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April 15, 2019 — A forensic Final Third

Yesterday, I was hoping to do another Final Third whiparound women’s lacrosse broadcast, featuring games between Stony Brook and Southern California, Notre Dame and Duke, and James Madison and Hofstra.

That is, before the sinus infection I got last week due to pollen. But even though I haven’t been able to talk over the weekend, I still have plenty to say through my fingers.

I saw the Stony Brook-USC game as a last best chance for both teams to improve their non-conference resumes; and I thought this was especially important for Stony Brook, as this side had been the No. 1 team in the country a year ago. But credit the Seawolves for pulling out a 12-10 win, which could be a critical one for the NCAA Tournament Committee.

The Duke-Notre Dame game was one that I saw as a matchup of contenders. Notre Dame has been my “team of the future” for several years, and I thought Duke was going to be a team in the ascendancy in the ACC after a couple of years of heartache. However, the Blue Devils have endured a swoon in the ACC, losing to Virginia, Boston College, and Syracuse, then yesterday losing to Notre Dame.

Duke’s malaise is hard to figure out; the team, thanks to the Jenner sisters, have dominated the draws, winning nearly 7 out of 10. Also, the Blue Devils have been outstanding in the first halves of games, outscoring the opposition 143-78. But if there is a deficiency on the team, it’s on defense. Opposing teams are scoring at nearly 60 percent from the field, something you would never expect from a Kerstin Kimel-coached team.

The final game which I would have liked to have done in Final Third wound up being an overtime thriller amongst two of the leading teams in the Colonial Athletic Association. The teams were at the top of the league table, undefeated in the CAA, and the sides traded the lead throughout until Arianna Esposito leveled the match at 8-8 in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

This led to extra time, which saw your defending national champions pull it out in the ninth minute of sudden death, with Maddie McDaniel finishing off a neat three-way passing play.

It will be interesting to see if the wins by JMU, Notre Dame, and Stony Brook have an effect on their seedings in the NCAA Tournament when the brackets come out in a shade under three weeks.

April 14, 2019 — A miracle; or not

For the first time since the International Ice Hockey Federation first started holding a world championship tournament in 1990, someone other than the United States or Canada is the finest women’s hockey team in the world.

Finland’s Petra Niemenen broke a 1-1 tie in the 12th minute of overtime on a snappy putback of a rebound, sending the crowd in Espoo, Finland into hysterics ….

At least, this should have been the lead paragraph of today’s story about the 2019 championship final. Instead, the replay official took 12 minutes to make a goalie-interference call, continuing the game until the end of overtime, whereupon the U.S. won the post-overtime shootout 2-1.

It was a highly unsatisfying result, to be sure. The U.S. team, featuring a number of players who won the PyeongChang gold medal just a year ago, may have had the edge in speed and in work along the boards, but appeared to run out of ideas in trying to beat Finland goalie Noora Raty, taking the first available shot rather than setting up screens or deflections in front.

And you would also have not blamed Finland’s players for thinking they had been robbed of the win because of the decision that came out of the replay booth. The American goalie, Alex Rigsby, was at the edge of the blue paint on the play and remained in the crease as Finland’s Jenni Hiirikoski swept in and knocked her out of the way, allowing Niemenen an open goal.

Oddly enough, the on-ice officials had called a trip on Rigsby, a penalty which would have been wiped out by the goal. But the video official, in calling back the goal, did not call a penalty on Finland for goalie interference.

After the protracted review, the teams had to return to the ice, and, as it turned out, Finland sent half of the rest of overtime on the power play.

It was truly a bizarre contest, but one which certainly should signal a change in the balance of power in women’s ice hockey — even if the final result doesn’t show it.

April 13, 2019 — Finland with a flouish

It was about 13 years ago when your Founder attended a women’s ice hockey game between the United States and Finland.

But I noticed, in the tunnels and hallways of the arena where the USA-Finland friendly was being held, that the Finnish players were doing everything necessary in order to make themselves successful, even though they may not have had the physical gifts of the American team at the time. Even a half-hour after the game, team members were warming down on stationary bikes and doing plyometrics with rubber tubes.

This morning, the hard work and a little home cooking may have helped in the semifinal round of the IIHF Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, as Finland beat Canada 4-2 in Espoo, Finland.

Then, as now, the world of international women’s ice hockey has two competitive levels. One comprises the United States and Canada; the other level is “everyone else.”

Here’s how dominant that top level has been: in every one of the 18 previous IIHF World Championship tournaments dating back to 1990, the U.S. and Canada both were in every single final.

And don’t discount Finland’s chances tomorrow in the championship. The team has a group of experienced players in front of goalie Noora Raty, who is widely seen as one of the best goalies in the world, coming from the University of Minnesota and having played for the Chinese team competing in the recently dispanded Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Should be an interesting matchup tomorrow.

April 12, 2019 — Friday Statwatch for games played through April 10

Today, we start our annual journey into the world of girls’ lacrosse statistics with our feature, Friday Statwatch. We aim to compile a weekly pool of stats from available sources, including MaxPreps.com, NJ Advance Media, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Providence Journal, The Albany Times-Union, Long Island Newsday, The Worcester Telegram, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MassLive.com, the Denver Post, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, MSG Varsity, the Ann-Arbor News, and The Washington Post.

This being the first compilation of the year, this isn’t going to be the most accurate. But later in the year, this will grow in accuracy and completeness, thanks to your input.

