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Jan. 28, 2022 — What is the NCAA equalizing?

A few days ago, the NCAA wrapped up its annual convention in San Antonio.

One of the reports that was adopted was the final report of the NCAA Division I Transformation Committee. The committee has been working on responding to changes within college sports over the last five years, including NLI deals, large cashflows from major networks, and the needs of student-athletes.

But for the purpose of today, I want to concentrate on one segment of this. In the report, the committee says this:

To ensure that NCAA Division I championships provide national-level competition among the best eligible student-athletes and teams, the Transformation Committee recommends that the governing sport and oversight committees for Division I Championship team sports sponsored by more than 200 institutions should fully consider how to accommodate access for 25 percent of active member institutions in good standing with Division I membership requirements. Their considerations should account for impacts on the timing of the postseason, the total length of the postseason, necessary format changes, broadcast and other partners, budget resources, and host entity event management.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First off, for those tournaments like basketball and soccer, which used to have perfect 64-team brackets feeding down into a Final Four, those days will be long gone. Look for 88-team brackets in men’s basketball, 83-team brackets for women’s soccer, and other ersatz numbers which will change at the whim of universities which may want to leave a particular NCAA division to save money (see: University of Hartford).

Second, there is going to be a lot of “what about-isms” for other NCAA member institutions. What about, for example, the large number of Division III colleges? Will this Division I transformation filter down to the other two NCAA divisions? Are their postseasons going to drag on for weeks because of a 110-team bracket for NCAA Division III women’s soccer? Sure, there is only one round more than for a 64-team bracket, but the administration for 46 play-in contests should make athletic directors around the country wince.

Third, what about field hockey? Right now, the NCAA Division I tournament stands at 18 teams, Division II is six, and Division III is at 26 teams. Under the NCAA proposal (should it eventually be applied to every sport and not just Division I schools with more than 200 teams), the Division I championship would have 19 teams, Division II would remain at six, and Division III would have 39 teams.

Finally, what of women’s lacrosse? If the Transformation proposal applied to the sport, the NCAA Division I championship would have 29 teams, the same as in last year’s bracket. Division II would be at 26, which is also the same as in last year’s bracket. And like in field hockey, Division III would receive a big bump to to 73, up from the current 46.

As this space has been saying for some time, there has always been an equity problem when it comes to Division III field hockey and lacrosse. Teams in Division III aren’t allowed the same exposure as their Division I and II counterparts. And if you’re in a non-traditional area of the country, you can be denied entry into the bracket even if you have an almost-perfect season.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

Jan. 26, 2023 — Cautionary words from an all-time great

Rachel Dawson is one of the all-time greats from her time at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the University of North Carolina, and through her international career, with nearly 300 caps for the United States.

As a coach with the U.S. developmental team as well as a player, she has seen all sides of the American field hockey pyramid. And in a posting today on her Substack account, she has an interesting take on where she thinks American field hockey is:

[T]he USA doesn’t have a shared vision and purpose reverberating through every level of the sport. This prevents us from having an understanding and appreciation for how each coach, at every level, uniquely contributes to our game. Instead, we are all left to prove ourselves and promote our own domain.

The context of this paragraph is that this is one of a number of observations she has made in terms of how coaches are in this constant cycle of needing to prove themselves in their jobs, and the demands differ depending on the level the coach is on.

These observations came from listening to a postcast from Wharton professor and former scholastic All-America springboard diver Adam Grant. The episode, “Why You Should Stop Proving Yourself,” can be found on his site in either video or audio format. It’s an interesting listen.

Jan. 24, 2023 — The (very) young guns

We knew that, when the U.S. women’s field hockey team’s roster pool was being assembled over the last year, that it was going to be a very young team.

But David Passmore has really gone with the American youth movement with his 24-player selection for the first two rounds of the FIH Pro League, which will take place over a three-week period beginning Feb. 16th.

In the player pool are not one, but two high-school players — Olivia Bent-Cole of Cherry Hill Camden Catholic (N.J.), and Josie Hollamon of Delmar (Del.).Also joining in are a number of exciting young players such as Ashley Sessa, Brooke and Emma DeBerdine, Kelee Lepage, Megan Rodgers, Meredith Sholder, Beth Yeager, Charlotte de Vries, and Hope Rose.

