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Dec. 12, 2018 — A field hockey player, TIME’s Person of the Year (albeit shared)

Remember this?

Yesterday, this happened.

It’s a fine way to remember former Sparrows Point (Md.) player Rebecca Smith, who was one of the five people murdered at the Capital Gazette in July, for no other reason than showing up for her job as a sales assistant for the newspaper.

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Dec. 11, 2018 — The State of Hockey, 2018

The 2018 calendar year was supposed to have been a hopeful one at the highest level, especially seeing that it was a World Cup year, and the Americans finished a gallant fourth four years ago. But the year saw a number of fateful twists that have left the U.S. women’s national program with a truckload of question marks at the advent of its participation in next year’s FIH Hockey Pro League.

The States were hit by a number of retirements after Rio 2016, and was hit with an incredibly important one the eve of the 2018 FIH World Cup, as Katelyn Ginofili, who had been with the senior women since the age of 18, retired from international competition.

The effects were immediate. The team’s midfield and defense looked lost in its opening World Cup group match against Ireland, and the Green Army ran out 3-1 winners thanks to the goalkeeping performance of Ayesha McFerren, the rising senior at Louisville. The States would not qualify for the knockout phase of the competition, but Ireland would maintain its Cinderella form all the way through to the World Cup final.

After the competition, even more retirements ensued, including goalie Jackie Briggs, defender Stephanie Fee, and captain Melissa Gonzalez. This left a very green squad to contest tournaments and friendlies throughout the rest of the calendar year, which finished with two defeats and a win over Belgium at Spooky Nook.

Speaking of the Nook, it was determined that the site of the U.S. women’s national team training center would be the site of all but one of the team’s games in the FIH Hockey Pro League, the main qualifying arm for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

That one game, however, is the debut home match against Holland, the World Cup and Champions Trophy holders. That game is scheduled to be a “cold war” played in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Feb. 16th, two weeks after the Americans’ FIH debut match at Argentina.

A young team, playing two very difficult matches to start HPL, is a recipe for either opportunity or disaster. It will be interesting to see how the States do when they get five out of their last six games at home.

Key amongst those likely to be on the Pro League roster are the two players who scored goals for the Americans at the World Cup, Margaux Paolino and Erin Matson. Both did extremely well for their university teams in the fall; Paolino for Duke, and Matson for North Carolina.

As usual, these two players led their two teams in one of the nation’s most competitive leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, there was a shift in the balance of play in 2018, as the Big Ten Conference placed more teams in the NCAA Division I women’s field hockey tournament than the ACC. One casualty of that shift was Louisville. The Cardinals, even with Irish heroine Ayesha McFerren in the goal cage, fell short of the tournament criteria to get into the field of 18.

Close games were the order of the day through the NCAA Division I tournament, except when it came to North Carolina. UNC bossed its way through the bracket and won the title with a 2-0 win over Maryland. In Division II, it was Shippensburg winning its third straight championship with a 1-0 overtime win over East Stroudsburg. Division III saw the first known NCAA tournament games held indoors at the Spooky Nook dome, with Middlebury beating a game Tufts side by a 2-0 scoreline.

In the clubs, it was North Carolina winning the National Field Hockey League, and Rochester Institute of Technology winning the New York State Club Field Hockey League.

The competition and recordbreaking in American high school field hockey was as intense and as prolific as ever. It was a bit more concentrated this year, as only five players would score 50 goals this seasons, whereas there were nine a year ago. Moreover, there were six instances of individuals amassing at least 30 goals and 30 assists. In addition, four players wound up with more career goals than what had been the all-time goal-scoring mark until the start of the 2012 season.

But one player outshone them all.

Mackenzie Allessie, the senior from Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.), would not have been blamed for wanting to shelve individual accolades in favor of creating chances with her next-level skills and passing. But in 2018, Allessie gobbled up goals like they were going out of style. By the end of September, she already had passed the 50-goal mark. The first week of October, she had her 300th career goal.

On Oct. 17th, she did a unique double in the Lancaster-Lebanon League postseason tournament. In a 6-0 win over Annville-Cleona (Pa.), she became the first scholastic field hockey player in recorded Federation history to score 100 goals in one season, and later in the first half, she surpassed Austyn Cuneo’s career mark of 326, set a scant four years ago.

From there, it was anyone’s guess as to whether Allessie and Donegal would be able to win a second state championship, especially since the records were in hand and the competition tough districtwide and statewide. But after a tough loss in the Lancaster-Lebanon final, the team would win the District 3-AA Tournament, then survive and advance in the PIAA Class AA Tournament against the likes of Gwynedd Valley Gwynedd Mercy Academy (Pa.), Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.). and Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.).

