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Archive for March, 2021

March 31, 2021 — Thoughts for a designated day of visibility

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, which comes at an interesting time in American history.

In a number of states, activists and lobbyists have been proferring and pushing through laws which seek to do the clumsy work of trying to define who gender non-conforming people actually are.

I say “clumsy,” because the “trans” person of today isn’t as simple as the Hollywood trope of the transvestite, someone who dresses in the other gender’s clothing. These days, there are persons who may have undergone gender reassignment to become the other gender.

But there are also a number of occasions of persons born with genetic changes which may have any number of reasons, including the environment, relaxed regulations on blood tests for marriage licenses, and also relaxed regulations on the marriage of first cousins.

There are hundreds of thousands of what can be called “trans” youth all across America. There are different names for them: genderfluid, non-binary, intersex, etc. A number of states, however, see threats to people who are gender-conforming. Activists and lawmakers have actually been able to pass anti-trans legislation in a number of states.

These activists and lawmakers couch their rhetoric in mostly two scenarios: the effect of transgender people on women’s sports, and which bathroom transgender people can use at the mall.

Now, I can understand what could happen with mixed-gender athletic competitions, especially in competitions where size, strength, and speed are prized. But recent moves by the WNBA, the NWSL, and the International Amateur Athletics Federation have shown that it is the ruling bodies of sport who should be the ultimate arbiters of who should participate in a particular event, and not the government.

The same can be said for public accommodations and even gender-affirming health care, the latter of which is under threat in Arkansas.

The problem, it says here, is that these laws are solutions in search of a problem. Trans people are already among us, and don’t intend harm to others.

Trans people are people, and it is not the job of self-styled culture warriors backed with the infinite power of the state to become bathroom police, health-care police, or sports participation police.

March 30, 2021 — It’s been a minute

This afternoon, it was announced that the NCAA Division I field hockey championship final is going to be broadcast on national cable TV for the first time since the mid-1990s. The tournament is scheduled for the spring, with semifinals on the streaming service ESPN+, and the championship game, direct from Karen Shelton Stadium, will be on ESPNU.

For the last few years, the Division I title game has been streamed on the NCAA website and produced by Turner Sports for several years. Before then, the game was not broadcast nationally and you had to actually go to the game in order to see it.

The agreement between the NCAA and ESPN goes until 2023, and it seems to be a collision of three trends. One is the trend of media networks to move content to streaming services with names such as Discovery Plus, Peacock, Hulu, and HBO Max. The other trend is the safety trend during the global pandemic, where streaming sports are being used to not only provide content to the home viewer, but to promote the sport to a wider audience.

But to me, the third trend is the “it’s about time” trend when it comes to women’s sports and major networks. The last few years has seen professional women’s ice hockey on NBCSN, the rise of several major women’s leagues including those run by Athletes Unlimited, and the addition of a women’s golf event at the Augusta National Golf Club.

These were simple things to do, to create these opportunities for women’s athletics to be seen across the American nation. To me, however, the heavy lifting, which took decades, was needless. These events could have occurred years ago had corporate and network executives simply listened.

Hopefully, the next four field hockey title games won’t be the last ones you can find on the self-styled “world-wide leader in sports.”

March 29, 2021 — A great lacrosse builder steps down

This morning, it was announced that Steve Stenerson, the chief executive officer of U.S. Lacrosse, will be stepping down after some four decades of leadership within the game. Starting as the executive director of The Lacrosse Foundation in 1984, he was named CEO of U.S. Lacrosse when a consortium of eight national lacrosse organizations formed what is now the national governing body of the sport.

That formation occurred in the first year of this website, 1998. Since then the growth of the game in America has been nothing short of amazing if you look at any metric. The sport went from roughly 1,100 girls’ varsity teams to more than 3,200 today. The overall budget has grown 22-fold since the consolidation of the several organizations which sought to build the game.

Since U.S. Lacrosse came along, five professional field lacrosse leagues — two on the men’s side, three for the women — have formed. The U.S. Lacrosse museum and headquarters moved from a building on a postage-stamp lot of land next to Homewood Field in Baltimore to a large suburban facility out along I-81 in Sparks, Md. In addition, lacrosse is poising itself to become an Olympic sport as early as Los Angeles 2028.

Not everything about the Stenerson Era of leadership has been overwhelmingly positive. Though the expansion of the sport at the youth and scholastic levels have been positive, the follow-on by the NCAA has been very resistant. In Division I, only two men’s programs exist west of the Mississippi river — Utah and the Air Force Academy.

But the regrettable failure of the growth of the game over the last four decades is that the game has become a rich parent’s sport — and one which is overwhelmingly white.

