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Feb. 10, 2018 — Observations from a new era

I took in a women’s lacrosse game from a streaming service, but instead of worrying about winning and losing, I decided to look at it from an aesthetic viewpoint to see what the game looked like from a competitive and athletic viewpoint with the new rules in play.

Of course, I had a look at some of the new rules while observing United Women’s Lacrosse weekends. What a lot of fans are doing to have to get used to is the sight of players in motion throughout the entire 60 minutes, especially in the critical seconds when the ball is awarded to one team or the other and the self-start is executed.

In addition, you’re seeing a lot of jostling and planning on every free position opportunity on the 8-meter fan. The fan is not only cleared, but only a handful of players are allowed to be in the critical scoring area, which is delineated by the 12-meter arc and a box which is extended from the points of the arc to the end lines.

Defenders are limited to being on the hashmarks on the fan, and cannot be stationed on the legs of the fan that point towards the goal posts. Because the player taking an 8-meter shouldn’t have any problems getting off a clean shot, I believe that free-position percentages should go up. We’ll see how that stands up later this year.

Oddly enough, in the footage I watched, there weren’t any “look out!” moments when a player didn’t have her head on the proverbial swivel to see a defender attacking the ball, even with just a two-yard halo for a player who is fouled.

The game wound up being played almost entirely in the two attack ends of the field; the midfield was seemingly irrelevant since neither team attempted a ride. I wonder what is going to happen against teams which are skilled in the ride, such as Northwestern and The College of New Jersey.

The game was quick; so quick that I think there was only one shot-clock violation the entire game. Both teams went right at it and were not passive.

I’ll be interested to see what happens when tacticians try to take control of the pace of the game to give their teams the advantage.

 

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Feb. 9, 2018 — The overall themes of the PyeongChang Olympics

This morning was the opening ceremony for the 23rd Winter Olympics, held a scant 40 miles from a place which has been a war zone for nearly 70 years.

PyeongChang is located in the northeast part of South Korea, a bit of a ways away from the ocean, where plenty of cold and snow already exist.

Over the next three weeks will be thrilling competition. And, I think, there will be some interesting themes:

1. The Asia Era. Even though the Olympics are going through an Asian phase with the next three major Olympics in Korea, Japan, and China, I don’t think we will see quite the bump that occurred in Beijing 2008, where it seemed every single event had a Chinese athlete or team in medal contention. The cautionary tale, however, is the followup for many of these athletes. China was second in field hockey in 2008, but have not been close to the same form the last eight years. Also, have you heard a single peep out of Jia Tian and Jie Wang, the volleyball finalists who were beaten by Kerri Walsh and Misty May? That’s because, between the two of them, they played in exactly three events after 2008.

2. Eurocentricity. The time is coming where more and more skiers and skaters are coming from mountainous countries which have not as of yet been powerhouses in winter sports. Places like Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Iceland are looking to muscle in on the territory usually held by Sweden, Holland, Finland, and Norway. With more money coming into the Olympics from Europe than any other continent, I’ll be interested to see the caliber of athlete coming from many of the post-Soviet countries.

3. Diversity. This year, Bolivia and Ecuador make their Olympic debuts. There will also be a Nigerian bobsled team. The usual climate of equatorial countries often makes it difficult for aspirants to the Winter Olympics, but climate change may play a much greater future role.

4. The steroid embarrassment. A few days ago, sharp words were exchanged about the International Olympic Committee’s decision to reinstate a small number of Russian athletes who were banned for steroid use. None other than former World Anti-Doping Agency head Richard Pound had these scathing words for the situation: “I believe that in the collective mind of a significant portion of the world, and among the athletes of the world, the I.O.C. has not only failed to protect athletes, but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail against the clean athletes. We talk more than we walk.” Let’s see what happens when the first O.A.R. (Olympic Athlete from Russia) tests dirty.

5. Reunification … to a point. Usually, the only reason to watch women’s ice hockey at the Olympics is to see the United States and Canada in the final. But there is a group of 20 women who are looking to change all that, and perhaps, the perception of the world. Meet Team Korea, which has 23 players from the South, and a dozen from the North. But the players aren’t living together during the Olympics; the North Koreans are being herded by minders to and from the Olympic sites, and about the only time the team is fully together is at practice. The team is wearing blue and red uniforms, the common colors of both of their flags. Tellingly, the team isn’t wearing orange, the color adopted by the unification movement on the peninsula.

