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Feb. 6, 2020 — Being put in “timeout,” literally

Barely 10 days ago, we reported on the retirement of Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) head field hockey coach Danyle Heilig, who probably got the most out of her players after team timeouts than anyone I have ever seen.

But starting this fall, timeouts in scholastic field hockey are no more.

The National Federation of State High School Associations decided to move its rules package to more coincide with international and collegiate rules, and play four 15-minute quarters, with two-minute breaks at quarter-time and three-quarter time.

Mind you, I never liked this rule very much because, as I posited a few months ago, the original concept of the four-quarter system in FIH, as well as some of the timing rules that went for penalty corners, were meant for television.

I went into some of my reasons in my four-part epic rant against the quarter system from Unfiltered.

I still think that having a four-quarter system leads to a lack of long-term flow and letting groups of players adjust to each other like in a soccer game. With stoppages every 15 minutes, it is hard to assess the actual progress a group may be making in terms of cohesion.

To compare this to a real-world situation, it’s a little like educational reform. It takes 12 years for a student to go from first through 12th grade. But with educational reforms in many cities and regions being offered every four to eight years, it is difficult to discern whether any particular reform makes a difference in creating a genius who goes to MIT, or yielding students who can’t qualify to get into a university at all.

Now, I’m also interested to see what effect this rule is going to have in the few places in the U.S. that still have 25-minute halves. There used to be a lot of them 20 years ago, particularly in the private schools around Philadelphia and in the mid-Atlantic states. I do not know whether there were many holdouts last year (if any), and if so, they’ll have to fall into line in 2020.

I also wonder what is going to happen with certain in-season tournaments which have kept to 25-minute running-clock halves, a five-minute halftime, and a five-minute warmup to keep to a strict time schedule at a host facility.

Feb. 5, 2020 — A movable feast

A few days ago, it was announced that USA Field Hockey was moving its training and operations out of the Spooky Nook Sports Complex after six years and ten of millions of dollars of investment. We made reference to a previous departure from the National Training Center in Virginia Beach, another place which came into being because of several million dollars of investment from the city.

In truth, however, the U.S. women’s national field hockey side has been a vagabond team over the last 100 years of its existence. It has trained in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Philadelphia, Long Island, Colorado Springs, Baltimore, and Atlanta in the past.

And once the usefulness of a facility has ended, the team has been unrepentant about turning on its heel and leaving. Take, for example, Atlanta.

Back in 1995, the U.S. teams set up residency for a year at Clark-Atlanta University and played and trained at a 5,000-seat stadium purposely built for the Atlanta Olympics. A second purpose-built field hockey facility was set up across town at another historically black school, Morris Brown College.

In the 24 years since the Atlanta Games ended, the game of field hockey has yet to have any impact in any Georgia secondary schools or universities. Worse, both hosting universities have undergone one financial crisis after another. A financial aid scandal almost closed Morris Brown in 2009, six years after its accreditation was revoked. Clark Atlanta suddenly furloughed 70 faculty members in the middle of the 2009 academic year and was seemingly unable to house all of its freshman students in the fall of 2018.

So, where does the U.S. program go from here? I think the next few years is likely to be more of the same, as the team now will have its pick of FIH-compliant facilities from San Diego to Houston to Boston. As the USA Field Hockey website said, its ultimate goal was to create “a national base for the sport dedicated to elite programming for athletes, coaches, clubs and umpires.”

And “national,” it seems, means “whatever is convenient for the national team.”

I think, with the Los Angeles Olympics ahead in 2028, you’re going to see some kind of buildout for the team in a new location rather than established locales such as Chula Vista or Moorpark. In other words, something completely new, with the risk that it may wind up becoming a soccer or lacrosse stadium in 2029 and beyond.

But I think a hockey-only complex (or complexes) are the dream — perhaps one at USC and one at UCLA? After all, a moral imperative for development is going to have to be the addition of teams in the far west so that Cal, Stanford, and UC-Davis can have a high level of competition.

And that, it says here, is long overdue.

Feb. 4, 2020 — NCAA Division I preview

The Fearless 5ive:

MARYLAND
NORTH CAROLINA
NORTHWESTERN
PENNSYLVANIA
SYRACUSE

Ok, gang. Let’s get this out of the way. North Carolina is still a year away from the time when the most voluminous scorer in the history of girls’ scholastic lacrosse, Caitlyn Wurzburger, steps onto the pitch in a varsity match.

That being said, UNC has enough offensive firepower that the Heels are going to have little problem fitting her in during fall ball next autumn. Start with junior Jamie Ortega (81 goals, 31 assists) and senior Katie Hoeg (31-73). Expected to get a lot of minutes are going to be Ally Mastroianni (15-6) and Elizabeth Hillman (9-3), as well as incoming freshman Julia Dorsey. Taylor Moreno will be counted on in the goal cage.

