkeeping of Jackie Briggs, the defense of Lauren Crandall and Rachel Dawson, and the key goals of Michelle Vittese.

But none of these four players are in the side, and a very young team is going to have to jell together quickly in order to present Argentina with any kind of meaningful resistance.

Here are five things that are going to have to happen for the U.S. to maximize its potential at Lima:

1. Youth should be served. This team has some of the best young talent under the age of 23 that America has ever thrust into the fire of international competition. Erin Matson, Margaux Paolino, and Mackenzie Allessie have been awesome at times during their international careers and need to step it up a level.

2. The core defense as leaders. Alyssa Manley and Caitlin Van Sickle are the only two backliners with more than 100 caps, and will have to get the rest of their defensive partners to play up to the level of their opponents.

3. The battery must produce. Kat Sharkey and Ashley Hoffman have been the top options on penalty corners, and they definitely need to up the percentage from what it was during the FIH Pro League.

4. Who’s the next Carli Lloyd? There needs to be that one player who comes through with big goals in big games. Who is going to be this generation’s Michelle Vittese?

5. Kelsey Bing needs the tournament of a lifetime. More than once, the Stanford product has been named Woman of the Match during the Pro League. In a short tournament, a goalkeeper can make all the difference.

July 27, 2019 — A road to equality?

The last couple of days, stages in the nearly 3,200 km test which is the 2019 Tour de France have had to be significantly shortened — once because of a hailstorm and the blockage of the route by a mudslide, and today because of a threatened heavy rainstorm which could have done more road damage.

While the Tour has been going on, a group of women have been riding the stages of the Tour de France a day before the men come through, in a demonstration and protest about the lack of an official women’s Tour de France.

The Amaury Sports Organization has not organized a Tour Feminin since 1989. It runs a one-day stage race in the midst of the men’s Tour, but that’s it.

I wrote about this disparity in the sport, in comparison to many other distance events such as swimming, running, and triathlon, a few years ago. Amazingly, the problem still exists.

Now, I look back to a quote I got from the former Saturn race director Giana Roberge the day I did the story:

By keeping the races shorter, it becomes more of a race of tactics and less of a race of attrition.

Think about it: the last two days of the Tour de France had to be shortened, which changed the nature of the competition for this year’s yellow jersey altogether. But the people of France still came out to see the race.

I can understand the conundrum that Tour organizers may have when it comes to having women in the race. But I think it’s high time that there be true equality — eventually — when it comes to cycling.

Now, I’m not saying that the tour should race over the exact same length and difficulty as the men. But the women can put on a good account in races that last four to six hours in a day, and with a reasonable climbing difficulty in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Yep, I’m advocating that the women get the chance to climb Pau and Mont Ventoux and Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez. It’s just that I think the races that lead to these mountains need to be shorter so that the race is tactical and not just one of survival.

I envision what is happening right now; the women ride the course one day, and the men ride the next day. Only the Tour’s traveling circus would have to close public roads for two days, rather than one, and crews would have to leapfrog each other as the two Tours go around France.

In order for this to come to pass, women are going to have be at the table within ASO. They need to have the agency to make the decisions on length and difficulty.

It’s about time.

July 26, 2019 — United States Coach of the Year: Chris Robinson, Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.)

On January 17, 2018, Chris Robinson made an announcement that stunned the world of girls’ high school lacrosse in America.

He left an Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) program that he built into a national powerhouse, winning 177 consecutive games and eight straight championships in the IAAM “A” Division, the nation’s toughest conference, and moved to Florida to coach Orlando Lake Highland Prep.

On May 11, 2019, Robinson’s decision bore fruit. He had guided an Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) side to a state championship win.

But just the fact of winning a state title is not enough to justify Robinson’s choice as the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2019.

After all, Florida is now the area of the United States with the most growth potential in girls’ scholastic lacrosse. Yes, there are about 350 scholastic programs in New York and another 100 or so in Maryland, but Florida is now a place where teams from all over the country come and play scrimmages or early-season league matches.

In addition, Florida is now the home of rising senior and U-19 national teamer Caitlyn Wurzburger, who has scored 100 goals and assisted on 100 others each of the last four years, a feat that may never be repeated.

It was Wurzburger who provided an acid test for Lake Highland the second game of Robinson’s tenure at the school, and it was her Delray American Heritage (Fla.) side which won the game by a 17-8 score.

