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July 18, 2018 — FIH Women’s World Cup preview: Group D

NOTE: Our World Cup preview continues with Pool D.


POOL D
AUSTRALIA
How they got here: 
Won Oceania Cup
Best finish: 
Champions, two times
Key players: 
Jodie Kenny (F/M), Emily Smith (D/M), Edwina Bone (D)
Outlook:
  Six years ago, as a teenager, Smith was the youngest player on the 2012 Olympic team. Now, she is the captain. It’s a reflection of just how much change there has been in this Hockeyroos side the last four years. Australia won silver just four years ago, but were knocked out at Rio 2016 in the all-or-nothing quarterfinals against New Zealand. And look who’s also drawn into Group D ….

NEW ZEALAND
How they got here: 
Qualified through World League semifinals
Best finish: 
Champions, 1963
Key players:
Sally Rutherford (GK),  Anita McLaren (F/M), Stacey Michelsen (M), Samantha Charlton (D), Olivia Merry (F)
Outlook:
To call the Kiwis a dark horse in this tournament is an understatement. They could win the whole enchilada if they play tight at the back and allow their creativity to come forth in the attack end. McLaren, who you may remember as Anita Punt, is awesome in the final third. The July 28th match against Australia is going to be the bellwether for this entire tournament. Seriously. Don’t miss it.

BELGIUM
How they got here: 
Qualified through World League semifinals
Best finish: 
Third place, 1978
Key players:
Jill Boon (F/M), Barbara Nelen (M), Emilie Sinia (M), Anouk Raes (F)
Outlook:
 The Red Panthers, having finished in 11th place at Rio, are looking for a step up in competition. And lo, do they have it in this group. Can they get inspiration from their soccer brethren?

JAPAN
How they got here: 
Qualified through World League semifinals
Best finish: 
Fifth place, 2006
Key players: 
Natsuki Naito (D), Megumi Kageyama (G), Mayumi Ono (D)
Outlook:
 The Red Samurai are mercurial and mysterious, and will be a tough outing for any opponent. Having won the 2011 Champions Challenge for their first major international trophy, the team wants more success.

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July 17, 2018 — FIH Women’s World Cup preview: Group C

NOTE: Our World Cup preview continues with the Group of Death, Pool C.


POOL C
ARGENTINA
How they got here:
Won Pan-American Cup
Best finish:
Champions, two times
Key players:
Noel Barrionuevo (D), Delfina Merino (M), Florencia Habif (F), Belen Succi (G)
Outlook:
Who else but the Albicelestes can replace an 8-time FIH World Player of the Year with the nation’s all-time leading international goal-scorer? Barrionuevo, the superb dragflick specialist, is a player who creates overwhelming excitement for Argentina’s supporters, but overwhelming dread for fans of the other team. Nine players in this side have 100 or more caps. If Argentina doesn’t make the Final Four, something is wrong.

GERMANY
How they got here:
Qualified through World League semifinal
Best finish:
Champions, two times
Key players:
Janne Muller-Wieland (M), Nina Notman (F), Jana Teschke (M/A)
Outlook:
The bronze-medalists at Rio, the Germans had problems four years ago in the World Cup. The team seemed to run out of ideas and tactics, and lost four out of their six games with a goal-differential of minus-8. That’s not supposed to happen to a German side, and I don’t think there will be a repeat this time around, especially with UNC product Notman being given the No. 10 jersey for the Danes.

SOUTH AFRICA
How they got here: Won Hockey African Cup for Nations
Best finish:
Champion (1956)
Key players:
Shelley Jones (M/F), Dirkie Chamberlain (F), Lisa-Marie Deetlefs (F), Sulette Damons (M), Nicolene Tereblanche (D)
Outlook:
This team could make significant inroads in this championship because of speed and desire. Chamberlain and Deetlefs can wrong-foot defenses with their pace, and Damons is also an offensive threat. South Africa has had to fight for its right to play after the country’s Olympic committee forbade them from participating in the last two Games. In addition, there was no Cape Town Summer Series (the customary January series of Tests which attracts teams from all over the world), and a series with China was cancelled. This group of women is aching for competition and might spring a surprise or two through its athleticism and tactics.

