TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for April, 2021

April 30, 2021 — A humanitarian catastrophe could very well become one of Olympic proportions

In the last two weeks, four million people in India have tested positive for COVID-19. The rate of infections has started to reach some 400,000 per day in one of the densest-populated nations on earth.

I have always feared this might happen. Having a communicable and deadly disease in a place where millions of people are almost literally living on top of each other in cities like Delhi and Mumbai is like throwing a lit match in a massive forest with dry underbrush in the middle of a drought.

India is also one of the world’s best up-and-coming economies, but that prosperity has been lost on the greater population of the country. Some 600 million people — twice the population of the U.S. — live without running water. The sanitation challenges, in the face of COVID-19, are enormous.

And so are the challenges of trying to “flatten the curve,” either by quarantining or by a general lockdown. As of yesterday, there was no indication that the government would be instituting a sweeping lockdown. Instead, it has been left to local governments: yesterday, Manipur a state in the extreme east of India, called for a seven-day lockdown.

With a mere 84 days until the start of the Olympics, India is in very much a COVID crisis. Some 91 athletes are scheduled to be part of the Games; a plurality (32) are on the two field hockey teams that have qualified through the FIH-mandated processes.

Now, a couple of days ago, the International Olympic Committee published a virtual guide for athletes as to how to maintain social distancing and tips on not getting COVID-19. The so-called “playbook” restricts Olympians to taking official transportation, eating only where COVID-19 countermeasures in place, and staying away from most of the general public.

In other words, you’re not going to have a situation where you might have a Charles Barkley visiting the general public like he did during Barcelona 1992.

There’s also going to be quite a lot of testing. Athletes must have two test before coming to Tokyo, then everyone gets tested once a day for three days upon arrival. Athletes are scheduled to be tested daily, while coaches and support staff will be tested regularly.

The thing is, nothing in the guide mentions what happens if athletes are unable to travel to the Games because of either a government-imposed lockdown or if there is a widespread COVID-19 outbreak amongst members of a team.

It’s the latter that could be a matter of wounded pride if India is unable to participate in the Olympics because of the outbreak.

And you can say the same thing about the United States, which has seen more than a half-million deaths. While more than half the U.S. population has already received some sort of vaccine therapy, it is hard to declare an immediate victory over the virus; nearly a thousand people are dying every day in America from it.

Too, if the Indian women can’t go, it would be a supreme irony because the United States was the team that the Eves vanquished back in 2019 to get the golden ticket to Japan. The U.S., the 15th-ranked team in the world, would not be next in line as first alternate; I believe that the alternates are selected by world ranking. As of today, Korea is ranked 11th, the highest-ranked women’s side not already qualified for the Olympics.

BULLETIN: April 29, 2021 — A transformed field hockey national team for May

The U.S. senior women’s field hockey national team, having failed to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and currently at the bottom of the 2021 FIH Pro League, is seemingly building for the far future.

New head coach Anthony Farry is bringing in a different group of players for a European tour next month, including four FIH Pro League games against Belgium and Team GB. Only a third of the 25-player group participated in the two-game series in late 2019 against India for one of the final Olympic berths.

Amongst the players to watch from the new group is high-school phenom Beth Yeager, who has not played a varsity match for Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.) since 2019. Instead, she has been playing with her club team WC Eagles, the U.S. women’s national team pool in Conshohocken, Pa., and with the Sacred Heart team during informal playdays last fall. Also in the side is Haley Randall, who you might otherwise know as Haley Schleicher, the only scholastic field hockey player with 50 goals and 50 assists in a season and 200 goals and 200 assists in a career.

The touring team also has a couple of dynamic players who excelled both at the scholastic and collegiate levels. Maddie Bacskai was a fine player at Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) who played well at Princeton, and is scheduled to play field hockey at Northwestern this coming fall as she starts business school there as a graduate student. Also, look for Kelee Lepage, late of Maryland, to make an impact on the offensive end of the pitch. She helped steer Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.) to a state championship in 2015 and made two NCAA title appearances in College Park.

I’ll also be interested in a couple of lesser-known, but well-skilled players on the U.S. team. Kelsey Briddell has made a name for herself in indoor hockey, winning her U-16 pool with the ADK club side, as well as competing with the U.S. senior indoor national team. But the Albany graduate has parlayed that experience into the senior women’s outdoor team. Also, look for Alexandra Hammel, the Boston University graduate who had her first cap in 2020 against Argentina. She has paid her dues with the U.S. developmental program and has been called into the side.

Now, I find it interesting that this U.S. team is bereft of players who are just coming off from their college seasons. I can understand why Parry has chosen not to take players like Erin Matson, Sophia Gladieux, Meredith Sholder, and Mackenzie Allessie. All four are in mid-season form when it comes to conditioning, but with COVID-19 protocols the way they are for international play, recalling them for games starting May 15th is a non-starter.

