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May 8, 2022 — Parallels on the banks of the Raritan

Last fall, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I field hockey tournament was a team that came out of nowhere. That team was Rutgers, a team which had played in only two NCAA Tournaments before head coach Meredith Civico came to the program. Under Civico, the Knights parlayed their Big Ten success into a deep postseason run in 2021, winding up a shootout goal away from a Final Four.

Friday night, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team had a performance befitting its sisters on the field hockey side. The Scarlet Knights, who had played exactly one NCAA Tournament game before head coach Melissa Lehman came to the team, has seemingly earned at least an at-large berth in the 2022 tournament with a 13-5 Big Ten semifinal win over third-ranked Northwestern.

So, what have Civico and Lehman found in their coaching journeys in New Brunswick?

Both coaches have recruited exceptionally well, especially in the state of New Jersey, where lacrosse and field hockey have been strong at the youth level. Civico’s field hockey program has players from powerful teams like Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.), Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), and West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.), all of which are amongst the very best in terms of winning state champions.

The same can be said for the lacrosse team, which has the likes of Moorestown (N.J.), Tabernacle Seneca (N.J.), Mountain Lakes (N.J.), Ridgewood (N.J.), and Haddonfield (N.J.) Memorial.

At the same time, however, both coaches have also recruited strategically from other places. Civico’s field hockey team boasts players from New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Argentina, Holland, and Germany. Lehman’s laxers feature players from the Philadelphia Main Line, Australia, Florida, and four players from Long Island.

And both coaches have taken their diverse rosters and made it work beautifully.

May 8, 2022 — The Final Third, Selection Saturday Edition

OK, so we know that Sunday night is the release of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse bracket. But more than half the field is going to be determined today between 1 and 4 p.m. this afternoon.

We’ll have bringing whiparound coverage of conference championships in Division I starting shortly before 1 p.m. on Twitter Live. Please join us on this streaming platform as teams join St. Joseph’s University in the Division I field.

May 6, 2022 — Friday Statwatch for games played through May 4

Well, as you might expect, this week sees a number of individual stats coming in behind the players whose seasons have already finished. We’re seeing players from the heart of lacrosse country starting to nip at the heels of the early stat leaders.

While all this is happening, Fran Frieri, last year’s national scoring champion, has started ascending the rostrum of the best goal-scorers in the history of the sport. At the end of Wednesday’s play, she had 475 goals. With four regular-season games remaining, she is set to join Sophia Turchetta, Taylor Pinzone, Shannon Smith, and Caitlyn Wurzburger in the 500-goal club.

Now, there will be those (like me) who are going to be comparing and contrasting this feat with the rest, given the fact that Turchetta, Smith, and Wurzburger had varsity careers longer than four years. But as we do here, we don’t blame certain states for keeping deserving seventh- and eighth-graders from varsity play because of the notion of protecting some players from those older and sometimes more physically mature.

The figures in red below are compiled from available sources across the nation. I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
144 Sara Williams, Winter Haven All Saints Academy (Fla.)
131 Francesca Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
126 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
115 Hayden Head, Lewisville Forsyth Country Day School (Ga.)
107 Sienha Chirieleison, Camp Hill Trinity (Pa.)
107 Trinity Cassidy, Snellville Brookwood (Ga.)
107 Kayleen Favreau, Holly Springs (N.C.)
106 Brinley Christiansen, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
103 Sofia Chepenik, Episcopal School of Jacksonville (Fla.)
101 Chiara Scichilone, Wellington Palm Beach Central (Fla.)
100 Sydnee-Anne Mueller, El Segundo (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
93 Riley Nee, Hampstead Topsail (N.C.)
93 Ryann Banks, Peachtree McIntosh (Ga.)
72 Evelyn Guyer, Durham (N.C.) Academy
69 Taylor McGovern, Parkland Margery Stoneman Douglas (Fla.)
65 Taylor Santos Scotts Valley (Calif.)
64 Maggie Wilson, Boca Raton (Fla.)
62 Grace Mattimore, Cleveland St. Joseph Academy (Ohio)
62 Kayla Nguyen, Cary Green Hope (N.C.)
61 Emily Philips, Wake Forest (N.C.)
61 Frances Poch, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, CAREER
475 Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
406 Reagan O’Brien, Boston (Mass.) Latin

COACHING WINS
823 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

Here is where you come in. If there’s something that need corrections, please send an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the needed changes.

