TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for September 1, 2021

Sept. 1, 2021 — Thoughts on the start of Year 24

It was back in 1998 when this website started with a few words on a GeoCities website: “News From The Top Of The Circle,” it said.

Since then, this site has ballooned with not only a text presence, but video, this blog, and the social media accounts in the header. As always, give us a like and a share when you get onto our TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook presences. And if you look us up on those four accounts, you can find our Fearless 5ive for the three NCAA divisions as well as our scholastic preseason Top 10.

Over the last 23 years, we’ve gotten to meet with some of the great players in the history of field hockey and lacrosse in this country, as well as a number of future stars.

We’ve always worried, however, whether the influence of this site has caused some players and teams to divert from the kind of game they are trained to play and either take rash chances or run up the score on opponents.

We’ve noticed players in field hockey and lacrosse who have blasted existing scoring records. Caitlyn Wurzburger had 1,000 points in her varsity lacrosse career, Austyn Cuneo and Mackenzie Allessie with mind-boggling 300-goal field hockey careers, Fran Frieri breaking the single-season lacrosse scoring record for a small-town team in Illinois, Haley (Schleicher) Randall getting 50 goals and 50 assists in a field hockey season, and the 500-goal careers of Taylor Pinzone and Sophia Turchetta, who went to high school a scant 25 miles apart in the western suburbs of Boston.

The statistical achievements have been steered by some great coaches. I find it interesting that, for example, the current leaders in coaching wins — Kathy Jenkins in girls’ lacrosse and Susan Butz-Stavin in field hockey — are still active. In addition, I also find it interesting that two of the most successful scholastic coaches in the last quarter-century — Danyle Heilig in field hockey and Deanna Knobloch in girls’ lacrosse — decided to step away from their successful programs within the space of 15 months.

But as well as these coaches, players, and their teams have done, the overall fortunes of the sports in which they take part have diverged significantly since this site started.

In field hockey, the United States was, and still is, seen as “the sick man” of the sport. The U.S. women’s team was fourth in the world coming out of the 1998 FIH Women’s World Cup, but failed to qualify for the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. The United States had a pretty good patch beginning in 2006, qualifying for three consecutive Olympics between 2008 and 2016, all the while winning its first major trophy in 2014 with the FIH Champions Challenge.

However, after losing in the quarterfinals of Rio 2016, the States finished last in its pool at the 2018 World Cup, then failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Behind the scenes, there were multiple coaching changes and a public imbroglio over the quality of the $12 million Home of Hockey in central Pennsylvania.

Right now, the U.S. women are in the midst of having to occupying its fifth home ground since October 2001. As for the U.S. men, the senior national team has still not qualified for an Olympics or World Cup when it has not been the host since 1956. There still are no varsity field hockey programs at U.S. schools and colleges for boys and young men.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, have legal language to allow boys to play on boys’ teams, but the only boys’ scholastic programs which have even gotten onto the field have been in California.

In addition, the NCAA Division I championship was not on national cable TV for nearly a quarter of a century, only returning in early May 2021 with a memorable grand final between North Carolina and Michigan.

Contrast this with women’s and girls’ lacrosse. The number of girls’ teams across America has nearly tripled since 2000. The NCAA Division I tournament’s field, which had just six teams the mid-1990s, now has 26.

Women’s lacrosse now has an amazing collection of star players who have latched onto social media to build their reputations and, with new NCAA regulations allowing players to make money off names, images, and licensing (NLI). Too, there have been three professional women’s lacrosse leagues since 2016, which has allowed players to develop not only their personal branding, but the quality of their games.

This has allowed the United States to retain the No. 1 slot in just about every major world tournament. There have been a couple of significant exceptions: the U.S. finished second to Australia in the 2005 World Cup, and the U.S. junior national team lost to Canada in the 2015 U-19 World Cup.

The States are coming into the 2022 Women’s World Cup in Towson, Md. as a favorite, but as a tenuous one. No host nation has ever won a World Cup in women’s lacrosse.

But what the U.S. has that no other nation has is an organized pro league, one which competes under the Athletes Unlimited banner. The league, which uses metrics to select captains which choose up teams for the next week, is a concept which gets players to work with each other while using their natural abilities, and without coaches.

This site has advocated for the professionalization of post-graduate competition since we started. And the success of AU women’s lacrosse has brought up an interesting scenario. Should AU get involved in women’s field hockey? And if so, isn’t it the case that men’s field hockey needs this kind of competitive circuit more than the women?

It’s an interesting discussion point, one which bears watching when it comes to the ground that the game of field hockey has lost in the last quarter-century.