SPAIN
How they got here:
Qualified through World League semifinal
Best finish:
Fifth (1990)
Key players:
Maria Ruiz (G), Georgina Oliva (M/D), Beatriz Perez (M/D), Lola Riera (F)
Outlook:
Spain’s highest finish at a World Cup was a prelude to the team’s gold-medal winning performance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Since then, positive results have been few and far between. Spain finished 12th and last in the 2010 World Cup and didn’t qualify four years ago. The Red Wave have a difficult task to start off this Sunday in pool play against none other than Argentina. Guess this is why this is the Group of Death.

July 16, 2018 — FIH Women’s World Cup preview: Group A

NOTE: In the days before the Women’s World Cup begins for women’s hockey, we’ll take a look at each of the pools, then finish with the United States.


POOL A
CHINA
How they got here: Qualified through World League Semifinal
Best finish: Bronze medal, 2002
Key players: Cui Quixia (D), Peng Yang (M/F), Ye Jiao (G), Zhang Ziaoxue
Outlook: The China story is the classic penthouse-to-poorhouse. In the 2000s, the team finished third in the 2002 World Cup and second in the 2008 Olympics, but have fallen on harder times recently. They’ve qualified for major tournaments, but have not medaled in a decade.

ITALY
How they got here: Qualified through World League Semifinal
Best finish: Sixth place, 1976
Key players: Chiara Tiddi (M), Martina Chirico (G), Agata Wybieralska (F)
Outlook: The Azzuri are not the most experienced side in this tournament, with three players in single digits in caps. But this team, unlike its bretheren in football, made a World Cup.

KOREA
How they got here: Qualified through World League Semifinal
Best finish: Bronze medal, 1990
Key players: Park Mi Hyun (M), Kim Youngran (M), Kim Ok Ju (F)
Outlook: The Korean goalkeepers, Hwang Hyeon A and Bae Sora, have a grand total of 11 caps between them. Can they organize their defenses effectively on such a stage?

HOLLAND
How they got here: Won Eurohockey Nations Championship
Best finish: Champions, 10 times
Key players: Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel (M), Lidewij Welten (F), Caia van Maasakker (M)
Outlook: Holland may have lost a number of legendary players such as Naomi Van As, Ellen Hoog, and Maartje Paumen, but have enough talent in order to win this group with ease. Question is, can they repeat as World Cup champions?

July 15, 2018 — Newest entry

The latest entry in 19 Harvard Blazers is up for those of you following along.

July 14, 2018 — A critical analysis of the professional women’s lacrosse landscape

BACKGROUND: In 2016, former U.S. women’s lacrosse international Michelle DeJuliis partnered with former Brown University ice hockey coach Digit Murphy to create a four-team post-graduate professional women’s lacrosse league, called United Women’s Lacrosse.

After that first season, however, Murphy and DeJuliis parted ways. Murphy went to coach a women’s professional hockey team in China, and DeJuliis formed a second pro circuit, the Professional Women’s Lacrosse League. That league did not play in 2017, because a number of the members it had signed were part of the United States’ historic gold-medal double at the FIL World Cup and the World Games in Poland.

This year, both leagues are operating simultaneously, in conjunction with major youth lacrosse tournaments up and down the East Coast from suburban Washington, D.C. up to greater Boston, giving both leagues ready-made audiences.

CURRENT STATUS: This evening, the WPLL crowns its first champion at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md. Meanwhile, the UWLX will have its penultimate regular-season doubleheader in Bel Air, Md. at mid-week before league semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the championship game in Allston, Mass.

COACHES: Both leagues have engaged top talent from the NCAA; eight out of the nine coaches of the North American pro teams had a job on the sidelines this past season. Interestingly, the UWLX’s head coaches are all male: John Sung of Virginia Tech; Syracuse assistant Regy Thorpe, Louisville’s Scott Teeter, and Boston University assistant Mike Beford.