Challenging UNC in the high-powered ACC is going to be Syracuse. The Orange have a number of awesome options in a loaded midfield. Start with Sam Swart and Megan Carney, who have 32 goals each, and Mary Rahal.

But I think the most interesting part of SU’s development this year is going to be in the draw circle. Defender Morgan Widner was all set to play a DIRO role for last year’s team, but blew out her knee. As a result, the Orange seemed completely and utterly lost. But over the last offseason, attacker Emily Hawryschuk got really good at taking draws — so much so that it was reputed that she won 75 percent of draws in fall ball. It doesn’t hurt that the senior had 71 goals a year ago.

The player to watch, I think, is going to be Bianca Chevarie. The freshman was just 15 when she made the 2017 FIL World Cup team for Canada. She may be the difference in Syracuse’s quest for a first women’s lacrosse national title.

Defending champions Maryland will also contend for postseason honors, but they’re going to have to get a lot from defender Lizzie Colson, attacker Brindi Griffin, and midfielder Kali Hartshorn. Look for a big freshman season from Hannah Leubecker, the homeschooled attacker who has been rated as the best incoming attack player by some publications.

Northwestern is going to be all about Izabella Scane and how well she can help lead a group of first-year players with unbelievable resumes. Start with Erin Coykendall, who is the fifth-leading assister in the history of scholastic lacrosse. Add Jane Hansen, the attacker from Cohasset, Mass., the midfield twins Katie and Kiera Shanley, and Daniella Stroup, the third sister to play for Northwestern who is a multiple provincial champion in box and field lacrosse. Northwestern is setting up to be a legitimate national championship contender for years to come.

Another team with a frighteningly good roster is Pennsylvania. The Quakers return Abby Bosco (54 goals), Zoe Belodeau (42), Erin Barry (37), and Gabby Rosenzweig (63 assists). They only graduated four players from last year’s roster, and, for some reason, aren’t thought of as the likely Ivy League champion by most publications.


A number of insurgents are also looking to ascent the Division I throne. Chief amongst them will be Boston College, which has been in the national title game the last three seasons, but have come up empty every time. Charlotte North is a much-ballyhooed transfer from Duke, but she can’t do it by herself. Look for a big season from Addison Kent, the younger sister of game-changer Kenzie Kent.

Another team on whose fates may hinge on one player is the U.S. Naval Academy. Kelly Larkin is an absolute megastar who just happens to be graduating as a second lieutenant in the Navy this summer before deployment.

Michigan is definitely going to be heard from before the year is out. Though the team graduates goalie Mira Shane, the team returns many of its talented players from last year, including Caitlin Muir (38-), Lilly Grass (29-19), Nadine Stewart (27-8) and Molly Garrett (65 draws controlled).

Another team to watch for is the very team that knocked the Wolverines out of the tournament a year ago, and that’s Denver University. Quintin Hoch-Bullen (59-12) and Bea Behrins (49-5) will pace the Pioneers’ attack, but the team’s cupboard is going to be a little thin on defense. Molly Little looks to be the player who is going to be the catalyst in the back.

But I think the best team out West this year is going to be the Women of Troy from the University of Southern California. USC has nine of 11 starters with eight players who had more than 20 combined goals and assists returning, which means that this side is going to be a nightmare for other teams to scout. Add to this a defense in front of goalie Riley Hertford which yielded a mere 8.3 goals per game (yep, even in the possession clock era), and this is a team you don’t want to face in the postseason.

 

Feb. 3, 2020 — BULLETIN: The Home of Hockey is no more

After six years and somewhere between $12 and $20 million spent, USA Field Hockey is leaving the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Lancaster, Pa.

The former Armstrong storage warehouse had been built out as an impressive indoor athletics complex with a hotel, a restaurant, and an outdoor/indoor double-turf complex that was former USA Field Hockey Executive Director Steve Locke’s vision for a “Home of Hockey,” a place where the national team could not only train, but host home matches in competitions like the FIH Pro League or the Pan American Cup.

But Spooky Nook was anything but an Azteca-like fortress for the U.S. side. Not only did the U.S. not win the Pan American Cup at home on the way to the 2017 FIH World Cup, it finished third. The U.S. also won one out of its nine FIH Pro League games in 2019 in regulation at The Nook.

The facility had problems from the beginning. The first time a national field hockey event was held there, poor traffic control led to miles of backups and delays as people could not find their way in to park at the facility.

The problems continued as multiple large events from conventions to basketball tournaments led to large crowds for events other than field hockey.

Poor design hampered the usage of the inflatable dome. One fault was the ventilation, which caused mold to grow inside of the bubble, something which was eventually remediated.

