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Archive for May, 2021

May 31, 2021 — The one thing missing from NCAA lacrosse that so many other sports have

In yesterday’s NCAA championship final, there was a situation in which a player seemingly scored a goal while sprawling in front of the goal cage.

The umpires called a crease violation, despite the visual evidence that the Boston College player never touched the white line.

This call was one of a number of questionable decisions on the part of the four-part umpiring crew over the course of the weekend that has led to one unmistakeable conclusion.

And that conclusion is that field lacrosse in the NCAA needs a replay official.

I’ve called for a Video Assistant Referee in lacrosse for some time, especially after a phantom goal in a tournament game between Penn State and Florida a few years ago.

The environment in women’s lacrosse, frankly, has gotten away from the ability of even the most experienced eyes of umpires to be able to get every single thing right. Lacrosse umpires have to call boundary lines like a tennis official, call goals like a goal judge at an ice hockey rink, police body contact like a basketball referee, and keep control the game with penalty cards like a soccer referee.

It is a difficult job, one which has been made much more difficult in the free-movement era with the speed of the players as well as the speed of the ball. The exit velocity of an 8-meter shot from a Charlotte North, an Izzy Scane, or a Melissa Sconone are likely to be so quick that the ball could either go through a small hole in the back mesh, or bounce downward from the little teeth that are on the inside of the goal frame to secure the netting, or bounce straight down, land behind the goal, and come back into play.

It’s happened before; just review film of the 1966 FIFA World Cup final.

Now, when you think about it, there are so many pro sports out there that have a replay review component. There’s tackle football, rugby, field hockey, cricket, ice hockey, basketball, golf, and even motor racing. Mind you, the last two aren’t sports where the participants can ask for a replay review; the rules officials and race stewards have the authority to make an inquiry into an event which has happened already. In most others, either a captain, coach, or even an umpire can call for an official review to get it right.

Let’s see if the people who run lacrosse will have the courage and forethought to do the same.

May 30, 2021 — An appreciation: Charlotte North, attacking midfielder, Boston College

One in an occasional series.

The Syracuse defense, in the final two minutes of play, were chasing.

They were chasing the ball and the Boston College attacking seven as they started running a stall with the team up 15-11 in the NCAA Division I final this afternoon.

The math favored Boston College; up four goals with a minimum of two possessions remaining, and with a two-player advantage because of a pair of untimely Syracuse penalty cards. The ball was passed around with larger and larger openings being torn in the Orange defense. Syracuse goalie Asa Goldstock marked up a player to try to either get an interception or a check to get the ball back, leaving the crease open.

Boston College’s Belle Smith had an open lane, and saw senior Charlotte North with a clear lane to goal. The pass was made.

Usually, in this situation, you tend to get your players to retain possession and wind the clock down, even with a four-goal lead. But Charlotte North took the layup.

The clocks at Unitas Stadium told the story. The game clock said 1:11. The penalty clock for the two-player advantage read :01.

And moments after North scored her record 102nd goal of the 2021 season, BC was No. 1.

For five years, the Boston College women’s lacrosse team has been chasing the dream of the gilded wooden plaque awarded to the NCAA champion. The Eagles made the national final in 2017, 2018, and 2019, but fell short against championship-level Maryland and James Madison sides. Boston College did not have a chance to show how good it was because the 2020 season was truncated due to the worldwide pandemic.

But in the late going this year, heading into the Final Four, Boston College found its form. After getting the four seed in the Division I bracket, the Eagles 10-goalled Fairfield, Temple, and Notre Dame to get to the Final Four. BC fearlessly took on the nation’s No. 1 team in North Carolina, which had a rostrum of star players which may have been the most talented collegiate side in 20 years.

BC was able to take down UNC 11-10, then faced off against Syracuse in the final.

It was in this game when North was at her brash and athletic best. She scored goals which were reminiscent of the kinds of goals you saw on the professional or international level, scored by players like Dana Dobbie or Kara Mupo or Taylor Cummings.