6. And in other hockey …. This Olympics, professionals under contract to NHL teams are not being allowed to play, leaving behind journeymen from lower leagues, college players, and recent retirees such as Brian Gionta. A medal for either the United States of Canada would be a bonus since the best players are not in PyeongChang.

Feb. 8, 2018 — For want of $34

Last Sunday’s arrest of Honda Award-winning field hockey player Charlotte Veitner of the University of Connecticut is perhaps the most stunning criminal case befalling a member of the American field hockey community in the last decade and a half. Veitner has been charged with sixth-degree larceny for taking $34 of makeup from a campus bookstore.

The shock does not come from the severity of the crime; God knows the coaches and administrators who have been put under arrest on morals charges the last few years have affected far more lives. The three Bloomsburg field hockey players who were convicted of beating up one of their schoolmates during Homecoming weekend in 2011 were more violent. And the Montclair State players who posted a lot of their antics during a drunken bender off-campus in 2013 may have been infinitely more stupid.

But Veitner is a star amongst stars, a player who parlayed her talent from an appearance on the German U-19 national team into a storied career at UConn which saw her become one of the all-time greats.

Here’s the thing to watch as the case moves into its next phase with a court appearance on Feb. 14. This situation is at the heart of a pair of hot-button issues in not only field hockey, but in the nation at large.

One issue is the willingness of a university to provide cover for members of its athletic program, whether it is Michigan State hiding many of Larry Nasser’s misdeeds, college football teams from Florida to California carrying guns or Duke men’s lacrosse hiring sex workers. How hard will the UConn athletics department work behind the scenes to gain a plea bargain, if not outright clemency?

The other issue is foreign nationals committing crimes in the United States. This week, President Trump doubled down on comments painting large groups of immigrants as criminals, a stance which is shaping the current debate on immigration and its role in American life.

What’s known is that an alien — legal or otherwise — who commits a crime is subject to deportation. But, an immigrant’s status should not be threatened if the crime was not a felony. Sixth-degree larceny in Connecticut is a Class C misdemeanor, and the charge can be expunged in exchange for restitution and community service.

Now, student-athletes are special kinds of immigrants. Students like Veitner generally attend university on an F-1 visa, which sunsets once the student finishes his or her course of study, or is deemed to be not making progress on the same.

We don’t know whether the status of the visa can be changed as a result of her arrest. But what we do know is that the finest collegiate field hockey player last year had a stupefying lack of judgment last weekend.

And got caught for it.

Feb. 7, 2018 — NCAA Division III preview

Al’s Fearless 5ive

College of New Jersey
Gettysburg
Trinity
William Smith
York

Anyone familiar with the history of the College of New Jersey women’s lacrosse team didn’t believe what they were witnessing in the final nine minutes of last year’s Division III championship game. In that time frame, the Lions lost the lead and allowed the opposition to run a stall the last three minutes to win the game — which had been TCNJ’s winning formula over the years.

But with the new free-movement rules plus the possession clock in Division III, the question now arises: can head coach Sharon Pfluger and her staff gin up a go-go-go style of lacrosse for 60 minutes as opposed to the tactical style that stifled opposing teams? Leading scorer Kathleen Jaeger (53 goals) returns. So does close defender Elizabeth Morrison, who had 61 draw controls and 59 caused turnovers. With just two players graduated, this could be the Lions’ year.

It won’t be easy, however, with teams like Gettysburg lying in the weeds. Steph Colson was the difference for the Bullets after returning to the team in mid-season, and senior attacker Katie Landry (43 assists) will be feeding from the back of the goal. If the rest of the team can rise to her level, watch out.

Perhaps the most exciting young team in Division III will be York. The team was led last year by freshman phenom Meghan Fox (39 goals). The Spartans’ program has worked for years to get in the elite of Division III, and last year’s unforgettable run through the NCAA Tournament, where it fell at the quarterfinal round.

The team that beat York that day was Trinity. The Bantams have been a fixture in the Final Four during the 2010s, although 2017 saw the team miss out on its seventh straight national final. Though the team graduates nine seniors, attacking midfielder Kylie Coffee is going to be a handful, as she had 43 draw controls and 58 goals last season.

