TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Sept. 9, 2021 — A delayed boomlet of games to start the 2021 season

The weeks before Labor Day usually have a number of good out-of-conference games to truly kick off the field hockey season. This year seems to be a little different; the schedule seems to have shifted a number of prominent games to start the year to later in the season.

The latter half of this week is seeing a number of good contests. Today, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the No. 1 team in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10, beat Marlton Cherokee 6-0. Senior Ryleigh Heck had a hat trick to bring her to 201 goals for her career, becoming the seventh player to get that many goals in her career.

Also today, No. 3 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) beat crosstown rival Summit Kent Place (N.J.) 6-1. In a South Jersey derby, Cherry Hill Camden Catholic (N.J.) bested Pennsauken Bishop Eustace (N.J.) 5-0.

This evening, Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) takes on Palmyra (Pa.) in another Route 422 derby match.

But what could be the most intriguing set of games occurs tomorrow and Saturday in Lewes, Del. In the Bi-State Challenge, host Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.) and fellow DIAA champion Delmar (Del.) will face off against Pocomoke City (Md.) and Olney Good Counsel (Md.).

The intrigue comes from the fact that Delmar is the No. 2 team in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10, and they won’t be playing Cape Henlopen at this four-team meet. Instead, the teams are scheduled to play Oct. 7, again, at Champions Stadium, in the closest thing Delaware will have to a Tournament of Champions.

Sept. 8, 2021 — Changing focus, changing storylines

The evolution of this site over the last 22 years has been one which has taken into account many different competitions within scholastic field hockey nationwide.

Our focus has been pretty much on three areas of the country: the eight counties in the southern half of New Jersey, the area of New York between the Southern Tier and Long Island, and the triangle between Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania.

However, we have noticed a leveling-up of competition in certain places over the years. When this site began, there were numerous Division I players coming out of the private schools in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. We also paid rapt attention to Maine, coastal Virginia, North Carolina, and a number of the established public schools in Massachusetts.

That focus shifted to places like Texas, Wisconsin, San Diego, and the New England Private Schools Athletics Council (NEPSAC) as competition revved up in those areas. More recently, there has been a lot of must-see field hockey in northern Virginia, Delaware, and the greater St. Louis area.

Where do we think some of the interesting storylines are going to take place this year? Let’s list a few:

Ohio. The Buckeye State is one of the only areas of the country where a full season of competition took place last year, except for schools in a few major cities. The OHSAA has always had good teams like Thomas Worthington, Columbus Academy, and Hudson.

Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League has only about 20 teams, but is starting to punch above its size when it comes to field hockey. Classical and Moses Brown have been good the last few years, but the team that everyone is talking about is East Greenwich. That’s because of a junior attacking midfielder named Alexandra Mega. Her magnificent solo golazo in last year’s state final was a highlight of the 2021 season.

CIF Northern Section. This area only has about a dozen teams inland from the San Francisco Bay, but the efforts of school teams from places like Davis, Chico, and Yuba City are not to be ignored.

New Hampshire. I don’t know whether it’s because of the growth in girls’ ice hockey in the Granite States, but the playoff push last year in the NHIAA was appointment viewing.

Sept. 7, 2021 — Preseason Statwatch for 2021

With a number of states beginning their play in the next couple of weeks, I wanted to make sure to put this placemarker here, with some of the active statistical leaders in field hockey as of the beginning of the campaign (on or around Aug. 17th).

We’ll be publishing Statwatch on Fridays starting in a couple of weeks, but we also have an obligation to keep up with the people in the Daily Statwatch columns just to your right as you read this.

Here’s what we have thus far when it comes to our active leaders:

CAREER GOALS
198 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
131 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
77 Delmar (Del.)
55 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)

CONSECUTIVE UNBEATEN
77 Delmar (Del.)
55 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
44 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.)

CAREER COACHING WINS
987 Susan Butz-Stavin, Emmaus (Pa.)
862 Laurie Berger, San Diego Serra and San Diego Canyon Crest (Calif.)
831 Linda Krieser, Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.)
720 Karen Klassner, Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.)
710 Cheryl Poore, Harwich, Monomoy, and Eastham Nauset (Mass.)
688 Eileen Donahue, Watertown (Mass.)
672 Sharon Sarsen, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.)

Sept. 6, 2021 — And an 11th outfielder shall lead them

One of the themes of this website is seeing how history repeats itself. Back on Sept. 29, 2005, Rutgers University beat Temple University without a goalkeeper, as starter Rosalyn Wentko had a concussion the game before, and was held out as a precaution. Despite this, Rutgers and head coach Liz Tchou won the game.

This afternoon, Stanford University, a team still without a goalkeeper, managed to win with 12 outfielders in a 4-1 win over Dartmouth. The Cardinal did exactly what it had to do over the course of the game: keep possession of the ball and limit shots from the Big Green. The shot total for the game favored Stanford by 22 to 1.

