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Feb. 18, 2017 — NCAA Division III Preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
Cortland State
Franklin & Marshall
Middlebury

Salisbury
Trinity

One year ago, the Middlebury Panthers were stinging from being unable to give Hall-of-Fame coach Missy Foote a final national championship. But the Panthers did not have to wait long in order to gain success under new head coach Kate Livesay.

Playing a brash and attacking style of lacrosse, Middlebury went through the most difficult part of the bracket, beating Cortland in the semis, then meeting Trinity for the third time in six weeks in the final. The 9-5 score belied how aggressive Middlebury was during the game, as the Panthers took a 6-0 lead in 35 minutes.

The Panthers return plenty of talent for 2017, including leading point-getter Mary O’Connell (36 goals, 43 assists). I believe a large part of Middlebury’s success will hang on the performance of junior Hollis Perticone, who has a good all-around game in the midfield.

Middlebury’s greatest competition, as per usual, comes from within its own league, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). As was the case a year ago, the chief competition will likely come from Trinity. The Bantams return 54-goal scorer Clare Lyne, who also had 66 draw controls a year ago.

Salisbury will return Gabbi Nieves (41-9) and Dana King (14-27) on attack, but I believe the key to the Sea Gulls’ chances this hear hinge on their defense. Gianna Falcone, a junior, returns in the goal cage, and so do experienced defenders Kacy Koolage and Kieran Kelleher.

The team with the most formidable rebuilding job is going to be Cortland State. Gone are 80-goal scorer Tara Monahan and 74-goal scorer Ashley Gentile. The Red Dragons’ cupboard is not bare on the attack end, however. Kristen Ohberg (64-56) and Hannah Elmer (38-58) will be counted on to lead the attack this year. Jaclyn Beshlian, who has taken the best shots of that attack every day in practice, returns as goalkeeper.

Not to be outdone, Franklin & Marshall is poised for a serious run at the national championship. Paige Moriarty (78-30), Gabby Frank (43-29), and Claire Jackson (31-21) will lead the Diplomats’ attack. Vanessa Budd (43 draws controlled, 38 turnovers caused) lead an inexperienced defense


DARK HORSE: St. John Fisher. Coti Holbrook and Jordan Johnson, the Cardinals’ two leading goal-scorers, return, and the team is very much a threat to win the Empire 8. This year, the team opens with a pair of games in Florida against Kenyon and Roanoke before heading north for the heart of their schedule.

Feb. 17, 2017 — When a World Player of the Year changes addresses

This past week, Carli Lloyd, the megastar of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and two-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, became the fourth — fourth! — national-team player to sign with a major European club instead of playing with the National Women’s Soccer League.

Lloyd will play half a season with Manchester City, which is about the same deal as Alex Morgan has with Paris St. Germain. In addition to them, Crystal Dunn is playing a full season with Chelsea, and Heather O’Reilly is playing the 2017 season for Arsenal.

The Lloyd signing should, frankly, scare fans and sponsors in America to death. This should not be happening at the inception of the fifth season of the primary USSF-sanctioned Division I women’s soccer league.

You see, not so long ago in Europe, women’s football clubs were little more than an afterthought, an auxiliary way to market the name of the club without spending any money. But an influx of Middle Eastern oil money has changed all that.Note that Lloyd’s Manchester City side is sponsored by Etihad Airways. For Arsenal and PSG, it’s Emirates Airways. Chelsea is owned by Russian oil oligarch Roman Abramovich.

Lloyd’s is the capstone signing, showing that the economic balance in women’s soccer has tilted away from the NWSL. And it shows me that the U.S. clubs and the national federation need to step up the sponsorship game radically.

Feb. 16, 2017 — A day for the men

After a lot of radio silence from One Olympic Plaza as to the makeup and shape of the U.S. men’s field hockey development apparatus, came a rapid-fire series of news alerts today, as members of three national teams were made known.

With fewer than six weeks until World League Round 2 in Trinidad & Tobago, the United States has picked a group of 18 players, some with a lot of experience playing in foreign leagues. But then there’s high-school senior Keeling Pilaro.

Pilaro, a senior at Alexandria Episcopal (Va.), has not played a varsity field hockey game in four years. He was on varsity for Southampton (N.Y.) as a middle-schooler, leading the Mariners to a state title match.

But then, gender politics rose their ugly heads and Pilaro was not allowed to play on the team anymore. Pilaro, instead, moved to Virginia, where he has practiced with the varsity at Episcopal and has played in local adult leagues around the District of Columbia.

Pilaro was not only named to the senior roster, but was also named to the U-19 national roster. Both the U-16s and U-19s have a lot of work ahead of them, including the Cal Cup, a June tour of Europe, and a pair of Test series later in the year.

But for the U.S. men’s national team, the World League is the penultimate hurdle towards qualification for the FIH men’s World Cup. The States need to finish in the top two in this eight-team tournament, or hope they are the the second highest-ranked bronze-medal team in order to go through to the two 10-team World League semifinal tournaments, which will then cut down to 16 for the 2018 FIH World Cup.

For the U.S., ranked 29th in the world, it will be tough sledding.

Feb. 15, 2017 — A new direction?

