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July 13, 2021 — United States Coach of the Year, lacrosse 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 lacrosse 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:

Thomas Brandel, Sykesville Liberty (Md.): Got the Lions to their first state championship appearance since 2001 and won the Class 1A state final over Fallston (Md.)

John Dwyer, Wilmette Loyola Academy (Ill.): Coming out of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Ramblers may have had their best team ever, winning all 25 games on their schedule

Kristina Gagnon, Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.): The Gators not only won the IAAM “A” title in 2021, but also beat rival McDonogh twice, which is a remarkable feat

Kristin Igoe Guarino, Franklin (Mass.): The former U.S. women’s national team player coached her Franklin side to within one win of a state championship

Ashley Inman, Poway (Calif.): The former Oregon star had a rough start to the 2021 season, losing three of four, but had a memorable late-season run through the CIF San Diego Open Tournament

Ron LaFrance, Fort Covington Salmon River (N.Y.): The coach, who doubles as Chief of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, has been not only able to get the most out of the Shamrocks in 2021, but also steered them to a Section X championship

Dana Lenneper, Tinton Falls Trinity Hill (N.J.): Has taken this program, which has only been around since 2014, to the state Non-Public “B” title, and fought a tremendous three-part battle with conference rival Rumson-Fair Haven

John McClain, Delray American Heritage (Fla.): Despite losing a one-in-a-lifetime player to graduation, the Stallions were able to win the state championship, beating a number of amazing teams along the way

Carol Rose, Northport (N.Y.): Despite the weight of expectations and a tough county schedule, the team went undefeated and won the Long Island Class “A” title

Rachel Sanford, Aurora Evergreen (Colo.): Brought first girls’ lacrosse championship for any school in Jefferson County, bringing her vision into reality after a three-year journey

Gianna Spinelli, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.): First-year head coach was able to motivate the Royals to a repeat performance as Tournament of Champions trophy-winners

Kristin Woods, New Canaan (Conn.): Playing a tough league schedule, the Rams defeated Darien (Conn.) twice in the regular season before losing in the state tournament, one which Darien would eventually win

The recipient will be announced July 27.

July 12, 2021 — The right woman for the job

Today, it was announced that Meg Decker would be taking the job of head women’s lacrosse for Xavier University, a team which will be playing in the Big East beginning in the fall of 2023.

Decker comes from a “builder” background, as she previously started the program at the University of Hartford, was an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth as it played its inaugural season in 2016, and played on the first Naval Academy women’s lacrosse team back in 2008.

The circumstances of Decker’s move from Hartford come from the university’s decision to drop from Division I to Division III starting this fall, an action which has caused protests on campus.

But Decker, according to a prepared statement released this morning, appears to be understanding the gravitas of taking on this task.

“Xavier is perfectly situated to be a force in the world of women’s lacrosse,” she said. “The history and culture of academic and athletic excellence provide a clear path for future success of women’s lacrosse. Winning is in the DNA at Xavier. I am familiar with the strength of the programs in the Big East Conference and have had the opportunity to both coach and play against many of them. I can’t wait to get started.”

Xavier will become the seventh team in the Big East once the team takes the field for fall-ball a year from now.

July 11, 2021 — Into the wild wild West

Yesterday, a message appeared on my Twitter feed. Have a look:

Yep, that’s Erin Matson, the two-time Honda Award winner in field hockey and still a current University of North Carolina student-athlete, making an endorsement for an athletic supply company. But because of the new dynamics surrounding the uses of a player’s name, likeness, and image (NLI), the nation’s most prominent field hockey player is able to make a sponsorship deal.

It’s only about 11 days since NLI regulations have taken effect, and there’s a bit of a “wild West” atmosphere as all manner of college athletes have been forming deals with various companies. People from coast to coast have been named in stories about the opening of this new frontier in sports sponsorships.

I’m a little concerned, however, about how some of these companies are attached to sports betting. As I mentioned three years ago, college athletes being linked with sports books and casinos is a recipe for disaster. College athletes are supposed to be amateurs. But we all know that some revenue sport participants are often given benefits over and above those of regular students at these colleges.

Many student-athletes live in their own dormitories, right next to training facilities. Some expenses are covered by boosters or wealthy donors. Many of these expenses skirt the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. Some, as in the case of convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, crash right through any boundaries whatsoever.