The teams had played evenly over the course of the first half, but the Cards scored three straight goals to open their account, two of which were put in by junior forward Lynn Vanderstichele.

It’s an absolutely remarkable achievement by head coach Roz Ellis’ team, and it comes at a propitious time: the team now has a 2 1/2-week break before playing Vermont, which could be enough time to identify a goalkeeper willing to play for the side.

Sept. 5, 2021 — Falling short on numbers

A few years ago, it was projected that the game of football could face an existential threat if just 10 percent of youth players were not made available by their parents to play Pop Warner or high-school ball.

This year, the game of field hockey is, sadly, seeing some fraying at the edges when it comes to participation.

We’ve seen a couple of stories from the scholastic level about the lack of participation in the game in some small school districts. Lawrence (Mass.), which is in a city of 80,000, only had four people come out for field hockey, and may not have a team at all this autumn.

Down the coast, there is a new co-operative team which now is going to have the designation Westbrook-Lyme-Old Lyme, a combination of three Connecticut high schools. The new combo was necessitated by the fact that the Westbrook head coach Janet Dickey was seeing short numbers on her team.

“The first couple of days of practice, we had 12 on the roster, but only eight that were cleared to play,” Dickey tells Shore Publishing. “As we were going and we weren’t getting more kids, I brought up the prospect of finding a school nearby to bring in some more kids.”

Lyme and Old Lyme, located on the opposite side of the Connecticut River, are providing some crossover athletes from the girls’ lacrosse program so that the co-op field hockey program can take the field.

Another co-op team which is happening this fall is between two Allentown, Pa. high schools. Allentown Louis Dieruff (Pa.) and Allentown William Allen (Pa.) are forming a team to play Allen’s schedule in the East Penn Conference because of low numbers at both schools. Remember: this is the same William Allen team that made the state final in 2005.

Across the river in New Jersey, low numbers has caused Ewing (N.J.) to cancel its varsity season and play JV-only. Ewing has had a lot of hard-luck seasons over its existence, and had the cruelest blow of all when promising head coach Tiffany Bashore died suddenly before the 1998 season. Bashore brought the Blue Devils to within a game of automatic qualification for the state tournament the season before.

On the other side of the country, there is a story brewing at a place which just saw its field hockey program reinstated. Stanford University’s program was saved at the last minute from the chopping block, but at a cost. Head coach Tara Danielson left after the reinstatement, and new coach Roz Ellis arrived to find a team with players she didn’t recruit, and one with players who left via the transfer portal.

Problem is, the Cardinal do not have a designated goalkeeper on the roster. Not one.

This meant that Stanford has had to play its first two games of the season with 11 outfield players; a recent rules change has prevented the team from designating a kicking back with goalkeeping privileges.

Stanford has a game tomorrow against Dartmouth, then does not have a game for two weeks when the short-handed Cardinal play at Vermont and at Maine.

I hope Ellis and her coaching staff are able to find someone willing to put on the pads.

Sept. 4, 2021 — Is the NWSL on the verge of a reckoning, if not a collapse?

The National Women’s Soccer League is currently in its ninth season of operations, and is the longest-serving USSF-sanctioned Division I women’s soccer league in history.

After losing a number of star U.S. players such as Alex Morgan and Christen Press to foreign clubs in the last year or so, the league has not only gotten a number of national-team players to relocate back to the domestic league, it has announced plans to add clubs in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2022.

But a number of off-field situations and scandals are threatening the stability and viability of the league, going forward. This afternoon, it was announced that the game between the Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns was postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests of four Spirit players. Add to this reports that the Spirit have carried up to eight players on their roster who have not had a Coronavirus vaccine.

The Spirit are at the center of more than one of this year’s scandals. There were questions raised about a week-long cultural exchange with the host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar. The exchange included a soccer clinic and tours of several facilities, some of which have been pointed out as being built with imported labor that critics and international NGOs have deemed abusive.

The team also botched the recent release of head coach Richie Burke, first announcing a move to the front office, then announcing his firing after the resurfacing of stories of abuse of youth players under Burke’s care in a previous coaching regime. The situation has led supporters to post signs urging owner Steve Baldwin to sell the team — signs which were ordered to be taken down during the team’s last home game last weekend.

Now, the Spirit are not the only NWSL team to have made a coaching change this season. At least six out of the eight NWSL teams have either made a change or have announced the imminent departure of their head coach at the end of the season.

Some of these moves are lateral moves within the world of soccer, but a number of others have been for cause, such as the recent firing of Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly.

