TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for January, 2020

Jan. 31, 2020 — Business as usual with the “World-Wide Leader”

This week, ESPN released its schedule for broadcasting women’s lacrosse games on its over-the-air networks.

And, as per usual, there’s a yawning chasm between the number of men’s lacrosse games on TV, and the women’s.

Taylor Cummings, the three-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner and this site’s Player of the Decade for lacrosse, took to Twitter yesterday.

41 men’s games to 12 women’s games aired. SERIOUSLY?!? Almost a 4:1 ratio AGAIN. Each year, the women’s game continues to innovate & grow alongside the men’s. This inequality blatantly shows ESPN’s take on female athletics, that we simply do not matter. WE PLAY TOO.

She’s absolutely right. Want more proof? While ESPN’s over-the-air coverage starts this weekend, the first women’s lacrosse game isn’t scheduled for more than a month from today.

A month.

Fortunately, if you have the ESPN Plus service (a bargain at $5.99 a month), you can get your first streaming games as early as Feb. 7th as Duke takes on Gardner-Webb.

Jan. 30, 2020 — A hosting interruption

Hi, all.

Some of you may have noticed an interruption in our hosting today.

We’re on it, but we’re mystified about it. We didn’t terminate the site, nor did our hosting company ever notify me about any pending erasure of the site.

We’ll continue working on this, but just know that you can get to the vast majority of the site, hosted on WordPress and Google Drive, through various alternative workaround.

We’re going to attempt to accentuate those workaround in the coming days once we figure out the problem.

Jan. 29, 2020 — The (completely unnecessary) Kobe pushback

Felicia Sonmez is a journalist for The Washington Post.

Like me, she chose to add context and perspective on the life of Kobe Bryant, the NBA star who lost his life along with eight others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

That context included Bryant’s 2003 rape case in Colorado, one which ended with the victim refusing to testify hours before the start of opening arguments.

Sonmez received a suspension for even the mere mention of anything Bryant did which was untoward. In other words, Sonmez was punished for doing her job.

And that’s wrong.

Yesterday, that suspension was lifted, but not before Sonmez aimed a brilliant broadside against the people who called her reporting insensitive.

“Washington Post journalists endeavor to live up to the paper’s mission statement, which states, ‘The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world,” she said. “I hope Washington Post newsroom leaders will not only prioritize their employees’ safety in the face of threats of physical harm but also ensure that no journalist will be punished for speaking the truth.”

This writer has also received pushback for mentioning Bryant’s legal troubles.

But will I back down?

Hell, no.

Jan. 28, 2020 — The All-Decade Team

Presentation1

OK, gang. Let’s just leave this up front: there’s going to be a 400-goal scorer or a 600-point scorer that’s going to be left off this team.

That’s because there have been so many great players who have dominated this decade, it’s impossible to find room for them all, and this included players whose teams didn’t load up on one key attack, but were difficult to stop because they were in great team settings.

Here’s our attempt at a Team of the Decade for this, the Score-O Decade:

FIRST TEAM
Sam Apuzzo, West Babylon (N.Y.)
Bridget Bianco, Moorestown (N.J.)
Taylor Cummings, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Megan Douty, Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.)
Besser Dyson, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
Abbey Friend, Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy
Anya Gersoff, Greenwood Village Cherry Creek (Colo.)
Maddie Jenner, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Marie McCool, Moorestown (N.J.)
Daniela McMahon, Saddle River (N.J.) Country Day School
Jamie Ortega, Newfield Middle Country (N.Y.)
Carly Reed, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
Zoe Stukenberg, Marriottsville Marriotts Ridge (Md.)
Kayla Treanor, Niskayuna (N.Y.)
Sophia Turchetta, Harvard Bromfield (Mass.)
Corinne Wessels, Manassas Osbourn Park (Va.)
Megan Whittle, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Molly Wolf, Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.)
Caitlyn Wurzburger, Delray American Heritage (Fla.)

SECOND TEAM
Madison Ahern, Cohasset (Mass.)
Andie Aldave, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Zoe Belodeau, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
Tatum Coffey, Toms River (N.J.) North
Jen Cook, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Erin Coykendall, Spencerport (N.Y.)
Jane Earley, Falmouth (Mass.) Academy
Asa Goldstock, New Hampton (N.H.) School
Brindi Griffin, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Allison Hunter, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
Gussie Johns, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
Hannah Mardiney, Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.)
Kara Mupo, Rocky Point (N.Y.)
Katie O’Donnell, West Chester (Pa.) Henderson
Blair Pearre, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Taylor Pinzone, Waltham (Mass.)
Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.)
Caileigh Sindall, Olney Good Counsel (Md.)
Sammy Jo Tracy, Bedford Fox Lane (N.Y.)