Today, it was announced that there were to be changes in the leadership in USA Field Hockey’s Board of Directors. Cycling off the head of the board are former U.S. Olympian Shannon Taylor as vice-chair and former U.S. men’s national teamer Shawn Hindy, who was the chair.

Coming in are Bree Gillespie as chair and Susan Nottingham as vice-chair. The two were originally elected to the Board in 2014, and each have business backgrounds. Gillespie was a production development consultant as well as the coach of the Lanco Premier field hockey club, while Nottingham is an investment consultant and financial planner.

Given the sponsorship and development ideals outlined by FIH last fall, I think this is a solid move by USA Field Hockey. The Board is going to be charged with the task of running the Pan American Cup this summer as well as putting together a successful bid to be one of the women’s national sides in the new international home-and-away series of Tests.

These responsibilities, I think, are going to make the Board take a more businesslike approach in how the sport is marketed. And hopefully, that will be a nationwide effort.

Feb. 14, 2017 — An even darker shadow in Lansing

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

The investigation of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for Michigan State University and the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, is threatening to become the kind of scandal which could result in not only the severest forms of punishment to the accused, but has already affected at least one ancillary figure who, according to one attorney quoted in The Detroit News, enabled the continuation of the abuse over a two-decades-long period by downplaying the accusations.

“Had a proper investigation been done in the 1990s … all of this could have been prevented,” Okemos, Mich. attorney Mick Grewal tells the News. “All the other victims might not have been assaulted by Dr. Nassar. {Klages} failed to protect these young women. She should be investigated for her conduct for failing to protect these girls.”

Thus far, this widening gyre of a scandal has now expanded to include 55 women in seven different sports, plus it also has ensnared the disciplinary process at Michigan State University, which, according to this investigative story, has made it very difficult for sexual assault and rape victims within the MSU community to receive anything close to justice.

What is troubling is that Kathie Klages’ departure might not be the only domino to fall. There are already allegations that Nassar had full run of the Karolyi Ranch, the gymnastics school in Texas that Bela and Martha Karolyi ran while coaching the U.S. national and Olympic teams.

Question is, what did the Karolyis know, and when did they know it? And you can replace that name with the name of most any head or assistant coach who was in place at Michigan State whose athletes were under Dr. Nassar’s care.

Given what we already know about Don Peters’ transgressions while at the helm of USA Gymnastics, this could get really messy, really quick.

Feb. 13, 2017 — 100+

The last five years of University of Connecticut women’s basketball are a statistician’s dream. How do you, for example, recover from losing a senior class that constituted the top three seniors in the 2016 WNBA Draft?

Or, for that matter, two more in the first rounds of the 2014 and 2015 Drafts?

All of that excellence, past and present, came together this evening in the Gampel Pavilion for UConn’s 66-55 win over a good South Carolina side. A cavalcade of superstars — Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and even soccer star Megan Rapinoe made the game.

Connecticut fell adrift by two in the second quarter, but had one of their patented bursts near the halftime interval, scoring the last seven of the second quarter, then kept on rolling aggressively with quick ball movement, rebounding, and defense.

This year’s team, however, has been The Team Of No Stars. Sure, there’s likely to be a player or two why may play their way into being a lottery pick for the next WNBA draft, but the plain fact is that the program is awaiting its next crop of freshmen which includes Megan Walker, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon and Mikayla Coombs.

Some during this evening’s broadcast prophesied that the UConn streak may hit 200 if the current group could run the table.

The scary thing is that it just might happen.

Feb. 12, 2017 — The Phoenix rises, again

As much as Maryland, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, and Virginia have dominated the world of women’s lacrosse since 1990, the promise of the democratization of the sport in Division I remains very high.

Many of the improvements have been large-scale, with investments in programs such as Florida, Colorado, Southern California, and Michigan.

And then, there’s Elon University, a small liberal-arts college located a couple of miles off the interstate between Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham in central North Carolina.

A year ago, the Phoenix put themselves on the map with a win over a good Duke side.

Yesterday, Elon did one better, beating a very good Virginia side that had a preseason ranking inside the top 15.

Elon won the game in the final two minutes in a quirk borne from a recent rules change. With the game tied 10-10, Virginia had the ball with 1:50 to go in the game and worked it around the Elon goal, but could not hit the goal frame with a shot, leading to a shot-clock violation with 20 seconds remaining.

The Phoenix took the ball into the attack end and earned an 8-meter free position from the right hash with three seconds remaining. Junior Abby Godfrey arrowed the ball into the cage to give Elon an 11-10 win.

Whereas last year, Elon’s win over Duke didn’t give the team much of an RPI boost at the time of NCAA Tournament selection, it’s going to be interesting to see whether Elon is able to parlay this win into a winning Colonial Athletic Association campaign. The Phoenix do not play a single conference opponent until April 7. That’s when Elon plays all six of its conference rivals in a row before embarking on the conference tournament.

Until then, Elon does have a pretty tough row to hoe. They have Notre Dame on Feb. 23rd, North Carolina on March 14, and Duke on March 29.

This team, with plenty of players from championship-level programs such as Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), Englewood Kent Denver (Md.), Mendham (N.J.), and Milton (Ga.), is fun to watch. Go and see them.