Still, with this young team, I get the feeling that the States are involved in a very, very long rebuild. We’re not likely to see the best of this group in time for the 2022 World Cup, but perhaps in time for a serious run at the 2024 Paris Olympics and whatever devious qualifying obstacle course that FIH devises for those Games.

April 29, 2021 — A bad situation at a bad time

Yesterday, John Desko, the men’s lacrosse coach at Syracuse University, called a press conference to discuss a situation within his team.

The situation involves one of his best players, junior Chase Scanlan. According to multiple reports, he was involved in a situation which eventually required the intervention by the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety as “a domestic incident.”

The case remains open, and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and City of Syracuse Police are investigating. Fitzpatrick indicated that the incident involved an unidentified woman.

You can put two and two together.

It’s regrettable that this incident, plus a suspension and what is an increasingly controversial reinstatement, are occurring a few days before One Love Week, the observance of the 11-year anniversary of the murder of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love in a domestic violence incident. Indeed, during last night’s Virginia-Boston College ACC women’s lacrosse tournament, head coach Julie Myers wore a One Love Foundation T-shirt.

Since Love’s murder, the lacrosse community has been very intolerant of violence against women. Indeed, I find it interesting that the reinstatement of Scanlan, the Orange’s leading scorer in 2020, is coming with some resistance within the team. Reports came out that team members were planning to skip practice if he rejoined the team.

Syracuse University is Scanlan’s fourth school in the last six years. He attended Silver Creek (N.Y.) Central, then transferred after his sophomore year to Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.), a super-prep school in the sport of boys’ lacrosse. He chose Loyola University for college, but transferred after one season to Syracuse.

I get the feeling there is going to be one more address change for him soon.

April 28, 2021 — The road to Unitas Stadium

In the next 48 hours, the path that the field of 29 teams in the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament will be paved, as the two most prominent conferences begin play.

Today, the ACC’s eight members play four quarterfinal matches, while tomorrow, six of the Big Ten’s seven entries play three quarterfinal games while top-seeded Northwestern has a bye.

There’s one over-arching reason why you should pay attention to these two tournament: your 2021 NCAA champion is likely to come from one of these two tournaments. The top five teams in the ILWCA poll are all from the Big Ten or the ACC, and 14 out of the top 25.

So, instead of doing individual capsules on each of the 15 teams starting their journey to the Final Four, let’s give you some items to think about before the tournament begin:

THE TOP TWO: North Carolina and Northwestern, the top seeds in each tournament, are the odds-on favorites to meet each other in the national final. Both teams desire the extra in-conference play, especially given the fact that both teams have a week off after the championship final instead of having that extra game just before an NCAA first-round game. They’d both love to win, but also are keeping a wary eye on one another. I would venture that neither team will go very deep into their playbooks for fear of showing the other something that can be exploited should these two undefeated powerhouses meet.

WHITHER MARYLAND? The Terrapins are the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but the team is 7-5 on the season and are 2-4 in their last six games. If Maryland was to lose their first-round match against Michigan, it would be highly damaging to the team’s positioning in the NCAA bracket.

THE HURT LOCKER: A number of teams have been dealing with key injuries. Syracuse has lost attacking stars Emily Hawryschuk and Megan Carney for the season, and the replacements in the attacking seven have justified head coach Gary Gait’s faith in his pool of forwards.

ACC’S ACES: The ACC has a number of tremendous and physical forwards, all of whom would not be out of place in a professional league upon graduation. Boston College’s Charlotte North, UNC’s Jamie Ortega, Syracuse’s Maeghan Tyrrell, Virginia Tech’s Paige Petty, and Duke’s Gabby Rosenzweig are all players who have highlight-reel ability and can run off multiple goals with impunity

GETTING MORE: I’ll be interested to see which of these 15 teams are able to get that little extra from their players that the coaching staffs might not expect. I mean, when North Carolina has the ball, everyone and their brother knows that the ball is likely to find its way to Katie Hoeg and Jamie Ortega. But what if someone like a Taylor Warehime or a Melissa Sconone starts finding the net?

SHOTBLOCKERS: As this site has noted over the years, goaltenders tend to play an outsized role in the outcome of playoff games. Watch especially for Boston College’s Rachel Hall, Johns Hopkins’ Kathleen Garvey, Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock, Northwestern’s Madison Doucette, North Carolina’s Taylor Moreno, Ohio State’s Jillian Rizzo, and Notre Dame’s Bridget Deehan. I believe that in at least one of these two tournaments, a goalie will be named Most Outstanding Player.

INTANGIBLES: There could be a first-year or second-year player who may, in a key moment, have the game of her life. Watch for Notre Dame’s Kasey Choma, UNC’s Caitlyn Wurzburger, Maryland’s Shaylan Ahearn, Louisville’s Kokora Nazakawa, or Northwestern’s Erin Coykendall to perhaps have a Walter Mitty moment.