Thanks for reading and we’ll give this another go in seven days.

May 5, 2022 — Keep watching

The bulk of play in conference tournament for NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse begins today. And the regrettable thing is that so much attention is being heaped on the ACC and the Big Ten tournaments that it’s easy to overlook the other 14 conferences which will be choosing a champion between now and Selection Sunday.

Each of these 14 conferences has a story. Two of them have extra-special stories because their best teams aren’t in the conference tournament. Stony Brook won the regular-season title for America East with an undefeated league record, and James Madison won the regular-season title in the Colonial Athletic Association, also with an unbeaten league record.

And yet, neither the Seawolves nor the Dukes are playing this week. That’s because their respective conference rendered these teams ineligible because both schools announced they would be changing conferences later this year. SBU is moving to the CAA, while JMU’s lacrosse team is joining the American Athletic Conference as an affiliate member.

There will be some good games coming up in the next couple of days. One that pops out at you immediately is this evening’s Patriot League match between the Naval Academy and Army West Point. These teams met recently, and the Cadets were able to win the game 14-9. It was the only time in seven meetings that Army had the privilege of singing its alma mater second after the end of the game.

The late game today should also be an incredible encounter between Southern California and Arizona State. The sides met just two weeks ago to finish the regular season, with USC winning 15-13. This one should be just as close.

Tomorrow, I think a game to watch is the CAA game between Hofstra and Drexel. The Dragons were a great Cinderella story a year ago, finishing runner-up to James Madison in the CAA Tournament, but getting into the NCAA Division I bracket as an at-large team. Drexel had won 13 out of its first 14 games of the season before running into tougher competition.

That tougher competition continued this year as Drexel went 10-7 on the campaign. The Blue and Gold are the three-seed in the tournament, and could have a tough road back to the Division I national tournament.

May 4, 2022 — The 12th woman

For all of time immemorial (well, at least until women’s rules were codified sometime around 1926), lacrosse has been a game of speed and skilled played with 11 field players and one goalie.

The goalie, in both men’s and women’s lacrosse, is a player whose job is to not only stop incoming shots at goal, but to direct the defense. Mobile and athletic goalies often act as a defensive sweeper (like in soccer) to catch errant passes, pounce on loose balls near the crease, and, in rare instances, body up on an opponent.

This year, that notion is under question in some circles. Syracuse head coach Kayla Treanor has been employing 12 outfielders and no goalie in draw-control situations late in games with the Orange trailing.

At first blush, it’s a strategy which should not work. A fully kitted goalie, with an oversized stick and a helmet, is the only person in women’s lacrosse to be in the goal crease to be able to stop a shot with her body. Any other player would run afoul of the rules if they stop a shot with the body while in the goal circle.

Further, a goalie, with a larger stick, should be able to intercept more loose passes by the opposing defense if the goalie is part of a 12-man defense (that is, leave the goal unguarded and try to make a play on the ball to get a turnover).

But last week, in a game played in the most competitive level of scholastic lacrosse in the U.S., a situation came up which required a look through the rulebook, leading to a highly unusual situation befitting the TopOfTheCircle.com Sixth Law.

Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.), the oldest scholastic lacrosse program in America, was holding a 15-5 lead over Severn Archbishop Spalding (Md.) when Mawrtians goalie J.J. Suriano was discovered to not be wearing thigh pads, a required piece of goalie equipment under NFHS rules.

There were no thigh pads handy, so Bryn Mawr played without a goalie — and with 12 field players — for more than 13 minutes in this pivotal league fixture. The winner of this game would have the upper hand to get the fourth seed in the IAAM postseason.

Bryn Mawr held on to win 17-11.

“It was not the way I anticipated the second half going,” Bryn Mawr coach Molly Wolf tells The Varsity Sports Network, “but I told them keep your composure, play our game, draw into everything, if we get the ball, we can handle it and pressure them outside so they can’t get a good shot off and they did just that.”

The goalie situation balanced out the fact that Spalding had its fourth team yellow card a mere five minutes beforehand, meaning that the Cavaliers were playing short for the rest of regulation.

Interestingly enough, these two teams meet again on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the Flight “A” tournament.

