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Aug. 17, 2018 — A toxic culture, examined

This afternoon, the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland held a conference call to discuss the ramifications of news reports and other allegations surrounding a toxic culture in the Maryland football team, one which pushed a young student-athlete named Jordan McNair past his physical limits, dying of heatstroke during spring workouts.

The football coach, D.J. Durkin, stands accused of a lack of oversight over the people who are in charge of various aspects of the team, and he and other members of his staff have been put on administrative leave. A strength coach has been fired.

Today, the death of a football player is enough to bring out tabloid sports media, university compliance officers, and even the governance of the university.

Not so long ago, death and serious injuries in training were seen as a fact of life or even a necessary process of whittling down a group of trainees into a team. A recent telefilm, “The Book of Manning,” detailed Archie Manning’s own training as a University of Mississippi freshman football player under head coach Wobble Davidson in the 1960s.

“His job,” Manning told the Times-Picayune a few years back, “was to run a bunch of people off.”

To “run people off” means to push players sometimes beyond their physical and mental limits, to the point of quitting. The hope is that those who remain will be able to serve the varsity program after the limited freshman schedules of the time.

This being the month of August, this kind of whittling down is happening all the time, and in all sports, in all 50 states and the six non-voting U.S. territories.

I have heard many stories in a quarter-century of sportswriting. I once saw a field hockey program, run by one of the all-time greats, winnow down a group of 64 walkons and trialists down to less than 10 in five days. I once saw one of the most-skilled and creative players I ever saw on a high-school field last less than three days in a Division I program.

I have heard stories of knee ligaments, hips, broken bones, and heat exhaustion. I even remember one team which was overtrained to the point where half the roster was injured by midseason and the matchday roster had just one outfield substitute. More than once in the last few years, NCAA teams have had to go into games with 11 outfielders and no goalkeeper because of injuries in that position.

Mind you, this wasn’t through physical violence or intimidation or the kind of abusive overtraining that killed Jordan McNair.

Sometimes, there was a realization on the part of the players who left that they didn’t have the time, fitness, skills, or ambition to make the varsity team. Other times, players have felt as though they were targeted for removal because of a lack of production or the perception that an enormous recruiting class would be coming in.

But at the heart of the matter when it comes to collegiate sports in America is that student-athletes are often seen by athletic programs as little more than a disposable resource with anywhere from one to four years of usable talent and sinew. A player with a severe injury is of no use whatsoever to a coach, and I have seen oft-injured players be off the coach’s radar and off the team by the start of senior year.

You might not like to hear it, but there’s a reason why they call organized workouts and combines of youth sports “meat markets.” The most organized may be the NFL Combine, but there are enough youth tournaments held around the country — some televised by sports networks or the Internet — that serve the same purpose.

The nation will take a few moments to reflect on the circumstances of the death of Jordan McNair. But coaching habits die hard, especially when you’re dealing with the livelihoods of coaches who must win to keep their jobs.

It’s a far cry from decades ago when college coaches moonlighted as instructors at their universities instead of being the highest-paid public employee in a particular state or commonwealth.

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Aug. 16, 2018 — At the cinema

Eleven years ago, Chak De! India reached theaters here in the United States. The movie told, more or less, the story of the India women’s field hockey team’s victory in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, although the teams were battling for a prize that looked suspiciously like the FIH World Cup trophy.

This month, if you can find them, a couple more field hockey movies are making it onto the thousands of movie screens across the country dedicated to South Asian cinema.

Soorma is a biopic of former India men’s captain Sandeep Singh, who made a miraculous comeback from a gunshot wound in 2006, guiding India to not only the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2009, but through Olympic qualifications for London 2012.

Gold is an account of the India men’s field hockey team that won the gold medal against Great Britain, in London, almost one year to the day that India gained its independence from the British Crown. It was then that the Indian team was able to stand on the top step of the podium and sing the national anthem as a group for the first time.

Both are playing in the United States, but you may need to do an internet search to see which of the 40,000 screens across the country are showing it. No, you’re not likely to see any of the protagonists burst out into song-and-dance numbers; this is the new Bollywood we’re seeing here, but you will certainly get your money’s worth.