The Class AA championship final against Palmyra (Pa.) came down to overtime. After about 2 1/2 minutes of Donegal penalty corner defense, there was what could be described in fencing as a “coup-fourre,” or a goal scored against the run of play.

After the Indians denied the last of a four-corner Palmyra flurry, Allessie, the central midfielder in the Indians’ 7-on-7 formation, self-started on the ensuing free-out, and was pretty much all by her lonesome at the halfway line. On a full sprint, she controlled the ball with one hand on her stick, guarding it with the right side of her body.

Upon entering the attack zone, she cut left through three players, rounded the Palmyra goalkeeper, and sliced a backhander into the backboard. You could hear one spectator hard by the fencing at the Zephyr-Coplay complex drawing out an “Oh, my God” as the play finished. The whistle sounded. Game over.

Allessie wasn’t the only history-maker in 2018. Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the nation’s most dominant program, won its 20th consecutive state championship this fall with an undefeated record. Two other programs, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) and Watertown (Mass.), fell short of their 10th consecutive state titles in their respective states. Lakeland’s loss in this year’s state final ended a 137-game undefeated string, which was the fourth-longest of all time.

Elsewhere, Emmaus (Pa.) won its 30th straight District 11 championship, while West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.) finished second with a 9-2 record in the Shore Conference Class A Central. It was the first time in the last 48 seasons that the Blue Devils did not win its regular-season conference championship. Despite that, Shore won the Group I state title. Also notable was the play of Skowhegan (Maine) Area, which won its 18th consecutive Eastern Maine sectional championship, allowing the Indians to compete in its 18th consecutive Maine Principals Association final.

Around the country, though there were plenty of teams repeating as state champions, some won their first championship. This includes Hershey (Pa.), Somerset-Berkley (Mass.), Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.), and Danbury Immaculate (Conn.).

Dec. 10, 2018 — An appreciation: Barb Major, head coach, Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

Barbara Major, the head field hockey coach of Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.) who put in a shift that would last half a century, announced her retirement last week.

She’s one of only one of four known scholastic field hockey coaches who have 50 years or more of service as a head coach. And she did it the hard way. Major has remained one of the few coaches in the United States who annually teaches the basics of the game to incoming ninth-graders at the Roman Catholic school located just a few miles from the New Jersey state capital.

Her coaching wasn’t a matter of coaching players with rudinemtary middle-school or CYO experience. It was even more basic than that: more of the, “This is a stick, this is a ball” instruction. Her dedication has rubbed off on her players for years, and has given a number of her players a platform to play field hockey at the next level.

Notre Dame’s best team may have been her 1994 squad, which saw at least two of her players matriculate to Division I, and may have been an inch away from playing for a state championship. The Irish, having already won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title, met Lacey (N.J.) Township in the state semifinal match at Columbus Northern Burlington (N.J.).

Lacey was a team which relied on a physical defense (a style which may receive a raft of cards in today’s hockey), as well as the dead-eye corner striking of Jennifer Melnyk, who eventually took her talents to Rutgers. Melnyk had scored an early goal to force Notre Dame to chase the equalizer. The Irish thought they had a deflected ball into the goal cage in the second half, but the goal was not given.

Four days later, it was Lacey which took down what was likely the nation’s No. 1 team in North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), a side which would feature future Olympian Michelle Vizzuso. The semifinal loss left Notre Dame thinking that it could have been the team to pull the upset of West Essex in the final.

Major’s teams would keep in the headwaters of contending for Colonial Valley Conference, Mercer County Tournament, and sectional honors, but would never have a team with the same talent level as the 1994 side.

But it wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of encouragement. From the coaching box, you could head her voice booming on the other sideline. Perhaps my favorite line of hers is, “Don’t stand and watch!” In a game which involves a lot of running and movement, being rooted to a spot was a cardinal sin to her.

The 2019 season, and beyond, is going to be forever changed in the New Jersey capital region, as Major is the last of The Three Amigos (so named by field hockey writer Jim Davis) to retire, following Joyce Jones of Princeton (N.J.) and Barb Skiba of Pennington Hopewell Valley Central (N.J.) into retirement.

And things aren’t going to be the same. An era has closed.

Dec. 9, 2018 — Separate and unequal

Today’s Hockey Insider article on First Post takes an unvarnished, albeit simplistic, look at the economic state of men’s field hockey worldwide.

It is an eye-opening read.

Dec. 8, 2018 — LAX 4 LA?

This past week, it was announced that the International Olympic Committee had recognized the international federations of kickboxing, the Russian combat sport called sambo, and lacrosse.

