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Archive for February, 2021

Feb. 28, 2021 — The Final Third, Remix Edition

Please join us shortly before 2 p.m. Eastern time for whiparound coverage on what we call The Final Third. We may be found here; make sure you give us a like and share when you find us.

Today, in a year like no other, we’ll be doing something we’ve never done before: provide coverage of two different sports at the same time.

This could be real interesting or an absolute trainwreck. Join us, would you?

Feb. 27, 2021 — Using a worldwide pandemic as a pretense

The ballooning of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year has been tragic and deadly. There have been more than 114 million confirmed cases worldwide, and the death toll in the United States has reached the half-million mark. As much as the virus outbreak has affected people, it has affected the world economy and affected the direction of nation-states.

But I think what the pandemic is going to be remembered for is the damage to the economy. Many stores, restaurants, and other businesses have closed. There have been more than $7.4 billion of losses for arts organizations in New York City alone. Those businesses which haven’t already been pushed over the edge are still precariously perched on the edge of having to close.

Regrettably, a number of Coronavirus-related shutdowns were shown to be not entirely based on economic necessity, but the pandemic was used as a pretense for the closure.

Some of the more egregious cases were the rash of sports cut by American colleges and universities. More than 200 sports teams have been cut in from four-year colleges in the NCAA and NAIA, everything from Akron’s golf teams to Stanford’s field hockey team.

And yet, there have been a number of backtracking from some of these cuts in recent months. William & Mary reinstated its cut teams last November, and Brown reinstated five sports after a threatened Title IX lawsuit.

Which brings us to a strange situation in the world of soccer. Yesterday, it was announced that Ron Burkle, the majority investor of a potential MLS franchise in Sacramento (with a possible NWSL team in the same stadium), was pulling out of the investment group for the team. One reason cited in yesterday’s statement from Major League Soccer: the Coronavirus pandemic:

Earlier today, Ron Burkle informed the League that based on issues with the project related to COVID-19, he has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team in Sacramento.

The original start date for the team was supposed to have been 2022, but the proposed stadium in the Sacramento Railyards district was behind because of issues with construction, presumably because of the hundreds of workers needed to build the project, which has not yet started.

But the pullout by Burkle is befuddling and saddening. Usually, deep-pocketed owners come into soccer franchises with a long-term vision. Regrettably, Burkle seems to be in the camp of the short-term strategy, used by the people who run hedge funds and other equity companies which have turned them into instant billionaires.

Which makes you wonder if Burkle’s financial empire is built on pillars of sand.

Feb. 26, 2021 — One more time, together

The end of the domestic indoor field hockey season comes this weekend with USA Field Hockey national tournament being held in Richmond and at Spooky Nook. While the Nook will be holding tournaments for U-10 and U-12 divisions, the Richmond Convention Center will be holding the U-19 championship, which will see many of the best scholastic field hockey players in the U.S.

Chief among them is the constellation of players on the U-19 WC Eagles Diamonds team, which is the favorite in Pool A. The team includes the two leading goal-scorers from the fall scholastic season, Hope Rose (90) and Ryleigh Heck (76) as well as the the player with the third-most goals amongst active scorers, Annika Herbine (141).

Also of note are Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) players Kelly Smith, Ashley Sessa, and Macy Szukics, as well as Mount St. Joseph Academy (Pa.), U.S.junior indoor national team member Megan Maransky, and future Duke player Alaina McVeigh, late of Gwynedd-Mercy Academy.

Look out also for a couple of great stories on the roster, neither of whom played a single varsity match last fall. The skilled Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.) standout Elizabeth Yeager did not play because of the shutdown of New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Council play. Instead, SHA played a series of friendlies and playdays last fall. Also, watch out for goalkeeper Kylie Walbert, whose high school, Ashburn Virginia Academy (Va.) does not have a varsity field hockey program.

Collectively, this team may be the single best indoor field hockey side at a National Indoor Tournament since the Thoroughbreds team from the 1998 tournament, which had the likes of Abbey Woolley and Abby Martin as part of a group which had every single player sign with a Division I college.

The regrettable thing is that COVID-19 and restrictions on crowds will deprive many folks from watching this team and the others participating in these tournaments. Here’s hoping that this won’t be the case next winter.