May 3, 2022 — Top 10 for the week of May 1

For the second week running, the No. 1 team in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10 is off its lofty perch. Thanks to an extraordinary result late last week, Glenelg (Md.) Country School is going into its postseason tournament with a win over one of the better pandemic-area sides, Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.). This sets up a tremendous IAAM Class “A” tournament which could see any of five teams win. The lower half of the bracket, with St. Paul’s, McDonogh, and Notre Dame Prep, is the Bracket of Death, in our estimation.

1. Darien (Conn.) 10-0
The Blue Wave has a key interconference match against South Huntington St. Anthony (N.Y.) tomorrow

2. Glenelg (Md.) 12-0
The Gladiators take on Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.) tomorrow evening

3. Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy 7-0
An enormous second-half burst got the Braves past Penfield (N.Y.) 14-8

4. Glenelg (Md.) Country School 15-1
Dragons earned themselves not only the top seed in the IAAM Class “A” Tournament, they also have a much easier half of the draw

5. New Canaan (Conn.) 9-2
The Rams play Ridgefield (Conn.) this evening

6. Westwood (Mass.) 8-0
Wolverines outlasted Hingham Notre Dame (Mass.) thanks to a strong second half

7. Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) 13-0
The Gators found themselves facing the strategy that got them past McDonogh earlier in the season: win draws, score early, and build an enormous first-half lead. They’ll have to battle through a tough half of the bracket to make the IAAM “A” final

8. Northport (N.Y.) 11-1
Tigers had an enormous game against East Setauket Ward Melville (N.Y.) yesterday

9. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 13-2
The Eagles finished off their league schedule with a win at Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) and yesterday’s fixture with Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.)

10. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 13-0
A game next week against Philadelphia Penn Charter (Pa.) looms large as the Patriots head into the postseason

Who’s out: None.

And bear in mind: Delray American Heritage (Fla.) 17-2, Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 16-2, Sykesville Century (Md.) 11-0, Victor (N.Y.) 9-1, South Huntington St. Anthony (N.Y.) 10-1, Manhasset (N.Y.) 8-2, Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 13-2

May 2, 2022 — A mental health klaxon

In the last few months, at least five Division I collegiate athletes — Stanford soccer goalie Katie Meyer, Northern Michigan track athlete Jayden Hill, SUNY-Binghamton lacrosse player Robert Martin, Wisconsin cross-country runner Sarah Schulze, and James Madison softball catcher Lauren Bernett have all taken their own lives. It’s gotten to the point where JMU, a team which made last year’s College World Series, decided to end their season.

Now, I said “at least” in the first paragraph above because the stigma surrounding suicide has often led to the suppression of news about it, especially in close-knit communities like high schools and colleges.

But especially since the summer of 2021, when the mental health of athletes became a prime concern in both amateur and professional sports worldwide, the first instinct has, instead, been to publicize anti-suicide hotlines and websites at the end of news stories. I’ve even seen these kinds of PSAs on ESPN in between loud hot-takes and betting-line information.

To me, the publicizing of solutions after the fact misses the entire point of preventative mental health in sports — especially scholastic sports, where outsized pressure is often put on 17- and 18-year-olds to work the miracles of professional players at the next level.

Such pressures have not yielded the best results for high-school athletes I have covered. I have seen players flunk out of college, others being benched for a lack of performance, and still others fall by the wayside due to injury.

I have seen school programs develop positive cultures, but I have seen numerous others develop negative and sometimes toxic interactions between themselves and other students on campus. I seem to recall that one incident nine years ago involving three field hockey student-athletes who assaulted a peer at a party. The incident cost the team a chance to play for a national title.

The world of U-21 sport — from Little League to the NCAA — has been rife with scandals for years. There has been point-shaving in college basketball, allegations of misconduct when it comes to the usage of the current transfer portal, falsification of records in youth baseball which has affected several championship-level teams, child sexual abuse in scholastic sports, and abuses by team doctors at several U.S. colleges. It is, frankly, a cesspool.

This kind of behavior, regrettably, has spread to professional sports, to the point where 90 percent of pro women’s soccer teams in the United States saw a regime change in the last year or so because of some sort of misconduct on the part of a coach, owner, or general manager.

