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May 18, 2017 — The start of what could become a two-track system

This past week, Mallory Pugh, the 19-year-old wunderkind of the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team, decided to forego her collegiate eligibility at UCLA and play professionally for the Washington Spirit of the NWSL.

It’s something that is done all the time on the men’s side of the equation, where players like Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Freddy Adu, John O’Brien, and Jozy Altidore have turned professional without a sniff of a high-school or collegiate team.

But what has been happening is that U.S. Soccer has developed its own league, running outside the realm of what some might see is the expected road to the pros. The U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy is a nationwide league of 149 boys’ teams that started 10 years ago.

And the DA’s expected girls’ league of 74 teams could also alter the way that talented female soccer players play their way into the elite pool for the national team. Depending on word of mouth, or opportunity, or dumb luck, it will be, I think, difficult for a player choosing to play for a school team then to go to an NCAA college to get the same opportunities that athletes from the DA will have to either join the national team or to turn professional someday.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with the fervor by which MLS and NWSL teams are partnerning to form teams in the Development Academy. New York City FC, the Washington Spirit, and Sky Blue FC are amongst the partners thus far pulling together coaching staffs and other resources for the upcoming 10-month Development Academy season (yep, 10 months).

It’s going to take a while to see whether the DA is able to turn out ready-made pros like Pugh and Lindsey Horan, who left North Carolina to join Paris-Saint Germain before her eligibility expired. But I think it will also be interesting to see if the college player — especially those who have been tutored by the Anson Dorrances and Jerry Smiths of the world may have a different kind of football intelligence from players on Academy sides.

Sure, they may be fitter, but I wonder what kinds of decisionmaking the DA players will make when playing in a big world tournament or in a professional league.

That will be an interesting study.

 

May 17, 2017 — Preliminary metrics applied to the possession clock

The folks at Anonymous Eagle have put together an interesting treatise on how the pace of play has changed in women’s lacrosse during the transition into the possession clock era.

It is an incomplete picture, of course. If you wanted to do a scientific study, you’d want to take a pretty good sized sample — say, about 10 percent of Division I teams, spanning the gamut from teams that play good defense (Duke, Colorado) to the attack-minded (Maryland, Syracuse). You would need teams that play a lot of games in the snow, and others that play almost exclusively in the temperate zone. You would need teams both below and above .500 on the season.

Also, when designing a study, you cannot compare only the 2017 season to the several seasons previous to it. I’d think you would like to have up to three years’ worth of data per team on either side of the imposition of the 90-second clock in order to get a true sense of how the game has changed.

Were we to look only at Marquette’s data as a model for the entirety of NCAA Division I, we would wind up with a skewed picture, because the Warriors were a quicker and more high-scoring team in 2016 than they were in 2015. In the final year without the clock, they scored, as a team, 50 more goals and had nearly five more offensive possessions per game than the previous season.

Taken as a continuum, Marquette’s 2015 to 2017 improvement was staggering. The number of goals scored nearly doubled, and the number of attack-zone possessions rose by a third.

I think some more data gathering would be appropriate, no?

 

May 16, 2017 — Top 10 for the week of May 14

With some seasons being completed, the story of the 2017 girls’ lacrosse season is starting to come to a close in some places. With about a month left until all state tournaments are completed, one of the most important championships was finished off last Saturday.

That came in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, which saw its “A” title being won, for the ninth straight season, by Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.). It is a team which is quick on its feet and quick in its mind, knowing what it has to do even before some of its fans do. The team’s winning streak is at 177 games despite the slings and arrows of teams from Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and even the superprep team from Hill Academy.

Who will fill in behind McDonogh? Let’s see what happens in the next few weeks.

Our honorary No. 11 Team of the Week is Lindenwood University, which this week plays in the NCAA Division II Final Four for the fourth straight season. The catch is that the Lady Lions have to go up against the defending national champions from Florida Southern.

1. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 22-0

Season complete: Beat Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 12-9 in IAAM Class “A” championship game; win streak now at 177 games

2. Ridgewood (N.J.) 16-0

Maroons toughed out a 10-8 win over Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) in a likely preview of the Tournament of Champions

3. Glenelg (Md.) 16-0

Gladiators played yesterday against Marriotsville Marriotts Ridge (Md.) in MPSSAA Class 3A/2A South semifinal

4. East Setauket Ward Melville (N.Y.) 16-0

Patriots will meet the winner of Dix Hills Half Hollow Hills (N.Y.) and West Islip (N.Y.) in NYSPHSAA Section XI Class A quarterfinal on May 22nd

5. Mount Sinai (N.Y.) 11-2

Mustangs meet winner of Westhampton (N.Y.) and Sayville (N.Y.) in NYSPHSAA Section XI Class C semifinal on May 25th

6. San Diego Torrey Pines (Calif.) 23-0

Season complete: Beat a very good Poway (Calif.) side in the CIF San Diego Open Division championship

7. Brighton (N.Y.) 14-0

Barons start NYSPHSAA Section V play this Saturday and is a hot favorite to win Class B honors

8. Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 17-2

Season complete: Blazers had momentum in the first half and the lead until McDonogh went on a 7-0 run to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 10-4 lead

9. Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 23-1

Saints start VISL play with a home game tomorrow against Charlottesville St. Anne’s-Belfield (Va.)

10. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 16-0

Carroll bested Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.) 11-6 last week; they await a play-in opponent for their Philadelphia Catholic League tournament opener May 18th

11. Lindenwood 21-1

Lions managed a top-four seed despite losing in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference final to Regis University

Who’s out: None

And bear in mind: Darien (Conn.) 12-4, Orlando Bishop Moore (Fla.) 20-4, Milton (Ga.) 15-4, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 14-4, Moorestown (N.J.) 15-2, Fayettteville-Manlius (N.Y.) 12-3, Camillus West Genesee (N.Y.) 11-3, Newfield Middle Country (N.Y.) 12-2, Garden City (N.Y.) 14-1, Rosemont Agnes Irwin (Pa.) 15-5, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) 18-2, Massilon Jackson (Ohio) 17-0, Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.) 16-2, Wilson West Lawn (Pa.) 20-1, Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.) 16-5

May 15, 2017 — A 20-year letter

Dear Tiffany:

I can’t believe that it has was 20 years this evening when I was tapped on the shoulder in the newsroom while writing another lacrosse wrap. And it was then when I got the news that you had left us.

I guess part of why your death hit me so hard wasn’t just because it was the first time a coach on my beat had passed away. It was because you taught and reinforced a lesson that I’ll always remember from sportswriting: though the focus should be on the athletes on the field, the coaches often are the ones that make the best stories.

And this is especially true in field hockey, where a lot of the stories are about feminism in the wake of Title IX as well as the ways that today’s coaches are trying to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in this ancient stick-and-ball game.

In the last five years, I have seen a field hockey player break 300 goals, and a lacrosse player break 600 goals. I have seen a lacrosse coach exceed 700 wins, and two field hockey coaches 800 wins.

I have seen 15-year-olds do what adult players could not do in the early 1990s when it comes to body and hand control and what they could do to propel a 2 1/2-inch ball (whether it is white plastic or yellow rubber) into a goal cage.

And yet, behind all of that excellence have been coaches who have been willing to teach a higher level of game to their players.

What I especially have noticed is that coaching trees are extending with deep roots into the high-school and club programs around the country. Coaches with international playing experience are giving that next-level wisdom to their students.

Which is all well and good.

I still, however, find the hard-working player from the mid-table team to be the one that makes the biggest impact, at least on me. What I’m seeing in recent years is that there are not as many schools that were in the situation you were in when you took over Ewing all those years ago. Athletic directors now actually want to have competent coaches in their ranks and not people who would take over for a year, earn a three-month stipend, then go on their merry way to be replaced by another coach the next season.

Leslie (Lehr) Conant has done a good job with what she has been given in her time at the helm. In fact, something happened seven months ago today that you’d have been proud of: Ewing beat a good Hopewell Valley team in double overtime in the Mercer County Tournament.

In fact, that was about 20 years ago to the day when Ewing had a chance to qualify automatically for the state tournament but for Hopewell Valley. These days, a team no longer has to have a .500 record to make the state tournament; a team can simply apply to enter.

I was so hoping that you would be able to see the game grow in Ewing Township thanks to the fire and passion you brought to the program in your short term as head coach.

It’s a fire that I feel every time I read your six-part Game Plan.

But now, I’m hoping you’re carousing and having a good laugh with Jim Davis. Give him my best, would you?

Yours in hockey,
Al

May 14, 2017 — The game, unrecognizable

Bill Tierney, who brought Princeton and Denver University to NCAA championships and the United States to the FIL World Cup in 1998, always coached to his strengths and several principles. One of them: you don’t have to score more than 19 goals in a game.

But when you look at the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse bracket, you notice something which, admittedly, could be a result of the possession clock: a scoring bonanza.

This year, teams have exceeded the 20-goal barrier seven times. That’s nearly 39 percent of playoff games. The tournament is supposed to be a place where competition is supposed to be closer.

But as we wrote last fall about the fact that nine PIAA field hockey tournament matches went to the mercy rule in 2016 alone, it’s hard to know whether the fault lies in the possession clock, the rules written to favor the offense, or players who are coached to be relentless even in runaway games.

I think the possession clock does make a difference, especially for teams who try to blunt a faster team by holding onto the ball for minutes at a time. It has taken the late-game stall out of the game except for the last two minutes of play. I think it’s more than that, however.

The possession clock is the topper on several rules which have changed the game from a flowing game of speed into basketball on turf. Players who get the ball and take it to the goal without so much as a look at open teammates are no longer of value at the next level. As a result, the interpassing in the attack end is better than it has ever been.

And, I guess, with good team play, the goals are coming. It’s a new age.

 

May 13, 2017 — •177

This evening, the crowd at Severn Archbishop Spalding (Md.) was trying to rally the No. 2 seed in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland’s girls’ lacrosse tournament, the Blazers of Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.). They had just scored their ninth goal of the evening against eight-time IAAM champion Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and were maybe ready to make a late scoring run.