Lake Highland wouldn’t be that outclassed again the entire season. The Highlanders took on all comers, including a good Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) team which fell in overtime in this year’s IAAM “A” final, as well as Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.), Ellicott City Glenelg Country School (Md.), and assorted teams from North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

But the time the regular-season ended, the Lake Highland team had very much bought into Robinson’s system: win the draws, take good shots, value the ball, and play good defense.

The state championship win means that Robinson, in his coaching career, has a mark of 386 wins, 20 defeats, and one draw. That is a 95 percent winning percentage, which puts him alongside the likes of Danyle Heilig in field hockey, Anson Dorrance in collegiate women’s soccer, Sharon Pfluger in women’s college lacrosse, and Clair Bee in men’s college basketball, all of which are 90 percent or greater.

Also considered:

Lauren Benner, Highlands Ranch Valor Christian (Colo.): Team made its first state final, only to fall to Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.)

Peter Collins, Winnetka New Trier (Ill.): Led the Trevians to their first Illinois High School Association state title, and the program’s first state title of any kind since 2008

Taylor Cummings, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.): Didn’t fiddle too much with the formula that has made this program so dominant this decade. The Eagles ran the table in the nation’s best lacrosse conference, showing a lot of intangibles in coming back from a two-goal deficit in the IAAM final

David Gibson, Fenton Rockwood Summit (Mo.): Embraced its underdog status all season in winning the first state championship for a public-school team since 2000

Leslie Klenk, Auburn Saint Dominic Academy (Maine): While avenging last year’s 10-goal loss to Naples Lake Country (Maine), the Saints were able to do it with no substitutes because of injury and players unavailable due to trips

Rachel Lasda, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.): While the story of the 2019 season may have surrounded the coaches who left rivals Moorestown and Ridgewood, she led the Royals to the Group I and the Tournament of Champions titles

Brigid Scanlon, Sykesville South Carroll (Md.): Team took a 10-goal loss to crosstown rival Century and turned that motivation into the school’s first state championship in girls’ lacrosse

Michele Uhlfelder, San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.): National Lacrosse Hall-of-Famer had a splendid season as coach, and the team had a dominant run through the CIF San Diego Section Open Tournament

Xan Zimatore, Villanova Academy of Notre Dame de Namur (Pa.): Though a number of other teams in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association may have had gaudier out-of-conference schedules, Zimatore kept focus on the job ahead and guided the team to a win in the state final for private schools

July 25, 2019 — A detente, perhaps?

A month from now, there is going to be a two-hour event held in Sparks, Md. at the home of U.S. Lacrosse.

It’s a small youth clinic, limited to about 100 people from the ages of 5 to 14, and it is meant to show the interrelation between lacrosse and field hockey.

The relationships between the two sports have been as deep as they are obvious. The sports came over from the United Kingdom, where their founders (Constance Applebee and Rosabelle Sinclair) were born. They were nurtured in part at single-sex schools; Applebee at Radcliffe College, Sinclair at Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.).

Over the years, the two sports have often been run as one. The same group of young women who play field hockey in fall are almost the exact same group that play spring lacrosse. You can still find uniforms with a team logo with two sticks crossed underneath it: one field hockey, and one lacrosse.

And, oddly enough, recent histories have paralleled each other. The end of Watertown (Mass.) 188-game unbeaten streak occurred in the same academic year that Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) saw its 198-game win streak snapped. The greatest dynasties of all time — McDonogh in lacrosse and Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) in field hockey — have been occurring in the last 20 years or so.

Individually, the two winningest coaches of all time — Kathy Jenkins of Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) and Susan Butz-Stavin of Emmaus (Pa.) earned their statuses in the same year, and are still currently atop their respective professions in terms of the number of victories.

Also, the most voluminous scorers of all time — Mackenzie Allessie, Austyn Cuneo, Meredith Sholder and Haley Schleicher in field hockey and Caitlyn Wurzburger, Sophia Turchetta, Corinne Wessels, and Taylor Pinzone — have had their scholastic playing careers this decade.

Yet, in this day of forced specialization and year-round play in just one sport, there’s a realization within national sports governing bodies that a player needs to participate in more than one athletic pursuit in order to battle burnout and to exercise different muscle and nerve groups.

An event like this is a great start.