TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for Field hockey

Mar. 23, 2017 — Back across the bridge

The first time I met Shaunessy Saucier was in 1999 at the National Futures Tournament in College Park, Md. On a hot afternoon on the University of Maryland’s recreational turf, I sat down to talk with her mother Dorothy, a field hockey coach from Old Town, Maine.

Old Town is a village of about 8,000 located in the center of the state, a few miles from the University of Maine in Orono. It’s a place which is not for the faint of heart when it comes to winter weather; most every car has a block heater, most every house has some sort of heating gadget to melt snow off the roof before it got too heavy.

Dorothy Saucier, who has coached at Old Town for decades, told tales of the program at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, which had a team since the inception of World War II, and had a distinct home-field advantage late in the year, when snow would pose an occupational hazard for the players.

Shaunessy Saucier was at the NFT, playing for the New England Region team and doing pretty well. Little did I know that, a decade later, she would become an NCAA Division I coach at Bryant University.

Bryant, a financially foundering school in the mid-1990s, made strong infrastructure investments and increased endowment towards the turn of the century. In addition, the school made a bid for admission to NCAA Division I in 2007.

It’s while the school made its move that Saucier made her impact as head coach of the Bulldogs. Recruiting heavily from her home state, she made the team a factor by the time the 2013 season unfolded. The Bulldogs went 11-7 that year, all the while riding the ragged edge. In October alone, Bryant went into overtime five times.

The wheels fell off the last few years; Bryant went 4-14 last fall, but did have the fourth best GPA of any NCAA Division I team.

Saucier announced her resignation today to become the head coach and owner of the Black Bear Elite field hockey club back in Orono. In point of fact, she is crossing the Piscataqua Bridge to go back home.

I have a feeling she’s going to do great things while she’s there. She’s too good a hockey mind not to.

Mar. 22, 2017 — A significant opening

What has distinguished the Walpole (Mass.) field hockey team from most others in the U.S. — aside from its ersatz nickname — is stability. The Porkers have had exactly three coaches since 1967, all of whom have contributed to the legacy and legend of this powerhouse scholastic program.

The first coach was Sue Brainerd, who coached the team to its first MIAA state championship in 1984, then retired. Penny Calf, who played under Brainerd, would win seven more state championships until turning over the reins in 2002 to Marianne Murphy, who also played field hockey under Brainerd.

Murphy, through her use of enterprising and quick players, won four state championships, including one just this past fall in the MIAA Division I bracket.

But there will be a different set of footprints in the technical area this coming fall, as Murphy announced that she would be stepping down.

“I have enjoyed all 15 years,” she tells The Walpole Times. “I had great kids, they really went on after high school and excelled on the field and off the field. It gives me great pleasure to see them as young women today, but I have other things I want to do in my life before I get too old.”

 

Walpole, a town of about 25,000 located halfway between Boston and Providence, R.I., has developed a significant field hockey subculture over the last five decades. The team received raucous support at its old ground, The Porker Pen, a grass pitch that played to the team’s strengths.

The addition of artificial grass in recent years only added to the program’s significant home-field advantage, especially with a quick team.

But it’s going to be up to the next Walpole head coach to keep that championship form and that civic pride alive.

Mar. 8, 2017 — Looking forward

Last weekend at Spooky Nook, the U-14 division of the National Indoor Tournament took place. An astounding 168 teams assembled to compete for the 28 pool championships on offer.

As you might expect, WC Eagles won four pools, including Pool A and Pool B, the first two pools featuring the best of past champions in the U-14 division. In addition XCalibur, the Shore Byrds, and SPark all won two pool championships.

But let’s point out one thing about the WC Eagles “A” team. It not only won its division, it won with a goal differential of +78. The team scored 80 goals in five pool matches and gave up just two.

It’s an astounding performance worthy of some sort of perspective. There have been some dominating performances in the annals of youth club hockey, but I haven’t seen anything like this, especially in the 94-foot war of indoor field hockey.

I think, however, the identities of some of the winners in the Red Division might signify a challenge to WC’s dominance of indoor hockey the last half-decade. The winner of Pool C was the Central Penn Field Hockey Club, coached by four-time NCAA champion Belinda Heltzel. The Pool D winner was Uprise, a club founded by 18-time NJSIAA champion Danyle Heilig.

All of this should make for an interesting 2018 tournament.

Mar. 1, 2017 — Getting their first shot

By the end of this month, Erin Matson, the fine attacking midfielder who led the United States in scoring at last December’s Junior World Cup, is likely to earn her first senior national team cap.

Matson, the Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) junior, is one of 19 players selected for a new-look U.S. women’s field hockey team which will compete in the Hawke’s Bay Cup, an annual competition in New Zealand that attracts many of the world’s better hockey sides. But, like the Algarve Cup in women’s soccer, this competition is where coaches can try new lineups in a less high-pressure situation than a World Cup or an Olympics.

And this U.S. side is definitely new. Of the 19 players on the travel roster, nine are in single digits when it comes to the number of caps earned. And aside from Matson, Amanda DiNunzio, Taylor West, Alyssa Parker, Ashley Hoffman, and Anna Dessoye will be making their senior national team debuts during this tournament.

Head coach Janneke Schopmann appears to want to develop depth in the attack. She opted not to bring veterans forwards Michelle Kasold, Kelsey Kolojejchick, Paige Selenski, and Katie Bam on the trip, meaning this team is going to have to figure out ways to score without them.