To make this list better in the future, I encouraging you to convince your team, your school, league, or state governing body 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
98 Brittany Sherrod, Versailles Woodford County (Ky.)
96 Makena Carter, Los Angeles Hamilton (Calif.)
90 Katelyn Murphy, Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.)
90 Stela Chepenik, Jacksonville Episcopal (Fla.)
89 Cassidy Kerkesner, Fort Myers Cypress Lake (Fla.)
84 Kasey Bronco Mount Pleasant Oceanside (S.C.)
78 Annie Plotts, Franklin Page (Tenn.)
77 Ariana Gallos, Winston-Salem Atkins (N.C.)
76 Hennessey Evans, Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills (Calif.)
76 Zella Bedoian, Lake Balboa Birmingham (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
59 Grace Ann Carlson, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)
53 Sydney Coston, Fort Mill (S.C.)
53 Balay Woodworth, Dallas North Paulding (Ga.)
46 Ashley Stokes, Santa Ana Footholl (Calif.)
45 Katereagan Costello, Gulf Breeze (Fla.)
44 Kate Murphy, Collierville St. George’s (Tenn.)
42 Maggie Pontiakos, Charlotte Ardrey Kell (N.C.)
40 Reilly Casey, Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.)
40 Bailey Thomas, Dexter General Brown (N.Y.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
37 Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.)

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

If you see something missing (and there will be), feel 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!

April 11, 2019 — A two-stage game

There was a pretty good lacrosse game a’brewing on Lakeside Field on the campus of Northwestern University. Two teams which have had the lion’s share of NCAA Division I women’s titles since 1995 (18, to be exact) were in the midst of a tight match heading to 12 minutes to go when a lightning strike stopped the game.

Players, umpires, and supporters sought shelter.

And then, it was decided that the game would resume in Ryan Fieldhouse, the artificial grass practice facility shared by a number of teams on campus.

Maryland dealt with the hour-long delay and the change of venue a bit better, outscoring Northwestern 5-1 over the last 12 minutes of the game and winning 17-13.

The win clinched the regular-season title for Maryland, though given both teams’ strength of schedule and quality wins this season, both teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament a scant 3 1/2 weeks before Selection Sunday.

If there was one thing that I’m taking from this game, however, it’s the execution of individual players on long free-position shots.

Thirty years ago, a free-position shot used to mean a step and a throw. Years later, you had skilled players like Quinn Carney who could take five steps into the fan, fake the goalie, and dunk it over her head into the cage.

But because free-movement rules now allow defenses to take both the left and right hashmarks next to a player on the fan no matter the position of the play was before the foul, players have had to develop different countermeasures because it is a near-guarantee of a double-team if a player takes more than a couple of steps into the fan before shooting.

Kali Hartshorn, Caroline Steele, and Selena Lasota chose to dial up free-position shots from long range, and scored off them.

Should be interesting to see what happens come tournament time.

April 8, 2019 –The long row

Two weeks ago, the U.S. women’s field hockey team defended two out three points in an FIH Pro League game against Belgium, winning in the seventh round of a penalty shootout after drawing at full time.

This evening, the U.S. played the reverse fixture at Belgium, and were about a minute from playing in another penalty shootout, but the Red Panthers were the beneficiary of a late yellow card, and, with the U.S. team calling out revised defensive assignments, Louise Versavel deflected in a hard pass from Alix Gerniers.

With three points in seven matches, the U.S. is not mathematically eliminated from the semifinal round, but would need a lot of help to catch fourth-place Belgium (13 points). And it won’t get any easier, as the States visit Rotterdam to play Holland this weekend.

April 9, 2019 — Top 10 for the week of April 7

A couple of games threatened to jumble up the Top 10, not the least of which was Manhasset’s one-goal defeat against McDonogh, but there was also the game the day before which saw Brooklandville St. Paul’s School for Girls (Md.) take McDonogh to overtime. Such is life in the nation’s most competitive girls’ lacrosse league.

Our honorary No. 11 Team of the Week is Saint Leo University, a team which is 13-0 this year, but heading into a stretch of games which will define its season, both in the Sunshine State Conference and NCAA Division II as a whole.

1. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 9-0

Eagles’ schedule does not get any easier; host Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.) this Friday evening

2. Mount Sinai (N.Y.) 6-0

Got by West Babylon (N.Y.) 8-7 last Friday evening

3. Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) 7-0

CHS has Garden City (N.Y.) tonight, followed by Rockville Centre South Side (N.Y.)

4. Delray American Heritage (Fla.) 16-1

Stallions get Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Fla.) this evening

5. Marriottsville Marriott’s Ridge (Md.) 4-0

Mustangs with a statement win last Friday over Glenelg (Md.)

6. Moorestown (N.J.) 4-0

Quakers beat perennial Group IV power Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.) 11-2

7. Darien (Conn.) 2-0

Wave had a statement win over Garden City (N.Y.) last Saturday with a 19-4 win

8. Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.) 6-2

Cardinals draw Olney Good Counsel (Md.) and Washington St. John’s College (D.C.) before a meeting with McDonogh on Friday

9. Manhasset (N.Y.) 2-1

Manhasset had McDonogh by two goals in the opening minutes of the second term before the Eagles mounted an epic comeback

10. Ridgewood (N.J.) 6-0

New coach? No problem. Maroons play Allendale Northern Highlands (N.J.) before a Saturday clash with The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School

11. Saint Leo University (Fla.) 13-0

Lions have a pair of extremely tough games this week: today vs. Florida Southern and Saturday vs. Rollins

And bear in mind: Washington Georgetown Visitation (D.C.), Glenelg (Md.), Hingham Notre Dame Academy (Mass.) 2-0, Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.), Spencerport (N.Y.), Penfield (N.Y.), Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.), Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)