Balancing out that youthful exuberance will be veterans like Danielle Grega, Kelsey Bing, Amanda Magadan Golini, Ashley Hoffman, Sanne Caarls and Maddie Zimmer.

For Passmore, these choices are not just for trying to build this team towards the avoidance of relegation within the Pro League, but to figure out who he will be bringing to Chile for the Pan American Games. And for not the first time, the 2023 Pan American Games run into conflict with the U.S. domestic season.

Indeed, the Pan Am Games fall between Oct. 25th and Nov. 4th, which is right smack in the middle of the conference tournament season with U.S. college field hockey. What I find interesting is that a number of players who have already used up collegiate eligibility, such as Erin Matson, Sky Caron, Sofia Southam, Rachel Robinson, and Maddie Bacskai are not in the current roster. It’s players of this quality who are an advertisement for the establishment of a U.S. post-collegiate professional field hockey league.

Will the kids be alright? We’ll see.

Jan. 23, 2023 — An interesting (49th) parallel

This past week saw a changing of the guard in Canada that was just as significant as the retirement of North Carolina field hockey legend Karen Shelton.

The University of Victoria, located in British Columbia right on the water across the Haro Strait from the State of Washington, has been fortunate to have had a highly successful field hockey team that has won 15 Canada Interuniversity Sport national championships, including a win in a three-game series over York in November 2022.

The coach for the last 39 seasons at UVic has been Lynne Beecroft. Her coaching record with the Vikings was 340 wins, 98 defeats, and 89 draws. Some 40 players that have come through her team have gone on to represent Canada at the international level.

Beecroft’s final season was not only an undefeated one within Canada, but it was a season that began outside of it. The Vikings started the season with friendlies against Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. The tourists had a win and two draws against their Ivy League opposition.

“I didn’t get into coaching thinking about what my legacy would be. My hope is that the athletes I’ve coached have come away with, not only field hockey skills, but life skills, so that when they enter the ‘real’ world some of the lessons I’ve taught will resonate,” Beecroft said in a prepared statement. “Our athletes go on to be quite successful, and if they can take these lessons and apply them to their careers and even their relationships, that means more to me than anything else.”

Beecroft’s transition from international player to college coach occurred in an amazingly similar fashion. Beecroft amassed around 60 caps for the Red and White, including four World Cups and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was around the time she was playing for Team Canada in Los Angeles that she got the inkling to coach at the University of Victoria.

The successes and attention to detail between the Victoria and North Carolina programs are much the same. These are teams that value the ball and take their chances. The only difference is that Victoria only has a seven-game regular season because of the number of Canadian universities that have dropped the sport in the last quarter-century.

That’s kind of a shame, given the fact that Canada has found a formula for success at the international level, being the current silver medalists from the Pan American Games.

Beecroft’s long-time assistant coach, Krista Thompson will take over this fall, and she will have a lot to live up to.

Jan. 22, 2023 — Sweet feet?

Over the last few months, we’ve been seeing stories and press releases leading towards the installation of what was expected to have been the first waterless artificial turf surface for field hockey.

The folks who manufacture Poligras have been making incremental progress using various combinations of fibers, and have seemingly settled on one being called Poligras Paris GT, which was announced last November. It is made out of a polyetheline fiber derived from sugar cane. What this does is make the turf recyclable, and reduces the carbon footprint required to make it.

But there is one thing about Paris GT that is a little disappointing. Here’s a sentence from the Poligras web presence:

Polytan Paris GT zero continues this progress with the introduction of Turf Glide, a new and proprietary technology which reduces the surface friction. With this technology, less water is required to lubricate the turf for fast and fluid play.

Translation: the turf will still require a watering system of some kind. We don’t know whether the folks in FIH are envisioning the same kinds of water cannons that are being used in many places, or whether the turf can be sufficiently watered using a temporary system using something as small as a fire hose.

I think the adoption of this type of artificial turf is going to be an interesting exercise. Because of the organic nature of the polyetheline, will the fibers last as long as those found on current artificial pitches, especially in climates with a lot of sun and heat?