 

Aug, 15, 2018 — NCAA Division I preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
Connecticut
Louisville

Maryland
North Carolina
Old Dominion

CONNECTICUT — One year ago, it was UConn holding aloft the wood and acrylic plaque with the gold NCAA emblem on it … the graduation of Charlotte Veitner poses a problem: who will score goals for the Huskies? … A number of young players can fill in nicely, including sophomore Jessica Dembrowski … Goalkeeping should be an interesting phase of the team; UConn’s Cheyenne Sprecher and Abby Lucas have exactly 10 minutes of varsity experience between them

LOUISVILLE — The buzz around Trager Stadium surrounds goalie Ayeisha McFerren, and why not? Her World Cup heroics with Ireland have some in the hockey world calling her the finest female goalkeeper on the planet … Taylor Stone (seven goals) is the team’s leading returning scorer, but there are a couple of first-year players to watch … Mackenzie Karl is a thinking, moving player who had a stick in her hand when she was an infant … Katie Schneider is from the West Coast’s best scholastic program, San Diego Serra (Calif.), and has opted to skip her senior year at Serra to enroll at Louisville a year early, a rare move

MARYLAND — The Terps have an incredibly talented sophomore group, including Kyler Greenwalt and Brooke Deberdine … Mayv Clune has been around the team for a year and a half, but will be making her first appearance this fall after a grayshirt her senior year of high school and a redshirt last year … Linnea Gonzalez is a smooth, fluid player who has scored exactly 10 goals all three years on the team; this should be her breakout season

NORTH CAROLINA — The leading scorer for the United States at the 2018 FIH Women’s World Cup, freshman Erin Matson, joins the team after two years training full-time away from her high-school team … Joins fellow Team USA player Ashley Hoffman on a loaded, and determined, roster … Malin Evert will lead the attack along with Matson and sophomores Meredith Sholder and Cassie Sumfest … watch for freshmen Riley Fulmer and Abby Pitcairn as well

OLD DOMINION — The one team with the most illustrative history in NCAA Division I field hockey has not been to the big dance since 2013. That should change this year … Erin Huffman (12 goals) returns for the Monarchs, but a maturing group of returnees including Alexa Ostoich and Rebecca Birch should solidify the team … Lacey Frazier and Kealsie Robles split goalkeeping duties a year ago; will the coaching staff try to go with a true No. 1? … Monarchs also return fullback Marlee McClendon, who was lost for 2017 with a lower-body injury

Aug. 14, 2018 — NCAA Division II preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
East Stroudsburg
LIU-Post
Millersville
St. Anselm
Shippensburg

EAST STROUDSBURG — Ranked No. 1 in the final regular-season Division II poll, but stumbled 2-1 in the semifinal round … Warriors face three Division II Tournament participants in their first four matches … Bailey Quinn (13 goals) is the leading returning scorer

LIU-POST — After finishing second the last two years, the Pioneers are keen to make it one more step … Emily Miller (40 goals) was second in goal-scoring through all three NCAA Divisions, and she returns for her senior campaign

MILLERSVILLE — The 2014 champions have just two seniors; their best days are ahead of them … leading scorer Erica Tarsi (12 goals returns) … wide open goalkeeping competition with the graduation of Kylee Bair

ST. ANSELM — Plenty of optimism for this Northeast-10 side … Hawks return their two leading scorers, Hannah Friend (13 goals) and Emma Kincaid (11) … head coach Carolyn King-Robitaille won the USA Field Hockey National Coach Award last year

SHIPPENSBURG — Winners of three of the last five NCAA Division II titles, the Raiders look for another title, chiefly on the efforts of two sophomores … Leading returning scorer Jazmin Petroantonio (12 goals, 12 assists) will join up with American University transfer Kelly Shulenberger, an alumna of the WC Eagles hockey club … This team should be fun to watch

Aug. 13, 2018 — NCAA Division III preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
Alvernia
Franklin & Marshall
Middlebury
The College of New Jersey
Trinity