The people involved with the game of lacrosse have been overflowing with enthusiasm, believing that the sport is going to be a full Olympic participant by the time the Summer Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028.

But count your Founder in the “wait and see” camp.

There are dozens of athletic and even semi-athletic competitive disciplines which have status with the International Olympic Committee that aren’t even close to being on the Olympic program, and are likely not to be without significant changes to the way the Olympics are contested.

Right now, there are caps on overall participation of athletes. An addition of a sport would result in the reduction in number of participants in other competitions. Note, for example, changes in the number of weight classes in boxing and weightlifting over the years as sports like tennis, golf, and rugby have been added.

But my skepticism about adding lacrosse to the Olympic program is mostly about the current hegemony in the sport worldwide. Let’s be honest: the Big Four medal contenders on both the men’s and women’s sides are the United States, Canada, Australia, and Team GB (the united team of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as they would be playing in an Olympics).

I do laud the powers-that-be in lacrosse for increasing the reach of the sport, especially through hosting the most recent FIL men’s World Cup in Israel.

But there are still large swaths of the globe — Central Asia, Africa, South America — which do not yet have the sport at a competitive level with The Big Four. I think lacrosse falls short of the criteria for inclusion because it is not played in enough countries.

In addition, there could be some unforeseen problems. In an Olympics, there would not be a presence for a Haudenosaunee team of Native Americans and First Nations players from Canada. That could be a major issue down the road.

Let’s see what happens.

Dec. 7, 2018 — United States Coach of the Year, the nominees

The United States Coach of the Year Award is given to a head coach or co-head coaches who made a noticeable difference in the performance of a scholastic field hockey team in a particular season. The coaching performance is not limited to progress made in the year which the award is given.

Here are this year’s nominees:

Caitlin Albert, Biddeford (Maine): Coached team to first state championship since 1990

Cheryl Capozzoli, Newport (Pa.): Two years ago, she led the Buffalos to their first state tournament appearance in decades. This year, the team made the Class A state final

Diane Chapman, Garden City (N.Y.): One of the all-time great coaches in New York public school history, she guided the Trojans to a state title win over Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.), breaking their nearly decade-long grip on the Class B title

Jen Crook, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.): Won first state championship despite controversy over having a pair of males on the team, including one of her sons

Kathryn Dolan, Andover Phillips Academy (Mass.): Won third NEPSAC Class A title in the last four seasons with a 19-0 record

Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.): Coached her side to a 20th straight state championship which included wins over five state champions

Jodi Byrd Hollamon, Delmar (Del.): Guided an impressive side to a third straight state title with some help from a couple of eighth-graders

Shannon Horosky, Danbury Immaculate (Conn.): Coached team to first state championship

Mary O’Connor, Dennis-Yarmouth (Mass.): Team won first state championship since 1987

Sarah Pallino, Millburn (N.J.): In an area of the country dominated by long-time powerhouses, she was able to coach the Millers to their first sectional title in 36 years

Bri (Davies) Price, Hershey (Pa.): Has quietly improved the fortunes of a team in the midst of one of the most competitive areas in the country, then steered them through a difficult Class AAA state bracket to win school’s first state championship

Spencer Wagner, Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.): Piloted team to first state championship

The recipient will be announced December 28.

Dec. 6, 2018 — Leaning in, but in Europe

Women’s soccer worldwide has suffered from a lack of support from major sponsors. Even in one of the most progressive countries, the United States, the teams of the National Women’s Soccer League have relied on funding from obscure companies such as ProChain software, and several health insurance companies Providence, Moda, and Orlando Health. There are a handful of familiar names on the front of NWSL kits such as Continental Tire, Microsoft, and Domino’s Pizza, a far cry from the days when ad patches on WUSA kits featured companies like Dent Wizard.

But it was announced today that UEFA, the continental governing body of soccer in Europe, had signed an eight-year agreement with Visa to promote the UEFA Women’s Champions League, European Nations League, and European Championships through 2025.

What is enormous about this deal is not only its length, but the fact that UEFA already has financial and credit sponsorship already, but on the men’s side. This is a gender-specific deal, and it could ratchet up competition for becoming The Official Credit Card for all of UEFA once the next deals are negotiated.

UEFA is also very protective of its sponsors; in the original version of the Champions’ League opening credits for the world feed, the seven major sponsors figured prominently in the computer-generated animation. A couple of these sponsors remain on board to this very day, which shows how loyal this governing body is to the people who help finance major competitions within Europe.

And with the influx of cash, it could be interesting to see how many and which European club teams decided to spend money to attract top talent and compete with the NWSL for talent.