All of that optimism was erased in one flick of Maddie Jenner’s stick. In a sequence worthy of Hall-of-Famer Quinn Carney, she won the draw about 10 feet high, settled her stick under the ball at its apex, and cradled it out of the center circle. McDonogh would never let Notre Dame Prep see the ball again.

The final was 12-9 in favor of McDonogh, and it was the 177th straight win for the nation’s lacrosse powerhouse. But the way that McDonogh was able to win games this year makes you wonder if the number of the winning streaks needs to be marked in the way that hit records were denoted on music sales charts. In other words, McDonogh’s win streak is 177 with a bullet.

After all, the Eagles were able to overcome an incredibly competitive and compressed in-season schedule. As has been the case in the past, McDonogh started with three top opponents on the road in Florida, then completed its final 19 fixtures in about 33 days.

This year, Notre Dame Prep repeatedly gave the Eagles all they could handle — not only in this year’s final, but in a 9-4 defeat earlier in the season.

But in the end, the team game that McDonogh has played to an unbelievable degree over the last nine years was on show once again. The Eagles won draws, found open players on the attack, played excellent trail and close defense.

It was business as usual for the Eagles, but this year, there was a little bit extra. It is tempting to compare this team to the McDonogh teams of six or seven years ago, led by Jen Cook, Taylor Cummings, and Megan Whittle.

Such is the intergenerational excellence of this program, when a team is so good that a rival can only be ginned up in a mind exercise.

May 12, 2017 — Friday Statwatch for games played through May 10

Hi, everyone. We’re at Statwatch again, that time of the week when we gather national girls’ lacrosse statistics and try to make sense out of them.

This week, we look at an interesting occurrence in our list of career point scorers — that is, players with high numbers in combined goals and assists. This week, we have six who have exceeded the 500-point mark now that assist maven Allison Hunter of Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.) exceeded the mark this week.

Another interesting story starts today, as Novato (Calif.) meets Davis (Calif.) in a rematch of Davis’s epic win earlier this year in the quarterfinal round of the CIF North Coast Section Tournament. It will have a direct effect as to how many more goals the nation’s leader, Charlie Rudy, may attain.

What you see below are statistics from amongst others, MaxPreps.com, NJ Advance Media, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Providence Journal, The Albany Times-Union, Long Island Newsday, The Worcester Telegram, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MassLive.com, the Denver Post, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, MSG Varsity, the Ann-Arbor News, and The Washington Post.

To make this list better in the future, I encouraging you to convince your team, your school, league, or state governing body to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
143 Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.)
105 Jordan Shugrue, Laurel St. Vincent Pallotti (Md.)
104 Ryann Doyle, Seymour (Tenn.)
102 Tess Meurling, Apex (N.C.)
102 Hennessey Evans, Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills (Calif.)
101 Kiersen Foust, Greensboro Southeast Guilford (N.C.)
100 Camryn Rogers, Somerville (N.J.)
100 Zoe Belodeau, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
96 Mary Markwordt, Roswell Blessed Trinity (Ga.)
95 Kaia Evans, San Diego Del Norte (Calif.)
94 Abigail Daigle, Millville (N.J.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
74 Victoria Tucci, North Brunswick (N.J.)
71 Madison Dunk, Durham (N.C.) Academy
70 Lea Cox, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
69 Allison Hunter, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
68 KateReagan Costello, Gulf Breeze (Fla.)
67 Reilly Casey, Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.)
61 Danielle Van Calcar, Ramapo (N.J.)
61 Allie Level, Novato (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, CAREER
454 Bridget Ruskey, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)
379 Jamie Ortega, Newfield Middle Country Central (N.Y.)
365 Danielle Van Calcar, Ramapo (N.J.)
330 Paige Petty, Bernards (N.J.)
323 Ally Mastroianni, Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.)
304 Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.)

302 Zoe Belodeau, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
294 Abigail Daigle, Millville (N.J.)
294 Lindsay Gerrato, Berkeley Heights Governor Livingston (N.J.)

255 Jenna Herlihy, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)
250 Peyton Hornung, Fort Myers Canterbury (Fla.)
237 Gabrielle Fornia, Medford Lenape (N.J.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, CAREER
289 Allison Hunter, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)

INDIVIDUAL POINTS (COMBINED GOALS AND ASSISTS), CAREER
578 Bridget Ruskey, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)
552 Danielle Van Calcar, Ramapo (N.J.)
547 Jamie Ortega, Newfield Middle Country Central (N.Y.)
521 Ally Mastroianni, Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.)
519 Zoe Belodeau, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
500 Allison Hunter, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)

456 Gabrielle Fornia, Medford Lenape (N.J.)
398 Paige Petty, Bernards (N.J.)
377 Jenna Herlihy, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.)
362 Abigail Daigle, Millville (N.J.)
362 Lindsay Gerrato, Berkeley Heights Governor Livingston (N.J.)

346 Braelie Kempney, Carthage (N.Y.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
175 Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)

COACHING WINS
741 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)
528 Deanna Knobloch, Moorestown (N.J.)

If you see something missing or wrong, feel to send us an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the adjustment.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week.