I ask this because of some of the sustainable plastics which have been used in the motor vehicle industry. Some of you may remember that your Founder drove a Volvo for a period of time. In the early 1980s, the wiring harness for the entire electrical system was sheathed with biodegradable plastic. The problem is that, with heating and cooling and temperature changes over the course of a decade or more, the plastic does what it is supposed to do: degrade, leading to electrical problems.

And there’s another interesting thing that could come into play: overwatering. What happens if coaches or teams, used to a certain level of friction on a current competition surface, opt to use the same amount of water on this new pitch? Could the sugar-cane plastic decay if too much water is applied to it, like the roots of a cactus or an orchid?

These are some things to take into account when you’re looking into the future of artificial turf — which has become inexorably linked with the future of field hockey.

Jan. 18, 2023 — Two other scholastic coaches taking home hardware

This site has taken very seriously its duty in awarding the United States Coach of the Year award. It is an award which is very well respected; at least three state legislatures have recognized recipients of this honor. Your Founder presented another at a town council meeting in Pennsylvania, and another after photo opportunities in the three small towns that comprise the school district.

But there are other national field hockey Coach of the Year awards that we like to make note of.

Late last week, the National Federation of State High School Associations gave out a passel of Coach of the Year awards in various sports. The award period was for the 2021-22 academic year.

Each of the top 10 sports in terms of participation for both boys and girls had a Coach of the Year award. In addition, a cheer award and two awards for schools outside the Top 10 for participation were made.

One of the awards was for field hockey, and the coach selected was Terry Simonetti-Frost, the veteran coach of Worthington Thomas Worthington (Ohio). TW had, during the award period, had taken the Cardinals to the state final, only to lose 2-1 in overtime to Columbus Bishop Watterson (Ohio). But in the fall of 2022, Simonetti-Frost took all of her guile and a talented team back to the state final. Just like the previous season, these two rivals, located And in a touch of poetic justice, Worthington went into overtime again against Bishop Watterson, a school located just 3 1/2 miles away.

In a reversal of fate, it took a freshman, Sophia Borghese, to score the game-winner for TW.

Simonetti-Frost joins Christine (DeBow) Mitchell, the head coach of Leonardtown (Md.) as winners of major national field hockey Coach of the Year awards. Mitchell’s award was given out by USA Field Hockey, and is a coaching award which spans the gamut of coaching levels, from youth to the national team.

“I was shocked, humbled and honored to be chosen,” Mitchell tells Southern Maryland News. “When I got the email from USA Field Hockey I really was very surprised. It’s not an award for me as much as it is for all the coaches and parents and players in the area who have supported me so much.”

Mitchell was up against Adele Williams of Villanova Academy of Notre Dame de Namur; Jun Kentwell of the W.C. Eagles and the U.S. women’s indoor national team; Brett Clay of the Centercourt club program, and the recently-retired Karen Shelton of the University of North Carolina. That is a powerful series of candidates.

Much congratulations to both of these women who have changed lives through their love of field hockey.

Jan. 16, 2023 — A prime example of service

Today, about a thousand families in Columbus, Ohio are being given new pairs of shoes thanks to a partnership between Samaritan’s Feet and Ohio State University senior Emma Goldean.

Goldean was the first female student-athlete to work with Samaritan’s Feet through a name-likeness-image agreement.

Given the fact that many NLI agreements have been used to build up small fortunes to benefit the athlete, this charity work that Goldean has been doing is remarkable. Giving back to underserved communities, such as people in poor areas of the rust belt, is something that is exceedingly rare for athletic teams except in rare instances of disaster.

The goal, according to one report, is to give away as many as 25,000 pairs of shoes, If you would like more information on this effort, feel free to click here.

Jan. 15, 2023 — A follow-up on the statistical picture of 2022

As we are wont to do, we comb publications for all-star teams this time of year for anything we may have missed during the fall field hockey season.

And, like last year, we uncovered a doozy of a stat. That is the fact that Watertown (Mass.) yielded exactly one goal during the 2022 season. The Raiders and head coach Eileen Donahue have made this a habit in recent years, as they have yielded no goals in 2014, one goal in 2015, and one goal during 2021’s fall season.