Feb. 25, 2021 — The erstwhile continental rival

Yesterday, with a 6-0 win over Argentina, the United States women’s national soccer team secured the 2021 She Believes Cup tournament, a tournament that simulates a World Cup group except for the number of substitutions allowed.

But there’s one team in this tournament that bears a bit of scrutiny when it comes to the future direction of its program. You see, it was eight summers ago that Canada was within 35 seconds of playing the United States to a 3-3 draw, which would have sent the Olympic semifinal match into penalty kicks.

For years, the Canadian women have given the U.S. some legendary matches. With players like Christine Latham, Kara Lang, Charmaine Hooper, and Christine Sinclair, the Maple Leafs have punished American mistakes and exposed weaknesses.

The problem is that Canada has not yet become that one team that the United States can use as a world-level measuring stick. Over the years, the U.S. has a record of 52 wins and seven draws against a mere three defeats. In other words, the United States and Canada are in a very unbalanced rivalry.

The team that Canada brought to the She Believes Cup was a very green team, and yet, they held the U.S. to a 1-0 result on a Rose Lavelle goal 11 minutes from the final whistle. Canada, however, did very little on the attack end. Even while chasing a result against Brazil yesterday, the team had its chances but looked amateurish on its finishes.

Christine Sinclair, obviously, will be a welcome return when she comes back from injury.

Feb. 24, 2021 — Californius interruptus

Yesterday, updated numbers were published by the California Department of Health, delineating the adjusted case rate for COVID-19 for the purpose of allowing many high-school sports to start as early as this Friday in the Golden State.

Not every county with a field hockey or lacrosse program made the cut, however. Chief amongst the counties that fell short is San Diego County, one of the great incubators of scholastic field hockey talent in America. The county had slightly more than 15 new cases for every 100,000 citizens, meaning that, while practices can continue, actual games cannot be played until Feb. 5th at the earliest.

Also falling short is Monterey County, which has a significant portion of the Pacific Coast Athletic League. Schools like Salinas (Calif.) and North Salinas (Calif.) are going to have to wait until the county’s adjusted rate goes below its current figure of 18.2 per 100,000.

Now, the failure of some counties to meet the standard is not going to affect girls’ lacrosse, yet. Games aren’t scheduled for California schools for several weeks yet, and the numbers are, thankfully, trending downward.

We’ll keep an eye on those metrics.

Feb. 23, 2021 — The fall of more than one Tiger

This afternoon’s news, both mainstream and in social media, has been speculation about whether an automobile accident involving Tiger Woods would spell the end of one of the greatest and socially transformative golf careers in the history of professional athletics.

But before breaking out statistics, moments, and bloviating statements about him, there is another golfer who was supposed to have the kind of game to be able to carve out an historical niche as great as Woods.

That golfer is Michelle Wie West. At the age of 10, she was the youngest golfer ever to qualify for a United States Golf Association-sanctioned event. She won the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship in 2003, the youngest ever to do so.

Turning pro at 16, she absorbed a lot of pressure to become the next Tiger Woods because of her physical gifts and her ability to strike a golf ball, sometimes upwards of 300 yards. It was because of her driving talent that West was pegged as one of many women who might have been capable of competing against men on the PGA Tour.

But by 2006, her early career was an exercise in wheel-spinning. She was too young to join the LPGA Tour, but she could receive sponsor exemptions to several pro tournaments. At one time, she played 14 consecutive rounds of tournament golf without breaking par, missing the cut in 11 out of 12 tries against men and not winning against either men or women.

West became an LPGA Tour member for the 2009 season, and played reasonably good golf. She won her first tournament in November 2009. Five years later, she won her first major, the U.S. Women’s Open.

It was noticeable, however, that her longest streak of consecutive cuts made in LPGA events was a 13-tourney streak during her time as an amateur. It’s amazing, with her physical gifts, that she didn’t make more consecutive appearances on Moving Day.

Since her last LPGA victory in 2018, West has seen her career ranking plummet to the world’s No. 497 golfer. Her game was affected by repeated wrist injuries, including a time when she was playing with three broken bones. She has also turned her attention to marriage, family, and working with the digital team for a national broadcaster.

