Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

BULLETIN: June 8, 2021 — The single-season goals record has fallen

With a 12-goal performance in an Iillinois High School Association playoff game, Francesca Frieri of Lockport (Ill.) Township has broken the existing national record for girls’ lacrosse goals in a single season. She now has 176 goals this season, six more than the 170 goals that Sophia Turchetta scored in 2014.

Frieri has more than 300 goals in only two seasons of play, because her sophomore season at Lockport was never played because of the world-wide pandemic. Frieri, a junior, is committed to Notre Dame for her college career.

Lockport plays its next game Wednesday against Orland Park Carl Sandburg (Ill.) in the sectional semifinal round.

June 8, 2021 — The State of Hockey, 2020-21

There’s a word that has defined life in the American field hockey community in the last year.

That word is “uncertainty.”

Whether you were on a U.S. college team, a rec team, a high-school team, or the U.S. national team, the Coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every level of competition.

Perhaps the biggest two effects were the movement of the NCAA Division I tournament to the spring and the cancellation of the USA Field Hockey National Festival. The Festival, one of the largest field hockey tournaments in the world, was originally supposed to have been held in North Carolina, then the competition was split between North Carolina and Virginia before being cancelled days before its scheduled start.

There were other kinds of COVID-related effects, large and small, on the American field hockey community. Schedules were shortened, mostly through the cancellation of interconference games. But some competitions were shortened by altering the state tournament or eliminating it altogether.

One such state was New Jersey, which turned its usual five-bracket state tournament into more than 20 sectional championships. The lack of a Tournament of Champions prevented Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) from winning a 22nd straight state championship, but the Vikings were able to win the Central-East “A” sectional bracket.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association eliminated at-large bids, allowing only District champions to make the state tournament for the first time since the 1970s. This led to some interesting games in the District final, none of which were more gripping than the District 3-AAA title match between Hummeltown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) and Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.). The winning play saw the nation’s leading goal-scorer, Hope Rose, make a 60-yard run, beating three midfielders for pace before rapping a shot from a 45-degree angle on the right wing.

The Virginia High School League only invited regional champions (except for Class 3) to the state tournament, which ramped up the pressure on regional final participants. It used to be that teams making the final of a regional tournament were guaranteed entry into the state tournament, putting the pressure point on the regional semifinal games.

But for the Class 5 Region A East bracket, the real pressure point was in the quarterfinal round, where, because of travel considerations, defending state champion Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) was matched up against its Mill Dam Creek rivals, Virginia Beach First Colonial (Va.). Cox’s 1-0 win over FC represented the eighth time in the last nine seasons when one team ended the other’s season.

In the schools, there were a number of record performances in 2021. Aside from Hope Rose’s 90-goal season, Ryleigh Heck of Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) knocked in 76. In the spring season, Cami Crook, the fine attacking center midfielder for Somerset-Berkeley Regional (Mass.), became the third-leading assister of all time with 149.

The FIH Pro League, of which the U.S. women’s national team is a part, was devastated because of the different travel regulations of the teams participating in it. The U.S. has played only nine games in the Pro League thus far, and find themselves at the bottom of the table with China (which has played only two).

The United States’ results, especially recently, have been less than encouraging. But that is understandable, given the uncertainty of the last year. The U.S. women, after putting their grievances to an on-line petition in late 2019, left Spooky Nook as their training ground.

Indeed, in the last year and a half, the American women have had four home grounds: Spooky Nook, Karen Shelton Stadium, The Proving Grounds, and a forthcoming move to Queens University in Charlotte. Too, the women’s side has had three head coaches in that time span: Janneke Schopmann, Caroline Nelson-Nichols, and current head coach Anthony Farry. All of this turnover has coincided with an enormous turnover on the U.S. elite roster. In a quartet of Pro League games in May 2021, this lack of experience showed, as the team was outscored 19-2 by Belgium and Team GB.

A lot of the potential experience that was not on the pitch, as it turned out, were on the rosters of U.S. college teams, which were finishing their seasons a scant week before Pro League play resumed.

Though COVID-19 completely erased competition in NCAA Division II and III, the Division I teams put on a splendid show over the course of their respective conference tournaments and national tournament.

Coming out ahead was a stacked North Carolina team, which had Team USA’s Erin Matson on it. Matson, a splendid forward, scored the overtime game-winner in the Division I final against a good Michigan team, the last of her 29 goals on the season.

But what I find interesting about the 2021 spring season was that there seemed to be a shift in power in field hockey. More teams from the Big Ten Conference (three) made the Division I tournament than from the Atlantic Coast Conference (two).

The college field hockey season may have ended in early May, but a development within the sport may have a larger impact going forward. That is the reversal of Stanford University’s announcement to cut the field hockey program and about a dozen others.