North is at the vanguard of a phalanx of attacking players such as Izzy Scane, Emma Ward, and Jamie Ortega who have the capability of upsetting the balance of a game all by herself, which is somewhat unusual in what has always been seen as more of a team game.

North, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, is now the favorite to win the Tewaaraton Trophy when it is awarded in a couple of weeks in Foxborough, Mass.

And with her dominating power and athleticism, she would be a worthy recipient.

May 29, 2021 — The post-COVID portal

Part of the story of women’s lacrosse in 2021 is the number of student-athletes who made an enormous impact when transferring university teams to take advantage of a fifth year of eligibility because of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, or to try to find a team capable of winning a championship, or to start graduate school.

Kerrigan Miller, Gabby Rosenzweig, Sammy Mueller, and Charlotte North are amongst the players who have made their new teams — UNC, Duke, Northwestern, and Boston College — into NCAA Tournament participants this year, and have made an immense difference in the fortunes of their teams because of their experience, guile, skills, and athleticism.

Time was, especially in non-revenue sports like lacrosse, players would stick around for all four years of eligibility. Transferring schools meant trying to transfer credits, move from one campus to another, and sometimes harboring the possibility that you might have to face your former teammates in a different-color jersey the next year.

But these days, changing college teams seems to be as common as changing clothes. I think a lot of this comes from what happens with regularity in football and men’s basketball, where transfers are commonplace — and sometimes, expected for good players in mid-major teams.

I think one reason (albeit not the only one) that you’re seeing more and more transfers in lacrosse is because of the prominence of the Ivy League in the sport. The Ivy League made a somewhat controversial decision in the wake of the cancellation of athletics in 2020: the schools decided to not allow students in the eight schools an extra year of eligibility to make up for lost COVID seasons.

It’s why you’re seeing a sizable outflow of players from some Ivy rosters. Indeed, the No. 1 men’s lacrosse player to enter the transfer portal a year ago was Michael Sowers, who was Princeton University’s all-time leading scorer. He played the 2021 season for Duke, a team which made the men’s Final Four.

I get the feeling that you’re going to see more of this, especially in an era when the parents of players are not only changing jobs, but changing cities at a much, much higher rate than they did a quarter of a century ago.

May 28, 2021 — The “hot goalie” principle strikes again

A few years ago, this space asked Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) head coach Chris Robinson what it would take to defeat his team, which was in the midst of a national-record 198-game winning streak. His answer: “A team with a hot goalie.”

One of the maxims of this site is that a goaltender in girls’ and women’s lacrosse, expected to be able to save between 45 and 55 percent of opposing shots, can have an outsized impact on tournament games.

Meet Rachel Hall, a junior for Boston College. The junior made 11 stops today in a national semifinal defeat of No. 1 North Carolina. The Heels had been on a 27-game win streak and a loaded roster with two Tewaaraton Trophy nominees and two of the greatest scorers in National Federation history.

But Hall’s sprawling, jumping style of shot-stopping flummoxed the North Carolina attack. The Tar Heels shot only 10 for 35 (29 percent) from the field; take out freshman Caitlyn Wurzburger’s hat trick and the percentage is 7-for-31 (23 percent).

Though Charlotte North commanded the attention of the UNC defense, it was Jenn Medjid who led the Eagles with four goals. Boston College will therefore make it to a fourth straight national title match on Sunday.

May 27, 2021 — Inside the women’s lacrosse Final Four, part 2

SYRACUSE vs. NORTHWESTERN

The obvious: A matchup of not only two good teams, but a pair of genius coaches in Kelly Amonte-Hiller and Gary Gait, each of whom have had enormous influence on women’s lacrosse the last three decades

The not-so-obvious: A lot has been made about the injuries that Syracuse has suffered this year, but you have to credit the Orange for their “next woman up” mentality. It is certainly a measure of the depth of talent on the SU roster

Key players: SU: Meaghan Tyrrell, jr., f; Emma Tyrrell, so., f, Emma Ward, fr., f, Asa Goldstock, gr., g; NU: Izzy Scane, jr., f; Erin Coykendall, so., f; Lauren Gilbert., sr., c, Madison Doucette., jr., g

SU wins this game if: Northwestern is prevented from going on one of their patented goal-scoring streaks … Syracuse can get more than 60 percent of their goals with an assist … if Asa Goldstock has the game of her life

NU wins this game if: Izzy Scane goes off. Yeah, I think she’s that kind of transformative figure, even more than a Selena Lasota, a Hilary Bowen, a Shannon Smith. There’s a reason why she’s called “The Scane Train.”