In the WPLL, four of the five coaches are women: Sonia LaMonica of Towson, Ricky Fried of Georgetown, Katie Rowan of Albany, Shannon Smith of Hofstra, and Amy Patton, the former Dartmouth coach.

PLAYERS: When DeJuliis formed the WPLL, a lot of top players, including Tewaarton winners like Taylor Cummings, bought into the league. A raft of World Cup/World Games veterans such as Gussie Johns, Marie McCool, Kylie Ohlmiller, and Alice Mercer permeate the teams.

At the same time, however, other U.S. national team veterans such as Michelle Tumolo, Cortney Fortunato, Liz Hogan, and Alyssa Murray have suited up for the UWLX.

AT PREGAME: If there’s one commonality between the two leagues, it is the fact that both play some very loud and thumping hip-hop music for pregame warmups. About the only difference is that the music is turned off during UWLX play and the music is left on while the game is going on in the WPLL, giving it a feel like pro basketball.

TIMING: The UWLX has been using past international rules, playing two 35-minute halves with the final two minutes of each half being on stop-time. The WPLL is using the future FIL standard of four 15-minute quarters. The clock, in this league, continues to move in the final two minutes as is the case currently in the NCAA.

Both teams use a possession clock; the UWLX’s clock is 90 seconds, the WPLL is 60 seconds. That gives WPLL teams not a lot of time to substitute and make decisions about what to do in their set offense. If a player is knocked down and fouled, the possession clock and the game clock keep running, which has led to situations late in the 60-second cycle when an attacking player has little to no opportunity to take advantage of a foul.

GAME PLAY: Both leagues use 10 players a side, with only six on attack/defense at any one time. The restraining line is the midfield stripe, just like in men’s lacrosse. As has been the case since the founding of the UWLX in 2016, there is free movement in both leagues.

In the attack zone, the UWLX uses the conventional arc-and-fan system for free-position shots. In the WPLL, a player fouled in the scoring area receives the ball at the top of an 8-meter wedge that looks like a grapefruit being sectioned by slicing off the top and bottom ends.

The UWLX maintains the usual 95-to-100 yard distance between goals. In the WPLL, the goal circle is moved to where the men’s crease is, making the distance between the goals 80 yards, meaning that the league is taking advantage of U.S. Lacrosse’s “unified” standard when it comes to lining the competition surface.

STRATEGY: The UWLX teams take advantage of their 90 seconds, sometimes too casually. There is a failure-to-advance rule where a team must get the ball into the attacking half within 30 seconds of gaining possession, and teams can sometimes run afoul of that. But the pace is very much like a good NCAA game, with time enough to substitute and get a play and personnel in before running it.

In the WPLL, the 60-second clock goes by very quickly, especially if enough pressure can be applied as the ball is advanced upfield. This has led to a frenetic pace of play as well as a number of improvised goals under pressure as the possession clock winds down. All manner of behind-the-back and level-change shots are attempted as the players, I think, are rushed into getting a shot attempt on frame.

OVERALL AESTHETICS: If you’ve seen men’s college lacrosse and compared that to men’s Major League Lacrosse, your two instant impressions are an increase in speed and an increase in physicality.

You can say the same when it comes to the WPLL. Like the UWLX in its first year, the umpires pretty much let most contact go and allow the players to settle the game between themselves. The pace of play in the WPLL is at warp speed; we especially noticed how quickly the players moved the ball in the game involving the Philadelphia Fire and the New York Fight for at least one last-second goal at the end of a quarter.

It’s a little more deliberate in the UWLX, a function of the longer possession clock. In addition, not all of the plays are as automatic in the UWLX. However, the players in the league work just as hard as those in the WPLL.

OUTLOOK: I wouldn’t say that the existence of two leagues of women’s lacrosse teams isn’t a bad thing, especially in watching some players who are blossoming in the pro ranks such as Dana Dobbie, Tumolo, Elena Romsberg, Ohlmiller, and Murray.

