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Archive for February, 2023

Feb. 28, 2023 — The national preseason Top 10

It’s going to be an interesting year in girls’ scholstic lacrosse, as we’re seeing, like crocuses emerging from cold soil, teams making more of an effort to play intersectional games now that COVID-19 is no longer uncontrolled in our population.

On paper, Darien (Conn.) is currently the best team in the country, even graduating top goalie Shea Dolce. I think Glenelg (Md.) Country School is going to win the IAAM Class “A” final after so many near misses. They’ll prepare against a panoply of schools including Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) as well as Glenelg (Md.). Of course, the key part of the Dragons’ season is the league schedule, the nation’s toughest.

1. Darien (Conn.) 20-1
2. Glenelg (Md.) Country School 17-2
3. Sykesville Century (Md.) 19-0
4. South Huntington St. Anthony (N.Y.) 15-2
5. Westwood (Mass.) 25-0
6. Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) 17-1
7. Annapolis Broadneck (Md.) 17-3
8. Victor (N.Y.) 21-1
9. New Canaan (Conn.) 21-2
10. Manhasset (N.Y.) 16-2

And bear in mind: Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.) 18-1, Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 18-2, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 15-3, Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.) 11-4, Summit (N.J.) 23-2, Bronxville (N.Y.) 21-1, Northport (N.Y.) 19-2, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) 20-2, Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 24-0

Feb. 27, 2023 — Is it too early to change horses?

Last weekend, in a snowstorm in West Point, N.Y., the United States Military Academy beat Rutgers in a women’s lacrosse game.

It was, to me, an unexpected result, as this site pointed up Rutgers as a dark-horse candidate for national honors this season.

Army West Point, however, is not going to go gently. The Black Knights are unbeaten this season and have a tremendous coach in former U.S. women’s national teamer Michelle Tumolo.

The team is led by first-year attacker Brigid Duffy (12 goals, 5 assists), but it is notable that the next several leaders in team scoring are from recognized lacrosse powerhouses. Kathleen Sullivan, from Annapolis South River (Md.), Julia Franzoni from Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.), and Julie Riedell from San Diego Scripps Ranch (Calif.) are the next three leading point-getters. And, as it turns out, all three are seniors, meaning that they are months away from their eight-year mandatory military service.

Until then, there is a tough Patriot League slate ahead, which peaks with an April 15th showdown at No. 8 Loyola, followed a week later by the big rivalry game against Navy.

It doesn’t get any easier.

Feb. 26, 2023 — Another field hockey retirement, hitting closer to home

Back in 1993 while working for the dailies, I had the privilege of having Levittown Pennsbury (Pa.) in my coverage area. It was a team with players who had plenty of history. Start with head coach Barbara Rensimer, a West Chester graduate who was a tremendous field hockey and lacrosse athlete. The team also had Tracey Larson, who would eventually become part of the U.S. women’s national team pool.

In 1994, this team was five seconds away from winning the Subirban One National League’s Patriot Division but for a miraculous free hit touched in by a rival forward from Newtown Council Rock (Pa.). But on these Pennsbury teams was a motor of a player named Becca Main.

Since her matriculation to Penn State, Main had served as coach at Quinnipiac University as it started up in the Division II ranks, and, for the next 28 years, fostered the team as it moved into Division I.

She retired last week after winning 214 games, and bringing the Cats to three NCAA Tournaments.

Quinnipiac, it must be said, wasn’t ever known for sports, but was more known for its national polling institute, its law school, and a collection of art commemorating the Great Irish Famine.

But during Main’s tenure at Quinnipiac, the school took sports much more seriously, and found success in both men’s and women’s ice hockey.

It was 2013 when Main’s Bobcats hit their apex, winning 14 games and making the NCAA Tournament, only to lose to American University 3-1 in the NCAA play-in between the Patriot and the Metro Atlantic tournament champions.

Main joins a number of experienced and successful head coaches who have decided to retire from coaching in the last four or five years, and it does call into question what kind of support coaches are not getting from their university or school administrations.

Feb. 25, 2023 — The reality of being a startup team

Before today, the Clemson women’s lacrosse team looked like worldbeaters. They outscored their first four opponents 85-7 — which is a lot for women’s lacrosse.

Clemson, a team mined from the transfer portal and bolstered by a high-dollar athletic department, was using its first four games as a ramp to its Atlantic Coast Conference season, which began today against Notre Dame. The Tigers gave the Irish everything they had but Notre Dame was able to pull out an 11-8 win.

The game of women’s lacrosse is one of polar imperatives: using jet speed to take advantage of space, and situational management — knowing when not to run. The nuances of the game aren’t learnt right away by an individual, and certainly not by a team.

I’ve had a chance to watch a lot of new Division I teams since this website started: Howard, Oregon, Michigan, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Florida, Johns Hopkins. Each have had their separate struggles to start up, not the least of which are with their own expectations.

And as we’ve noticed, it’s hard to break the eternal oligopoly of women’s lacrosse, where it has been difficult to break into that Maryland/Virginia/Princeton/Northwestern/North Carolina echelon that has formed in the game since 1990. Indeed, it took an extraordinarily balanced James Madison team to win its only national final in 2018, and it took Charlotte North to get Boston College to break through in 2021.