The U.S. women’s soccer landscape has become riven with toxic personalities in positions of power. The second Division I pro league, Women’s Professional Soccer, was destabilized and eventually folded because of the actions of Dan Borislow as the self-appointed leader of magicJack FC. Then, you had the situation with the Utah Royals, which saw an ownership change when it was revealed that Andy Carroll, the team’s chief business operator, was mistreating numerous employees within the team.

All of this makes you wonder what is going on. Are players being told not to complain about their owners and GMs because it could reflect badly on the league? Are ownership groups not being vetted to weed out toxic personalities? Are coaches being selected out of convenience instead of competency?

Thing is, the NWSL is being lionized for attracting all-star ownership groups, such as what is happening with Angel City FC in Los Angeles. This group included civic and business leaders, as well as sports stars like Magic Johnson and Mia Hamm.

The Spirit, for what it’s worth, had announced a number of additions to its ownership group just four months ago, adding people like Chelsea Clinton, Alexander Ovechkin, and Briana Scurry. But the Spirit seems to be run by only three people: Steve Baldwin, Michele Yang, and Bill Lynch.

If a similar power arrangement evolves in the high-visibility market of Los Angeles, and another scandal arises, I can’t see how the league gets itself righted going forward.

Sept. 3, 2021 — The Final Third, Ivy League* Edition

Please join us this afternoon at about 2:25 Eastern time on Facebook Live, as The Final Third takes a good look at the openers for several Ivy League teams, plus other action across college field hockey today.

Sept. 2, 2021 — The possible effects of Hurricane Ida on the start of the U.S. field hockey season

You’ve seen the pictures of major cities like New York and Philadelphia, with large swaths of area, roads, and infrastructure inundated with the rainfall associated with the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

The rain fell in great amounts, from New Orleans through Appalachia to Pennsylvania through to New England. The greatest rainfall that we’ve seen is Flemington, N.J., with 11 inches of rain just yesterday. Similar totals have been reported from north of Baltimore through to the South Shore of Massachusetts.

With field hockey scheduled to start tomorrow in Pennsylvania and within the next week in most other states affected, you might think that the season may be affected by the storm and its aftermath. This might happen, depending on local policies as to whether to open schools which may have been water-damaged.

However, most of the infrastructure involved in sports across the path of Ida is likely to be less affected than their communities. That’s because many school districts, over the last 15 or so years, have invested in artificial grass or artificial turf. If you were to take a look at a live satellite map of central New Jersey, the football field at Hunterdon Central, the school in the town that took the most rain from Ida, is a bright green; the pitch would quickly. Go 20 miles east to Commerce Bank Park, the home of the Somerset Patriots baseball team, and the entire floor of the stadium would be under water.

Time was, you could count on one hand the number of schools which invested in an artificial competition surface. Today, that’s no longer the case. I’ll be surprised if yesterday’s rain has affected the start of the season to a significant degree, even if the rainfall was of a record amount.

Sept. 1, 2021 — Thoughts on the start of Year 24

It was back in 1998 when this website started with a few words on a GeoCities website: “News From The Top Of The Circle,” it said.

Since then, this site has ballooned with not only a text presence, but video, this blog, and the social media accounts in the header. As always, give us a like and a share when you get onto our TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook presences. And if you look us up on those four accounts, you can find our Fearless 5ive for the three NCAA divisions as well as our scholastic preseason Top 10.

Over the last 23 years, we’ve gotten to meet with some of the great players in the history of field hockey and lacrosse in this country, as well as a number of future stars.

We’ve always worried, however, whether the influence of this site has caused some players and teams to divert from the kind of game they are trained to play and either take rash chances or run up the score on opponents.

We’ve noticed players in field hockey and lacrosse who have blasted existing scoring records. Caitlyn Wurzburger had 1,000 points in her varsity lacrosse career, Austyn Cuneo and Mackenzie Allessie with mind-boggling 300-goal field hockey careers, Fran Frieri breaking the single-season lacrosse scoring record for a small-town team in Illinois, Haley (Schleicher) Randall getting 50 goals and 50 assists in a field hockey season, and the 500-goal careers of Taylor Pinzone and Sophia Turchetta, who went to high school a scant 25 miles apart in the western suburbs of Boston.

The statistical achievements have been steered by some great coaches. I find it interesting that, for example, the current leaders in coaching wins — Kathy Jenkins in girls’ lacrosse and Susan Butz-Stavin in field hockey — are still active. In addition, I also find it interesting that two of the most successful scholastic coaches in the last quarter-century — Danyle Heilig in field hockey and Deanna Knobloch in girls’ lacrosse — decided to step away from their successful programs within the space of 15 months.

But as well as these coaches, players, and their teams have done, the overall fortunes of the sports in which they take part have diverged significantly since this site started.

