TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for Lacrosse

Jan. 21, 2020 — Coach of the Decade: Chris Robinson, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.)

Presentation1

The decade of the 2010s ended just as it began: with Chris Robinson steering a girls’ lacrosse team to a championship.

But the two title-winners were 900 miles apart — one in suburban Baltimore, one of the cradles of the sport; and the other a mile from Orlando’s city hall, in a quickly-developing area for lacrosse.

To understand Robinson’s decade, it’s necessary to understand his career arc and his impact on girls’ scholastic lacrosse.

Chris Robinson had a hand in two of the longest unbeaten streaks in the history of the game. One was the first few years of the 105-game unbeaten streak for Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), and the other was the first 177 out of the 198-game win streak for Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.).

In a move that surprised many in the lacrosse community in 2018, Robinson moved to Florida and latched onto Lake Highland Prep. The chemistry was immediate.

“Coaching at LHP definitely was a life changing event that recharged my batteries,” Robinson says. “This group was special because they had not won anything before. This community wanted a lacrosse championship for the girls so badly.”

Robinson, with a 23-2 record his first season at the helm in the spring of 2019, won the Florida state final with an 11-6 win over Palm Beach Benjamin (Fla.).

For Robinson, there is a simple formula, and it all starts with getting the center draw. He has been blessed with a number of great centers over the years, such as Maddie and Olivia Jenner and Taylor Cummings, but he cites the other facet of winning the draw: the scramble to win the ball in the midfield.

“If a team is going to beat us on talent or skill that is fine,” Robinson says. “But there is no excuse for a team to outhustle us.”

But what also has been a hallmark of Robinson-coached teams is the ability to learn. On Feb. 23, 2019, Robinson lost his first game as coach in the decade of the 2010s, a 17-8 loss to Delray American Heritage (Fla.). A few weeks later, when the teams met in the FHSAA semifinals, the Highlanders pulled out a 10-6 win, setting up the their championship final a few days later.

“To win a championship in a different state away from a lacrosse hotbed was really special,” Robinson says. “Having a Florida team that beat some national powers and ended up 4th in the nation in the Inside Lacrosse end of season rankings was so exciting.”

But as with all things in high-school sports, the work begins anew. In one week, tryouts for the girls’ lacrosse team at LHP begin.

Jan. 17, 2020 — Player of the Decade: Taylor Cummings, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)

Presentation1The 2010s were a decade which saw a radical change in the product of what we call “lacrosse.”

But for one player, it did not matter whether the game was played with or without a possession clock, whether the sides were 10-on-10 or 12-on-12. Of if the shirt she was wearing was the black and orange of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), the black and red of the University of Maryland, the purple of the Baltimore Ride, the blue of the New York Fight, or the red and blue of the United States.

Taylor Cummings was, throughout the decade of the 2010s, the ultimate winner. If you added up the win-loss record of every game she played in or coached from 2010 to 2020, she lost maybe 12 games out of about 200 — a phenomenal record.

“I’ve been incredibly blessed to play on such incredible teams surrounded by the most amazing teammates and coaches,” she says. “From McDonogh, to Maryland, to the pro circuit, and Team USA, I have loved every second I’ve had the chance to play, learn, and grow this game alongside my teams. Even years later, the losses still sting, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Cummings’ quality of play in the midfield was exceptional. Even during this Score-O Decade in which a number of players exceeded the 400-goal barrier, Cummings’ play and field generalship were game-changing.

She won draws, scored goals, and shared the ball effortlessly with her teammates while at McDonogh. While at the school, she not only won four IAAM championships in lacrosse, she also won private-school championships in basketball and in girls’ soccer.

As good as she was at McDonogh, she went next-level at the University of Maryland, winning a pair of NCAA titles and creating what might have been the first “Tewaaraton Moment” for a national player of the year candidate since the award was first bestowed.

The incident was the 21st minute of play of the national final at Towson. Syracuse, after falling five goals adrift in under five minutes, had crawled back to within one.

After a TV timeout, Cummings stepped into the draw circle against Syracuse attacking midfielder Kailah Kempney. Cummings popped the ball into the air, leapt, caught the ball, and took off running. Like an arrow, she cut through the Syracuse defense, and scored, only eight seconds after the restart.

Only a week later, she won the first of three Tewaaraton trophies.

A year ago, the decorated player, fresh off winning gold medals at the FIL Women’s World Cup and the World Games, became head coach at McDonogh, her alma mater. And, just like in her playing days, the Eagles parlayed draw dominance, teamwork, and smart scoring into an undefeated season, an IAAM championship, and a consensus No. 1 postseason ranking.

Apparently, you can go home again.

