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Jan. 17, 2021 — The last games for a while?

They’ve been playing field hockey in Florida this past weekend as part of the annual National Field Hockey Coaches Association convention. Prominent clubs like Stealth, Texas Pride, Saints Hockey, South Jersey Edge, Cape Cod, and Tcoyo have been playing round-robin matches for the last three days at the Boombah Sports Complex.

On social media, the players are wearing the usual kaleidoscopic variety of colorful uniforms, but with one addendum: masks. Which, of course has become part of everyday life in these days of COVID-19.

It’s been about a month since the last U.S. scholastic field hockey match, with an exciting overtime goal deciding the North Carolina Field Hockey Association title. But in reading the schedule and the situation in the six U.S. states which are planning to have their 2020 field hockey seasons during the winter and spring months, one question has occurred: “Is this showcase the last U-19 field hockey we’re going to be seeing for a while?”

The rate of transmission of Coronavirus in this country has been alarming. And if it hasn’t alarmed you yet, it should. It’s said that 1 out of every 3 hospitalized persons in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, have been admitted for COVID-19 complications. The positive testing rate nationwide is a million a week. Some 100,000 people have died in the last five weeks alone.

Bottom line? The United States had its 400,000th death last week, which by far leads the world.

With the wavering we’re seeing by some U.S. colleges and the state of California when it comes to reopening sports, it doesn’t look good at all.

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Jan. 16, 2021 — An unfortunate blowback

Virtually all of the narrative when it comes to the effects of COVID-19 on North American college sports has focused on the major four-year colleges from the so-called Power Five universities in the NCAA all the way to NAIA schools.

Very little has been written about junior colleges, those two-year institutions which can help students with making up credits for major courses of study, or in many cases, help with the physical maturation of players who may have been a step too slow for the big time.

Community college do not have the place they may have had in the 1980s when the term “junior college transfer” was tossed around scouting reports for football and men’s basketball. Indeed, junior-college field hockey died out across the U.S. at the close of the millenium. Women’s lacrosse, after having its numbers dwindle about that time, have steadied to about 15, stretching from Maine to Illinois.

That’s what makes the one announcement today from the heart of lacrosse country somewhat discouraging. Onondaga Community College in Syracuse announced today that it was shutting down all of its spring sports, including fall sports which were scheduled to compete in a postponed season.

The closure of the OCC sports program for the season adds to the scattered closures of spring sports that have been announced nationwide. But what makes this closure hurtful is the fact that the opting out puts a hole in just about every other team’s schedule for the spring. The Lazers, presumably, were on the schedule of the other nine New York-based junior colleges that play women’s lacrosse, as well as some of the other New England schools.

I have a feeling that Onondaga is not going to be the last lacrosse-playing institution to opt out of women’s lacrosse this spring, given the spread of COVID-19 the last five weeks, with 100,000 dead since mid-December.

Jan. 15, 2021 — Monthly Statwatch for games played through Dec. 19

The landscape of scholastic field hockey is starting to round into shape, at least from a statistical perspective. We’ve been compiling and making corrections since the most recent game, the North Carolina public-school final, meaning that we’ve been able to refine what we’ve been publishing since September.

What you see below are a collection of American scholastic field hockey statistics from, amongst other sources, MaxPreps, Berks Game Day, the KHSAA, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Advance Media. Once we get information from the upcoming Fall 2 and Spring field hockey seasons in six states, we’ll be adding those figures to these.

We have a true affinity for MaxPreps, because it is easy for the average coach, athletic director, or student manager to register for the MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams as well as perhaps your conference, league, or your state governing body to enter field hockey information there, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

GOALS
90 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
74 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
49 Olivia Fraticelli, Toms River (N.J.) North
47 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
37 Molly Catchpole, Watchung Mount St. Mary Academy (N.J.)
37 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
34 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwenedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.)
34 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
33 Kierra Ettere, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.)
33 Rylie Wollerson, Gibsonia Pine-Richland (Pa.)
33 Casey Lynn Dewald, Fleetwood (Pa.)
32 Julianne Kopec, Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic
32 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
32 Brynn Crouse, Dillsburg Northern York (Pa.)
31 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
30 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
30 Maci Bradford, Delmar (Del.)

