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Jan. 1, 2021 — My hopes for 2021

The end of 2020 sees the end of one of the tumultuous years in the history of the world. Oddly enough, this tumult wasn’t as a result of war, natural disasters, or terrorism.

Instead, the COVID-19 global pandemic has been responsible for 83 million worldwide infections with 1.8 million deaths. It has had devastating effects on many worldwide economies: the United States, the world’s largest economy, leads in infections and deaths from Coronavirus.

But you’re also seeing three out of the four so-called BRIC countries in the top four in terms of the number of COVID infections. Russia, India, and Brazil, with more than three million positive tests each, are similarly overrun by the virus, and they were, along with China, four of the most important growing economies in the world before the onset of the pandemic.

Not only are public health and world economies being affected by the virus, but also competitive sports. Here are my hopes for 2021:

I hope that the spring collegiate field hockey season is able to take place without the kind of tumult that has befallen football and men’s basketball in the last year, and is able to wind its way to a champion.

I also hope that teams in the ACC which did not win the automatic qualifier are able to get a fair shot at the two at-large bids in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

I hope that the college women’s lacrosse season is able to take place, especially with the talented players expected to make an impact this fall.

I hope that, in Division I, that teams other than the University of North Carolina are able to emerge as national championship contenders. I think Notre Dame, Denver, and Michigan are going to be major Final Four contenders if they are able to get through their seasons.

I hope that the National Women’s Soccer League is able to put a good product on the pitch, given the fact that a number of NWSL and U.S. stars are currently under contract to foreign clubs.

I hope that the “nouveau riche” women’s soccer clubs worldwide — I’m looking at you, Manchester City, Paris-St. Germain, Club America, and FC Barcelona — are treated as more than just window dressing, and that the corporations that run and sponsor them put the money and resources behind their women’s teams equal to the men’s teams.

I hope that both the WNBA and NWSL are given proper credit for the way they were able to make good on their 2020 seasons.

I hope that two major female athletes who played very little or not at all in 2020 — soccer’s Megan Rapinoe and basketball’s Elena Delle Donne — are able to come back with their club sides and have an impact at the 2021 Olympics.

I hope that the Olympics are able to have a full re-opening with fans in the arenas this summer.

I also hope that the companies responsible for long-term transport — especially cruise ships and commercial aircraft — undergo systemic reform so that their vessels do not continue to be petri dishes for viruses and other diseases.

I also hope that as many of you as are able can will take advantage of vaccine distribution programs in the first three months of 2021 and help flatten the curve of COVID-19, given the fact that there are seven billion people in the world, and there are maybe only 400 million doses of vaccine in the pipeline right now.

And I hope you, dear reader, stay safe and well until then. Mask up, socially distance, and just be careful out there.

Dec. 27, 2020 — The true meaning of the season

The COVID-19 contagion has affected our world, our economy, the games we play and watch, and our health.

One such person in the American field hockey community needs our help.

Dr. Robi Tamargo, a former All-American at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County before becoming the team’s head coach, was part of a group of field hockey folks who helped spread the gospel of the sport in the rapidly growing area of Loudoun County, Va. during the 2010s, resulting in not only the addition of a number of varsity teams in northern Virginia, but also the doubling of the size of the Virginia High School League championships.

Dr. Tamargo, a clinical psychologist, came down with the Coronavirus while treating a patient in June. Her severe symptoms have seen her become one of the “long-haul” patients whose symptoms have not waned since they became apparent. She and her husband have had to move from Point Vedra Beach, Fla. to New York in order to be near the Mount Sinai Medical Center.

The bills are piling up, and a friend of the couple has started a Go Fund Me page. Please visit it, and help out if you can.

Dec. 24, 2020 — A streaming war, streaming dumbly?

Quick quiz: if you want to watch soccer games from the English Premier League, where do you turn? Well, a year ago, you could easily find matches on NBC, the NBC Sports Network, USA, and CNBC as well as an upgrade service called NBC Gold.