The skinny: Syracuse has, for all of its excellence in recent years, has never won the Division I title, and its last appearance in the final was 2014 when the tournament was last held at Unitas Stadium … much has been made of the SU defense but can they hold up against not only Scane, but the rest of the Wildcats’ attack unit?

The unanswered questions: Can Goldstock steal a result for Syracuse? She has saved 45 percent of opposing shots this year, and I think she’s going to need more than that for a win today. But the bigger question is which coach is able to dictate the pace of play. Is this going to be a game where the first to 20 wins it?

May 27, 2021 — Inside the women’s lacrosse Final Four, Part 1

NORTH CAROLINA vs. BOSTON COLLEGE

The obvious: Two good ACC teams meeting for a berth in Sunday’s final … teams met already with UNC winning 21-9 … game featured a seven-goal run by Carolina to start the second half

The not-so-obvious: The weight of expectations are starting to show for UNC; the Tar Heels’ last three winning margins are five, five, and three. Boston College has every right to think it can win this game.

Key players: UNC: Jamie Ortega, sr, f; Katie Hoeg, sr., m; Ally Mastroianni, sr., c; Taylor Moreno, sr., g. BC: Charlotte North, gr., f, Cara Urbank, gr., f, Jenn Medjid, jr., f., Rachel Hall, jr., g.

UNC wins this game if: A bench player like Melissa Sconone or Caitlyn Wurzburger is able to get a hat trick. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how UNC’s personnel rotation evolves over this weekend, since the Tar Heels go deep into their bench every game.

BC wins this game if: Charlotte North goes off. Anything can happen if the Duke transfer is allowed to take over the game in the attack end.

The skinny: A lot will depend on the two defenses for this matchup. Boston College, as a team, does not have a player who has caused more than 13 turnovers for the season. They’re going to need someone to step up, get sticks in the passing lane, and draw charges. UNC’s Caroline Wakefield is going to be leading the way amongst the close defense for her side.

The unanswered questions: Can Jenny Levy cut the cord between North and the rest of her teammates? Can Acacia Walker-Weinstein cut the cord between Ortega and Hoeg?

May 26, 2021 — The end of a season like no other

This afternoon, on an artificial grass pitch about 200 yards (straight as the crow flies) from where Constance Applebee taught and coached field hockey for parts of seven decades, the 2020-2021 scholastic field hockey season concluded as the hosts, Bryn Mawr Shipley School (Pa.) defeated Westtown (Pa.) School 4-1.

It’s appropriate, I think, that the domestic season ended in the nation’s most prominent field hockey commonwealth, Pennsylvania. It’s a place which, this season, had to alter its competitive structure because of COVID-19, as only District champions made it into the three PIAA state brackets last fall.

The commonwealth also had the nation’s leading scorer in Hope Rose. The senior had 90 goals for Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.), and she helped carry her team into the Class AAA final with her skills and finishing. She had one of the signature goals of the fall season, carrying the ball 60 yards and beating four Lower Dauphin defenders to put away an angled shot to win the District 3-AAA final in overtime.

Pennsylvania also saw a number of schools opt out of fall competition, but come back in the spring to play in the United X League.

Neither Shipley nor Westtown were in the United X League; they are members of the Friends School League who simply wanted to play a game or two to end the season.

And what a gift for the participants during the waning days of the school year.

BULLETIN: May 25, 2021 — A transcendent ice hockey player becomes commissioner of a different sport

Back in the late 1980s, Mollie Marcoux was an ice hockey player whose college decision commanded, for its time and context, a similar impact to LeBron James’ original decision to take his considerable basketball talent to
Miami.