This is all remarkable stuff for a program which has spun a national-record unbeaten streak of 184 games, and whose 124-game win streak is currently being pursued by a very talented Delmar (Del.) outfit.

We’ll be adding this soon to The Rebel Project; there’s a lot of wrangling we’ll be doing in the meantime. We hope to be fully updated by spring in both the field hockey and the lacrosse worlds.

Jan. 12, 2023 — The January get-togethers

Over the next two weeks, there are three major get-togethers involving sports and youth sports. The United Soccer Coaches’ Convention in Philadelphia, the U.S. Lacrosse Convention in Baltimore, and the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association Convention in Lake Mary, Fla. allow major figures in the game, vendors, sponsors, and others to meet, mingle, and share ideas.

Many of these ideas revolve around the mental health of athletes, something which I feel is long overdue in youth sports. All three of these conventions have some sort of seminar or panel on this topic, and address them in various ways.

As youth sports transitions out of pandemic-era controls on the participants, coaches, spectators, and the sport itself, coaching and scholastic administration look like they are playing a game of catch-up. I’m seeing, in many spaces, a different relationship between coach and player from what I saw three decades ago.

I’ve seen first-hand a pool of potential walkons walk right back off again; the pool of 64 wound up being somewhere between six and eight to add to the varsity program which was coached by a Hall-of-Famer. But this wasn’t a group which was verbally brow-beaten, or made to work past physical exhaustion, or thrown into mid-July heat. As a coach once told me of hometown walk-ons, “Often, they’ll self-select themselves out of the team.”

I’ll always remember a couple of players who were on my list of published all-stars who went to a local college in order to try to make the team. One never made it to campus because of a family situation which kept her out of university, even though she was a multi-tooled player with great speed. Another player I remember had a horrific hip socket injury of the same kind that ended the football career of Bo Jackson.

I’ve gotten some pushback from some folks who suggest that putting the needs of the athlete first, rather than the team, means that the culture of sport has somehow gotten “soft.”

But I can’t help but think that the story of Kory Stringer, the professional football player who died of heatstroke in August 2001, was an enormous rallying cry when it came to how far a coach can push an athlete. Sure, the lore of coaching over the years is full of stories of hard and physical training camps which are meant to whittle down the potential varsity player pool.

Many folks who endure these camps and make the team, and find success on their chosen field of endeavor, look back over the years and wouldn’t change a thing.

Yeah, I get it: it’s only human nature to posit that a team culture based upon hard work will lead to success, even if the training is of such intensity that the mental or physical health of players is imperiled.

It’s a fine balance, one which only a precious few coaches have ever found.

Jan. 11, 2023 — The middle layer is forming

From time to time, I’ve likened national-team development to creating a Jello parfait. Making each layer requires plenty of care and time until the next layer is prepared.

Yesterday, a significant series of cues was sent out when it comes to the senior women’s national team, the outline of which was created last summer. Tracey Paul, the legendary former head coach of Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.) who is the U.S. U-21 national team coach, has selected a pool of players who will be competing for slots for this spring’s Pan American Cup team.

On this preliminary roster for the U-21 national team are all three high-schoolers in the senior women’s national team pool: Olivia Bent-Cole, Mia Abello, and Josie Hollamon. But also on the team are five players who competed last fall in the NCAA Division I national championship: UNC’s Ashley Sessa, Ryleigh Heck, and Katie Dixon, and Northwestern’s Annabel Skubisz and Lauren Wadas. Also on the team is U.S. indoor national team veteran Rayne Wright from the University of Maryland.

In addition, Maryland’s Hope Rose and Duke’s Alana McVeigh are part of a group of players coming off injury and will trial for the team next month.

A couple of interesting players are also in this player pool. A rising high school senior, Matalie Machiran from Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), has made the U-21 trial team. Another player in the pool is Columbia University’s Mia Karine Myklebus, who is majoring in neuroscience. And joining Bent-Cole, Abello, and Hollamon in the corps of scholastic seniors is Charlotte “Charley” Bruder from Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.).

It should be a strong team coming out of camp, and it is one looking to improve on its bronze-medal performance at the 2021 Junior Pan Ams. The U-21s will have that tournament in Barbados in April, then will have to regroup for the Junior World Cup which is scheduled for December.