This year, the number of available outlets has been compressed, with the vast majority of content now being placed on the very buggy and troublesome Peacock Premium streaming service. For NBC Sports Network, there’s no more “Match of the Day” or “Manchester Mondays” highlights; everything is now on Peacock.

A number of sports properties have now been hidden almost exclusively behind video-streaming paywalls instead of being put on cable. I think a lot of it started a couple of years ago when Bleacher Report Live started hosting streams of UEFA Champions League and Europa League games, as well as pro indoor lacrosse and various other sports, including FIH field hockey events involving the United States.

BR Live, however, is now just a shadow of its former self, with just 10 different sports leagues being promoted.

ESPN Plus, Hulu, CBS All Access, and various other platforms have had more success in recent months, but the panoply of other streaming services like DaZN, Sling, and Fubo have led to much confusion and the seeming inability to find live matches even in a universe where hundreds of blank channels exist on many cable services.

Flip through your cable box sometime and count up the number of blank channels. That’s potential broadcast streaming that is not being used; it kind of reminds you of those pictures of empty or near-empty shopping malls which were gleaming commercial palaces years ago, but are now shadows of their former selves.

It’s now being reported that the NBC Sports Network, having broadcast everything from the Tour de France to the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Premier League to NASCAR to Indycar, may be shutting down altogher by this time next year.

Now, we’ve seen some repurposing of sports channels in the past. There were the changes within Fox Sports, repurposing SPEED into Fox Sports 1 and Mav TV into Fox Sports 2, only to see FS2 remain largely unused for original content with the departure of the UFC to ESPN.

But with more and more people adopting streaming, how many more networks will go off the air? How many sports will go behind paywalls? And ultimately, will there be some sports destined to forever be kept from the public except for a select few viewers?

Dec. 21, 2020 — An increasingly louder conversation

In the last few weeks, there has been more and more airtime on Sky Sports, a British 24-hour channel, devoted to the long-term effects of head injuries in sport.

Sky has been focusing on the recent deaths of 1966 World Cup soccer winners Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles, as well as the possible legal action on the part of 70 former rugby players who could be party to a class-action lawsuit against the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union and World Rugby.

This is, of course, a half-decade after an enormous lawsuit, backed by 4,500 former college and professional football players, has been working its way through the courts.

Now, if you’ve been keeping an eye on pro sports recently in the United States, you’ll notice blue medical tents on the sideline of football games, and the words “concussion protocol” being omnipresent in any and all sports broadcasts.

I’m glad more and more societies worldwide are having conversations about closed-head injuries and how to prevent them. In so many countries, admitting possible symptoms of concussions is seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment.

There is still a lot to do, especially in the way that sports are policed. I’m seeing a lot more physical contact at the higher levels of women’s lacrosse than I ever have. Going into the fan now often means getting crashed into by more than one defender, which isn’t supposed to happen.

And you’re also seeing more and more concussions in field hockey as goalies are getting hit in the helmet with 80-mph shots and forwards without protection are running into goalkeepers with shoulder and hip pads made of hard plastic.

Indeed, a number of players who I have seen in high school have had to either modify or end their field hockey careers because of repeated blows to the head. This includes at least two players who have represented the United States in international competition.

I think, especially for field hockey goalies, a concussion conversation is long overdue.

Dec. 20, 2020 — Remembrances of the deep past

Of the couple of hundred of birthday messages received today, one of them has stuck with me. My brother sent me a photograph of our sister, the two of us, and our father, who died five years ago.

The picture is a bit of a visual puzzle. The three of us are standing next to a chain-link fence, with bare earth and scrub grass all around, no trees, and no buildings. My father and sister are wearing plaid, and my siblings and I have some unfamiliar haircuts.

All day, I have been expending brain cells trying to figure out where this was taken. I mean, I have some educated guesses, but it’s hard to connect the lines between clothing, hair, and landmarks in this picture.

There are some photos that our family has in our collection where I can remember what the day was like when they were taken, sometimes even the day of the week. Some photos, I can smell the juniper bushes near the birdbath in our old backyard in Mississippi. Other photos, I can taste the butter pecan ice cream at the student union building at the university my father attended for his graduate studies. For others, I can smell the inside of a vintage New York subway car as it trundles down the track.