When football players participate in bowl games, they are given “goodie bags” which include electronics, backpacks, watches, and even cowboy hats, as long as they are under a certain value; in 2019, that value was $550.

With NLI deals, will this kind of corruption threaten the very integrity of college sports?

It’s going to be interesting to see.

July 10, 2021 — A “delta variant” surge that is not to be ignored

This morning, I saw a frightening graph on my Twitter feed.

It showed that, in several countries around the world, there has been a massive upshoot of COVID-19 cases in several countries over the last two weeks. One of the most stunning surges is in The Netherlands, which ended most restrictions June 26th, then saw an absolute moonshot of a trend. Holland had under 1,000 cases a day on July 2, but yesterday zoomed to 6,926.

Similar surges have occurred in England, Indonesia, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, shows data from a Financial Times analysis.

These surges are coming at the absolute worst time when it comes to the world sporting calendar. We mentioned earlier this week that the government of Japan has imposed a state of emergency just two weeks before the start of the Olympics, which means that events are going to be held without fans in the stands.

In the last day or so, it was also announced that the Curacao men’s national soccer team is being withdrawn from the CONCACAF Gold Cup after positive tests within the team, meaning that today’s fixtures are having to be altered in order to have Guatemala participate.

Too, the Capital Cup, an international club competition featuring D.C. United and three Central American teams, has been riven with COVID withdrawals. Puebla, a mid-table pro team from Mexico’s first division, withdrew four days ago because of 10 new positive cases. Today, another Capital Cup team, Alianza FC of El Salvador, also withdrew because of COVID-19 protocols stemming from a positive test, leaving only the hosts and Costa Rican side Alajuelense, which will play tomorrow to finish off what was supposed to have been a six-game competition.

I can’t help but think that, as the United States has been able to get at least one injection to roughly 70 percent of the population, other nations, which may not have the economy, health systems, or logistics to inoculate their citizens at a similar level, are seeing our success as a license to open their nations up.

This is not good.

July 9, 2021 — The state of lacrosse, 2021

The game of lacrosse came out of 2020 with as much uncertainty as when it entered, but emerged with new role models and more than one new platform to publicize the game.

The regrettable aspect of the 2021 spring lacrosse season for U.S. colleges is the number of teams which opted out. The entirety of the Ivy League decided not to play, although individual teams could play friendlies against other colleges located within 75 miles of campus.

The rest of the U.S. college universe, including all three NCAA divisions and the NAIA — leapt back into competition the moment they were allowed to do so. There were some hiccups within some college programs, with some individual schools having to shut themselves down for anywhere from two weeks to an entire month.

But once vaccines became widely available to the general public (and, presumably, to student-athletes), the games started coming thick and fast.

A lot of the NCAA Division I storyline surrounded who could possibly contend with the University of North Carolina, a team which would not only have just about its entire starting lineup back but introduced freshman Caitlyn Wurzburger, who was the only prep player, male or female, with more than 1,000 combined goals and assists.

UNC had an early statement when, in a March 6 game against Boston College, the Tar Heels ran off seven straight goals to begin the second half, and would win the game 21-9.

Attention turned to Syracuse as a possible contender, but on April 3, the Orange lost to UNC by a score of 17-6. Northwestern, a team which put up video game-type numbers, showed itself a contender when it swept 2019 NCAA champion Maryland twice in three days, each by 10-goal margins.

Northwestern won its first 15 games of the season playing a fast type of lacrosse, reminiscent of its style of play in the mid-2000s when it broke onto the scene winning NCAA titles. Many of the scoring plays went through its star forward, Izzy Scane, who poured in 98 goals on the season.

But a few hundred miles to the east, another individual scoring season for the ages was developing. That was by attacker Charlotte North of Boston College. North, when she transferred from Duke before the 2019-20 academic year, recorded herself a number of trick-shot videos which showed an amazing array of stick skills.

She would use that physicality and individual brilliance to take Boston College on her back on a thrilling ride through the NCAA Division I Tournament. Boston College had been beaten in its conference tournament semifinal by Syracuse, but the Eagles got through Fairfield and Notre Dame before facing UNC in the national semifinals, winning 11-10.

Boston College would have a rematch with Syracuse in the national final in Towson, Md., and it was North who was the defining factor. She had six goals in the game, bringing her total to 102, breaking the NCAA record and giving Boston College its first NCAA Division I title with a 16-10 win.

In Division II, Lindenwood College beat Queens University of Charlotte 14-12, while Division III saw Salisbury beat Tufts 14-13.