I remember, for example, watching Oregon in its second year, playing good enough defense to beat a ranked Georgetown team on the road, but lost by three. Five years later, the Ducks made an NCAA Tournament appearance, but have never made it again.

I saw Florida in fall-ball the year before they started varsity play and watched in amazement as the Gators made the Final Four in its third season and could have made the national championship game but for a slightly loosened string that led to an illegal stick call.

I also watched Vanderbilt, in its ninth season, make the Final Four. The Commodores had a purple patch of form when it made the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis, but then spent a decade on the outside before making the 2021 bracket.

I watched Michigan in its fall-ball season back in 2013. But despite transfers and a highly rated recruiting class, the team won just four games in the first season, and wouldn’t win more than six games a season under head coach Jennifer Uhlela.

But I also saw the gradual progression of Northwestern as it grew in wisdom, strength, speed, and understanding as the Wildcats went on a great run of making eight national title games in a row, winning seven of them. The Wildcats have made seven Final Fours since, but have come up empty every time.

These are the kinds of odds that Clemson faces as it builds its team foundation and team culture.

Still, it think it’s a lot harder to win a national championship as a startup team than it was when this site started. And it’s not just because of the competition, but because the number of participating schools is on an upturn. There were 114 teams last year, and nine more are coming on line this year and next. This includes Clemson, South Florida, Charlotte, and Queens, all of whom will be contesting for the burgeoning lacrosse culture in the Carolinas all the way through Georgia and Florida.

Those battles are yet to be won.

Feb. 24, 2023 — Hunting for points

Since the United States women’s national field hockey team started play in the FIH Pro League League, the double round-robin competition which helps set some world qualifying criteria for the Olympics and the World Cup, the Americans have not had the best of luck. Before last night, the States won a grand total of two games in regulation play. Both of these games, in May 2019 and 2022, were against China.

Last night in Wellington, New Zealand, the United States gained its first win of the 2023 Pro League and its first shutout win in its Pro League history with a 2-0 win over China. The win lifts the U.S. out of the ninth relegation place in the Pro League and into a tie for sixth place in the table with five points in three matches.

It’s an encouraging sign, and so was the American effort last evening. Thanks in large part to the team’s defense of Kelee Lepage, Meredith Sholder, Josie Hollamon, Karlee Kisha, and Alexandra Hammel, in front of goalie Kelsey Bing, the States were able survive China’s shot advantage and take advantage of their opportunities in the final third.

The States had a grand total of three shots on goal, but scored on two of them, both within a few minutes of the halftime interval The first goal came from Saarne Caarls on a backhander in the 28th minute of play, and Amanda Golini scored the second just two minutes into the third quarter.

Bing, in the goal cage, was immense for the United Eagles. She withstood five consecutive corners at the onset of the second quarter and a series of corners in the final five minutes of the third quarter. But the Stanford graduate and her defense were equal.

This evening, the Americans have a meeting with host New Zealand before having to meet Australia and Argentina twice each in a five-day period in Hobart, New Zealand. It’s a tough ask, but with the hopeful results in the first three games of the Pro League, who knows what this team can do?

Feb. 23, 2023 — A fourth change in four years at the nation’s most prominent scholastic field hockey program

When Danyle Heilig retired as head coach of Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) in January 2020 after winning 500 games and winning 21 consecutive state championships, you could have wondered how many coaches it would take to fill her shoes.

Turns out, that number is four.

The Vikings program, which has won an astounding 23 sectional championships, 22 state titles, nine NJSIAA Tournament of Champions trophies, and nine TopOfTheCountry trophies emblematic of the nation’s finest field hockey team, had three coaches in three years after Heilig’s retirement. And now there will be another.

The school announced this morning on Twitter that Tina Londino would be taking over the Vikings program. She comes over from her dual assistantship at Boonton (N.J.) and William Paterson University. She has South Jersey roots, playing for Gloucester (N.J.) and winning Group I all-star honors from the Dorf Features Service her senior year.

Londino has found success as a head coach. She steered Wayne (N.J.) Hills to three straight Passaic County Tournament championships between 2013-15.

It will be interesting to see how the Londino-led Eastern side rebounds from a 2022 season which saw the team finish with 10 wins and nine defeats.

Feb. 22, 2023 — A third major piece has fallen into place

In the last few weeks, some major Division I field hockey programs have seen their head coaching positions open. This afternoon, one of those positions closed.

The hiring of former Syracuse assistant coach Lynn Farquhar to become the Orange’s new head coach is a roundabout trip for the former standout at Old Dominion.

Farquhar was a long-time assistant to coach Ange Bradley before moving over to take over the St. Joseph’s University head coaching job. Whilst on Hawk Hill, Farquhar did a transformative job coaching the Hawks, winning the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year five times in her eight seasons. She won the second-most games in SJU history and gave the Hawks their first berths into the NCAA Division I tournament.