Part of this might fall on Matson, who is the first teenager to make the U.S. senior women’s national team since Katelyn Falgowski and Bam were both capped in 2005.

That’s high company and high expectations, but it also comes from having unusual talent. Let’s see how this team does.

Feb. 27, 2016 — Return of the Eagles

They played the U-19 National Indoor Tournament over the weekend in Richmond, and, it seems, rumors of the demise of the WC Eagles are greatly exaggerated. The Eagles took home an astounding seven out of 24 pool championships, including titles in the top four pools.

The effort was led by the WC Eagles Diamonds team, which included U.S. U-21 national teamers Erin Matson and Corinne Zanolli, along with age-group national teamer Madison Orobono. The Diamonds’ top competition in Pool A was Princeton FHC, which had the likes of Julianna Tornetta and high-school sophomore Sammy Popper. But when Princeton took on the Diamonds on the first matchday, the Tigers finished nine goals adrift and were obligated to fight for second. Princeton did manage a 6-4 win in a head-to-head matchup with an XCalibur team featuring All-Americans Katie Jean and Rachel Robinson from Pennsylvania state Class AA champion Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.).

In Pool B, WC Eagles Blue, a team featuring Emmaus (Pa.) star Leah Zellner and Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.) age-group national teamer Charlotte DeVries, finished level on points with Nook Hockey, which featured Cheyenne Sprecher, Katelyn Mark, and Jessica Dembrowski from three-time PIAA Class AAA finalists Palmyra (Pa.). Eagles Blue, however, won the pool on goal differential.

In Pool C, it was WC Eagles Black which swept its five matches, winning by 26 on goal differential. The team features a lot of youth: Kara Heck is the Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) freshman sensation, and Adele Iacobucci has been a leader for Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.) as  a sophomore.

WC Eagles Gold, a team with Villanova Academy of Notre Dame of Namur (Pa.) luminary Quinn Maguire, went undefeated in Pool D, beating out a Firestyx side boasting Emmaus (Pa.) champions Meredith Sholder and Maddy Dorn.

As well as as WC did in the Red Division (the top eight divisions in the tournament), there were other teams that had to give their best efforts in order to fight the Eagle onslaught. Take Pool E champion XCalibur Justice. This team with players from three states were able to get by a WC Eagles Orange team featuring Pennsauken Bishop Eustace (N.J.) scorer Erin Quinn.

In Pool F, Freedom Hockey Thunder, a team with Severn Archbishop Spalding (Md.) attackers Margot Lawn and Kyler Greenwalt, won its pool over WC Eagles Red. In Pool G, Mackenzie Allessie of Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) helped power Alley Cats Blue to the championship against a Boston Huskies team featuring Kourtney Kennedy of Watertown (Mass.) and Lily Posternack of York (Maine), the latter of which was recently voted Miss Maine Field Hockey.

In Pool H, the winner was TCOYO Ying, which featured VIrginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) attacking midfielder Leah Crouse and Norfolk (Va.) Academy forward Riley Fulmer. Ying beat out an XCalibur Knights team which featured star freshman forward Sophia Gladieux of Oley (Pa.) Valley.

There were interesting stories in other pools as well for the U-19 championship. Pool O was won by Uprise White, which not only featured a number of players from 18-time Group IV state champion Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), it also included Moorestown (N.J.) sophomore Delaney Lawler, who just happens to be the niece of Eastern coach Danyle Heilig.

In addition, let’s give a call to Windy City Freeze, winners of Pool S. They feature Nell Van Schaack, the senior from Winnetka New Trier (Ill.) who is headed to Georgetown this fall.

Feb. 21, 2017 — A different-looking medals table

Last weekend, the National Indoor Tournament for under-16 field hockey teams was held at Spooky Nook.

Only this year, the results don’t look quite the same as in past years. There were times when the WC Eagles club side would win a dozen or so of the six-team pools in the competition. This year, the Eagles club only won two. The Eagles Blue team, led by Palmyra (Pa.) defensive midfielder Lauren Wadas, won Pool D by holding all opposition to just two goals. Meanwhile, the Eagles Red team won Pool F.

The Eagles could have a third pool title, but a Diamonds team including Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) freshman sensation Kara Heck and Emmaus (Pa.) sophomore Madison Orobono lost Pool A on goal differential by a single goal over the XCalibur Knights as final pool matches took place on Sunday. The Diamonds, having to play against an Alley Cats team featuring Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) wunderkind Mackenzie Allessie, managed to win 12-6 to post a +42 goal difference, but the Knights got a +43 in the fifth and final pool match by winning its match 13-2 over Northeast Elite Gold.

XCalibur club side, having entered seven teams in pool play, won four pools, including the A pool and the B pool. The Knights won A led by Oley (Pa.) Valley star Sophia Gladieux, and the XCalibur Freedom team boasted another Oley (Pa.) Valley luminary, Sophia Mackrella. In addition, XCalibur Lancers won Pool O and XCalibur Titans won Pool V.

Amongst the pool winners were several good stories. Shore Byrds Purple, the winners of Pool I, featured a number of players from the state championship-winning Delmar (Del.) side. The home team, Spooky Nook, took a pair of titles as Nook Hockey won Pool C and Nook Green won Pool M.

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.