Read this devastating op-ed penned by two members of the women’s lacrosse team at the University of the South. The school underwent a major scandal a couple of weekends ago when a bunch of rowdy undergraduates shouted verbal and racial epithets at the visiting team from Emmanuel College.

These words are a challenge and a mandate for whoever is the next CEO of the organization. It should be posted in the executive office.

March 28, 2021 — Making up for a lost season

Yesterday morning, your Founder tuned in to a field hockey game in the Fall 2 season in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This being an NFHS Network feed, there were some problems with the camera gimbal. One of the lenses was occluded so that you couldn’t make out the scoreboard very well. Two of the other lenses showing the midfield were overlapped so that a player crossing the center stripe would disappear for a half-second before reappearing.

But you didn’t have to have a perfect camera to see how skilled, quick, and dominant Somerset-Berkley (Mass.) was in its season-opener yesterday, winning 14-0 over nearby Wareham (Mass.). The goals came early and often, with the Providence-bound senior Cami Crook leading the way. A couple of her backhand goals were sublime, top-class finishes; she scored eight on the day.

It was not, however, a one-player effort. Numerous Raider attackers took advantage of the space the MIAA-mandated 7-on-7 rules package afforded them, and scored on almost every kind of chance available. Indeed, thanks to the allowance of penalty corners for the spring season (none of the MIAA games played in the fall had them) Somerset-Berkley continued to pile on the pressure.

These defending state champions have being limited to the scope of competition this season, playing only a league season and not playing down to a state champion.

As such, you can’t blame the Raiders for maximizing what it can do on the pitch.

March 27, 2021 — Northwestern returns in kind

The last time the University of Maryland and Northwestern met on a women’s lacrosse pitch was the 2019 national semifinal in Baltimore. On that occasion, the Wildcats suffered a difficult defeat, losing 25-13.

This afternoon, Northwestern made its own history in a 25-12 defeat of Maryland in the first of a two-game series in the Big Ten Conference.

The historical marker was this: the 25 goals for the Wildcats represented the largest total ever conceded by a Maryland women’s team since becoming a varsity team in 1972.

Of course, we have to add some context to this. Today’s contest was held under radically different rules from when Maryland allowed 19 goals to Ursinus in 1976. Back then, all the sticks were made of wood, there were no hard boundaries or 35-yard lines, and there was no possession clock.

Indeed, it’s notable that since the institution of the 90-second clock, scoring has trended upward, with only rare occurrence of winning teams in the single digits.

All you have to do is scan the scores for Maryland during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In the 2016 varsity season, no game in which the Maryland women played had the losing team in double digits. This includes the NCAA final won by North Carolina 13-7.

But the next season, with the stall out of play, Maryland allowed double-digit scores in 11 out of 23 games — and still won the national championship. In 2018, that number rose to 13, and in 2019, that number dropped to eight, but that was the year goalie Megan Taylor won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate player.

Maryland can’t brood on this result for very long: the team has a rematch Monday against Northwestern in a game scheduled for a national cable broadcast.

March 26, 2021 — Social media as a creative process

Some of you may remember what I did with this site when Leroy Nieman, the sports artist, died nine years ago. For 10 days, I changed the colorway of the logo in the header of this site to honor his splashy, colorful artistic style.

Well, as many of you know from being long-time users of this site, one of my favorite artists is Andy Warhol, who would make studies of multiple images in different colors. If you’ve seen any of my “unfiltered” commentaries on our Instagram account, you’ll notice that the backdrop we use is full of different treatments of this site’s logo.

Most of these images have one thing in common: they have been created on, of all places, my phone. The Apple App Store has a number of free or low-cost photo or image applications with names like Olli, MegaPhoto, HipsterCam, and Hyperspektiv, and they can turn pictures and videos of objects, landscapes, and people into remarkable pieces of art.

When we started posting on TikTok, we knew we didn’t have the kind of content that would normally attract viewers. I’m not one for doing small stunts or lip-syncing to songs I barely know. But we do have our logo and a bunch of different still and video filters.

I’ve been having fun mixing up still and video effects for TikTok — adding a color here, an overlay there, posterizing, rasterizing, and then, at the end, adding a musical track.

I’ve also been occasionally taking video from my screen and adding it in there to point you in the direction of an issue or an event that we’ve not covered in the blog.

All this has gotten me, oddly enough, an outsized number of likes and views per day. I mean, it’s just a logo, right?

March 25, 2021 — In amongst the moving pieces, one interesting bit

Between now and early May, the worlds of domestic field hockey and lacrosse intersect as never before.