And in the tournament, St. Joseph’s became a bit of a problem for other teams to try and match. In 2018, their second visit to the national tournament, the Hawks gave Michigan all it could handle before losing 3-2. Three years later, they played national finalist Liberty tough despite being shut out 2-0.

Farquhar left St. Joseph’s for a year and coached at Newtown George School (Pa.), taking over the field hockey program and some athletic administrative duties after former U.S. international Nancy Zurn Bernardini retired after 45 years.

But now, Farquhar has circled back to Syracuse, and much will be expected from a team that played extremely well over the season, losing a bid to the Final Four in a shootout loss to Maryland.

Feb. 21, 2023 — NCAA Division III preview

The Fearless 5ive:


Middlebury has won half the NCAA Division III champions on offer since 2016 despite missing two whole seasons because of COVID-19. There’s no reason why the Panthers cannot a second straight title this spring thanks to the return of IWLCA National Player of the Year Jane Earley. Adding to Middlebury’s firepower are All-Americans Erica Barr and Hope Shue.

Close behind the Panthers will be NESCAC rival Tufts. Maggie Carden, who scored 69 goals last year, will return for the Jumbos as well as Caroline Walter (37) and Caroline Conaghan (34). With Molly Laliberty having transferred to Northwestern, this leaves returnees Pascale de Buren and Courtney Kaufman — with less than 160 minutes of varsity experience — to vie for the starting goaltender position.

The Salisbury Sea Gulls will have a sixth-year player on the roster, graduate student Emma Skoglund. She was an NCAA All-Tournament Team member her freshman year. Junior midfielder Leah Vilov is going to be key in the draw circle, and Madeline Davis is a force on the back line.

The 2023 season saw a welcome return to the Final Four for The College of New Jersey. Though the Lions aren’t as dominant as they were during the 20th Century, they are a relevant and strong side. Ally Tobler, who led TCNJ with 86 goals, returns along with Anna Wright (55 goals) and Anna Devlin (45 goals). Julia Charest and Hailey Wexler will share time in goal.

A year ago, Franklin & Marshall were kept from the Final Four by Tufts. The Diplomats have a great chance to unseat Gettysburg in the Centennial. Lydia Cassilly (48 goals, 30 assists) was one of the team leaders as a first-year player, Madison Bray led the team in draw controls, and Mary Pat McKenna is going to be a leader at close defense.

BULLETIN: Feb. 20, 2023 — PSU hire shows the value of an associate head coach

The announcement today that Penn State associate field hockey coach Lisa Bervinchak-Love would be taking over the position of head coach from legend Char Morett-Curtiss brings to mind a story I was working on several years ago.

The story was to be about assistant coaches. But not just any assistants, but coaches who worked for decades alongside their bosses, the successful head coaches of their institutions.

Bervinchak-Love served as an assistant coach at Penn State for 29 seasons, which is on par with some of the longer-servicing assistants that I have come across over the years, such as Diane Angstadt at Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.), Holly Becker of The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, each of whom have served as assistant field hockey coaches for more than three decades.

The longevity of these three figures is in sharp contract to the life of many assistants, most of whom are around for only a year or two before either moving away from the sport or finding a head coaching position. Rare is the coach who is remains an assistant in more than a couple of different institutions.

I find the hiring process at Penn State in sharp contrast to what happened last month at the University of North Carolina, which hired an all-time great player in Erin Matson to take over from Karen Shelton. In fact, many field hockey programs have now developed the position of “associate head coach” rather than “assistant head coach,” which is a fancy way of saying, “you’re our new head coach once the current-serving one steps down.”

Which is what happened in Happy Valley.

Feb. 20, 2023 — A different kind of win

In any athletic endeavor, you have winners, losers, and occasionally, an unsatisfying draw. And often, you have different kinds of wins. There are expected wins, upsets, blowouts, and the “closer than it should have been” win.

Yesterday, in Blacksburg, Va. and Dover, Del., two teams experienced one of the rarest kind of wins: the “program-defining” win. This kind of win, usually a few years into a team’s history, tells the team and its supporters that the team is emerging from embryo status and may be ready for a higher level of competition.

The Mercer Bears have made an NCAA Tournament the last four non-COVID years. But they haven’t beaten a Top 10-ranked opponent since starting the team in 2015. Too, they have not beaten a team from the ultra-powerful ACC. That is, until yesterday’s 11-8 win over Virginia Tech. The Bears got four goals from Shannon Urey, an attacking midfielder from Chattanooga Baylor School (Tenn.).

The other team with a possible program-defining victory is the team that was Mercer’s first opponent as a Division I school. That team is Delaware State, which got a four-OT win over the Akron Zips. Delaware State, one of the few lacrosse teams playing out of an historically-Black institution, is 2-0 on the season, something you could never have said about this Hornets program since it started in 2012.

“The Akron win was great for our program and it’s nice to be undefeated after two games, but we’re all aware that there’s plenty of work to do to reach our goals for this season and beyond,” said head coach Pam Jenkins.

Delaware State has been on a different struggle from Mercer over the years. Del State has never managed to win more than three games against Division I opposition in a season. But the win over Akron could light the touch paper on this program, giving them belief and confidence throughout the rest of the campaign.