Stanford was one of a number of schools which reversed course on cutting sports in their athletic department, including prestigious universities like William & Mary and Brown.

To me, the original decision to cut the sports was a cynical move done with the global pandemic as a pretense, especially given the billions of dollars that these universities hold in reserve. Their move to gut their athletics programs created a healthy dose of uncertainty not only amongst players and coaches, but it created uncertainty on other campuses. Stanford’s original decision to cut field hockey would have decimated competition on the West Coast; the America East Conference has already decided to only go with the teams in its eastern division– Monmouth, Maine, Lowell, Albany, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Whether or not Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, and Cal-Davis will be able to latch onto another conference remains uncertain.

June 7, 2021 — Unwilling to admit a mistake

In this COVID year like no other, there was one region of the country which embarked on some radical rules changes for scholastic sports.

It’s not unusual for Massachusetts to make news when it comes to school sports rules changes, sometimes with unintended consequences. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association mandated helmets in girls’ scholastic lacrosse in the mid-1990s, a move which resulted in less-skilled defensive play and the unwillingness of some college coaches to recruit within the Commonwealth.

The MIAA also had a rule for field hockey which was meant to prompt the goalkeeper to play any ball heading into the circle instead of letting a ball from outside the circle to go into the goal. But that had the unintended consequence of taking the striking circle out of the equation when it came to strategy and tactics.

Radical rules changes were instituted by the MIAA in many sports over the 2020-21 academic year, which put Massachusetts student-athletes in the position of playing a radically different sport from neighboring states, sometimes putting them at a competitive disadvantage. In field hockey, the sport went from its usual 11-on-11 format to a 7-on-7 format.

And one major rules change resulted in half of the state playing the fall under a different set of penalty corner rules from the spring-playing schools. In the fall, the awarding of a penalty corner resulted in a 23-meter free-in. In the spring, however, a penalty corner was the result. And it wasn’t just any corner, not even the penalty corner situation which you might find in reduced-side overtime in every other state.

Instead, the all-knowing MIAA decided to alter the penalty corner rules to only allow defenses two outfield players and a goalie to defend the goal instead of the usual three.

This spring, a sizable amount of debate has come up around the four-quarter system used to play girls’ lacrosse. The debate surrounds the final minutes of the first and third quarters. When it comes to timing, the final two minutes of the first and third quarters are not subject to the same stop-time rules of the second and fourth quarters. This means that, if a free position shot is awarded — even in the critical scoring area of the final third — the clock is allowed to run until the end of the period.

Enough coaches saw a problem that a resolution was voted on last week by the Tournament Management Committee of the MIAA. The resolution, which would have reinstituted 25-minute halves, was voted down 10-3.

It’s befuddling how the MIAA is so incredibly willing to interfere in the duly-arbitrated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

And unwilling to know when to quit.

BULLETIN: June 6, 2021 — A legend of the men’s game, and the women’s game, moves back to the men’s side

Multiple reports out of central New York are reporting that John Desko is retiring from his position with the Syracuse University men’s lacrosse team, and that SU women’s coach Gary Gait will be moving to take over that program.

Gait has been an absolute legend in the game of lacrosse. He’s affected the men’s game with his play and the women’s game with his coaching. He is the reason why many lacrosse sticks are strung a certain way, and why pockets in the men’s game are almost invariably white, and pockets in the women’s game are yellow, all the better to hide the ball.

He was an assistant coach at the University of Maryland for a time, helping the Terrapins win multiple championships. For the last 15 seasons, he has been with the Syracuse women’s team, taking the Orange to three national title matches, the last occurring only a week ago in Towson, Md.

Gait’s presence with the Syracuse men will add instant credibility to the program. Syracuse has been a tremendous team over the years, winning 15 national titles, but the Orangemen have not been to the Final Four since 2013.

The opening at Syracuse’s women’s lacrosse team is going to lead to a mad scramble. There are plenty of Gait’s former players coaching at various places, such as Michelle Tumolo (Wagner), Katie Rowan (Albany), Liz Hogan (Colgate), and Alyssa Murray (Boston College).

Now, I think Regy Thorpe, his former assistant with the women’s team, would be an inspired coach, but he’s already helping to build the University of Pittsburgh program, which will be playing its first fall-ball season in a few months. It will be interesting to see who Syracuse University will chose to coach a championship-level group of women.

June 5, 2021 — A pair of ambitious concepts

In about three weeks, four of the best girls’ lacrosse teams of the last few years are scheduled to face off against each other in a tournament in Columbia, Md. what is being billed as a “Girls High School Nationals.”

A week later, in a sports complex in Farmington, Conn., some 48 scholastic girls’ lacrosse teams are scheduled to participate in what is called a “Girls High School Lacrosse National Championship.”