Which is why this photo is such a mystery. A complete blank.

I guess, as I start my 56th journey around the sun today, I am beginning to realize that these kinds of things are more and more liable to happen. Memories fade. Feelings amongst family members change. Favorite locations close or are torn down — especially in The Year Like No Other.

I’m hoping that, as I face a surgery later this month and hopefully a vaccine injection before too long, that we’ll get to a sense of normalcy in life, the world, and everything.

But at the same time, keeping our eye on the target of bringing you, my readers, the best possible perspective and coverage of field hockey, lacrosse, and various other athletic endeavors with a context and perspective you can’t get anywhere else.

It’s going to be a very tough six weeks or so between now and the expected restart of field hockey season in California. But we’ll endeavor to fill this blog with stories, information, and context.

Dec. 18, 2020 — Monthly Statwatch for games played through Dec. 12

This month’s Statwatch, as will be the case until the scholastic season ends in the spring, is not going to see much change, but will see the occasional refinement as more information comes to us. For example, as if current national scoring leader needs any more credit, we have a new figure for her this season: a total of 88 goals. It’s still one of the biggest totals in the 111-year history of scholastic field hockey in America, but it’s even more impressive given the low number of games Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) played this season.

But our State of the Month is the fact that the winning streak for Delmar (Del.) ended the 2020 season at 77 games with its dominant run through the DIAA Division II playoffs. Should the Wildcats go through its next 16 matches without a loss or draw, the winning streak would become the third longest of all time. Mind you, when it comes to unbeaten streaks, Delmar would only be about halfway to the 186-game Watertown (Mass.) unbeaten streak, which took place over the course of some 10 seasons.

The red figures below are a collection of American scholastic field hockey statistics from, amongst other sources, MaxPreps, Berks Game Day, the KHSAA, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Advance Media. Once we get information from the Fall 2 and Spring field hockey seasons in 2021, we’ll be adding those figures to these.

Our site really like MaxPreps, because it is easy for the average coach, athletic director, or student manager to register for the MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams as well as perhaps your conference, league, or your state governing body to enter field hockey information there, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

GOALS
90 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
74 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
49 Olivia Fraticelli, Toms River (N.J.) North
47 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
37 Molly Catchpole, Watchung Mount St. Mary Academy (N.J.)
37 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
34 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwenedd-Mercy Academy
34 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
33 Kierra Ettere, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.)
33 Rylie Wollerson, Gibsonia Pine-Richland (Pa.)
33 Casey Lynn Dewald, Fleetwood (Pa.)
32 Julianne Kopec, Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic
32 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
32 Brynn Crouse, Dillsburg Northern York (Pa.)
31 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
30 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
30 Maci Bradford, Delmar (Del.)

ASSISTS
35 Dylan Breier, Louisville DuPont Manual (Ky.)
28 Natali Foster, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)
28 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
27 Izzy Bianco, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Riley Hudson, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
25 Gianna Puorro, North Caldwell West Essex (N.J._
23 Grace Hughes, Oletangy Liberty (Ohio)
22 Kayla Kiwak, Exeter Wyoming Area (Pa.)
21 Alexis Kociban, Emmaus (Pa.)
21 Maddie Epke, Guilford (Conn.)
21 Kathrine McLean, Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.)
20 Carli Servis, Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.)

CAREER GOALS
233 Hope Rose, Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.)
198 Ryleigh Heck, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
141 Ava Borkowski, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Pa.)
141 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
135 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)
131 Talia Schenck, Lawrence (N.J.)
115 Courtney Farren, Woodbury Heights Gateway (N.J.)
108** Elizabeth Yeager, Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.)
105 Abby Hartwell, Franklinville Delsea (N.J.)
102 Kate Herlihy, Cape May Court House Middle Township (N.J.)
102 Alaina McVeigh, Upper Gwynedd Gwynedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.)
**–five-year total

CAREER ASSISTS
132 Cami Crook, Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
110 Annika Herbine, Emmaus (Pa.)
91 Taryn Tkachuk, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.)