THIRD TEAM
Madison Ahern, Hingham Notre Dame Academy (Mass.)
Maggie Bill, South Huntington St. Anthony (N.Y.)
Gabbe Cadoux, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Cortney Fortunato, Northport (N.Y.)
Ela Hazar, Westwood (Mass.)
Olivia Hompe, New Canaan (Conn.)
Rachel Igoe, Framingham (Mass.)
Mackenzie Kent, Braintree Thayer Academy (Mass.) and Dedham Noble & Greenough (Mass.)
Michaela Michael, Atherton Menlo (Calif.)
Alex Moore, Allentown (N.J.)
Katie Rich, Westwood (Mass.)
Bridget Ruskey, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
Miri Shane, Princeton (N.J.)
Charlotte Sofield, Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.)
Covie Stanwick, Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.)
Courtney Swan, Vero Beach (Fla.)
Taylor Trimble, Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.)
Sloan Warren, Bryn Mawr Baldwin School (Pa.)
Francesca Whitehurst, Baltimore Roland Park (Md.)

PLAYER OF THE DECADE
Taylor Cummings, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)

COACH OF THE DECADE
Chris Robinson, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.)

Jan. 27, 2020 — BULLETIN: Heilig stepping down at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) after an unparalleled career

This evening, after the customary end-of-season field hockey banquet in the cafeteria at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), Danyle Heilig made the announcement that she would no longer be the head field hockey coach.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the announcement was made the same day that Morgan Wootten, the legendary high-school basketball coach, was laid to rest after a ceremony at Hyattsville DeMatha (Md.). Also fitting that it was just about a year after fellow Moorestown (N.J.) graduate Deanna Knobloch left the Moorestown girls’ lacrosse program after a 500-win career.

Danyle Heilig was not just a coach. She was a titan, if not sometimes tightly-wound in terms of intensity, will to win, and the expectation and commitment she wrung out of her players over 21 years at Eastern and one season at Haddon Heights (N.J.).

The greatness she brought out of several generations of field hockey players was made manifest in some of the greatest field hockey ever seen on a scholastic pitch in North America.

Her Viking teams took full advantage of a move from grass to artificial grass in the mid-2000s, making McAleer Stadium into a fortress as well as one of the best atmospheres to watch a game.

And perhaps most of all, the Eastern Vikings were perhaps the single most dangerous field hockey team to play against coming out of a timeout or coming out of the halftime break, so powerful were Heilig’s halftime speeches.

The speeches were not invective, but they were convincing. Heilig’s training as a child thespian allowed her to reach every one of her players, getting them all to buy into the collective effort of playing a simple stick-and-ball game at a level to which some colleges aspire.

As a motivator and teacher of the game, Heilig did so much for her team without scoring a single goal. I once saw Eastern draw level with an excellent North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.) team less than 20 seconds after a late timeout.

I once saw Eastern fall two goals down twice to conference rival Sewell Washington Township (N.J.), and were still a goal down when an injury following a second shot off an Eastern penalty corner resulted in not only a penalty stroke, but a long officials timeout as the injured Minutemaid has to be helped off the field. Eastern would score two goals in a minute and 40 seconds to win the playoff game. It remains the one game which could have broken Eastern’s championship streak, and is still a topic of conversation in some restaurants and diners up and down I-295.

I also saw Eastern come back from two goals down in the 43rd minute to down an excellent Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.) team, with the game-winner scored in the dying seconds.

A roster of Eastern greats could fill megabytes — Rachel Dawson and her five sisters (and an upcoming niece), the Walls triplets, Kelsey Mitchell, Austyn Cuneo, Ryleigh Heck, Lori Hillman, Nikki Santore, Alana Barry, Karlee Spirit, Kara Heck, Caitlin Gregory, Shaun Banta, and on and on and on.

But it’s not just the individuals that were awesome. Her best teams, especially the 2002, 2012, and 2017 versions, were as close to automatic as a high-school team could come, sometimes scoring more than 200 goals per season as a team. And this is in a game in which goals are rare, and in which clean and obvious possession is not a given, like in football or even lacrosse.

Heilig never apologized for the way she drove her team. She was not obligated to hold the scoring down against opponents who were not at the same level as her teams were, even as the rise of social media and what others thought of Eastern made it harder to focus on the job at hand.

She also was unapologetic about taking advantage of policies which allow non-resident tuition-playing students to enroll at Eastern High School, similar to what happens all the time in lacrosse, swimming, and other endeavors in New Jersey.