West is, regrettably, one of a number of female athletes in the last quarter-century who has had unreasonable expectations placed upon them in their pre-teen years. I think more was written about Michelle Wie West and Tiger Woods by the time they turned professional than just about anyone else on the PGA or LPGA Tours.

While both have been winners on the golf course, the success they experienced has come at a cost to both of them. I’m hoping that the two of them come through these experiences as better people.

Feb. 22, 2021 — The ebb tide?

When this site started 23 years ago, the major stories in women’s lacrosse surrounded parallel collegiate dynasties — Maryland, which was in a purple patch of winning seven straight national championships, and The College of New Jersey, in the midst of a streak of making 22 straight Division III national semifinals, winning eight national titles on the field in a 10-year span between 1991 and 2000.

Both of these teams carry on great traditions through hard work, dedication to perfection, excellence of execution, and the willingness of each team’s coaching staff to adapt to a changing game, one which is unrecognizable tactically from the product on the field in 1996. But as we head from February into March of a COVID-affected season, these two proud programs are starting at a much-altered lacrosse landscape.

This past weekend, Maryland lost its first Big Ten regular-season game since joining the conference in 2015 with a two-goal loss to Penn State. Now, it must be said that Maryland has lost in the Big Ten before, but this was in the conference tournament. In 2019, Northwestern was able to outlast the Terps by five goals, and in 2015, Ohio State won out in the semifinal round.

Maryland’s excellence is such that yesterday’s opening loss to the Nittany Lions, combined with last year’s 3-3 record, makes you wonder if this usually bulletproof side is just working out the kinks in how the individual players connect with each other. Or have other top Division I programs, not being satisfied with just matching what Maryland does on the field, are setting their goals a sight higher?

While Division I has begun play, Division III has gotten off to an uneven start, with most games completed in the deep South and with a handful of results reported in the Midwest. Although The College of New Jersey went 4-0 in last spring’s interrupted season, the first IWLCA coaches’ poll ranked the Lions 11th nationally.

For me, that seems quite low, and I think there will be a number of players and coaches in Ewing, N.J. putting that poll on their bulletin board as motivation. After all, the program has won 12 of its last 13 matches dating back to to April 2019.

Feb. 21, 2021 — Bolstering the middle, by degrees

This week, it was announced that Maryville University, a small university located just outside of the circular highway enveloping the St. Louis metropolitan area, was going to start offering varsity field hockey at the NCAA Division II level beginning in the fall of 2022.

The new field hockey program is the latest in a number of changes made to the map of collegiate field hockey in the Midwest. In the last decade, have seen plans made by Bellarmine to move to Division I, the start of field hockey at Lindenwood, Rhodes, and Hendrix, and the regrettable dropping of the sport by Missouri State.

“Field hockey is the latest in our ongoing efforts to increase opportunities for female student-athletes,” Maryville athletic director Lonnie Folks said in a prepared statement. “The sport has a large presence in the St. Louis area, and Maryville is responding to the interest by local high school student-athletes in playing at the collegiate level.”

While Maryville is just the second Great Lakes Valley Conference team playing field hockey, it does create an instant rivalry with Lindenwood, which plays in nearby St. Charles.

One of the knocks on field hockey development since the 1982 recession is the number of teams from the center of the country to drop the sport, never to return. This includes big-time athletic schools like Minnesota and Kansas, and mid-majors like Dayton, Valparaiso and Toledo. But what was really disheartening is the number of schools in Missouri to drop the sport, like the University of Missouri, Southeast Missouri State, Central Missouri, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Hopefully, Maryville’s addition can help in reversing this long-term trend coming out of the COVID-19 contagion and the effect it is having on college sports.

Feb. 20, 2021 — What the California decree means, and what it doesn’t

Yesterday, California governor Gavin Newsom issued updated guidelines for youth and some adult sports for the state, all of which fall under state and local health department guidelines as to the number and frequency of positive cases.