In the schools, it was a time of transition as many top lacrosse programs had to dodge travel and competition restrictions in order to have a season in 2021. These restrictions had different effects on different areas of the country.

In New York, teams were prevented from playing for a state title this spring. Teams making the postseason could only go as far as their sectional finals. One notable exception was Long Island, where some memorable games featuring the Section VIII and Section XI champions from Nassau and Suffolk counties took place.

Amongst the better private schools in the mid-Atlantic, teams were not allowed to cross state borders in order to meet local rivals. Indeed, the entirety of the schedule for the nation’s finest team of the 2010s, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), was within the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. But the Eagles limped into the IAAM playoffs in 2021, losing two consecutive league matches for the first time since at least 2009.

McDonogh would lose a regular-season game as well as the IAAM final to Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.). A few weeks after that IAAM final, St. Paul’s would feature in winning one of two postseason lacrosse tournaments with regional reach and national aspirations that would be held in late June.

But even while those tournaments were taking place, there was scholastic lacrosse on the docket. Indeed, when Dover-Sherborn (Mass.) beat Harvard Bromfield (Mass.) in the MIAA Division 2 title match on July 2, it marked the latest girls’ lacrosse state championship in at least 25 years.

The 2021 season did have some memorable milestones. In Illinois, a junior named Francesca Frieri, an attacking midfielder from Lockport (Ill.) Township, scored 191 goals, more than anyone has ever scored in one season in the recorded history of girls’ scholastic lacrosse.

Players like Frieri are likely to see an evolving game over the next several years, given what has been going on with various platforms of the game. Just this month, the NCAA is allowing athletes to take advantage of name, likeness, and image (NLI) regulations which are seeing many athletes, including women’s lacrosse players, to sign with various promotional businesses in order to make money while being a student-athlete.

In the post-graduate ranks, there is a five-week league called Athletes Unlimited which promises to promote the game and the players in a way never before seen. The four teams are selected by four captains, identified through their performances through various metrics like goals, assists, ground balls, caused turnovers, and the like. Like in the UWLX and the WPLL, the game will be 9-on-9 with a 60-second possession clock.

In addition, you’re beginning to see the lacrosse effort ramping up to have the game at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. The world governing body of the game has already settled on a 6-on-6 variety of the game played on a pitch about the size of a six-man football field.

We don’t know if the Athletes Unlimited folks will transition to the Olympic rules, but it might make an interesting exercise.

July 8, 2021 — Another preventable health disaster in the works?

Today, the news that Japan is imposing a state of emergency a mere two weeks before the start of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is a development which calls into question much of what we know about the nature of sport as well as the execution of good public health policy.

You see, Japan is a country which should be light years ahead of most of the rest of the world when it comes to technology, wealth, and public health. Heck, part of Japanese culture is, believe it or not, the surgical mask. Wearing one on a subway or walking in public during cold and flu season is seen as an act of helping out their fellow citizens and the country at large.

There’s just one problem, however. During the current Coronavirus pandemic, Japan had only managed to inoculate 2.3 percent of its population as of May 21st. That percentage has grown somewhat, but it has not been enough to prevent the spread of the diseases across the islands of Japan in recent weeks.

Now, the thing about the Japanese spread in COVID cases is that the number of cases there, compared to the United States, is incredibly small. Currently, the American COVID death rate is about 225 per day. In Japan, a country a third of the size of the United States, the number of deaths per day is only about 20.

The principle, however, is that you’re going to have nearly 100,000 people from around the world coming into Tokyo, then leaving after a couple of months.

This could lead to athletes bringing COVID-19 back home, to countries which have had either very little exposure to the virus, or to countries which have not spent the money to inoculate their populations against a possible outbreak.

Stay tuned. This could become an extremely ugly situation.

July 7, 2021 — A second chance for the “first four out”

A few days ago, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, decided to allow teams playing in the Tokyo Olympics to have 22 players available for competition rather than the previous limit of 18 players.

This has the effect of extending rosters, even though only 18 can be dressed for individual games. This allows coaches to rotate players in and out of the lineup — a necessity, since there are only two rest days between games at an Olympics, as opposed to the usual break of anywhere from three to six days for most other major tournaments, like a World Cup or a continental championship.

For the United States, this will allow head coach Vlatko Andonovski to freely substitute in some of the players who might never get playing time except for injury, such as goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defender Casey (short) Krueger, teen sensation Catarina Macario and forward Lynn Williams.