ASSISTS
35 Dylan Breier, Louisville DuPont Manual (Ky.)
28 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
28 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
27 Izzy Bianco, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Riley Hudson, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Gianna Puorro, North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.)
23 Grace Hughes, Oletangy Liberty (Ohio)
22 Kayla Kiwak, Exeter Wyoming Area (Pa.)
21 Alexis Kociban, Emmaus (Pa.)
21 Maddie Epke, Guilford (Conn.)
21 Kathrine McLean, Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.)
20 Carli Servis, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)

CAREER GOALS
233 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
198 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
141 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
141 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
135 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
131 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
115 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
108** Elizabeth Yeager, Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.)
105 Abby Hartwell, Franklinville Delsea (N.J.)
102 Kate Herlihy, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
102 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwynedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.)
**–five-year total

CAREER ASSISTS
132 Cami Crook, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
110 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
91 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)

CONSECUTIVE UNBEATEN
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
41 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.)

This is where my readers need to jump in. If you see a figure or total that needs an addition or correction, feel free to 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.

Thanks for reading, and, pandemic willing, we’ll be adding some of California’s totals when they start up in the next month.

Jan. 14, 2021 — A second prominent ACC women’s basketball team opts out

The University of Virginia women’s basketball team has had some hard luck since the team made three consecutive Final Fours between 1990-92. The Cavaliers have not been ranked in the AP Top 25 in a decade, and have gone through a pair of coaching changes.

Even with WNBA legend Tina Thompson at the helm of the program, the team seemingly struggled to attract the kind of top-level talent which has been going to the likes of Stanford, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Louisville. It’s notable that, of the 13 members of the UVA roster coming into the 2020 season, four of them were transfers from other colleges, meaning that Thompson only had nine players who were directly recruited into the program.

A wave of injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic hit the team hard, necessitating the decision today to end its season. Virginia becomes the second ACC women’s basketball team, following Duke, to opt out of finishing the 20-20 campaign.

The Cavaliers had started its season 0-5 but its most significant metric was the fact that seven of its games were postponed because of health issues. And perhaps the most troubling of these cancellations was a Dec. 6 road trip to George Washington University. Virginia had just six healthy players for the game.

I know there are better days ahead for this once-proud program. I can’t help but think that, once the pandemic ends and the players apply themselves fully to the task at hand, they’ll be competitive.

BULLETIN: Jan. 13, 2021 — NCAA Division II field hockey is all but cancelled for the spring season

Remember this?

This afternoon, the Northeast-10, the only other Division II field hockey conference to have an Automatic Qualifier to the NCAA Division II field hockey tournament, has decided not to have a regular season or a conference tournament during the repositioned fall season, which had been scheduled to start quite soon.

Now, the news release from the NE10 does mention an allowance for individual teams to schedule individual games with opponents, subject to local health regulations as well as NCAA policies. Teams are also allowed to practice, train, and engage in various team activities.

According to The Worcester Telegram, at least one school, Assumption, is looking to form a pod with other local Division II colleges to schedule limited competition this spring, which is something that looks an awful like the spring hockey scrimmages that usually dot the landscape that time of year.

With these kinds of announcement flowing through the news, you wonder if collegiate field hockey for the 20-21 academic year is a fool’s errand.

Jan. 13, 2021 — More of the same in women’s soccer?

A decade ago, Lindsey Horan did something which was unheard of in American women’s sports. As the top-ranked female soccer recruit coming out of high school, she decided to forego a scholarship to the University of North Carolina in order to play with the pro women’s soccer team Olympique Lyonnais.

This kind of thing has been de rigeur in men’s sports for years, especially since a pair of basketball players named Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson entered a little-known dispersal draft called a “hardship draft,” sending both to the NBA, whereupon they won eight NBA titles, six MVPs, played on the 1992 “Dream Team” at the Barcelona Olympics, and entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

The last couple of days, the world of women’s soccer has been flipped upside down with a pair of intentions to turn professional by a pair of prominent American players.

Brianna Pinto is a midfielder for the University of North Carolina. She is one of the most-capped players in the history of United States U-20 soccer, having won the 2019 U.S. Soccer Young Player of the Year. That honor has been won by a litany of legends including current U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, as well as national-team mainstays like Heather O’Reilly, Kristie Mewis, Tobin Heath, Julie Johnston Ertz, Morgan Brian, and Mallory Pugh.

A couple of days ago, she posted her intention on Twitter to leave UNC to declare for the NWSL draft, which takes place today. She is expected to be a likely top-four pick by expansion side Louisville, Washington, or Sky Blue FC, which holds the third and fourth selections of the draft.

While Pinto is destined to be wearing an NWSL shirt starting this spring, the same cannot be said for another college soccer star. Stanford junior Catarina Macario, she of the two Hermann Trophies and two NCAA titles, has opted to forego her senior season and sign professionally with Olympique Lyonnais.

Macario, according to the Stanford Daily, was in a bit of a bidding war for her services, as Bayern Munich was cited as a candidate. But Macario decided to instead go to France, even though there’s likely to be an NWSL side likely to snap up her domestic rights for the moment she decides to come back to U.S. shores.