You have seven states (and maybe the District of Columbia) playing scholastic field hockey, alongside all three NCAA Divisions, although only Division I will have a national championship tournament.

Women’s lacrosse has all three divisions going apace, with national finals set for Salem, Va. in Divisions II and III, while Division I will be in Towson, Md. At the same time, girls’ high-school lacrosse has already started in many locales, although some places, chiefly in the Northeast U.S., are delaying their start until April, with Massachusetts scheduling the end of its season in July.

Now, when it comes to field hockey and women’s lacrosse, there used to be a lot of overlap between the two sports — players, coaches, and even uniforms. Until about 1990, you could line up team photos of the field hockey and girls’/women’s lacrosse team at the same school, college, or university and see the same players, same coaches, the same kilts or pinafores. The only differences would be shinguards for field hockey and the sticks used by the teams.

Of course, this is to be expected, as both games are of the stick-and-ball variety which involve a five-ounce ball — albeit one is rubber and one is plastic. Tactics and training are relatively similar, with each coach and player having to mind some archaic rules which were drawn up some 100 years ago.

Today, however, it is rare to see crossover in the two athletic pursuits. Coaches and players are demanding — and getting — specialized uniforms for each sport. No longer do you see the field hockey coach of the lacrosse team serving as assistant to the field hockey team. And the crossover between teams is much less than it used to be. For all of the success that, for example, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) had in both sports in 2019, there was little to no crossover between the two sides, despite the fact that the upper-school population is just north of 325 students.

But one figure has had her foot in both coaching boxes for the last three and a half decades. Sharon Pfluger, the Hall of Fame coach of The College of New Jersey, has experienced 71 Opening Days, and has had more than 1,100 wins in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse.

Only this spring, she’s only coaching one of them. The College of New Jersey is not playing field hockey this fall, and only five members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference are playing during an abbreviated spring season, which is not culminating in a national championship in Division III.

On the other hand, the Division III powers-that-be are planning on holding a women’s lacrosse national championship event this spring in Salem, Va., alongside their Division II sisters. As such, you can’t blame TCNJ for going full-bore to play women’s lacrosse this spring, as a national championship awaits.

March 24, 2021 — An appreciation: Tiana Mangakahia, point guard, Syracuse

One in an occasional series.

Syracuse University is a school which has billed itself as a “student-centered research university.” Like many large universities in the United States, it is well-known for its sports programs. This has included a lot of men’s sports, but in the last few years, the women’s basketball team has emerged as a contender for league and national honors, making the national title game in 2016.

Yesterday, the Orange found themselves on the wrong end of an 83-47 decision against the University of Connecticut. It is the third time in the last six years that UConn ended the Orange’s season. On the face of it, this is to be expected, given the number of blue-chip recruits who come to Storrs every year to play at Connecticut.

But Syracuse was led in yesterday’s defeat by a player who not only came to the university through a different patch, but who had a highly unconventional athletics career.

Meet Tiana Mangakahia, who came to the Syracuse program through a highly indirect path.

Mangakahia from Brisbane, Australia, and came to America in 2015 with the goal of improving her basketball prowess and academics by attending Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

Junior college is often used by male athletes to catch up on college credits in revenue sports like football and men’s basketball before transitioning to a Division I university. On the women’s side, this is much rarer. But upon settling into the Syracuse program in 2017, she showed off her skills. She led the country in assists and scored 44 points in one game.

Mangakahia faced a dual obstacle, however, before her senior season, which would started in the fall of 2019. That summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which forced her into chemotherapy treatments as well as a double mastectomy. She was already supposed to have sat out that season, only for the COVID-19 epidemic to end not only the women’s basketball season, but all NCAA sports for the 2019-2020 academic year.

She came back for her delayed senior season and was magnificent for a Syracuse team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Division I Tournament. She scored a shade over 11 points per game and had double-digits in assists six times. And she also played a very clean game of basketball: she fouled out only four times in her entire Syracuse career.

Now, we don’t know whether or not we’ll be seeing this plucky guard in either the WNBA or Australia’s WNBL, or perhaps somewhere overseas come this summer. But what we do know is that, wherever she goes, it will be the unconventional way.

March 23, 2021 — Monthly lacrosse top 10 for games played through March 20

Well, for the first time in more than two years, we’re assembling a national Top 10 for girls’ scholastic lacrosse across America.

Usually, we try to do this sort of thing every week, but because we are focusing on two sports this spring, our monthly lacrosse Top 10 will occur the third Tuesday of every month until the domestic season ends, which won’t be until late June this year.