Too, there have been exposed drug cheating on the part of individuals in the BALCO scandal, namely Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Lance Armstrong. There have also been whole teams which have been involved in widespread cheating, such as the Houston Astros (sign-stealing), the New England Patriots (electronic spying and deflating of footballs), and the Manchester City football club (skirting salary rules).

I guess, as more and more money is swirling around sports today, the old NASCAR saying comes to mind: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

And for the average young athlete, it’s a hard reality to grasp. No wonder these young people feel such pressure to succeed at the same time their idealistic dreams have been shattered in a cauldron of deception. It’s hard to maintain your mental health in such an atmosphere.

May 1, 2022 — A “mayday” call

It was about 100 years ago when Frederick Stanley Mockford, a radio officer for a small airfield in Croydon, England, wanted to devise a universal code that airline pilots coming from Le Bourget Airport in Paris could use to indicate an emergency.

There was already the technology of the telegraph, which already had its own emergency code: SOS. But aircraft of the time did not have telegraphs on board; they had radios.

By 1923, “Mayday,” a portmanteau of “M’aidez” or “Help me” in French, was introduced as the emergency word for flights across the English channel. To this day, pilots of small private aircraft, Air Force airmen, and jumbo jet captains use the term in case of an extreme emergency of some type.

Today, I’m sounding a “mayday” distress call on behalf of the game of field hockey in the United States.

When this site started in 1998, the game, in relation to sports played by women in the United States, was not in a bad place. The U.S. women’s national team was only four years removed from a bronze-medal performance in the 1994 World Cup and finished third a year later in the FIH Champions Trophy.

The national team was fed by about 1,900 high schools and about 75 NCAA Division I college programs. There was also a post-collegiate circuit, the United Airlines League, which brought together a selection of national-team players, age-group national-teamers, and college stars to compete for honors and future selection opportunities.

Fast forward to today. There are about 1,950 high schools playing the sport and 79 Division I programs. There is, however, no post-collegiate league; there is an ad-hoc women’s national championship which brings together a number of top players for one week to compete.

The lack of post-collegiate competition shows: the U.S. women’s national team program has, for the first time, failed to qualify for two consecutive FIH world-level tournaments — the 2020 Olympics and 2022 World Cup. Too, the U.S. is just one point off the bottom of the table in the FIH Pro League.

But deeper than this, I think, is the fact that the American hockey culture has been unable to deal with its original sin: placing obstacles in the way of an entire gender to play the game.

Men’s field hockey has existed in its own small bubble as an adult Sunday league sport in the northeast U.S., but aside from a small experimental league a decade ago in the San Diego area, the men’s game has not caught on at the varsity level at any American school, college, or university.

Now, I’m not saying that the immediate institution of boys’ and men’s field hockey is going to cure every ill through which the game is suffering. It might be a start, however.

The key to the future of American field hockey is, frankly, sponsorship and resources. Right now, the U.S. women have been going into Pro League games without a sponsor like CitiBank or Glo on the front of its kit. During the global pandemic, USA Field Hockey applied for, and received, a PPP loan for $2.19 million.

Other resources are coming down the pike as the women’s national team have settled down in North Carolina. Reports say that an enormous recreational complex is being planned for the United States Performance Center in Kannapolis, N.C., a place which is also a human performance center.

But this is just for one level of the U.S. program. There needs to be competition available for both genders, at different age and ability levels, from coast to coast.

It is a hard ask, given the fact that recreational sports for adults in the United States — everything from softball to bowling to cycling — have been in decline in this country for varying reasons.

It’s going to take a lot of money, time, and effort. But I think it’s also going to take a kind of charismatic populism to bring the sport into a more public consciousness.

Think of it: who are the most famous people in the world who have played field hockey? Now, I’m not asking about who are the world’s most famous field hockey players; instead, we’re asking about celebrities who have competed in the game of field hockey.

Three women come to my mind: Kate Middleton (now the Dutchess of Cambridge), actress Emma Watson, and supermodel Hilary Rhoda. But I’m sure there are plenty of others in our popular culture who had a love of the sport — politicians, persons in industry, and financiers.

It’s these kinds of people who need to be harnessed in order to get the game out of this tailspin.

