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Archive for October, 2019

Oct. 31, 2019 — PREVIEW: USA vs. India

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, an opening whistle will sound at Kalinga Stadium. A plastic hockey ball will be struck on a blue pitch, and 22 women will be scrambling for not only possession of the ball, but for a place in history.

It’s the United States against India in a last-chance two-game total-goal series in order to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

These are two nations which are rich in hockey tradition — to a point. The year 2020 marks the completion of 100 years of international competition for the U.S. women’s national team. Yet it was a highly unsuccessful team, being unable to get a point against the England national side for 42 years, and being unable to win a major trophy for 94 years. The States have been much more competitive in the last decade in a half. The Americans, after winning the 2014 FIH Champions Challenge, finished in the last four at the 2014 World Cup and may have been an uncalled red card away from doing the same at Rio 2016.

For its part, the Indian women’s team has toiled in the considerable shadow of a highly successful men’s team. The Bharat Army ruled world hockey for most of the 20th Century, winning eight Olympics and five Sultan Azlan Shah Cups. The Indian women, nicknamed The Eves, had its best run of form early in the 21st Century, when they won the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup.

Here’s a look at the two sides:

INDIA
How it got here: Won FIH Series finale over Japan
Current world ranking: 9
Key players: Deep Grace Ekka (d), Rani Rampal (f), Navjot Kaur (f/m), Lalremsiami (f)
Outlook: This is a real-live, walking and talking version of the India team from the movie Chak De! India. The movie team relied on a veteran withdrawn forward and a young striker having to work together for the good of the team. Much the same goes for the current India side, which has a strong attack. The key to success for the team will be how well the players work together against a young American defense.
The skinny: One curious omission for the India side is the team’s young phenom, Preety Dubey. She was one of the team’s best players before and during Rio 2016, but has not been able to get into the side the last couple of years. Will India miss her daring runs and scoring prowess?

USA
How it got here: Finished ninth in FIH Pro League
Current world ranking: 13
Key players: Kat Sharkey (f), Kelsey Bing (g), Ashley Hoffman (d/m), Erin Matson (f/m), Margaux Paolino (f/m)
Outlook: The States are coming off a Pro League performance that would have gotten them relegated if this was a domestic league. But they qualified for the Olympic draw and got an opponent who may be coming into the competition a little overconfident, if you read the quotes in South Asian media. In the last 30 years, whenever these two teams met in a tournament of importance, the U.S. has never lost. This goes back to 1994, when the U.S. won its way into fifth place in the last-chance World Cup qualification turnament in Philadelphia in a penalty-stroke shootout. Also, in 2002, the Americans won a three-game series against India in a series played in Manchester, England. Recently, the States won 3-0 over India at Rio 2016, won 4-1 in the 2017 FIH World League semifinal round, and drew 1-1 at the 2018 FIH World Cup. In point of fact, the only India win over the USA in an international Test over the last 20 years was a July 2016 friendly at Spooky Nook in preparation for Rio.
The skinny: Even with the absence of American wunderkind Mackenzie Allessie, the States should have enough talent to win this tournament. However, a huge effort from the American defense, especially goalie Kelsey Bing, is essential. Look for Matson and Paolino to have big games here.

Oct. 30, 2019 — New rule, same problems?

Yesterday, the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to allow students to benefit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses for money.

It is a very small step in the movement towards paying collegiate athletes for their time and labor, a step which only covers the O’Bannon v. NCAA court case, which was settled five years ago.

For those of you just joining us in the discussion, O’Bannon v. NCAA dealt with the fact that Ed O’Bannon, a student-athlete in the NCAA who had a middling pro career despite being the ninth pick in the NBA Draft, noticed that he was receiving no compensation for appearing in college basketball video games, or from sales of his UCLA jersey in the campus bookstore.

Only now, with California and a number of states proposing and passing laws allowing student-athletes to receive compensation, has the NCAA made this very sudden — and very reactive — move.

The problem is that the NCAA has been this lumbering and arrogant bureaucracy, proclaiming an outdated version of amateurism while raking in billions of dollars through television rights.

Thing is, amateurism went out the window the day that Dwight Stones sought to appear on The Superstars, the made-for-TV athletic competition, back in the mid-70s. A lawsuit coming out of this situation led to the passage of the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which broke up the Amateur Athletic Union, brought in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and allowing track and field and many other heretofore amateur athletes to make a living through prize money.

It’s taken people of vision, such as Stones, O’Bannon, and California governor Gavin Newsom to challenge the old way of doing business. And yes, I posit that college sports is most definitely a business. There is value on muscle and sinew, and the way that the college athlete — whether a water-polo player, a quarterback, or a dragflicker — uses those gifts.

Now, a lot of people have asked me over the last 21 years about the recruiting process in the context of “return on investment.” Sports which used to have little to no cost to play have developed monetized systems to make money off overly eager parents.