I think there will also be a handful of players who may have been role players for their college teams which will find the 10-a-side game more to their liking. Frankly, I think there are more undiscovered diamonds in the UWLX with most of the World Cup veterans — known quantities — in the WPLL. Let’s see how things progress, though.

July 13, 2018 — United States Coach of the Year: Richard DeSomma, South Riding Freedom (Va.)

South Riding Freedom (Va.) is a scant two miles due west of the Udvar-Hazy facility of the Smithsonian Institution, an enormous hangar-like building that houses a number of historic aircraft including a Concorde and the Space Shuttle Discovery.

In 2018, the school’s girls’ lacrosse team went to the stratosphere.

Thanks in large part to veteran coach Richard DeSomma, the Eagles were able to vault a key mental hurdle during this season in order to attain success: winning the Virginia High School League Class 5A state championship over previously undefeated Atlee (Va.).

For his efforts, especially in his personal comeback as a coach, he is the recipient of the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2018.

Freedom’s very existence is a symptom of the enormous growth in population in northern Virginia since the 1950s. Freedom was built in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and received a patriotic nickname and mascot thereafter.

Success in lacrosse, however, proved to be elusive. The year before DeSomma came in to coach, the team went 7-9 and faltered physically and mentally towards the end of the season.

And it wasn’t as if though DeSomma’s previous coaching tenure ended positively, either. In his last game with Alexandria Hayfield (Va.) to end the 2015 campaign, his team lost 25-1 to Vienna James Madison (Va.).

But in 2016, the Eagles won their first 17 games under DeSomma, before running into Purcellville Woodgrove (Va.). The 2017 team also had a successful regular season before losing to Falls Church George Mason (Va.) in the regional tournament.

The 2018 team, having had a taste of success, wanted more this time around. Not even a loss to Sterling Potomac Falls in the VHSL Region 5C title match could conquer the team’s desire.

Neither Potomac Falls nor Freedom received byes into the 5A state semifinal round; Freedom, moreover, had to play Stafford Mountain View (Va.), a school which has won the last two seasons in field hockey. But the Eagles prevailed in that contest, as well as a semifinal win over Charlottesville Albemarle (Va.) to make the state final against Atlee, a team which had been undefeated on the season.

But Freedom’s talent and tactics wore down Atlee, to the point where they were playing two down late in the contest because of yellow cards. That left senior Rachel Bean to score the game-winner with under three minutes to go.

“After 23 years of coaching, I’d say it’s about time,” DeSomma told the assembled media after the match. “It’s hard once you get to this level. You never know which way it’s going to go.

DeSomma’s win came in his third trip to the state finals he had coached Langley (Va.) to a pair of state championship matches when the sport was not fully under the purview of the Virginia High School League.

2018 — Richard DeSomma, South Riding Freedom (Va.)
2017 — Alyssa Frazier, Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.)
2016 — P.J. Kesmodel, Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.)

July 12, 2018 — An appreciation: Debbie Bross, head coach, Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.)

One in an occasional series.

When Debbie Bross won her first PIAA championship as head coach of Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.) in 1984, success may have felt like it came easy. She was only in her third year coaching at the private school located about five miles due northeast of Bethlehem’s Central Moravian Church.

Little did anyone know that it would take 32 more years for her to win her second PIAA championship.

It was a warmer-than-usual November morning in 2016 when Moravian took on Oley (Pa.) Valley in the PIAA Class A final in the first game of a tripleheader. Moravian took a 4-0 lead and barely hung on for a 4-3 win.

And the most relieved person in all of Whitehall Township that day was Debbie Bross. She had built her team to this pinnacle, chiefly around a senior class that included Mayv Clune, the daughter of 1988 Olympian Diane Bracalente-Molinaro.

This week, after 37 years as head coach, she is retiring. She has touched many lives at a school which has been one of the lowest in enrollment for female athletes in PIAA District 11. Indeed, in 2018, Moravian is the 19th smallest in enrollment of the 271 schools eligible for the public-school tournament.

Field hockey, of course, is full of stories about coaches getting more out of less. Bross’ history weaves a large stripe in that rich tapestry. And she will be missed.