I think, however, there’s something deeper than just the ability to play in France, away from the COVID-19 pandemic in North America.

One of her teammates in Lyon will be Ada Hegerberg, the Norwegian player who decided to opt out of participation for Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup over player contracts with the national federation for soccer. As such, I think Macario could very well be setting up a confrontation with the NWSL over the very existence of the player draft.

You see, in world soccer, individual teams in every country try to grow their talent at home in developmental academies or developmental youth leagues, sort of like if every NWSL or MLS team had teams at every possible age level. Something like this has already been tried, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which was ended in April of 2020.

But the draft remains, tying the drafted player’s rights to one club unless that club trades those rights away. Mind you, it’s not quite like baseball’s reserve clause; eventually soccer players’ rights can expire.

I’m interested to see what happens in a couple of years after Macario’s contract expires, especially if she becomes a prominent player for the United States leading up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Jan. 12, 2021 — The one thing we haven’t seen yet (EDITED)

It’s about a month before the first women’s lacrosse games are usually played.

However, as of this moment, most of us only know of exactly one fixture: the Feb. 13 season-opener between two of the last three NCAA Division I champions, as 2018 champion James Madison takes on 2016 titlist North Carolina.

The Coronavirus pandemic has sent collegiate athletic directors scrambling to create schedules which make sense given local health directives and the presence of COVID hotspots. Multiply this across several sports teams, and you’ll understand the logistical nightmare of trying to run an athletic department during these times.

What we know is that the nation’s most competitive women’s lacrosse conference, the ACC, has a structure already. Though the ACC will remain a single-table league, it is being split into two divisions. Boston College, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Louisville are in one division, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Duke in the other. Teams play divisional opponents twice, and teams from the opposite division once, with up to five non-conference games, for a total of 15.

In addition, the Big East will be having double round-robin, but without travel. That is to say, when Georgetown plays Villanova, both games will take place the same weekend either at Cooper Field or at Villanova Stadium.

The hangup for many of the 120 or so women’s lacrosse teams in Division I seems to be non-conference games.

And imagine: if the Division I teams are having this much trouble hammering out their schedules, what must the Division II and III schedulemakers be experiencing?


UPDATE: This afternoon, the entire UNC women’s lacrosse schedule came out. And, as expected, it was 15 matches in duration.

The Heels’ non-conference schedule does run the gamut. The team will be playing James Madison to open the season, with a good Florida side a week later. UNC is also going to play three teams which they should beat, in Mercer, High Point, and Vanderbilt.

This means, of course, that there are some prominent teams that the Tar Heels won’t be playing, such as Loyola, Stony Brook, and, perhaps most pointedly, Maryland. UNC and Maryland were ACC rivals before the latter jumped to the Big Ten, but still kept playing each other. Regrettably, COVID scheduling has put the kibosh on that.

Jan. 11, 2021 — A useful distraction in a (nearly) lost field hockey season

The folks at Field Hockey Corner have been engaging in an ambitious project to celebrate the 41st anniversary of the start of the national championship era of intercollegiate field hockey.

The project is not only a celebration of the best teams ever to compete for national championships in the AIAW and NCAA, but there is also a bracket competition which you can decide three ultimate winners in Division I, Division II, and Division III.

Now, there’s a lot of information to digest here. I may consider myself knowledgeable about field hockey, but am lost if I try to answer questions about the 1980 Southwest Missouri State team and whether this 29-win team could have beaten one of the Millersville title teams of recent vintage.

This project allows you to read up on the more than 200 field hockey teams that field hockey historian Chip Rogers and his research team have put forth as nominees in his three ultimate brackets. It’s a great thought experiment, one which should give you knowledge and perspective, and it may allow you to do some further research to find out what made each team great.

Jan. 10, 2021 — New ways to watch the NFL, but at a price?

TELESIDE, U.S.A. — One of the hallmarks of watching sports television in a number of countries are the alternate streams. If you’re a subscriber to Sky Sports in the United Kingdom, there are several different ways you can watch a Premier League game. There is the usual world feed of the game with commentaries, there’s a channel when you can watch a studio show with a host and three pundits commentating on what is going on in real time, and, until a few years ago, there was FanZone, where two superfans of each team would commentate on the match while aiming verbal jabs at each other, the opposing team, and occasionally the British government.

After a quarter-century of digital TV under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, this kind of rollout is very rare. But today, for the second day of the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend, we had three games that you could watch through streaming. The last game, between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, was just a replication of the same network broadcast.