Another team to watch is William Smith, a team which has not made a Final Four since 2003. The Herons are a hungry bunch, and look to follow the lead of senior Melissa Moore, who had 47 goals a year ago.

BULLETIN: Feb. 6, 2018 — The Pro League schedule is more FIH than FIFA

In the world governance of field hockey, traditions die hard.

And in the assembly of the 2019 FIH Pro League, the world governing body of the sport didn’t create its own match weeks where all teams would play a mid-week fixture with half at home, and then the other half will have a home game sometime during the weekend.

Instead, it created a hodgepodge schedule which has given many teams different challenges and opportunities, especially towards the end of the competition in June 2019.

The FIH schedulers pitted the men’s and women’s teams from Belgium and Holland against each other in Belgium on June 8, followed by two reverse fixtures the next day in the Netherlands.

Indeed, the league seems to be basically built on having as many doubleheaders as possible, as there is heavy overlap amongst the 18 national teams. Among the more prominent doubleheaders will be Holland at Argentina on Feb. 24, Australia at New Zealand on April 25th (ANZAC Day in most of Oceania), and Argentina at Great Britain on May 18th.

The fixtures list shows a weird crescendo in June of 2019, when 49 of the matches are scheduled to be played in 3 1/2 weeks.

The United States’ schedule shows a particular set of problems. The first four opponents are among their toughest: Argentina, Holland, Australia, and New Zealand. Three of those four are on the road.

The States then have consecutive home matches on March 29 (Belgium) and March 31 (Olympic champion Team GB). It’s a schedule which reminds one of the current FIFA international calendar.

But after that, the USA has a four-game European swing, facing Belgium, Holland, Team GB, and Germany in the space of 20 days. This scheduling is reminiscent of the kind of long-term hockey touring that nations did during the early-to-mid 20th Century. I will be interested to see whether the States fly out for the individual games, choosing to train exclusively at Spooky Nook, or whether the Americans will set up a World Cup-esque training camp to face local European competition in between Pro League games.

The United States then has four consecutive home games in May against Australia, Argentina, China, and New Zealand. This homestand is the golden chance for the States if they are adrift in the Pro League table, as momentum (and points) can accumulate quickly.

The Applebees finish off their inaugural Pro League season in June 2019 traveling to China, then hosting Germany on June 22.

No announcement has yet been made about the nine home games — where they’ll be, ticketing, etc. But I’ll be willing to wager that the inaugural game is going to be in California, and the May homestand will be at Spooky Nook.

And I’ll go one further: if the States really need three points out of Germany on the last matchday, look for the game to be in the humidity dome of the Hampton Roads area of Eastern Virginia. I’d guess the Regional Training Center in Virginia Beach would be the obvious choice, but I think the L.R. Hill Sports Complex at Old Dominion University will be the host of the final game.

Feb. 6, 2018 — NCAA Division II preview

Al’s Fearless 5ive

Adelphi
Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Southern
LeMoyne
LIU-Post

You can’t term Pat McCabe “unwelcoming.” That’s because there are six transfers this year on the roster of the Adelphi women’s lacrosse team, your defending national champion. Kole Pollock is the Panthers’ leading returning scorer, and sophomore Alison Johnson will be counted on to feed her teammates from behind the goal cage.

After finishing one rung short of the top spot last year, Florida Southern will be looking to replicate the successful form that gave the Moccasins the 2016 title. They’ll have to do it with exactly six seniors on the roster, though.

Another Florida team which could break into national prominence this season is Florida Tech. Sara Grenier (58 goals) and Caroline Dunleavy (46) will be counted on to pace the Panthers on offense. How far FIT can get in the postseason will depend heavily on how it does against Florida Southern in Sunshine State Conference competition.

After three years of not making the Division II Final Four, look for a turnaround for LIU-Post. Head coach Megan McNamara will be looking for stability as well as scoring. On defense, senior goalie Olivia Kirk started all 19 games from a year ago. So did close defender Carly Spano, a redshirt junior. But look for Jill LoManto, whose three older siblings all played Division I collegiate lacrosse, to have a breakout sophomore season.