April 27, 2021 — POSTPONED: The final field hockey state title of a crazy academic year

This evening, at the Stutler Bowl, the last field hockey state title of the 2020-21 academic year was set to take place between Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.) and Greenwood Village Cherry Creek (Colo.).

But despite the fact that the Colorado High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) moved its season from the fall to the early spring, there was scheduled rain and snow in the area, with a projected gametime temperature of 37 degrees. The weather, including rain and thunderstorms, forced postponement of the title match to Thursday evening.

The two team in the final are coming off wins last night at Stutler Bowl, and both have been prominent programs of late within the state of Colorado.

Regis Jesuit is in its third straight state title match after taking a 3-1 win over Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.). The Raiders won in 2018 before losing the 2019 final.

The team Regis beat back in 2018 were the Cherry Creek Bruins, who beat Monument Palmer Ridge (Colo.) 2-1 in the other semifinal. Cherry Creek won its way to its eighth state championship game, but the team has not won a state final since 2008.

Thursday’s game leaves a smattering of teams in New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina varsity programs playing out to league and, in the case of New York, sectional championships.

April 26, 2021 — A sudden lurch in the women’s basketball coaching ranks

Only a few weeks after the Baylor women’s basketball team was one basket away from playing for the NCAA Division I championship, its longtime head coach Kim Mulkey opted to leave the school to coach Louisiana State.

From a “roots” standpoint, the move makes sense, as Mulkey is moving back home, close to where she was raised in the village of Tickfaw, about an hour east of the LSU campus.

Mulkey, over 21 seasons, pushed her Baylor teams to three NCAA titles. She was able to have transformational players such as Britney Griner, Brooklyn Pope, and Odyssey Sims at hand. Indeed, once her Baylor teams won their region, they would win the national championship. Indeed, Baylor’s 69-67 loss to UConn in 2021 represented only the second time the Bears failed to win the national title once getting to the Final Four.

Now, LSU is going to be an interesting challenge for Mulkey and the staff she puts together. The Tigers were able to make five straight Final Fours between 2004 and 2008 with three different head coaches — Sue Gunther, Pokey Chatman, and Van Chancellor.

Yet, LSU has never won. And that’s the challenge set before Mulkey. And it’s not unattainable; just look at her record.

April 25, 2021 — McDonogh is having its Eastern moment

On Oct. 7, 2016, the field hockey team from Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) was spinning a 144-game unbeaten streak when it traveled to Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) for a doubleheader of interstage games against the hosts and Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.).

The weekend ended with Eastern on a two-game losing streak, something which had not happened in more than a decade and a half with the Vikings’ program, a team which continually renewed and reloaded itself year on year towards an impeccable standard of excellence.

This past week, the girls’ lacrosse team at Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), after not having lost a regular-season match since 2008, dropped consecutive games to Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) and Ellicott City Glenelg Country School (Md.).

It’s a sudden swoon that comes in the last two weeks of the IAAM Class “A” regular season, a league which is the envy of all others in the country. The 12 schools in Class A all have their own histories, excellent alumnae and current players, and coaching which is more than competent.

McDonogh has been the unquestioned empresses of this league for a decade and a half. Under Chris Robinson, Nancy Love, and Taylor Cummings, the Eagles have played a refined game of lacrosse, one based on solid fundamentals and tactics. Watch a McDonogh game, and you’ll see smart double-teaming on defense, winning draws, good shot selection, and a relentless attitude. Going on a three-goal run, the team culture dictates, is not enough. You’ll often see the Eagles score eight, nine, ten straight at key points of the game.

All you have to do is see what McDonogh did in a two-day stretch of games nine years ago. The Eagles scored nine consecutive goals in a 20-9 win over Garden City (N.Y.), and followed that up with a 14-1 win over Hauppage (N.Y.), a game which featured an eight-goal run. It was a team which featured Sammi Burgess, Megan Whittle, and Cummings, and might have been the finest scholastic lacrosse team of all time.

But you have to realize: this is scholastic sports — a competition involving players under the age of 19 which, by nature, have complete turnover every four years. Coaching scholastic players is a thankless task, especially in these days of social media and the expansion of the sport nationwide.

The school set the bar so high that teams around the nation have adopted the McDonogh formula — win draws, limit turnovers, double-team on defense when you can, shoot smartly, and don’t let up even if you have a substantial lead. The rest of the IAAM — and the country — are catching up.

That being said, I wouldn’t read all that much into these two results from last week. After all, a month after Eastern had its 0-2 weekend in field hockey, the team won a state championship and was an overtime penalty stroke away from winning the New Jersey Tournament of Champions.

The road to the playoffs has just two more stops, and a good Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) side awaits on Wednesday.

