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Feb. 21, 2019 — The run to history

Today, Delray American Heritage (Fla.) will play its opening game of the 2019 season when it travels to Boca Raton (Fla.). The Stallions will play not only a number of its regional and state rivals, but they will also be playing the last two No. 1 teams in the TopOfTheCircle.com Final Top 10.

American Heritage will take on Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) on March 18th, and will also take on Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) four days later in a game being played at Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.).

Major credit should go to the American Heritage coaching staff for not taking it easy for its non-conference schedule, seeing as there is a member of the Stallions who is on the verge of obliterating almost every scoring record in the history of the National Federation.

That player is junior Caitlyn Wurzburger, who finished her sophomore year with 307 goals and 332 assists. Yeah, these numbers include middle-school varsity play, but then again, so does the national leader in combined goals and assists, Sophia Turchetta. Amazingly, Wurzburger needs to figure in on just 164 more of her team’s goals the next two years to overcome Turchetta’s all-time mark.

I’ll have to burn a couple of pencils to try to figure out how Wurzburger’s four-year marks (which are only half-formed, mind) will compare to the all-time four-year points total of the recently graduated Corinne Wessels.

But I think the one which is way, way out of reach is Turchetta’s six-year goals record, which is 654. It will take a special effort to get to that mark, and I wouldn’t blame Wurzburger for throttling back on individual goals in order for the team’s goal of winning the state title.

Then again, I think I said that a year ago regarding field hockey player Mackenzie Allessie. Shows you what I know.

 

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Feb. 20, 2019 — Fool me twice

For the third time, women’s soccer has shown its inability to draw ratings on a non-sports network. It was announced today that the National Women’s Soccer League is cutting ties with Lifetime and its corporate partner, A&E. Though the NWSL’s uniforms will retain a circular patch on the sleeve with the Lifetime logo on it, the agreement currently leaves the eight-team circuit without a leaguewide television partner.

Lifetime had previously partnered with the Women’s United Soccer Association almost 20 years ago, and Oxygen had partnered with Women’s Professional Soccer in the late 2000s. Both networks saw low ratings in their first go-rounds in broadcasting women’s soccer, which was, frankly, predictable.

Neither network invested a lot of money in either in-house or cross-network advertising, and I think both Oxygen and Lifetime counted solely on the gender of the participants rather than the competition, the stories, or the drama of the late-season playoff races in order to draw viewers.

Without a national television deal (albeit the games are being distributed by Yahoo), there is unspoken pressure on the U.S. women’s national soccer team to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup, a tournament which ends about six weeks before the end of the season, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that ESPN, NBC, or Fox could broadcast the stretch drive to the playoffs as well as the postseason.

Given the uncertainties over the offseason in the NWSL, having a permanent TV home is an indicator of corporate stability — something you couldn’t say for much of the last 18 years of USSF Division I women’s soccer.

Feb. 19, 2019 — The quarter-billion dollar money pit and the concept of wealth

Earlier this week, it was revealed that a nascent tackle football league called the Alliance of American Football is requiring a bailout, having burned through its startup funding by the second week of its first season.

Indeed, it took Tom Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, to flash a quarter of a billion dollars to keep the eight-team circuit afloat. That’s “billion” with a “b,” folks.

I’m amazed, frankly, that in a sports culture which argues against the outside financing of leagues such as the WNBA, NWSL, or NPF, that a single owner with a lot of wealth can finance a football league which can’t even get worker’s compensation insurance for one of its eight teams.

Don’t believe me? Read this.

The current financial situation which has befallen the AAF is one which has befallen an alphabet soup of football leagues (USFL, XFL) which have formed to compete with the NFL.

And yet, since the merger of the American Football League into the NFL, none of these outdoor tackle football leagues have lasted to their fourth seasons. Some of them never made it off the drawing board.

All of this makes you wonder if Dundon, the man with the wealth to prop up the AAF, is the smartest guy in the room, now that he’s bought himself the chairmanship of the league.

 

 

 

Feb. 18, 2019 — Anne Sage, 1944-2019

A few months after starting this site in 1998, I got an email from Anne Sage, the head field hockey and lacrosse coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

She wanted to know what I knew about the recruiting scenes in both sports.

For a writer who was just starting to develop a space for both sports on the Internet, this was a surprise — a most welcome one — that a coach with such experience and gravitas would seek me out for a fresh perspective.

Only a few months later, however, came the lowest point in Sage’s professional career. During a disastrous one-win season in 1999, she was the target of a petition, signed by all 22 players on the Quaker women’s lacrosse team, asking her to step down. She did only after the season ended, under an enormous cloud of silence as an interim coach was brought in.