Upstate, there is also movement at LeMoyne. The Dolphins might have their best team since snaring a Division II berth what was then known as the NCAA National Championship Tournament. That’s because the team returns 10 starters and 17 players with varsity experience. Sidney Hall and Jacqueline Pardee (35 goals each) return on attack.

Feb. 5, 2018 — NCAA Division I preview

Al’s Fearless 5ive:

Maryland
North Carolina
Northwestern
Stony Brook
Syracuse

The last six years, a player from the University of Maryland has won the Tewaaraton Trophy, emblematic of the nation’s best collegiate lacrosse player. Of course, the Terrapins have only won half of the Division I national finals contested in that interval, so there’s no magic formula that guarantees that the nation’s best player will be on the nation’s best team.

The Terrapins return senior Megan Whittle, who has scored 214 goals in her career, amongst the best who have ever played in College Park. But the strength of the team are in the younger classes. Goalie Megan Taylor is a junior, as are close defenders Julia Braig and Shelby Mercer. Kali Hartshorn, the New Jerseyan who burst into supernova-esque brilliance in the draw circle one year ago, is back as a sophomore along with Brindi Griffin, who is likely to start somewhere in the front seven this spring. Also look out for highly-touted attacker Catie May, who is from the always-excellent Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) lacrosse program.

With the brand new free-movement rules, athleticism and fitness are likely to be greater factors than ever before. And that will make Northwestern the Terps’ greatest challenge this season. Selena Lasota, who played just four games last year, was given another year of eligibility by the NCAA, and will join with her club and U-19 national teammate Danita Stroup for one final year together in the collegiate game.

The Cats’ senior duo of Shannon and Sheila Nesselbush will be counted on for close defense in front of goalie Mallory Weisse. One freshman to watch is Taylor Pinzone, who scored 520 goals in her four years of high school, the second-highest total for a four-year career.

Another team to keep an eye on is Stony Brook. The Seawolves have been in the headwaters of the Top 10 nationally for the last three or four seasons under head coach Joe Spallina, and they have one of the nation’s best players in Kylie Ohlmiller. But what Stony Brook has that nobody else does is incentive; the Final Four is scheduled for Stony Brook this spring.

The University of North Carolina finds itself with a problem it hasn’t had in the last five or six years: inexperience in goal. The graduation of Kaylee Waters means that the team is going to have to go with redshirt Taylor Moreno, sophomore Jess Lynch, or sophomore Elise Hennessey, who has had a mere 61 minutes of varsity experience.

On attack, Eli Hazar will be the straw that stirs the Heels’ cocktail of athleticism and skill. Watch for freshmen Ally Mastroianni and Jamie Ortega to pay immediate dividends on the attack end along with veteran Marie McCool.

Syracuse is another one of those schools likely to benefit the most from the new NCAA rules of lacrosse, particularly because Gary Gait spent time with the United Women’s Lacrosse League, which pioneered the modern rules. The Orangewomen have a deep roster on the attack end, with players like Nicole Levy, Riley Donahue, Alie Jimerson, Mary Rahal, and Taylor Gait ready to go. A lot of the burden this year will fall on goalie Asa Goldstock, who needs to find more consistent form in the goal cage. Goldstock is known for making physically impossible saves, but often let easier ones get in; she was a mere 65th in save percentage last year.


ELSEWHERE IN DIVISION I: When it comes to the Final Four, you can’t leave Penn State out of the conversation. The Nittany Lions set a program record for goals scored, and return 73 percent of their goals this fall. Madison Carter (70 goals) and Katie O’Donnell (65) will lead Penn State’s effort.

In addition, look for Florida to make a comeback into the big time. Lindsey Ronbeck (53 goals) and Shayna Pirreca (50) return on attack.

An interesting story is going to play out in the Washington. D.C. suburbs. George Mason, coached by former McDonogh star Jessy Morgan, lucked into getting all-time national scholastic assist leader Corinne Wessels, who graduated from Northwestern in three years and is pursuing a master’s in education. History is against the Patriots, though: since starting varsity play in 1994, they have never made the NCAA Tournament.

Last spring, the USC Women of Troy were everyone’s sleeper pick for national honors. Goalie Gussie Johns, who has a World Games winner’s medal, returns for her senior year in the cage. But only sophomore Kerrigan Miller returns of last year’s top-five point-scorers.