Which brings us to the players who didn’t make it. Of the 17 non-World Cup players from the original 39-player provisional list from Olympic qualifying, several names stand out.

Brianna Pinto was a star at the University of North Carolina before signing with Gotham FC shortly after UNC’s season ended. Midge Purce also plays with Gotham, and she was thought of as being one of those “flex” players who could play in multiple roles, a key factor in Olympic roster selection.

Jaelin Howell is a young American star who currently plays her soccer with Florida State University. Andi Sullivan, the current captain of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, was the league’s top draft pick in 2018.

Now, we’ve known that the depth of women’s soccer in the United States, burgeoned by the NWSL and players going overseas to play professionally, was going to present a puzzle for Andonovski and the U.S. selectors. It’s gotten to the point, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that more is being written about players who didn’t make the roster as opposed to those who did.

Today, the team travels to Tokyo. I do wonder what kind of Games will be there for them. More on that tomorrow.

July 6, 2021 — Lacrosse region of the year, 2021

With the slow restart of high school sports in 2021, you actually didn’t have much opportunity to see really good scholastic lacrosse competition amongst regions this past spring.

In addition, most of the favored and fancied teams in the lacrosse universe managed to regain their positions at the tops of their respective leagues, sectionals and state tournaments.

However, there was an interesting occurrence in an area of the country which has always had a strong girls’ lacrosse tradition, but is just starting to assert itself on a national level alongside the likes of Maryland, Long Island, Massachusetts, and Florida.

That place is Pennsylvania. Since the movement of girls’ scholastic soccer to the fall for every corner of the commonwealth, this has allowed girls’ lacrosse to flourish from the Delaware Valley to the shores of the Monanagahela. In 2021, however, one area was better than anywhere else.

That area is the city of Radnor, a town of 32,000 due west of Philadelphia right at the intersection of the Main Line and the Blue Route.

Radnor (Pa.), the local public school, has been a District 1 power for years, and when the PIAA held its first state championship in 2009, the team won the championship by running clock.

In that year, in the second round of the tournament, Radnor had to repel a challenge from a school located only about a half a mile away, straight as the crow flies. That school was Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) out of the Philadelphia Catholic League. And despite the fact that the two schools are located right next to each other, they are in separate PIAA districts. Carroll is lumped in with the balance of PCL teams and those of the Philadelphia Public League, while Radnor High is an enormous pool of suburban public schools spanning four counties.

This year, Carroll and Radnor were in separate PIAA tournaments. Radnor, after slipping to Glen Mills Garnet Valley (Pa.) in the district semifinals, won their way into the 3A state bracket, winning the final over Manheim (Pa.) Township 11-5. In the 2A bracket, Carroll beat Wallingford Strath Haven (Pa.) 14-6, making it a sweep for the town.

July 5, 2021 — A second “national championship” for girls’ lacrosse

I didn’t want to go much longer without acknowledging what happened in Farmington, Conn. last week in the inaugural Girls High School Lacrosse National Championship.

This invitational tournament saw Victor (N.Y.), the runners-up in the NYSPHSAA Section V Class B title game three weeks ago, against a Darien (Conn.) team which took on its club name, Team Tsunami, over the course of the competition.

Victor, which had lost the Section V championship to Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy, got their revenge in the tournament, winning a semifinal game 16-9 over CA. But the offensive output the Blue Devlis showed in the semifinals was absent against the Tsunami, whose high-school alter ego won the CIAC Class L title a few weeks back.

The Tsunami defense, led by goalie Shea Dolce, held Victor to four goals in the final, while the offense scored six. Thanks in large part to attacking midfielder Chloe Humphrey, who found her opportunities and took full advantage of them.

The game saw both teams trying to value the ball as much as possible, hanging on for long stretches and making the opposition chase in the early summer heat. The result was, as you might expect, a taut and tense game with few openings.

July 4, 2021 — An annual tradition, but with some context

Two days ago, the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence was broadcast on National Public Radio. This year, however, it had some added context.

There was, of course, the usual remembrance of how “all men are created equal” did not necessarily mean the entire populace, including women, slaves, and people who were not landowners. In addition, the broadcast mentioned the surprising fact that the original draft mentioned “Scotch and foreign mercenaries.” It also addressed the reference to “merciless Indian savages” towards the end.

With that in mind, here’s the reading.