 

 

Jan. 14, 2020 — Game of the Decade

Presentation11. Towson Notre Dame Prep 10, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 8
May 11, 2018
IAAM Class “A” Final
This matchup is notable for a couple of reasons. One, U.S. Lacrosse opened Tierney Field in Sparks, Md. to the IAAM for this championship final. But the second was the fact that the result ended of one of the most legendary and fabled records in the game: the 198-game win streak on the part of McDonogh. For the better part of nine seasons, McDonogh had been as automatic as the sun rising in the East. Thanks to skillful wins on the center draw, control of the pace and rhythm of the game, and the play of outstanding individuals, the Eagles had won every game since an April 2009 defeat to Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy, but Notre Dame Prep was unafraid, withstanding everything the Eagles could throw at them, and never trailed at any point during the game.

Jan. 12, 2020 — Is the MIAA doubling its footprint, or halving its competitive balance?

A couple of days ago, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the commonwealth’s governing body for public school sports, released its proposal for statewide brackets for the sports it sanctions.

Gone will be the days of separate brackets for four regions, to be replaced by statewide brackets, meaning that a team from the Berkshires may have to travel to Cape Cod, and vice versa, every round, depending on how the seedings fall.

Those seedings would be determined by computer rankings by MaxPreps. The first four seeds in each division’s bracket would be seeded separately, meaning that a team with a weak regular-season schedule may not get one of the top four seeds, despite being undefeated.

But the headline-grabber for Massachusetts’ changes is the fact that, for both field hockey and girls’ lacrosse, the number of championships doubles from two to four.

Massachusetts is not the only region to have added championship levels in the last few years: the Virginia High School League, the Midwest Athletic Association, the California Interscholastic Federation’s San Diego Section, and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association have added postseason championships over the last five or so years.

Just from observation, the addition of these additional postseason tournaments has, for me, benefitted smaller schools. Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.), for example, won a state championship in 2015, and Poquoson (Va.) has made it to the state title game on more than one occasion since the changes to the VHSL tournament.

Now, I don’t have the exact enrollment numbers for the MIAA field hockey or lacrosse schools. But I have a feeling that the new championship will benefit programs in small towns all over the state such as Mashpee, Martha’s Vineyard, and Greenfield.

I also think it’s going to help teams in the western part of the state who have usually been in short brackets because there aren’t enough qualifying teams to fill out a 16-team sectional.

They’ll vote on the proposal next month; let’s see if enough administrators think it makes sense.

Jan. 10, 2020 — The 2010s: Games of the Decade, No. 20 to No. 2

Presentation120. Pittsford (N.Y.) 7, Rush-Henrietta (N.Y.) 6, 4 OT 
May 29, 2019
NYSPHSAA Section 5 Class A final
Rush-Henrietta had the defending champions on the proverbial ropes, taking a 6-4 lead deep into regulation, but Pittsford answered back with two late goals and Ellie Mooney’s goal in the fourth period of extra time.

19. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 13, Moorestown (N.J.) 10
June 3, 2015
NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal
This was the day Oak Knoll arrived as a national lacrosse power. The Royals were able to not only beat Moorestown in this T of C semifinal, but on the weekend would beat Summit (N.J.) for the title. Oak Knoll would also win the Tournament of Champions in 2019.

18. Manassas Osbourn Park (Va.) 15, Ashburn Broad Run (Va.) 14, OT
May 21, 2013
VHSL Class 3A semifinal
This was The Corinne Wessels Show, as she scored 10 goals to lead the Yellowjackets into the state final. Wessels, one of the most dominant offensive weapons in the 2010s, has a significant mark in National Federation: eight times, she recorded 11 or more assists in a single game. But in this matchup, she took the ball to goal repeatedly, and the team won a statement game to get to the finals.

17. Concord Carondelet (Calif.) 9, Pleasanton Amador Valley (Calif.) 7 (OT)
May 24, 2013
CIF North Coast Section final
Cali Castagnola had the last of her four goals in the first half of extra time as the Cougars won the Division I title.

16. Moorestown (N.J.) 12, Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.) 5
May 1, 2010
Regular-season game
This was the sixth edition of the Moorestown-Mount Hebron game, and it would be the last. Moorestown ran out to a shock 9-0 lead within 26 minutes. It would also be one of the last games that head coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland would coach at Hebron before moving on to Brooklandville St. Paul’s School for Girls (Md.).

15. Delray American Heritage (Fla.) 12, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 10
March 24, 2018
Regular-season game
American Heritage, a small private school which has had lacrosse a scant four years, challenged one of the stalwarts of the sport nationally, and beat them. As you might expect, Caitlyn Wurzburger was a pivot point for the Heritage side.