The changes go in a positive direction when it comes to the restart of CIF athletics, which were supposed to have started a month ago for fall teams which have seen their original schedules postponed, then postponed again because of December’s update in the face of a rapid spread of COVID-19 cases, especially in the three areas where field hockey is played — the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

For the purposes of this blog, we’re focusing on girls’ lacrosse and field hockey, which are red-tiered activities, meaning that these are outdoor sports with moderate contact. These sports and others may be played with a number of caveats and requirements. The first and most important condition is that the county in which the school is present must have had a positive COVID rate of under 14 per 100,000 people. As of yesterday, only 19 out of 58 California counties meet that standard.

However, we’ll know more on Tuesday, when new numbers on countywide COVID-19 testing rates are revealed. It is possible that, given a substantial lowering of coronavirus numbers in the last six weeks, that high-school sports may start up in many more counties as soon as this Friday.

Once games start up, there will be a handful of changes. While players won’t be wearing masks on the pitch, they will be required on the sidelines and in the stands for spectators.

In addition, the COVID-19 rules allow only very limited competition amongst teams from other parts of the state. Teams cannot cross a county border to play another team unless that county’s schools are in the permissible level of positive Coronavirus cases, and out-of-state competition is prohibited.

Moreover, multi-team tournaments are prohibited, and teams are not allowed to play more than one contest in a day, which effectively cancels the 2020 Serra Invitational, one of the longest running in-season field hockey tournaments in the country.

There is one other proviso for play, however. As is the case in at least one other location, parents are being asked to sign consent forms in order to allow their children to play.

One interesting wrinkle to this situation is this proviso: once a county shows a positivity rate of under 14 per 100,000 residents, and a team starts its season, that season is not required to be interrupted or cancelled if the positivity rate goes higher than that threshold.

So, I guess we’ll be waiting until Tuesday to see who gets to play high-school sports, and where.

Feb. 19, 2021 — Monthly field hockey Statwatch for games played through Dec. 19

Well, about that Fall 2 season … turns out that nobody has started playing games yet. This especially goes for California, which is still seeing a high COVID transmission rate, meaning that all that is happening is that teams are starting to practice. Hopefully, we’ll have some scholastic field hockey games with statistics to add to what is below.

We bring to you our usual gumbo of American scholastic field hockey statistics from, amongst other sources, MaxPreps, Berks Game Day, the KHSAA, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Advance Media. Once we get information from the upcoming Fall 2 and Spring field hockey seasons in six states, we’ll be adding those figures to these.

We have a true affinity for MaxPreps, because it is easy for the average coach, athletic director, or student manager to register for the MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams as well as perhaps your conference, league, or your state governing body to enter field hockey information there, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

GOALS
90 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
74 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
49 Olivia Fraticelli, Toms River (N.J.) North
47 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
37 Molly Catchpole, Watchung Mount St. Mary Academy (N.J.)
37 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
34 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwenedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.)
34 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
33 Kierra Ettere, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.)
33 Rylie Wollerson, Gibsonia Pine-Richland (Pa.)
33 Casey Lynn Dewald, Fleetwood (Pa.)
32 Julianne Kopec, Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic
32 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
32 Brynn Crouse, Dillsburg Northern York (Pa.)
32 Marita Johnson, Hudson (Ohio)
31 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
30 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
30 Maci Bradford, Delmar (Del.)

ASSISTS
35 Dylan Breier, Louisville DuPont Manual (Ky.)
28 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
28 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
27 Izzy Bianco, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Riley Hudson, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Gianna Puorro, North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.)
23 Grace Hughes, Oletangy Liberty (Ohio)
22 Kayla Kiwak, Exeter Wyoming Area (Pa.)
21 Alexis Kociban, Emmaus (Pa.)
21 Maddie Epke, Guilford (Conn.)
21 Kathrine McLean, Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.)
20 Carli Servis, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)

CAREER GOALS
233 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
198 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
141 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
141 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
135 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
131 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
115 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
108** Elizabeth Yeager, Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.)
105 Abby Hartwell, Franklinville Delsea (N.J.)
102 Kate Herlihy, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
102 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwynedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.)
**–five-year total

CAREER ASSISTS
132 Cami Crook, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
110 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
91 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)

CONSECUTIVE UNBEATEN
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
41 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.)

This is where you all can help. If you see a figure or total that needs an addition or correction, feel free to send us an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the adjustment.

Thanks for dropping in, and we expect to have some (hopefully) post-pandemic field hockey statistical action next month.