CONSECUTIVE WINS
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)

CONSECUTIVE UNBEATEN
77 Delmar (Del.)
58 North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
44 Richmond Trinity Episcopal (Va.)
42 Somerset-Berkley (Mass.)
41 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.)

Now, here is where you come in. If you see a stat that need an addition or correction, feel free 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. We welcome your input more than ever, given the circumstances.

Thanks for dropping in, and we’ll try to get it right next month.

Dec. 17, 2020 — Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) 4, East Chapel Hill (N.C.) 3, OT

POSTGAME This is a spectacular way to end the scholastic field hockey year of 2020; we’ll be picking back up with California in January. Thanks for joining the liveblog; Good night, and good hockey

POSTGAME This is the first championship for Cardinal Gibbons, against an ECH team which won eight straight titles from 2008 to 2015

POSTGAME Credit to East Chapel Hill for coming back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to level the match at the death. Both teams had their chances in extra time, but it took an amazing backhander to win

POSTGAME Once again, it sometimes takes a spectacular effort to win an overtime game; just ask people like Alex Mega, Taryn Tkachuk, Hope Rose, or Mackenzie Allessie

62:10 CG GOAL Elle Freedman curls into the circle, makes a spin move, unleashes a backhander, and finds net! Golazo! Crusaders win 4-3 in an absolute firecracker of a game!

61:15 CG PC Option-left is saved!

60:45 East has all sorts of room in the attack end but credit Sofia Shorten on the defensive play; a corner the result

60:00 Overtime is under way!

END REGULATION We will now have a 10-minute period of extra time; next goal wins

60:00+ ECH PC and GOAL A zig-zag shot winds up in the back of the cage and we are tied 3-3!

59:30 EGH PC Three shots are saved by the goalkeeper; will re-rack for the final time

58:45 ECH PC A round-the-horn hits a CG foot; will rerack

57:40 CG PC Angled shot defensed; rebound saved!

56:45 23M for East; what can they make of this?

55:10 Gibbons sends it into the mixer but a goal does not result from the play

49:50 ECH GOAL Emma Long picks up her own rebound in the circle and finds the goal! Cardinal Gibbons still leads 3-2

47:00 CG PC Angled shot is stopped by Alexander

46:15 CG with a free hit in a promising position, but the ECH defense makes the block

END THIRD The horn sounds with Cardinal Gibbons holding to a 3-1 lead

43:00 Lloyd chuffs a backhand that is high, wide, and handsome

41:00 Pennisi is able to get open at the doorstep but cannot beat the goalkeeper!

39:30 CG is able to get numbers forward but can’t get a good enough shot off

38:30 ECH is able to peg a ball through the defense of Gibbons, but cannot find a teammate

34:30 CG PC A zig-zag is sniffed out by the trail

34:00 CG PC Hi-Lo to the inserter finds a player on the doorstep; will re-rack for the tackle

32:00 ECH GOAL A deep diagonal from Emma Long finds Molly Reed for the angled putaway! East Chapel Hill is now down by two

30:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME The first half showed a contrast in the styles of play. Cardinal Gibbons took advantage of its skills in circle play and in corner situations, while East Chapel Hill did a good job in vertical passing up the field and trying to finish off chances on the break

END SECOND The horn sounds with Cardinal Gibbons leading 3-0

28:12 CG GOAL An innocuous, bouncing ball seems to have been bundled in by Maeci Pennesi as the Crusaders are now up 3-0

23:30 CG GOAL Sarah Demos curls in front and gets off a backhander that goes over the goalie’s shoulder! Golazo! Cardinal Gibbons is up 2-0!

19:20 ECH PC Option-left is defensed and cleared!

18:30 East Chapel Hill runs the snowbird, and Molly Reed is able to smack a deep-angled shot which is saved!

18:00 CG PC Ends on a Crusader foot

17:15 CG PC Lloyd eliminates the flyer, gets it on the backhander and just misses her teammate at the left post!