April 30, 2022 — Back from the brink

Yesterday’s ACC quarterfinal matches featured a pair of teams who were playing for more than just an automatic qualifier slot in the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament. They were also playing for more than just bragging rights within the nation’s toughest college lacrosse conference.

They were also playing for their seasons.

Coming into yesterday, both Notre Dame and Virginia were very much on the outside looking in when it comes to the Big Dance. Had Notre Dame lost its ACC quarterfinal to Duke, and if Virginia had lost its game to Syracuse, neither teams would be eligible for the NCAA Tournament for falling short of the .500 cutoff.

But credit both the Irish and the Cavaliers for finding a way to survive against their quarterfinal opponents. I think a big portion of this has to come from the coaching staffs. Christine Halfpenny and Julie Myers have certainly not forgotten how to coach their sides and to get them ready for their high-caliber opponents.

The execution on offense for both of these teams was impeccable. Notre Dame, for example, scored on its first 11 shots on goal as the Irish built an 11-2 lead by the 20-minute mark. Virginia, for its part, scored on 18 of 19 shots on the goal cage for the game in winning 18-14 over Syracuse.

Now, in my observations on the sport of women’s lacrosse over the last third of a century, I have seen my share of goaltenders and how their play can influence the outcome of a season. The lacrosse goalie, as we’ve said, is very much a thankless position.

How thankless? I remember one year when not a single goalie made the NCAA All-Tournament Team in Division I, despite having some pretty spectacular netminding through the tournament. But also, consider the situation: if you fail 45 percent of the time, you’re a candidate for a Hall of Fame somewhere. This especially goes for today’s rules package, which has taken away a lot of defensive techniques and has favored the offense the last quarter-century.

These games set up a pair of interesting ACC semifinal contests tomorrow. Notre Dame and Virginia certainly can’t keep up their hot shooting against UNC and Boston College — can they?

April 29, 2022 — Friday Statwatch for games played through April 27

Well, that’s more like it.

Thanks to a number of you adding your statistics to MaxPreps and other places, our statistical portrait is rounding into place. What we find interesting is that we now have two seniors lumbering up the ladder of top goal-scorers of all time. Fran Frieri of Lockport (Ill.) and Reagan O’Brien of Boston (Mass.) Latin have both exceeded 400 career goals. And the thing is, Illinois and Massachusetts are barely halfway through their regular seasons, so there are plenty more opportunities for them to get to the rarified air of the all-time top 10.

But our most significant statistical occurrence this week is that the two longest winning streaks as of last week were broken within five days. Saturday, the win streak of Northport (N.Y.) was broken by New Canaan (Conn.) in the Gains for Brains Showcase, and on Tuesday, Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.) saw its win streak stop at 67 thanks to a winning performance by local rival Cherry Hills Kent Denver (Colo.). Colorado Academy was so dominant within the state of Colorado, it had not lost a game to an in-state opponent since the first week of April, 2015.

To give you perspective on this span of time, Apple Computer was still selling iPods in April 2015.

I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
144 Sara Williams, Winter Haven All Saints Academy (Fla.)
126 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
107 Trinity Cassidy, Snellville Brookwood (Ga.)
107 Kayleen Favreau, Holly Springs (N.C.)
106 Brinley Christiansen, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
102 Hayden Head, Lewisville Forsyth Country Day School (Ga.)
101 Sienha Chirieleison, Camp Hill Trinity (Pa.)
101 Chiara Scichilone, Wellington Palm Beach Central (Fla.)
100 Sydnee-Anne Mueller, El Segundo (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
93 Riley Nee, Hampstead Topsail (N.C.)
78 Ryann Banks, Peachtree McIntosh (Ga.)
69 Taylor McGovern, Parkland Margery Stoneman Douglas (Fla.)
68 Evelyn Guyer, Durham (N.C.) Academy
62 Kayla Nguyen, Cary Green Hope (N.C.)
62 Maggie Wilson, Boca Raton (Fla.)
57 Frances Poch, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)
57 Julia Frosch, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
56 Bailey Dykes, Lake Wales (Fla.)
55 Lauren Hayden, Newport Croatan (N.C.)

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, CAREER
429 Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
406 Reagan O’Brien, Boston (Mass.) Latin

COACHING WINS
821 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

If you see something missing or out of place, feel free to send an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the needed changes.

Thanks for reading and we’ll try this all again next week.