14. Garden City (N.Y.) 8, Moorestown (N.J.) 7, OT
April 16, 2016
Gains for Brains Showcase
Jenn Medjid scored her second goal of the game late in overtime as the Trojans beat Moorestown. Michaela Bruno had a hat trick for the Trojans.

13. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 12, Sykesville Century (Md.) 11, OT
May 2, 2016
Regular-season game
Century had an 11-7 lead with under nine minutes remaining in regulation, but McDonogh scored four straight goals to level the match, leading to Catie May’s goal less than a minute into extra time.

12. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 13, Glen Mills Garnet Valley (Pa.) 11,
June 6, 2017
PIAA Class AAA semifinals
These two teams had met five weeks earlier in the Katie Samson Laxfest, but the stakes were much, much higher for this game. And the Garnet Valley defense once again had problems stopping Sam Swart (seven goals) and Katie Detweiler (five), as Carroll won its way into the final, which it would win over Springfield (Pa.).

11. Auburn St. Dominic Academy (Maine) 11, Naples Lake Region (Maine) 8
June 15, 2019
MPA Class C Tournament final
What’s notable about this match is that St. Dominic played the entire state championship without substitutions. That’s right; an injury or an ill-timed yellow card could have left the Saints short not only on the pitch, but on the bench. Yet eight goals from Avery Lutrzykowski sent the team and its campuses into dreamland.

10. Wellesley (Mass.) 15, Hingham Notre Dame (Mass.) 7
June 16, 2018
Final, MIAA Division I South Tournament
Notre Dame, coached by Northwestern alumna Meredith Frank, was thought to be the favorite to come out of Division I South, but Wellesley, a team which had been building since the arrival of head coach Michelle Cook, staked its claim to a Final Four berth, eventually winning the state title.

9. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 20, Garden City (N.Y.) 9
April 21, 2012
New York-Maryland Challenge
This was a surprisingly comprehensive result, given how close these two teams were in computer rankings. Megan Whittle, a sophomore at the time, put on a master class of finishing as she had eight goals for the Eagles.

8. Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 13, Milton (Ga.) 12, OT
April 11, 2015
Spring Fling
This was a thrilling game which saw Milton come of age as a lacrosse power, fighting one of the best programs of the last 35 years to a tie after regulation, only to see Zoe Belodeau finish with 12 seconds to go in extra time.

7. Contoocook Hopkinton (N.H.) 12, Derryfield (N.H.) 11
June 4, 2019
NHIAA Division III Tournament final
Hopkinton has had a sudden rise in its fortune over the last three seasons, making its first championship run a year ago. But this title game would be anything but orthodox. The Hawks were a player short late in the first half after receiving its fourth team yellow of the game. Only two minutes into the second half, leading scorer Lyndon Flanagan received her second yellow, and the team’s fifth of the game. It was against this backdrop that the Hawks showed a remarkable resilience playing with just nine outfielders, winning on a pair of goals from center Ellie Morrall. She had five goals in this game, after scoring six against Bow (N.H.) in the semifinals.

6. Summit (N.J.) 11, Ridgewood (N.J.) 10, 2OT
June 11, 2016
NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final
Summit, the Group 3 titlists, had beaten Ridgewood 9-8 earlier that season in a regular-season match. Ridgewood, the Group 4 winners, had a three-goal lead heading into the final 12 minutes, but Summit edged ahead in the 44th minute of play. Ridgewood’s Lillie Kloak tied the game 10-10 with 18 seconds to go, but it was up to Summit’s Callie Humphrey to win the game in the fourth minute of overtime.

5. Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.) 9, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 8, OT
May 21, 2017
VISAA Division I final
These two schools are located only about a mile apart, straight as the crow flies, but may as well be in two completely different worlds. Bishop Ireton plays in the Washington Capital Athletic Conference, SSSAS plays in the Independent School League. The teams have had a bit of history between them: indeed, when Rick Sofield became coach of Ireton in 2011, the second opponent he faced was St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes. After that 18-5 loss, one of the team’s unspoken goals was to match the Saints in talent, execution, and winning tradition. Ireton, after winning the VISAA Division I final in 2014 and 2015, lost the 2016 tournament to the Saints, only to come back and win the 2017 title in overtime.

4. Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.) 7, Moorestown (N.J.) 6
May 24, 2010
NJSIAA Group III South final
In terms of girls’ lacrosse, this rivalry was, for decades, the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid of scholastic lacrosse, as these two teams had fought for decades over the one state championship on offer. One or the other won the single state title every year but once between 1987 and 2006. But with the NJSIAA breaking the postseason into four groups like most other sports in the state, the teams met each other at Bridgeboro Road in May 2010, having to get past each other just to get to the state final. Shawnee, down 5-1 early in the second half, came all the way back as Kristin Kocher scored the game-winner with 12.6 seconds left on the game clock. It was Moorestown’s first loss to a New Jersey team since the 20th Century.

3. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 14, South Huntington St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) 8
April 30, 2011
Regular-season game
St. Anthony was No. 1 in the LaxPower.com computer rankings coming into this game, but McDonogh rattled off an 11-1 run in 20 minutes and salted the game away. The team had its stars: Jen Cook, Sammi Burgess, Megan Whittle — and a pretty darn good midfielder named Taylor Cummings.

2. Vero Beach (Fla.) 18, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) 8
March 20, 2010
Regular-season game
This may not have been the best game of the decade, but it may have been the most important one. This event saw Southern lacrosse come of age, with Vero Beach, a team from a developing area of the country, beat an established power from the mid-Atlantic. As this site said the day afterward, “Yesterday’s result flips the notion of what success in the game of lacrosse looks like — and, where it comes from.” Since then, there have been tremendous team, individuals, and even coaching, in the Sunshine State.

Jan. 7, 2020 — The 2010s: The 10 who will define lacrosse the next decade

Presentation1Understanding that there might be an eighth-grader today who will be a senior in college by 2029, this list is pretty much an exercise in throwing darts. Let’s hope the impacts these figures make are positive:

10. Gussie Johns. The goalie for the U.S. women’s national team is set to change the way that the position is played, but also taught, both at the collegiate level and at the youth level. When (and not if) she takes a collegiate head-coaching position, she’s going to be a difference-maker.

9. Tim Godby. The head coach of Milton (Ga.) should be a top candidate for any of the new U.S. college programs sure to crop up in the Sun Belt during the 2020s.

8. Jason Levesque. The former Canisius assistant was installed as the head coach for Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) over the summer, and, as such, now takes on the role of the only “superprep” girls’ lacrosse team in the United States, playing a challenging national schedule.

7. Taylor Cummings. The three-time Tewaaraton trophy winner is going to have an influence in the sport, no matter whether she stays at Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) or moves to another coaching position. I also think she has another couple of world tournaments in her — maybe Los Angeles 2028?

6. Michelle DeJuliis. The commissioner of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League is now the influencer as to what post-collegiate women’s lacrosse is going to look like, and I think it will be interesting to see if it conflicts with what is happening with U.S. Lacrosse and the “Olympic rules” package.

5. Caitlyn Wurzburger. Unfair or not, she’s going to have expectations placed on her like nobody else, even players like Taylor Cummings and Megan Whittle. I think she’s going to have a tremendous impact wherever she goes. I wonder what any future pro league will look like with her later in the 2020s.

4. Devon Wills. The former U.S. women’s national team coach has assembled a take-no-prisoners coaching staff at Harvard including the likes of Kenzie Kent, Becca Block, and Mira Shane, and I think she’s going to change the way the game is coached.

3. Hannah Neilsen. The former Northwestern star is pulling the Michigan program from “potential” to “production.” I have a feeling that she’s going to make for a few sleepless nights for coaches in the rest of the Big Ten, if not nationally.

2. Ann Kitt Carpenetti. The vice-president of operations of U.S. Lacrosse has been fighting a battle with some in the sport in terms of the introduction of mandatory helmets. The regrettable thing is that, even with the possible unification of rules for the Olympics, headwear is going to be the focus of discussion between now and Los Angeles 2028 rather than the product on the pitch.

1. Paul Rabil. The former Johns Hopkins star managed to assemble a cadre of investors and backing for the Premier Lacrosse League in 2019. He could have an even greater impact if he was able to direct some of his efforts towards a women’s league — something way above and beyond the current partnership with the WPLL.

Jan. 6, 2020 — Betty Shellenberger, 1922-2019

I didn’t want to go too much further without mentioning the passing of a woman who was the Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson of her era.

Betty Shellenberger, who died last month at the age of 98, played for the U.S. senior national women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams from 1939 to 1961.

And here’s the interesting part: the years she wasn’t participating, she was enlisted in the U.S. Marines during World War II.

Of course, back then, the Marines weren’t necessarily the storm-the-beach take-that-outpost group of attack-minded men that they are today. Shellenberger served as an aviation mechanic in California during the war.

She came back to the States to coach and teach at a couple of Quaker schools in Philadelphia, and introduced the sport of lacrosse and field hockey at a number of secondary schools as well as Chestnut Hill College. She coached both sports at the school until 1977.

Later in life, she gave back to the sport as an umpire, rules interpreter, and representative to a number of rules committees in both lacrosse and field hockey.

But what gets me is the fact that she wore our national colors in two outdoor sports spanning four decades.

In these days of the specialization of sport, you’re unlikely to see this ever again.