TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for Field hockey

Dec. 10, 2018 — An appreciation: Barb Major, head coach, Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

Barbara Major, the head field hockey coach of Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.) who put in a shift that would last half a century, announced her retirement last week.

She’s one of only one of four known scholastic field hockey coaches who have 50 years or more of service as a head coach. And she did it the hard way. Major has remained one of the few coaches in the United States who annually teaches the basics of the game to incoming ninth-graders at the Roman Catholic school located just a few miles from the New Jersey state capital.

Her coaching wasn’t a matter of coaching players with rudinemtary middle-school or CYO experience. It was even more basic than that: more of the, “This is a stick, this is a ball” instruction. Her dedication has rubbed off on her players for years, and has given a number of her players a platform to play field hockey at the next level.

Notre Dame’s best team may have been her 1994 squad, which saw at least two of her players matriculate to Division I, and may have been an inch away from playing for a state championship. The Irish, having already won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title, met Lacey (N.J.) Township in the state semifinal match at Columbus Northern Burlington (N.J.).

Lacey was a team which relied on a physical defense (a style which may receive a raft of cards in today’s hockey), as well as the dead-eye corner striking of Jennifer Melnyk, who eventually took her talents to Rutgers. Melnyk had scored an early goal to force Notre Dame to chase the equalizer. The Irish thought they had a deflected ball into the goal cage in the second half, but the goal was not given.

Four days later, it was Lacey which took down what was likely the nation’s No. 1 team in North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), a side which would feature future Olympian Michelle Vizzuso. The semifinal loss left Notre Dame thinking that it could have been the team to pull the upset of West Essex in the final.

Major’s teams would keep in the headwaters of contending for Colonial Valley Conference, Mercer County Tournament, and sectional honors, but would never have a team with the same talent level as the 1994 side.

But it wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of encouragement. From the coaching box, you could head her voice booming on the other sideline. Perhaps my favorite line of hers is, “Don’t stand and watch!” In a game which involves a lot of running and movement, being rooted to a spot was a cardinal sin to her.

The 2019 season, and beyond, is going to be forever changed in the New Jersey capital region, as Major is the last of The Three Amigos (so named by field hockey writer Jim Davis) to retire, following Joyce Jones of Princeton (N.J.) and Barb Skiba of Pennington Hopewell Valley Central (N.J.) into retirement.

And things aren’t going to be the same. An era has closed.

Advertisements

Dec. 9, 2018 — Separate and unequal

Today’s Hockey Insider article on First Post takes an unvarnished, albeit simplistic, look at the economic state of men’s field hockey worldwide.

It is an eye-opening read.

Dec. 4, 2018 — Region of the Year: PIAA District 3

I know, I know. You’ve just read the headline for today’s blog entry, and you’re thinking, “Shouldn’t they win that award every year?”

The fact is, District 3 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has had at least one finalist in every state championship field hockey game since 2005.

But what made the district the TopOfTheCircle.com 2018 Region of the Year is the fact that five out of the six participants in the state championship finals were from one district, meaning that District 3 was guaranteed two state champions.

It’s not as though central Pennsylvania has never been recognized before: we once gave this award to the city of Lancaster, once to the Lancaster-Lebanon League, once to District 4 (located due north of Harrisburg, the state capital), and, back in 1999, to PIAA District 3.

But there is a different reason for the award this year. Call that reason “The Spooky Nook Effect.” The U.S. women’s field hockey team’s training center at the old Armstrong plant in Manheim Township, Pa. has created a knockon effect for players, coaches, and even umpires to model themselves after the best our nation has to offer.

Indeed, the town of Mount Joy, where Class AA champion Donegal sits, is a scant five miles from Spooky Nook. Hershey, Palmyra, and Lower Dauphin, all from the Mid-Penn Keystone Division, are 20 miles northwest. Newport, which fell in the Class A title game, is a further half-hour to the northwest from the Route 322 derbyists.

But it isn’t just about the five teams that made the finals, but the other District 3 teams that just missed out. Penn Manor, the defending state champions, fell a rung short of playing for the state title, having lost to Hershey. In the opposite half of the bracket, West Lawn Wilson (Pa.), everyone’s dark horse to make the title match, were ousted by Lower Dauphin.

Oley Valley, having made the Class A final a couple of years ago, were turned aside by Palmyra in the state semifinals, while defending state champion Millerstown Greenwood (Pa.) lost to eventual state titlist Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.).

In all, nine out of 12 PIAA semifinalists came from District 3, a dominating performance by some great teams.


District 3 joins a number of winners of the Region of the Year award selected by this site in the past:

2018: PIAA District 3, Pa.
2017: Houston, Tex.
2016: Commonwealth of Virginia
2015: Summit, N.J.
2014: CIF Central Coast Section, Calif.
2013: VHSL North, Va.
2012: State of New Jersey
2011: Lancaster-Lebanon League, Pa.
2010: No award
2009: No award
2008: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
2007: PIAA District 4, Pa.
2006: Winston-Salem, N.C.
2005: Louisville, Ky.
2004: Kent and Sussex County, Del.
2003: PIAA District 2, Pa.
2002: State of North Carolina
2001: Lancaster County, Pa.
2000: Cecil County, Md.
1999: PIAA District 3, Pa.
1998: State of Maryland
1997: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
1996: Hunterdon and Warren County, N.J.

Dec. 3, 2018 — BULLETIN: Pacific to fold its field hockey tent, a major setback for the sport out West

The state of California is the sixth largest economy in the world. Yet, somehow, it has trouble in this modern age supporting a competitive league for varsity collegiate field hockey.