What had been a 12-week Little League experience has now become all-season travel baseball with four or five games on a weekend. What was “shirts and skins” at the local blacktop is now the cesspool that is AAU basketball. What was pond shinny every morning in locales from Maine to Minnesota is now 6 a.m. travel hockey with long bus rides and very expensive equipment, most of all paying for the rink.

I wonder if the NCAA’s decision to allow athletes to make money may actually make the teen sports experience worse.

Oct. 29, 2019 — A milestone

Today’s National Top 10 has a special significance, as it was the 5,000th blog entry for this site.

Ever since we transitioned our entries over from a very clunky Yahoo site (something which, seemingly, foreshadowed its exit from the blogging business) into WordPress back in July 2006, the blog catalogued 13 years’ worth of achievement, endeavor, and, we think, history.

We’ve seen how history has repeated itself between the field hockey and lacrosse communities, in that:

  • the two winningest coaches in either sport (Susan Butz-Stavin and Kathy Jenkins) are currently active;
  • the highest scorers in the history of the game (Mackenzie Allessie and Caitlyn Wurzburger) are graduating within a year of each other;
  • the longest unbeaten streaks (McDonogh and Watertown) were snapped in the same academic year;
  • And, for a while, the top teams in the country in each sport (Eastern and Mount Hebron) were called the Vikings.

What was initially conceived as BlogOfTheCircle, an occasional place for insights, has become the major driver of eyeballs to TopOfTheCircle.com. It has given you lists, opinions, statistical analysis, and breaking news — especially a surfeit of field hockey news on Nov.  14 and 15, 2007.

We reported on some of the semifinal action in state tournaments in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. A few hours later, we added a bulletin about Oak Knoll beating Eastern in the second NJSIAA Tournament of Champions — the origin of The Garden State Firm. The next evening, we had the news that Sussex Tech was no longer going to be in the Delaware state tournament because of an ineligible player.

Throughout it all, we’ve had context and perspective. We’ve stuck with our journalistic principles in reporting facts (with the occasional opinion herein). As such, I think our proudest moment was Nov. 19th, 2015, when we recapped two frenetic days of field hockey action from several states on a timeline.

Another moment was in early 2010 when we broke the news of mandatory eyewear in scholastic field hockey, a development which changed the game since players got to be more fearless attacking the scoring circle, leading to the current Score-O Decade.

And there was the weekend where we got the most views: the Maryland-New York Challenge in April 2012. There were eight games over the weekend and it threatened to overload the limits that we had at the time on our bandwidth.

So, here’s to 5,000 more blog entries to come!

Oct. 29, 2019 — Top 10 for the week of Oct. 27

The lack of movement in our Top 10 represents the fact that these dominant programs have been able to find a way to get past their conference foes, interconference opponents, and the occasional “trap” situation such as a game held on a Monday. But all that could change starting this coming week, especially with the competition found in places like District 3 in Pennsylvania and the eight counties that constitute the region called “South Jersey.”

This week’s RightToRightIsRight.com No. 11 Team of the Week is Long Island University. In its first season with a merged campus among LIU-Brooklyn and the former C.W. Post University, the team has clinched a semifinal berth in the Northeast Conference Tournament.

1. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 18-0
Royals went out of state to prepare for the NJSIAA Non-Public Tournament, beating Pottstown Hill School (Pa.) and playing Greenwich (Conn.) Academy yesterday

2. Oley (Pa.) Valley 21-0
Beat a Newport (Pa.) team which made last year’s Class A state final by a 3-0 score; Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt (Pa.) is next in the District 3-A Tournament

3. Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) 18-1
The Vikings played Millville (N.J.) yesterday in their Group IV sectional tournament

4. Emmaus (Pa.) 22-0
The Hornets played Bethlehem Liberty (Pa.) last night in the District 11-Class AAA Tournament

5. Gloucester (Va.) 16-0
Dukes yielded their first goal of the season in an 8-1 win over Warwick (Va.)

6. Delmar (Del.) 15-0
The Wildcats have an interesting match to start off its postseason: the Henlopen “A” Conference title match against Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.)

7. Somerset-Berkley (Mass.) 18-0
Raiders have the No. 1 seed in the IAAM Division 1 South Tournament, but have three other good seeded programs in its bracket: Walpole (Mass.), New Bedford (Mass.), and Westwod (Mass.)

8. Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) 18-0-3
Falcons face Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) in the District 3-Class AAA Tournament semifinals tomorrow

9. Palmyra (Pa.) 17-3
Cougars draw Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.) in the semifinal of the District 3-AA Tournament

10. Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) 15-1
Falcons beat Richmond (Va.) Collegiate to close the regular season; District play is next

11. Long Island University 7-7
Junior goalkeeper Rachel Vellis has been sensational for the Sharks, posting a pair of clean sheets and saving more than 77 percent of shots

Who’s out? None.