April 24, 2021 — The Final Third, the field hockey conference tournament edition

Please join us shortly before noon Eastern time for live reactions from the six NCAA Division I field hockey conference tournaments that will help fill out the field for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Join us here, give us a like and share, and follow along as we describe the action in our feature called The Final Third.

April 23, 2021 — Monthly lacrosse statwatch for games played through April 21

It’s Friday, meaning that it’s time for Statwatch, our look at the numbers which define the game of girls’ lacrosse and allows for comparison across miles, across regions, and across time.

Our biggest statistical occurrence thus far this season actually isn’t about the loss Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) suffered on Wednesday. Instead, it’s about a win streak that was broken in Kentucky. Versailles Woodford County (Ky.) had its 43-game win streak snapped when it lost 10-7 to Lexington (Ky.) Catholic.

This compilation is from available sources, including MaxPreps.com, NJ Advance Media, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Providence Journal, The Albany Times-Union, Long Island Newsday, The Worcester Telegram, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MassLive.com, the Denver Post, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philly Lacrosse, MSG Varsity, the Ann-Arbor News, and The Washington Post.

I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
115 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
100 Chloe Norman, Land O’Lakes (Fla..)
91 Gillian Craig, Merritt Island (Fla.)
85 Sam Stephens, Versailles Woodford County (Ky.)
84 Josie Ward, Franklin (Tenn.)
82 Jordyn Case, Matthews Weddington (N.C.)
81 Prentice Atterbury, Community School of Naples (Fla.)
79 Breylin Bright, Greer Riverside (S.C.)
78 Jamieson Meyer, Sandy Waterford (Utah)
77 Emerson Bohlig, Orinda Miramonte (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
84 Emily Phillips, Wake Forest (N.C.)
79 Elizabeth Tausig, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)
77 Caroline Mullahy, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.)
75 Bella Mims, Clermont East Ridge (Fla.)
67 Sadie Salazar, Chapin (S.C.)
66 Taylor McClain, Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest (Fla.)
60 Jaylee Ault, Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley (Fla.)
56 Lauren Koshlap, Merritt Island Edgewood (Fla.)
54 Reese Riezinger, Boca Raton (Fla.)
53 Jordyn Case, Matthews Weddington (N.C.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
45 Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.)

COACHING WINS
803 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

But wait, there’s more. We need your help to give this list more completeness and context. if you see something missing or wrong, please 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.

As usual, we thank you for stopping in and we’ll see you next month.

April 22, 2021 — Who’s going to be in? Who’s going to be out?

Today, the conference tournament season for NCAA field hockey truly gets into gear with one championship and six pairs of semifinal matches to be played.

As we discussed earlier this week, the Division I bracket will be released this Saturday evening. There will be 12 teams in the tournament — nine conference champions and three at-large bids.

We know that Miami University is in the tournament through its regular-season record. We also know that no Ivy League team will be playing.

I think that six out of the seven tournaments being played will be of the highest stakes, in that only the champion will take the AQ bid to make the NCAA Tournament.

The only exceptions are the usual suspects: the Big Ten (which is playing its semifinals this evening) and the ACC (which is hosting a special one-game playoff tomorrow afternoon).

Here’s the thing. The usual punditry will say that the ACC, being the best league in the country, will send three teams to the tournament, and the Big Ten will send two.

I’m not so sure. Here’s why.

This year’s Division I field hockey data is not just from the spring season, but from the games the ACC played last fall, leading to UNC winning the conference tournament. As such, when the NCAA Tournament Committee looks at the last five or six games leading to the end of the season, the ACC teams which played well last fall will be judged more by the spring record.

As such, I think Louisville may be on the bubble. I say “may,” because that turns on whether Wake Forest wins the ACC playoff tomorrow against North Carolina. UNC, I think, is in the NCAA Tournament no matter what it does, while Wake, coming in with a record of 6-10, must win the game to make the tournament. If it does not, Louisville will take an at-large bid. Louisville is one of the highest-ranked ACC teams in Ratings Percentage Index (fifth) and strengh of schedule (eighth), but they were 4-2 in their last six games of the spring.

On the other hand, the Big Ten have seven of the top eight slots in FieldHockeyCorner.com’s Average Computer Ranking, which is 50 percent based on goal differential and 50 percent based on wins and losses. In addition, there are some very strong teams in the last four of the Big Ten tournament — top-seeded Michigan, the No. 2 team in the nation this week; an Iowa team which was the No. 2 in the country two weeks ago; a Northwestern team which was No. 4 two weeks ago; and an Ohio State team with U.S. international Mackenzie Allessie on it. Yhese four teams are extremely strong, and if Ohio State is able to win the AQ, that’s going to upset the Big Ten’s apple cart.

The identities of the three at-large teams will likely be determined in a 20-hour period beginning this evening. And a field hockey debate for the ages could ensue.

Let’s see what happens.