END FIRST With 15 minutes in the books, the Crusaders hold a 1-0 lead

14:50 CG PC Lloyd’s shot is saved by goalie Ann Alexander and the rebound put wide

14:00 CG PC Lloyd knocks a shot that is saved by the goalkeeper over the end line; 23M free-in is the result

11:04 CG PC and GOAL Hi-lo pass to the inserter and she makes no mistake; Gibbons leads 1-0

10:50 CG PC Lloyd’s shot is blocked eye-high; goalie makes the save, but will re-rack for the raised ball

9:45 Emma Long, who has had a good game thus far for ECH, pings a diagonal that misses everything

6:30 CG PC Kate Lloyd rescues the bad insert; pops a shot wide of the cage

1:15 CG PC A high cross from the Brooklyn insert fails to find a teammate

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME East Chapel Hill is in the all-white with black trim; Cardinal Gibbons is in the forest green with gold trim

PREGAME The teams are warming up under clear skies, temperatures around 44 degrees

PREGAME The key question is, which team will retain its hot shooting from the semifinal round? Or will one or the other team have spent its offensive capabilities? We’ll see in this game

PREGAME East Chapel Hill got here with a 7-0 win over neighborhood rival Chapel Hill (N.C.), while Cardinal Gibbons got here with a 6-0 win over Carrboro (N.C.)

PREGAME These teams have split matches this season; Gibbons beat ECH 3-2 on Nov. 18, while the Wildcats won the return match 2-1 the first week of December

PREGAME This year, all of North Carolina’s public/parochial field hockey has taken place in only one of the six divisions that make up the NCFHA. The state’s COVID-19 restrictions turned the 2020 season into a round-robin sprint involving just a handful of teams; meanwhile, most of the private-school teams in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Associations were able to compete

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Raleigh, N.C., for the 2020 North Carolina Field Hockey Association final between East Chapel Hill (N.C.) and Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) beginning around 6:45 p.m.

Dec. 15, 2020 — The CIF takes a longer holiday

It was expected that this week might have been the first week of preseason for a cohort of fall sports in the state of California, including field hockey.

But delayed guidelines released by the California Department of Public Health has pushed back the start of interscholastic competition in the Golden State to January 25, 2021. This is because of an enormous ramping up of COVID-19 transmission rates in California over the last month or so.

California leads the nation in COVID-19 positive cases with 1.6 million. And, as we mentioned a couple of days ago, the three CIF areas with field hockey — the Bay Area, greater Los Angeles, and San Diego, are the three highest-density population areas in the state.

We’ll be collecting information about which areas, which leagues, or even school districts are able to start on time, or who opts out of playing. Hopefully, with widespread vaccinations by the spring, there could be a good startup of the Fall 2 season.

Dec. 14, 2020 — The one silver lining

If you’re a field hockey aficionado, you’re probably used to my end-of-season series of stories, including the identification of Games of the Year, the final top 50, United States Coach of the Year, and the State of Hockey.

But that’s not happening — at least for a while. We’re projecting that, when the last state and/or sectional championship is contested (we think it’s going to be the final week of April 2021), we will be able to get started on then end-of-year package of features.

That is, unless a state or two decided to push the Fall2 field hockey season from early spring to late spring — something which could very well happen.

But that will give us more time to compile the stories for the year-end package. So there’s a silver lining to this disjointed field hockey calendar.

Dec. 13, 2020 — What’s next for field hockey?

If you thought that the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s championship doubleheader comprised the last state championship games of the 2020 season, you were wrong.

You see, in late summer, the schools of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association had chosen to put off all sports. But that decision was reversed for a November restart, subject to local jurisdictions reopening their athletic departments for interscholastic play.

Tuesday will see a doubleheader at East Chapel Hill (N.C.), featuring the hosts against Chapel Hill (N.C.) in a rivalry match, while Carrboro (N.C.) will take on Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.). East Chapel Hill is the top seed, having had a number of results in this shortened season.

As good as field hockey has gotten in the last 20 years or so in North Carolina, it is heartening to see that the public-school side of the sport has gotten restarted, following on what the state’s independent schools did, crowning Charlotte Providence Day School (N.C.) as champion in late October.

It should be great theater.