Heilig now turns her attention to running her club side, Uprise. The thing is, I have a feeling that she is a leading indicator of the coaching talent likely to defect to the club side, with an eye on whether USA Field Hockey will do what U.S. Soccer has done and sanction a national developmental league for clubs.

Within the scholastic realm, her impact in less than a quarter century is undeniable. She had 527 wins, 10 draws, and 16 defeats at Eastern and at Haddon Heights. Do the math, and compare it to the Belichicks, Summitts, and Krzyzwskis of sport. It’s astounding.

Most importantly, she was undefeated in NJSIAA state tournament play through the group final for 21 years. It seemed as the only things that could stop the Vikings were Hurricane Sandy (which truncated the entire field hockey calendar in 2012) and the occasional competitor within the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

It is within the T of C where Eastern finally found a rival: Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), a team which beat the Vikings twice in 2019.

Moving forward, it is not going to be easy seeing the Garden State Firm this fall and in the future without seeing both Heilig and Oak Knoll coach Ali Good on the sidelines. They have each raised the bar so high over the last two decades not only in New Jersey, but nationally.

Jan. 26, 2020 — A meeting with Kobe

Back in the late fall lf 1996, our newspaper office received a phone call.

Our NBA writer called in sick. I was in the office that afternoon when my boss received the news.

I saw an opportunity.

“l’ll do it.”

It was a short drive from our office to The Core States Center, the basketball arena for the Philadelphia 76ers. But it was a different world from most other sports events I have ever attended.

I had covered scattered Philadelphia Wings lacrosse games in the past, as well as to provide an “atmosphere” story for the Trenton Thunder as the team played one of its early games in a cavernously empty Veterans’ Stadium.

But this was an NBA game between the host Sixers and the Los Angeles Lakers. This was a game involving a number of future Hall-of-Famers including Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and the teenage son of former Sixer Joe Bryant.

After a performance during which the young Kobe Bryant showed flashes of his future brilliance, Bryant held court in one of the brand-new locker rooms. He smiled broadly, and you knew he had learned how to work a room.

In another locker across the way, O’Neal attempted to coin a nickname for him. His first attempt that evening: “Showboat.” The name did not stick.

Eventually, he came to be known as “The Black Mamba,” so named for the venomous African snake.

Bryant eventually would win five NBA titles, two Olympics, and 18 All-Star Game appearances. He also expanded basketball around the globe with frequent visits overseas as well as his adoption of the number 10 for international games, the number always given to star soccer players.

Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven others died this morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. Outpourings of grief from around the basketball community came from around the world.

As much of a tragedy this helicopter crash is, it must be remembered that Bryant, for all his brilliance on the court, his record is mixed off it. He was a product of the Southern California celebrity society that yielded countless tales and stories of sexual assault and abuse of authority that eventually culminated in the birth of the Me Too Movement in 2017.

Back in 2003, Bryant was a part of the consequences, years before the Me Too wave enveloped Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey and John Hockenberry. Bryant was alleged to have lured a woman to a hotel room in Colorado. He was tried on rape and sexual assault charges, but the accuser dropped all charges in a sudden last-minute reversal.

Somehow, I don’t think Bryant would have gotten off all that easy if the same thing happened in the last two years.

Jan. 26, 2020 — Netherlands 9, USA 0

The U.S. women’s field hockey team, to its credit, did not commit the cardinal sin of giving up a goal in the first five minutes of the game.

Instead, the States’ defense was solved at the 5:25 mark, as Holland forward Felice Alberts received a cross-field pass in an enormous wedge of space on the right wing, and, while on her knees, guided the ball into the cage with the stick parallel to the ground.

As you might expect, a developmental U.S. team, without several of its best players and less than a week removed from the death of assistant Larry Amar and the retirement of captain Kat Sharkey, lost 9-0 to the world No. 1-ranked Netherlands.

It was the most lopsided defeat for the U.S. since a 9-0 loss to England at the 1956 International Federation of Women’s Hockey Association tournament, the precursor to the current FIH World Cup.

This FIH game, held this afternoon at Karen Shelton Stadium, counts double because Friday’s opener was cancelled out of respect for Amar’s sudden passing. Everyone on the pitch today wore a black band on their forearm.

While the U.S. now falls behind in the FIH Pro League table, there are still plenty of games to be played in order to improve as a group. The first relegation for Pro League last-place teams won’t occur until the end of the 2022 cycle, which is why, I think, USA Field Hockey is willing to give a lot of slack to this group to make mistakes and learn from them.