ALVERNIA — Defending ECAC Division III champions … Bounced back from a 2-6 start and won 13 out of their last 15 matches … Taylor Dorrin and Morgan Mondschein (six goals each) are the leading returning goal-scorers … Bellweather game for Alvernia is Oct. 12th against Messiah

FRANKLIN & MARSHALL — After only one season, Katilyn Eager already has the highest win percentage of any head coach in F&M field hockey history dating back to 1973 … Also spent six years as the Diplomats’ assistant … Erin Coverdale, a talented and dynamic forward out of Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.) will lead the offense

MIDDLEBURY — The Panthers went through the bracket like Grant taking Richmond, winning three of its four tournament goals by shutouts of four goals or more … The 4-0 win over Messiah in the final was the largest margin in Division III field hockey championship history … Grace Jennings (13 goals, 15 assists) will be counted on to pace the attack

THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY — The Lions had an unusual regular season, losing two games before Oct. 1 in the first time in a while, then lost a conference game to Kean … bounced back to beat Kean in the NJAC final but could not turn back Messiah in the national semifinals … Tori Tiefenhalter (18 goals) and Cayla Andrews (13) will be counted on to lead the team

TRINITY — The Bantams had to have felt hard-done by the NCAA selection committee, as they had a very difficult draw … beat a very good Salisbury side 2-1 in the octofinal round, then had to come back the next day against Messiah and fell short … Kelcie Finn (29 goals) is lost to graduation, but Trinity returns every other player who recorded at least one goal or assist a year ago

Aug. 11, 2018 — An appreciation: Wendy Wilson

One in an occasional series.

For the last 14 seasons, Wendy Wilson had perhaps the most thankless coaching job in field hockey: coaching one of the best “unclassified” field hockey teams in the Virginia High School League.

This year, as she has left coaching to become the athletic director for Yorktown Tabb (Va.), Wilson transformed small-school field hockey amongst the Commonwealth of Virginia’s public schools from an afterthough to equals with their peers. State championships are now contested in four divisions, with new programs having sprung up in central and northern Virginia, being fed by regional off-season club programs.

It wasn’t always this way. Because of the way that sports have been structured in the Commonwealth of Virginia, small schools like Tabb have had to compete for athletic talent with soccer, cheerleading, cross country, and even basketball, which was a VHSL-sanctioned sport in the autumn for a time.

But by dint of hard work and the growing club field hockey culture in the greater Hampton Roads area, Tabb became a growing field hockey power. In 2009, Tabb became one of the few programs in the history of American scholastic field hockey to score more than 150 goals in a season. By then, the VHSL had moved small-school field hockey programs from the nebulous “unclassified” tournament into a A/AA tournament.

The inception of the 2011 season saw another major milestone for the Tabb program. The Tigers won an early-season showdown with a Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) which had won the TopOfTheCountry trophy two years before. Tabb, at its best, was an offensive-minded giant, playing a skilled game and making very, very few mistakes.

In all, Wilson has guided Tabb to seven state championships in field hockey. Somehow, she also found time to coach the school’s girls’ soccer team to a state tournament appearance, and even got the school’s track-and-field team to three state meets, winning the state championship on one occasion.

I hope she can have the same kind of impact as the school’s athletic director. She’s had a pretty good track record already.

Aug. 10, 2018 — Mastering a craft

While the U.S. women’s national team was chasing a World Cup in London this past month, a delegation of men and women were in Spain, chasing similar dreams.

Well, to a point. Yes, the nine U.S. age-group teams playing at the EXIN World Masters wanted to win, but there was also time for bonding, meeting players from other teams, and swapping stories until late at night at the always-popular social events.

The highest finish amongst the U.S. sides was for the O-35 women’s team, which finished fifth. For the States, former Michigan All-American Jessica Rose Shellenberger tied for the top of the goals table in the division with five.

For its part, the United States O-40 men’s team was second in its pool and were unlucky to have been drawn against Argentina in the quarterfinal round. The Americans were able to finish sixth in the tournament.

Throughout, there was good hockey played, the occasional world-level player shone, and a good time was had by all.