In field hockey, the United States was, and still is, seen as “the sick man” of the sport. The U.S. women’s team was fourth in the world coming out of the 1998 FIH Women’s World Cup, but failed to qualify for the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. The United States had a pretty good patch beginning in 2006, qualifying for three consecutive Olympics between 2008 and 2016, all the while winning its first major trophy in 2014 with the FIH Champions Challenge.

However, after losing in the quarterfinals of Rio 2016, the States finished last in its pool at the 2018 World Cup, then failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Behind the scenes, there were multiple coaching changes and a public imbroglio over the quality of the $12 million Home of Hockey in central Pennsylvania.

Right now, the U.S. women are in the midst of having to occupying its fifth home ground since October 2001. As for the U.S. men, the senior national team has still not qualified for an Olympics or World Cup when it has not been the host since 1956. There still are no varsity field hockey programs at U.S. schools and colleges for boys and young men.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, have legal language to allow boys to play on boys’ teams, but the only boys’ scholastic programs which have even gotten onto the field have been in California.

In addition, the NCAA Division I championship was not on national cable TV for nearly a quarter of a century, only returning in early May 2021 with a memorable grand final between North Carolina and Michigan.

Contrast this with women’s and girls’ lacrosse. The number of girls’ teams across America has nearly tripled since 2000. The NCAA Division I tournament’s field, which had just six teams the mid-1990s, now has 26.

Women’s lacrosse now has an amazing collection of star players who have latched onto social media to build their reputations and, with new NCAA regulations allowing players to make money off names, images, and licensing (NLI). Too, there have been three professional women’s lacrosse leagues since 2016, which has allowed players to develop not only their personal branding, but the quality of their games.

This has allowed the United States to retain the No. 1 slot in just about every major world tournament. There have been a couple of significant exceptions: the U.S. finished second to Australia in the 2005 World Cup, and the U.S. junior national team lost to Canada in the 2015 U-19 World Cup.

The States are coming into the 2022 Women’s World Cup in Towson, Md. as a favorite, but as a tenuous one. No host nation has ever won a World Cup in women’s lacrosse.

But what the U.S. has that no other nation has is an organized pro league, one which competes under the Athletes Unlimited banner. The league, which uses metrics to select captains which choose up teams for the next week, is a concept which gets players to work with each other while using their natural abilities, and without coaches.

This site has advocated for the professionalization of post-graduate competition since we started. And the success of AU women’s lacrosse has brought up an interesting scenario. Should AU get involved in women’s field hockey? And if so, isn’t it the case that men’s field hockey needs this kind of competitive circuit more than the women?

It’s an interesting discussion point, one which bears watching when it comes to the ground that the game of field hockey has lost in the last quarter-century.

Aug. 31, 2021 — Time for a new field hockey law?

Your Founder has seen a number of scenarios in field hockey games dating back to 1988. Many of the most interesting ones have involved overtime, something we talked about eliminating a couple of days ago.

I seem to remember at least three times, situations when the same player in overtime (or a late-game situation) will not only make a key defensive play on one end to save a sure goal, and then come back a few minutes later to score the game-winning goal.

Back in 1992, I covered a quadrupleheader of games in the Mercer County Tournament, which is an FA Cup-like single-elimination tournament which brings together the private schools in the county along with the public schools in the Colonial Valley Conference.

That day, three of the four games went to overtime. The final featured a mid-size Roman Catholic school and a similar-sized public school from across the county. The same player, who would play Division I field hockey in the South, came up with a number of defensive stops as the team’s corner flyer in overtime, then pocketed the game-winner in the second overtime period. Needless to say, I was glad to have a notebook computer at hand since I got to the office well past the time I expected to get there, and I wrote box scores and the stories of the four games at the scorer’s table.

I also remember, in 2007, Rachel Dawson making numerous defensive stops and block tackles against Wake Forest in regulation and in the last few minutes, then Dawson would be so composed and calm on the ball in overtime where any flub, any mistake is magnified. Dawson, about four minutes into extra time, found a teammate and some open space in the circle, and a penalty stroke was called on the play. Dawson calmly slotted home the stroke and UNC won the ACC championship.

Three years ago, I saw much the same scenario in the VIrginia 6A title game between the two ends of the Mill Dam Creek Classic, First Colonial and Frank W. Cox. In the overtime periods, a senior named Kylie Levine made a goal-line stop of a sure FC goal, then in the game’s 86th minute, Levine latched onto a Zoe Campisi pass and sent it over the line, ending the game.

On Sunday, Bibi Donradt of the University of Maryland also had a two-way influence in overtime, making a defensive save in the first 10-minute period of OT, then made a bold, curving run amongst three St. Joseph’s defenders, wrong-footing the goalie and winning the game 4-3.

I think it’s enough to merit adding an Eighth Law of Field Hockey, one where the player making a key defensive play close to the end of a tie game is the most likely to score a game-winning goal.