Only this was women’s ice hockey, a sport without a pro outlet, one which did not have a world championship or an Olympics to aspire to, and a sport which would not gain NCAA championship status for more than a decade. Back then, the sport was very much a closed hegemony, dominated by three schools.

Marcoux chose Princeton, a decision which showed junior hockey players that there were other options beyond Northeastern, New Hampshire, and Providence, three schools which had the lion’s share of postseason honors when the ECAC was the most prominent league.

She had a fantastic career at Princeton, as she still holds the school record for goals in a season (35) and is second in total goals and assists (120 goals, 98 assists) as well as goals.

Marcoux, after leaving Princeton, became a coach and assistant athletic director down the road at The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, then worked for nearly two decades at Chelsea Piers in New York City before being named the athletic director at Princeton in 2014.

Today, Mollie Marcoux Saaman was named the ninth commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She comes into the job with plenty of management experience, but the forces that are pushing against women’s golf are pervasive and troubling.

Today’s LPGA Tour features a movable feast of players, venues, and even major championships. Over the last quarter of a century, a flood of golfing talent from Asia, Europe, and Mexico have made their impact on women’s golf. In response, the LPGA plays a number of co-sponsored tournaments in places like China, Taipei, Japan, and South Korea.

More recently, however, the LPGA removed the DuMaurier championship as a major, and replaced it with the Women’s Open in Britain and the Evian Masters in France. That gives the Tour five major championships.

The attention given these tournaments is in great contrast to others on the tour, leading to speculation that non-majors are likely to have lower growth in prize purses and limited fields, even as early as this year.

I’m hoping for a great surge in golf popularity under the leadership of Mollie Marcoux Saaman. There is definite room for improvement and change for the better.

May 25, 2021 — The last one

Last weekend, the state of North Carolina pitted Charlotte Myers Park (N.C.) against Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds (N.C.) in the last state championship field hockey game of the unprecendented 2020-2021 academic year.

But field hockey has not yet ended on the varsity level. Tomorrow, in a game scheduled to be played in Bryn Mawr, Pa., the host Shipley School will take on Westtown (Pa.) School in the second of a two-game series.

This two-game series is not a championship series for the Friends School League, the circuit to which these two schools belong. It’s also not necessarily a showcase.

But it’s an opportunity to compete, which is pretty much the only thing these teams ever wanted. These sides met on Friday, with Westtown running out 3-0 winners. It will be interesting to see if Shipley is able to close out the 2020-21 American field hockey season with a revenge win.

May 24, 2021 — Soft on scheduling

Today, I took the remote from my cable box and scrolled it to the right. Further and further to the right came the programming schedule, until I came to Friday’s slate of games for the ESPN family of networks, which are grouped together on my system.

ESPNU, a channel dedicated to college sports, is broadcasting the NCAA Division I national semifinals this Friday at noon and at 2 p.m. This is an odd development because in past years, the national semifinals would normally be held at 5 and 7:30 p.m. I remember this being the case when the games were held at Unitas Stadium, Homewood Field, or at UMBC Stadium.

But on the schedule for the evening on both ESPN2 and ESPNU are tripleheaders of super-regional softball coverage. These are those three-game single-elimination series which determine which eight teams go to the College World Series for Division I softball.

There has been significant blowback on this on social media, as it should be. The games, while being made available to viewers on a percentage of cable systems and for people buying the ESPN+ streaming service, are being made unavailable to the lacrosse community at large in Maryland and its environs. Youth players who might want to watch the game will be in school while this doubleheader takes place.

Of course, it’s not the only time that the NCAA has seemingly cut itself off at the knees when it comes to growing the sport at the grass-roots level. Only a few weeks ago, the NCAA field hockey national semifinals were also held in the afternoon, which does not allow young people from the burgeoning field hockey programs of The Tar Heel State to watch the semifinal doubleheader.

I guess that, even after the NCAA has been called out for its inequality of treatment for women athletes during the 2021 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament, the college sports body still doesn’t get it.