But the bigger problem was the footprint of the facility. Not enough room was carved out around the edges of the pitch to accomodate a crowd of any more than a few hundred people. The front of the bleachers came to within about two yards of the front rows of seating, which could have led to dangerous situations for players or fans if a stray ball or a stray person careened over the sidelines.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen during some of the Tests held in the dome as well as the 2018 NCAA Division III national title game, which was moved from the outdoor pitch because of sub-freezing conditions.

There was work scheduled to begin this spring on the outdoor facility because it didn’t meet certain FIH specifications as regards the bounciness of the surface, but that was overshadowed by a change.org petition which alleged dangerous field conditions and less-than-optimal conditions for the players.

This is the second time that USA Field Hockey and a purpose-built field hockey facility have had a parting of the ways; back in 2007, the team left the National Training Center in Virginia Beach because of a lack of on-side medical facilities. A player needing treatment would have had to have gone to a hospital about two miles away.

So, the main question is, where is the U.S. program headed? For the moment, it’s headed South — to Chapel Hill, N.C., where Karen Shelton Stadium is located. It’s already been announced that the U.S. women’s team will be playing its remaining FIH Pro League home fixtures there.

In future, the aim is, according to a USA Field Hockey news release, “to develop our own dedicated, first-class facility that can meet all our organizational and membership needs.”

I think the key word is “dedicated.” Even though 10,000 square feet of Spooky Nook was open to the U.S. team year-round (the coaches’ rooms, training facility, etc.), the two turf pitches were not.

“Spooky Nook’s roots are deep in the youth sports market, which means the highest demand for surface space is on evenings and over the weekends,” said Spooky Nook’s Sam Beiler. “This peak time demand has started to conflict with the needs of the USA Field Hockey national team.”

Beiler indicated that more turf pitches are in the offing in the acreage surrounding the Spooky Nook complex. That is going to keep many USA Field Hockey events such as the National Indoor Tournament and the National Club Championship up there for a good period of time.

However, field hockey is not the only sport that is being contested there. Think of this: the weekend that the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association was holding its annual meeting, the headline coming out of Spooky Nook wasn’t about field hockey.

Instead, it was about lacrosse, and a Florida team led by all-time leading point scorer Caitlyn Wurzburger won the top pool in the Inside Lacrosse national championship.

And so it goes.

Feb. 2, 2020 — An arms race, continued

In 2003, I wrote about the University of Maryland’s Field Hockey & Lacrosse complex (which I’ll sometimes call The Lacrosse & Field Hockey Complex in the spring) for my series Tuff Turf.

Since then, there has been a building boom of field hockey-specific infrastructure. Most of the universities which had still played their matches on grass pitches went over to a water-based pitch — or at the very least, artificial grass with a crumb-rubber infill.

Some colleges which did not do so, such as Radford, fell by the wayside.

There has been a boom in construction for Division II, III, and even the scholastic realm the last 20 years or so, to the point where there are now at least four U.S. high schools with water-based turf with a built-in sprinkler system, just like at many facilities around the world.

But now, there are plans in and around the top levels of the game in the U.S., to improve their facilities. In the last few months, we’ve read that Towson, Penn State, and Maryland are announcing upgrades to their current facilities.

Why all the fuss in Division I? I think it’s because of the opening of Karen Shelton Stadium at the University of North Carolina. The facility was immediately latched onto by USA Field Hockey when the FIH deemed the turf at Spooky Nook to be out of compliance with international standards.

And until the Nook’s turf is replaced in the next few months, it’s anyone’s guess where the U.S. will play its home matches once the FIH Pro League is over.

Feb. 1, 2020 — A month of previews

Hi, all.

It’s going to be a busy few months in lacrosse as the domestic season begins within the week and will finish up with state championships in Maine and Minnesota in mid-June.

Here’s what we’re planning:

Feb. 4: NCAA Division I preview

Feb. 11: NCAA Division II preview

Feb. 18: NCAA Division III preview

Feb. 25: The national preseason Top 10

Jan. 31, 2020 — Business as usual with the “World-Wide Leader”

This week, ESPN released its schedule for broadcasting women’s lacrosse games on its over-the-air networks.

And, as per usual, there’s a yawning chasm between the number of men’s lacrosse games on TV, and the women’s.

Taylor Cummings, the three-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner and this site’s Player of the Decade for lacrosse, took to Twitter yesterday.

41 men’s games to 12 women’s games aired. SERIOUSLY?!? Almost a 4:1 ratio AGAIN. Each year, the women’s game continues to innovate & grow alongside the men’s. This inequality blatantly shows ESPN’s take on female athletics, that we simply do not matter. WE PLAY TOO.

She’s absolutely right. Want more proof? While ESPN’s over-the-air coverage starts this weekend, the first women’s lacrosse game isn’t scheduled for more than a month from today.

A month.

Fortunately, if you have the ESPN Plus service (a bargain at $5.99 a month), you can get your first streaming games as early as Feb. 7th as Duke takes on Gardner-Webb.