And bear in mind:  San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.) 16-3-1, San Diego Torrey Pines (Calif.) 17-3, San Diego Serra (Calif.) 19-3, Darien (Conn.) 14-1, Westport Staples (Conn.) 14-1; Newtown (Conn.) 14-0, Greenwich (Conn.) Academy 14-1-1, Greenwich (Conn.) Sacred Heart 14-1, Louisville Assumption (Ky.) 15-10-1, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.) 17-4, New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) 20-0; Center Valley Southern Lehigh (Pa.) 20-0; Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) 18-2, Hershey (Pa.) 15-4, Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 14-1-1, Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.) 14-0

Oct. 28, 2019 — A comeback and a cautionary trend

Over the weekend, six automatic berths for the 2020 Olympic field hockey tournament were realized through two-game, total-goals series.

The highlight of the action was the men’s tournament between Ireland and Canada. Saturday, Ireland beat Canada 5-3 in their clash in West Vancouver, meaning that Ireland could lose by a goal and advance to the Olympics for the first time on the men’s side.

Canada fell a goal behind in the second match, but pulled back two through Gordon Johnston and Oliver Scholfield.

The Red Caribous pulled their goalie in the final three minutes in order to flood the attacking third to gain a tie and the strategy led to Canadian forward Jamie Wallace being tripped in the striking circle with a lane to goal. After a video referral, the decision was a penalty stroke for the Canadians.

Captain Scott Tepper scored for Canada, leveling the aggregate score 6-6, sending the game directly to a penalty shootout.

It took until the seventh round of the shootout for Ireland to miss and Canadian Adam Froese to bury the game-winning shootout goal in a 5-4 shootout win after the 6-all draw.

This two-legged tie, as well as the other five played this weekend, were won by the home team. I think that’s something to think about amongst the coaches for the other eight qualification series being contested this coming weekend.

Oct. 27, 2019 — Should the NWSL be worried?

This afternoon, the North Carolina Courage won their second consecutive National Women’s Soccer League championship.

And it wasn’t even close; the team beat the Chicago Red Stars 4-0 thanks to a number of players, such as Casey Short, Jessica McDonald, Heather O’Reilly, McCall Zerboni, and Lynn Williams, who did not figure into the U.S. women’s national team’s run in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Let’s focus you a little more. This Courage team was able to put four goals past the U.S. starting goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher.

This tells me that the United States possesses an absolute surfeit of talent in women’s soccer. It is a surfeit that, I think, can be tapped by a number of foreign football clubs looking to make names for themselves.

That could be a problem, especially with clubs like Olympique Lyonnais, FC Barcelona, and Arsenal, all of whom have deep pockets.

I think there is going to be a reaction by the NWSL though expansion. There has already been one announcement of a new team for 2021, in Louisville, Ky. But I think the league desperately needs to take up residence somewhere in California next year, and perhaps join up with the new St. Louis team in MLS when it begins.

Too, the league needs to try to mend fences with supporters in Boston and perhaps figure out a way to put Sky Blue FC closer to New York, reboot franchises in Philadelphia and Kansas City, and take advantage of soccer-specific stadia being built all over the country.

Ultimately, there needs to be more national sponsorship in order for the league to be sustainable. Yes, InBev has boosted the league’s profile and marketing through the Budweiser brand, but Bud was one of the original sponsors of Major League Soccer all the way back in 1996.

MLS, remember, had deep-pocketed sponsors such as MasterCard, Honda, Bandai, and the New York Life insurance company back in 1996. But the majority of the investment in Major League Soccer these days is through ownership groups ranging from Red Bull Gmbh to the group that owns Los Angeles FC, which includes the likes of Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, and Magic Johnson.

The NWSL needs more of these, rather than corporate names on the front of jerseys.

Oct. 26, 2019 — A changing of the guard?

High-school sports are by their very nature, a pursuit with different characters ever four years and whose efforts on their fields of play can be influenced by so many factors, such as the presence (or absence) of youth leagues in a particular town, changes in redistricting between one school district and another, or whether taxpayers accept or reject a particular bond issue.

When a high-school team reaches a particular level of play, it’s often as a result of very hard work, and lessons learned from that work can allow teams following on to succeed for a long time.

This week, however, the field hockey season ended for a pair of stalwart programs in two of the best states: Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.) and Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.).

Both of these teams have excellent coaching, tremendous community support, and excellent role modeling amongst alumni/ae. Each have had players on the national team.

But earlier this week, Millville (N.J.) knocked off Shawnee in the Group IV South Tournament, while today, Penn Manor lost to Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) in the PIAA District 3-AAA quarterfinals, which eliminated the Comets from the rest of the postseason.

For a lot of young women in Medford and Millersville, this is a down weekend for them since they had a lot of championship glory to live up to. Shawnee has won 11 state championships, and, lest we forget, won the second NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. Penn Manor’s last of three state championships was won just two years ago.

And yet, with all sorts of changes and shifts in coaching, demographics, and even within development apparatus, you’re not only seeing longtime programs exit state tournament early, but there have been a number of teams making their particular state tournaments for the first time in a decade or more.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the newbies take down an established power before the domestic season is finished.