I never liked the way this situation went down.

And I still don’t.

The episode tarnished an amazing career, record, and life story. She died on Valentine’s Day, and I’m not sure she ever got the right treatment from people in the lacrosse and field hockey communities for all she did for both sports.

She played seven years for the U.S. senior national women’s lacrosse program, started both the field hockey and women’s lacrosse programs at Penn, and even coached the Quaker field hockey players to the 1988 Final Four.

But the last we saw of her, regrettably, was in the spring of 1999. The events of that season spawned one of this site’s unofficial Laws of Field Hockey:

There are distinct roles in sport that, if violated, constitute an imbalance in the order: “Players play. Coaches coach. Officials officiate. Spectators spectate. Administrators administer.”

I have called this maxim the TopOfTheCircle.com Third Law of Field Hockey.

Perhaps it’s time this law gets renamed for Anne Sage.

Feb. 17, 2019 — Cold War becomes cold night

The U.S. women’s field hockey team tried to use geographical advantage in its opening FIH World League match against the No. 1 team in the world, Holland.

Instead of scheduling a game at an FIH-compliant facility in a warm-weather facility such as Chula Vista or Moorpark, the game was held last night at Wake Forest University, where game-time temperatures were in the 30s. The United States had its Cold War.

However, the cold also froze the Americans’ shooting and its defense, as a hot Oranje side scored all of the goals and took all points in a 5-0 shutout. It was one of the worst losses ever suffered by a U.S. women’s side on home soil in an FIH-sponsored competition, and the most lopsided defeat at home since losing 7-1 and 7-2 to Holland in a friendly series at Stanford in January 2018.

The Americans still have plenty of time and games to try to make up its deficit in the league table in order to try to make the four-team Grand Final. But the defeat puts extra emphasis on the States’ next two home matches in March at Spooky Nook, where a six-point weekend against Team GB and Belgium will be essential.

Feb. 16, 2019 — The team of the present

In the 22nd minute of play of yesterday’s women’s lacrosse game between ACC rivals Boston College and Syracuse, Mary Rahal scored to give the Orange a shock 7-2 lead.

But when you watched the disposition and posture of the players for the next few minutes after that, you might have supposed that the score was completely the opposite. Boston College was winning draws, dominating the midfield, and scoring some well-executed goals. Between Rahal’s goal and the final two minutes of the game, Boston College outscored Syracuse 12-3 on the way to a 14-12 win.

In other words, Boston College had to be put under duress before exhibiting the form which has made it the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA championship. At their best, the Eagles made some amazing transition goals through precise passing. Even when Syracuse was still holding the lead late in the first term, B.C. was imperious in its scoring, adding a sense of inevitability to its quest to take the lead.

During the game, current Tewaaraton Trophy holder Sam Apuzzo was magnificent, scoring seven goals, some on several twisting efforts in the fan which not even Asa Goldstock could stop. On the other end of the pitch, B.C. goalie Lauren Daly had 12 stops.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the last time these two teams will see each other. And it will be interesting what will happen.

 

Feb. 15, 2019 — The team of the future for a decade

It was 11 autumns ago when we first laid eyes on the Florida women’s lacrosse team during a fall-ball playday at Georgetown University.

The Florida program has been a perennial “one to watch,” the last decade, a reflection of the athletic department’s willingness to invest long-term in the program, building a lacrosse-specific stadium and hiring an elite coach in Amanda O’Leary.

O’Leary repaid the program by attracting amazing talent from top programs around the U.S. The Florida program has also had a knock-on effect on scholastic lacrosse in the state, to the point where your current leader in all-time assists calls the state home.

Three years into the team’s existence, Florida was eight seconds from making the national championship game, but a potential overtime goal was waved off for an illegal stick.

The Gators have been trying to find their way back to that level ever since. To that end, they have been scheduling opponents like last night’s foe, Maryland.

The thing is, while games like this are a good measuring stick of where a team is, it also shows how far a team has to go. Whereas last year the Gators lost by two goals in College Park, Florida fell this year by a score of 17-12.

Maryland, as is its wont, had fast starts at the start of the game and the start of the second half. If you counted only the first 10 minutes of each half, Maryland’s score was 11-1. But there are 30 minutes per half, and, to Florida’s credit, managed to chip away at the Terp defense, thanks to an eight-goal effort by Lindsay Ronbeck.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Gators improve over the course of the season; they appear to have good scoring and better-than-average goalkeeping, but it will be the midfield — both at the draw and in transition — which will determine their chances.