Yeah, I said “scholastic.” Instead of prominent club sides like the Yellow Jackets, NXT, or Hero’s Lacrosse, the names of the teams are familiar to you: Darien (Conn.), Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), Moorestown (N.J.), Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.), Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy, Rosemong Agnes Irwin (Pa.), and Wilmette Loyola Academy (Ill.).

Yep, high-school teams, playing weekend-long tournaments towards an ultimate winner.

This isn’t the first time that elite scholastic girls’ lacrosse teams have been matched against each other. A few years ago, organized a series of games around the country which involved a number of elite-level teams playing intersectional games against each other.

Several years ago, eight games were contested at Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) featuring four Maryland teams and four New York teams in the New York-Maryland Challenge.

And now, 52 teams are looking to see who is the best of the best in two separate competitions.

In the last few years, organizers ranging from websites to shoe companies to major television networks have attempted to create something approaching national championship events in everything from football to cross-country running.

When I first heard of the Girls High School National Lacrosse Championship, I expected it to be a little like field hockey’s National High School Invitational — a weekend of intersectional games where teams would play as many games as it was allowed to, given the rules of each individual state, without an elimination bracket at the end.

But what I found interesting is that this tournament is going to finish off in a competitive fashion, with the tournament finishing July 2nd, which is later than the graduation of several of the teams in the pool of partcipants.

In addition, I find it interesting that there are teams in this competition from states which have been notoriously restrictive in terms of play. Take, for example, New Jersey. Three teams were invited from the Garden State, whose governing body has precise rules on the number of games that can be played in a week, the number of games that can be played in a day, the number of out-of-state games allowed, and the final day of competition, which is, according to the NJSIAA’s website, June 20th.

The Girls High School Nationals, however, is more limited in scope and scale, and has no school which plays under the aegis of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Now, I get the fact that the organizers of these events want to be able to get together a girls’ lacrosse event to match last week’s boys’ lacrosse national tournament held in Washington, D.C. But knowing how thorny the regulations tend to be when it comes to interstate competition, I have a feeling there is going to be a significant revision for any future iterations.

June 4, 2021 — Field hockey: Region of the Year, 2020-21

The global pandemic affected a number of scholastic field hockey competitions across America. It forced the truncation of state tournaments in New Jersey and New York, forcing their teams to play only for sectional titles. Massachusetts players had two different sets of rules in the fall and the spring season. North Carolina’s public schools had two different state titleists — one for the fall, one for the spring.

And the most difficult aspect of the season was that there were almost no interconference games, much less interstate matchups.

One of the first states to try to make a go of it last fall was the state of Ohio. The Ohio High School Athletic Association issued a comprehensive series of protocols on July 22nd, less than three weeks after the resignation of Jerry Snodgrass as executive director.

Though a handful of schools opted out of fall play, the majority of teams kept on going, playing their usual schedules and arriving at Upper Arlington (Ohio) in early November for the state championship, won by Columbus Bishop Watterson (Ohio.)

The amazing thing is that, except for the loss of a handful of schools in larger cities, Ohio was able to get through its season without a major outbreak of COVID-19 reported.

That’s why we’ve chosen Ohio as our Region of the Year for the 2020-21 academic year.

The Buckeye State joins a range of other geographical locations selected in past years:

2020-21: State of Ohio
2019: Charlotte, N.C.
2018: PIAA District 3, Pa.
2017: Houston, Tex.
2016: Commonwealth of Virginia
2015: Summit, N.J.
2014: CIF Central Coast Section, Calif.
2013: VHSL North, Va.
2012: State of New Jersey
2011: Lancaster-Lebanon League, Pa.
2010: No award
2009: No award
2008: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
2007: PIAA District 4, Pa.
2006: Winston-Salem, N.C.
2005: Louisville, Ky.
2004: Kent and Sussex County, Del.
2003: PIAA District 2, Pa.
2002: State of North Carolina
2001: Lancaster County, Pa.
2000: Cecil County, Md.
1999: PIAA District 3, Pa.
1998: State of Maryland
1997: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
1996: Hunterdon and Warren County, N.J.

June 3, 2021 — Gaining a program, but losing a leader

Yesterday, it was announced that Stanford University field hockey coach Tara Jelley Danielson was resigning, a scant two weeks after the school announced the reversal of its decision to eliminate field hockey and 10 other intercollegiate sports.

It’s a stunning turn of events, especially given all of the work that had been done to get the university president and board to reverse course. But the thing is, you have to realize that when Stanford had made its original decision to cut sports, it wasn’t only the players who were affected by the decision. Coaches and support staff for the 11 sports affected found themselves looking for an exit strategy.