But the other two games gave their broadcast a chance to push the envelope a bit. The first game, between Baltimore and Tennessee, was on the ESPN MegaCast, which meant the return of what is one of my favorite channels, the Film Room. In that room were former NFL players Keyshawn Johnson, Booger McFarland, Matt Hasselbeck, and Tedy Bruschi, along with former NFL head coach Rex Ryan.

The group took apart the strategy and tactics of every play, although the presentation was a little different from what I’m used to. The feed had two streams of the field — one of the live action in a postage-stamp in the corner, but the “clicker” feed in the middle.

The thing about the clicker feed is that the person running the clicker would often roll back the action at the moment that a catch was made or when a runner was first contacted, not with the end of the play; important details about the play’s implication or aftermath were often missed. I had to put on the actual game broadcast on a second screen in order to be able to follow the action in between plays, such as body language, penalties, or substitutions.

I liked the stories swapped between the five talking heads, but I didn’t get as much strategy as if there were all coaches in the film room, though I understand it’s hard to find anyone to fill that role because of the revolving door of coaching personnel in the NFL with the end of the 2020 regular season.

After the Baltimore win, we tuned into what turned out to be the most outside-the-box NFL broadcast since the first NFL network broadcast in 1939. In this game, New Orleans took on Chicago in a game which had an alternate broadcast on Nickelodeon, a network which built its fandom on not only cartoons, but through vintage TV programming.

The broadcast wasn’t your usual NFL telecast, to be sure. There were animations during the highlights, and sometimes even during the game. Virtual flames came from the field, and when touchdowns were scored, four virtual slime cannons would pop up and flood the end zone with virtual green goop.

What was really cool, however, was the broadcast team. Noah Eagle, the son of NFL and NBA broadcaster Ian Eagle, sounds just like his father and likely put himself in line for a future career on Sundays. Gabby Nevaeh Green, a 15-year-old actress and TikTok content generator, is incredibly poised for someone her age and punctuated the broadcast with interesting bits and an occasional “Ohhhhhhh!!!” during scoring plays.

Nate Burleson, who also works for NFL Network, did a great job of explaining certain aspects of the game such as the aftermath of a fight that got a player ejected from the game. In his explanation, he emphasized de-escalation rather than justifying the woofing that was going on between the Bears’ receivers and the Saints’ defensive backfield.

The broadcast team and the graphics gave a fresh look to a product which has been derided since the mid-1980s as the “No Fun League.”

I hope we see something like this again, but it’s interesting that many people were watching these alternate feeds on services which you had to pay extra to get. Many of ESPN’s alternate streams were found not only on ESPN’s sister networks, but on ESPN+. The NBC broadcast, plus a special post-game show, were found on Peacock Premium. And while Nickelodeon was available on most cable systems, they also teased a pay service called Paramount Plus, which is scheduled to launch soon featuring the content of the CBS All-Access channel.

I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more of this.

Jan. 9, 2021 — A cold closing

Remember this and this, partially balanced by this?

Yesterday, the hammer dropped on another private school, one which had a small part in field hockey lore, but has a pretty large history in sports in its area.

Trenton (N.J.) Catholic Academy yesterday announced that it would be closing at then end of the academic year, citing both financial and COVID-19 concerns. It is a school which has built its reputation largely on athletics since its founding in 1962. It hosted, at one time, the most important boys’ basketball holiday tournament in the country, the Eastern States Catholic Invitational Tournament, which brought in regional as well as occasional national powerhouse teams.

TCA, when it was known as St. Anthony’s, also had a field hockey team at the dawn of Title IX, but the sport was long gone once the first Mercer County Tournament was held in 1981.

Since then, sports at the school have driven many decisions. When your Founder was doing the dailies, the football team at the school was at the bottom of the table in the Colonial Valley Conference. At one time, the Iron Mikes football team was dangerously close to being unable to field a team because of low turnout and injuries.

A few years ago, however, the school made the radical decision to break its geographical boundary and play its sports within the Burlington County Scholastic League. This is the high-school equivalent of Australia playing soccer within the Asian Football Confederation or the years when Phillipsburg (N.J.) was part of the East Penn Conference, which was the case until 1995.

Trenton Catholic’s move to the BCSL had the desired effect for the football team; it was placed in the Freedom Division of the BCSL with several small school districts along the Delaware River where the team at least would have a chance to compete on a fair basis.

But the consolidation of nearly 100 schools into the West Jersey Football League complicated matters, and TCA dropped football.

The basketball enterprise, however, grew in prestige and importance. The girls’ basketball team at the school was ranked in the Top 10 in numerous polls, and the boys’ team was winning county and state tournaments. And the school’s apex was when the boys’ team was able to win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions in 2010.

Regrettably, TCA is going to be remembered as yet another COVID-19 casualty.