This is a very difficult list to try to toss together because we don’t have data for most teams from last year since most teams never even stepped onto the field for an actual game. Too, the 2021 season is shortened and won’t have the usual selection of interstate games because of travel and competition restrictions.

What you see below is probably as effective as throwing darts blindly at a target, but we hope to be able to do some better-researched Top 10s later in the season.

Our honorary No. 11 Team of the Week is a side which I have had my eye on for some time: the University of Indianapolis. The Greyhounds have been in the conversation within Division II circles for the last couple of years, and I think they would have been a strong bracketbuster in the national tournament last year before the worldwide pandemic. This, friends, is a team to watch. They play a solid and athletic game of lacrosse and could surprise some people.

1. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 2-0
Though the Eagles won’t play their usual out-of-state matchups this year, the competition within the IAAM will be more than formidable, including the fact that two out of the next three games are against Northern Parkway rivals Bryn Mawr and Roland Park

2. Northport (N.Y.) 0-0
Defending state champions have waited nearly two years to start back up, and have sophomore Kaylie Mackiewicz, who will be counted on to pace the team once the season begins

3. Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 10-0
Ashley Thurston has been a draw-winning machine; Highlanders have mercy-ruled seven opponents on the season

4. Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 1-0
A loaded side should be more than a match for McDonogh when they meet in April

5. Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) 0-0
Seahawks going for third straight state title with a good roster and a positive history

6. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 0-0
How will the Royals do after the surprise departure of head coach Rachel Lasda last year? They still have respected players on their roster

7. Darien (Conn.) 0-0
Want to build from the goal out? The Wave have BC-bound Shea Dolce, who has had success on the national and international levels

8. Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 0-0
This team should be running out of the traps when their season begin; Churchwomen led by senior Madison Vetterlein

9. Sykesville Century (Md.) 0-0
Demma Hall is a true leader for this side, which could very well replicated its championship success of 2017

10. Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) 13-0
Gibbons met East Chapel Hill (N.C.) last night in the third round of the NCHSAA tournament

11. University of Indianapolis 5-0
UIndy was able to beat its first four opponents via the running clock, then bested Grand Valley State 9-7 on Sunday.

March 22, 2021 — Women’s pro hockey, rent asunder?

There has been a demand for post-collegiate playing opportunities for women’s ice hockey players since the 1990s, when the inaugural IIHF World Championship was contested.

Since then, a Canadian league called the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League was formed, which eventually expanded to form the first National Women’s Hockey League. The league operated teams in a number of Canadian provinces and eventually a team in Minnesota.

That iteration of the NWHL ceased operations in 2007, the advent of a global economic recession. In its place the Canadian Women’s Hockey League formed, with teams not only in Canada, but in Boston and with a touring team from China, a team run by legendary hockey coach Digit Murphy.

By 2015, an American league, the second league to call itself the NWHL, was formed as a first go at a professional league which would pay its players. The four-team league has since expanded to six.

It’s a league which, regrettably, does not have a lot of starpower from international play because of a touring league of women’s ice hockey players under the aegis of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. The PWHPA, started by former U.S. international Jayna Hefford, has been hosting ice hockey games across North America for the last two years.

The group, formed after the collapse of the CWHL in 2019, has been aiming for better wages and working conditions, and has partnered with a number of NHL franchises to host exhibitions in NHL arenas rather than the smaller rinks used by the NWHL.

Meanwhile, the NWHL has been looking to put together any semblance of a season in the midst of the global pandemic. A tournament set for Lake Placid, N.Y. last month had a meltdown because of COVID positives within the teams. A second Isobel Cup tournament, scheduled for this week in Boston, is a single-elimination tournament which is scheduled for broadcast on national cable TV.

But the NWHL is going forward without its founder and former commissioner, Dani Rylan Kearney, who stepped down from her role as a league advisor and as President of W Hockey Partners, the entity that owns the six current franchises.

Now, I’ll be interested to see what happens to pro women’s ice hockey in a post-pandemic world. Will the Players’ Association and the franchisees in the NWHL come to some sort of accord to create a unified league? Will the Players’ Association continue its mobile feast of games in NHL arenas? Might there be a partnership with a third organization, such as Athletes United?

I’m hoping for some regional professional leagues with limited travel, given the overhead expenses when it comes to ice time and extraneous expenses such as skate sharpeners. I envision four-to-six member regional leagues playing a regular season, and with interconference (and international) play only at the end of the season. Teams could exist from Boston to Seattle, from Vancouver to Halifax. There are people willing to watch and players ready to play.

All it takes, frankly, is good organization and a lot of backing.

Then again, haven’t we said that about other sports such as lacrosse, soccer, and field hockey?