In a prepared Stanford University release, she said that she and her family were moving back to New England. Danielson was a legend in western Massachusetts field hockey, playing with distinction for Greenfield (Mass.), the University of Massachusetts, and, for 89 matches, the U.S. national team.

In the summer of 2010, I trumpeted her hire at The Farm. She did good things for the Cardinal program over the years, taking a team which had been winless in nine previous NCAA Tournament appearances and got them three wins in the tournament.

Indeed, she got the Cardinal to within 70 minutes of the Final Four in 2014. But the opponent was the University of Connecticut, a team which would beat Stanford 3-1 that afternoon and would win the national title a week later.

On balance, the field hockey community in California was left better than when Tara Danielson found it, thanks to coaching, administration, role-modeling, and even umpiring. She will be missed in the Golden State.

June 2, 2021 — The passing of a true legend

Yesterday, it was announced that Cathy McGuirk, who took Branford (Conn.) to an amazing 40 consecutive state tournaments during her 41-year career, died yesterday from complications of ALS.

McGuirk won ten Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference titles in Class M. Those championships were won in a span between 1985 and 2005. The team’s purple patch was at the start of the millenium, when the team won four titles in the five years between 2001 and 2005. Her teams got to the state semifinal round 29 times.

She won 558 games, which puts her in the top 25 for all-time field hockey coaching victories. She and her husband John coached together on the Hornet sideline, and the home ground for the team is named for them.

McGuirk had a distinguished playing career for Southern Connecticut State University. In an era when USA Field Hockey had dominion over championship play, she never yielded a single goal in four years in the goal cage for the Fighting Owls.

That defensive mentality served her well as a coach. She started slowly, with a record of 4-7-2 in her first season, but she would build the Branford program into a state powerhouse and a threat to win every time out.

Aside from using numbers, it is difficult to define McGuirk’s record of success, especially in a sport with so many veteran coaches with more than 500 wins and/or more than 40 years of service. But a paragraph from her page on the Branford Educational Hall of Fame website comes close:

Cathy McGuirk’s obvious love of her students and dedication to them is reciprocated. While always striving to bring out the best in her students and her players, she accepts them for who they are, not as athletes. Her efforts, when a student or player is struggling and feels she can’t do anything right, is to show her-and convince her-that she can. Clearly she has been a resounding success.

June 1, 2021 — A preview of field hockey awards season

Usually, we offer our end-of-season field hockey awards in December. But because of the split season owing to the global pandemic, we’re pushing the release of our usual package to June. We’ll have a similar package for girls’ lacrosse in July.

Here’s what we’re planning:

June 4: Region of the Year
June 8: The State of Hockey
June 11: United States Coach of the Year, the nominees
June 15: Games of the Year
June 18: Final Statwatch for 2020/21
June 22: The Final Top 50
June 25: Your national scoring champion
June 29: United States Coach of the Year

May 31, 2021 — The one thing missing from NCAA lacrosse that so many other sports have

In yesterday’s NCAA championship final, there was a situation in which a player seemingly scored a goal while sprawling in front of the goal cage.

The umpires called a crease violation, despite the visual evidence that the Boston College player never touched the white line.

This call was one of a number of questionable decisions on the part of the four-part umpiring crew over the course of the weekend that has led to one unmistakeable conclusion.

And that conclusion is that field lacrosse in the NCAA needs a replay official.

I’ve called for a Video Assistant Referee in lacrosse for some time, especially after a phantom goal in a tournament game between Penn State and Florida a few years ago.

The environment in women’s lacrosse, frankly, has gotten away from the ability of even the most experienced eyes of umpires to be able to get every single thing right. Lacrosse umpires have to call boundary lines like a tennis official, call goals like a goal judge at an ice hockey rink, police body contact like a basketball referee, and keep control the game with penalty cards like a soccer referee.

It is a difficult job, one which has been made much more difficult in the free-movement era with the speed of the players as well as the speed of the ball. The exit velocity of an 8-meter shot from a Charlotte North, an Izzy Scane, or a Melissa Sconone are likely to be so quick that the ball could either go through a small hole in the back mesh, or bounce downward from the little teeth that are on the inside of the goal frame to secure the netting, or bounce straight down, land behind the goal, and come back into play.

It’s happened before; just review film of the 1966 FIFA World Cup final.

Now, when you think about it, there are so many pro sports out there that have a replay review component. There’s tackle football, rugby, field hockey, cricket, ice hockey, basketball, golf, and even motor racing. Mind you, the last two aren’t sports where the participants can ask for a replay review; the rules officials and race stewards have the authority to make an inquiry into an event which has happened already. In most others, either a captain, coach, or even an umpire can call for an official review to get it right.

Let’s see if the people who run lacrosse will have the courage and forethought to do the same.