Today, it was announced that the University of the Pacific would be discontinuing the sport to save a million dollars from its athletics programs. Field hockey, according to a press release sent out by the school, is the only sport which is being affected at the Stockton, Calif. campus.

There have been rumblings on social media for a couple weeks about this impending move, and there may yet be a successful fundraising campaign designed to keep the sport afloat.

But as we posited a few weeks ago, the road (and road trips) for both field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams west of the Mississippi are difficult ones. Without a major conference to back the participating teams, there is no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, something which will be happening in 2019 with field hockey and 2021 with women’s lacrosse except for the fortunate sides which are in the Pac-12.

Truth be told, however, so much of what is going on with teams currently playing these two sports is completely dependent on the landscape of college conferences which have gone from regional to national footprints.

And, that being said, why is it that many of these schools can afford to send 85 football players and a large coaching staff to road games two time zones away, and yet can’t sustain a group of 20 women who want to play?

Dec. 2, 2018 — A run of championship form

Yesterday at Duquesne University, the longest current championship streak in collegiate field hockey was extended.

In the Division II final during the Fall Festival in and around Pittsburgh, Shippensburg won its third consecutive title with a 1-0 overtime victory over East Stroudsburg.

The game-winning goal came on an Adrienne McGarrigle through pass, deftly struck so that it had enough pace to get to its intended target. Emily Stauffer, at full forward, just had to turn the flat part of her stick over and parry the ball into the cage, ending the game just a couple of minutes into extra time.

Shippensburg’s streak is a rarity in NCAA field hockey; it is difficult to win three national championships in succession. Only a handful of other schools have ever done it: only Old Dominion, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Bloomsburg, and Salisbury had done it before.

And only Bloomsburg has ever done it four years in a row, something that Ship will be attempting to do in 2019.

Dec. 1, 2018 — Previewing this year’s awards season

With the end of the domestic field hockey season come our yearly awards. Here’s what we have planned for you:

Dec. 4: Region of the Year
Dec. 7: United States Coach of the Year: The Nominees
Dec. 11: The State of Hockey 2018
Dec. 14: The Final Top 50
Dec. 18: Games of the Year
Dec. 21: The Final Statwatch for 2018
Dec. 25: Your national scoring champion
Dec. 28: United States Coach of the Year

Nov. 29, 2018 — The effects of foreign players in American collegiate field hockey

Today, Shippensburg’s field hockey team won its NCAA Division II national semifinal 4-0 over West Chester University on a magnificent four-goal effort by sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio, who is from Argentina.

In the second game, East Stroudsburg beat Pace 3-0 thanks in part to an assist from Celeste Veenstra, who is from Holland.

The last few years have been a collective high-water mark for foreign athletes in NCAA field hockey. And not only has it been their mere presence on rosters, but the importance of the players within their teams.

Connecticut, for example, had the finest player in the country last year, Charlotte Veitner from Germany. This year, UConn had a strong foreign presence with six of its top eight scorers coming from foreign lands.

Maryland, the national runners-up, had a three out of its top five scorers from outside the United States. North Carolina, the champions, may have had its top two scorers from the U.S. women’s national team (Erin Matson and Ashley Hoffman), but four out of their next six point-scorers were from outside the United States.

Indeed, when you look at the 18 rosters that made the Division I tournament after Selection Sunday, there were 120 foreign players.

The last couple of years, the all-American teams chosen by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association have leaned heavily on foreign athletes. When you look at the 160 players chosen for the all-regional Division I teams, 87 players are from outside the United States.

There has been a little bit of imitation on the part of other divisions, as more foreign athletes have infiltrated Division II and III rosters.

Question is, should the NCAA do something about it? Is it in the interest of the people who run collegiate sports in the United States to limit participation by foreign players?

The answer, I think, is no. But that includes a big “however” attached to it.

The “however” can be boiled down to the following: it’s possible to go to the well once too often in order to find the one talismanic player (such as a Charlotte Veitner, a Marina DiGiacomo, or a Paula Infante) who can affect a team’s fortunes.

In addition, foreign influences in college sports have risen and waned over the years. In basketball, there used to be a lot of players from Europe and Africa on Division I rosters, but with the rise of Eurobasket and the quintupling in size of the National Basketball Developmental League, a lot of those players have gone those routes to develop their skills.

In ice hockey, Canadian influence has risen and waned on both the men’s and women’s sides, and it is notable that one route to quickly build a women’s team, especially when it comes to sides like Niagara and Mercyhurst, is to stack a team with Canadians.

In soccer, foreign players used to be on top rosters, but the club system in Europe and in Latin America has taken a number of the best foreign talent and gotten them to play on professional teams as teenagers. Heck, look at Mallory Pugh, who should be a junior at UCLA right now, but is playing for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

And if you want a look at the waning of foreign influence in an NCAA sport, look at women’s lacrosse. Yes, you have a significant Canadian influence that is beginning to evince itself through the heroics of Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup. But have you seen members of the English and Australian junior national teams on Division I rosters recently? I haven’t. Maryland, which made it a habit of recruiting from foreign lands, did not have a single foreign player last spring.

And when you look at the rosters of the two teams — Boston College and James Madison — that competed in the last Division I final, there wasn’t a foreign player on those rosters, either.

Somewhere along the line, I think, there was a diminishment of returns when it came to foreign recruiting, that it is harder to get players to commit to the Division I lifestyle with strong club programs at home.

Or maybe coaches in some sports eventually realized that good coaching isn’t all about finding players who are already good, but instead is about molding what comes into the university setting into a good team.