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Archive for Lacrosse

Nov. 14, 2022 — One moment amongst many

If you were following our liveblog on Saturday, you might have noticed a moment during one of the Pennsylvania quarterfinal matches that deserves a deep dive — because of a very deep dive on the part of one of the players.

About seven minutes into the PIAA Class AA quarterfinal between Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.) and Mechanicsburg (Pa.), the Wildcats had a break up the left side of the field, then had a self-start from 31 yards. The Mechanicsburg midfielder threw an aerial into the circle where not one, but two teammates were waiting about two yards from the goal line.

The scene was set for a “lacrosse” goal like what Paityn Wirth scored three years ago in the Falcon Classic between Greenwood (Pa.) and Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.). On the play, a lifted pass was caressed into the goal since plays are allowed to be made above the shoulder, subject to danger.

Only it was a lacrosse player who interposed herself in Mechanicsburg’s attack. Rushing off her line and diving to stick the ball over the sideline was Crestwood senior goalie Isabella Caporuscio. But it was more than just a dive; she appeared to take off and gain altitude like a seagull in flight. (If you want to take a look at a clip, go to our Instagram or TikTok presences and be amazed.)

Since we started covering field hockey in 1988, I have never seen a better athletic play made by a high-school field hockey goalie. Never. The closest thing was watching former U.S. national teamer Barb Weinberg make a save on a lofted shot in indoor hockey.

Caporuscio runs counter to the stereotype of the field hockey goalie from 30 years ago. On most schools, goalies used to have to be begged to put on the pads, and were often a third-string softball catcher for the school or one of the slowest players on the team.

These days, a field hockey goalie is often the best athlete on the team. Want proof? Caporuscio is a highly-regarded attacking midfielder who has committed to play women’s lacrosse at perennial powerhouse Stony Brook.

The regrettable thing is that we’ve likely seen the last of her in goalie pads, seeing as SBU doesn’t have field hockey. It would have been a fun thought-experiment to see what she might have done in a college environment.

Nov. 3, 2022 — What’s good for the gander

This week, a number of NCAA Division I field hockey teams are playing off against each other for the honor of playing in the 2022 postseason tournament.

The conference champions being selected this week will be joining Ivy League champion Princeton in the field, as the Tigers won their way by virtue of league play.

To this day, the Ivy League remains the only Division I conference to not have a postseason tournament. Which is odd, given the fact that just about every other Ivy League sport (except football) has a postseason championship to try to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

The Ivy League, in lacrosse, has had a conference championship since 2013 — in both genders.

It’s been a decade; why has the Ancient Eight not instituted a postseason championship? I’d think it would be a great benefit for the league, given the fact that these late games help with teams’ resumes for the postseason and build up their bona fides for the selection committee.

Indeed, in women’s lacrosse, you’ve sometimes seen as many as three teams make it from the Ivy League into the Division I Tournament.

And I don’t see why it can’t be the same for field hockey. Why let the big conferences have all the fun?

Oct. 27, 2022 — A purple and orange threat is awakening

In 96 days, the inaugural season for the Clemson women’s lacrosse team will commence.

It is a program which could be having the highest expectations placed upon them of any Division I debutante since Michigan began playing lacrosse as Team 1 in the fall of 2013.

There are several factors surrounding the high expectations. First is the investment and effort that the Clemson athletic department is putting forth for this program. A lot of pundits are pointing to the school’s success in football as a model for the lacrosse team.

The second aspect leading to the high expectations is the coaching staff. Head coach Alison Kwolek did great things in the mid-majors with Richmond, making the national Top 10 on two occasions. She has added former Penn State All-American Madison Carter and former Cornell assistant Bill Olin as assistants, and they could form some of the secret sauce for the coaching of the new team.

And that new team could be spectacular. Clemson was incredibly active in the transfer portal, announcing 19 athletes making their intention to join the new program. The two most prominent, for me, are attacker Jaylyn Jimerson from Syracuse, and goalie Emily Lamparter from Maryland. The program also has at least seven rock-solid commitments in the next two scholastic classes.

Clemson’s group has bonded quickly during the fall-ball season, which concludes this weekend with games at the home of your defending national champions, the University of North Carolina. And if playing on that field, and going through those locker room doors, and seeing all of those trophies isn’t a visualization exercise for the Tiger program, I don’t know what is.

Oct. 20, 2022 — Another silo-breaking hire for Rider University

It was 22 years ago when Rider University went on an unconventional route to a hire for a head coach. Instead of finding a Division I alumna or an assistant coach from a successful college program, the university broke the silo between U.S. high schools and U.S. colleges by hiring Lori Hussong away from Princeton Junction West Windsor-Plainsboro (N.J.). The partnership has been successful and stable over the intervening 22 seasons.

Today, the former teachers’ college between Trenton and Princeton, N.J. made a similar kind of hire for its nascent women’s lacrosse program. It was not only a silo-breaking move between Division I and Division III lacrosse, it was a bold move from the point of gender.

Evan Mager, a former goalie for the Fairleigh Dickinson University men’s lacrosse program, was hired away from the FDU women’s program, where he had last year an undefeated season. Previously, he found success with Morristown (N.J.), where he coached for nine seasons.

Now, a lot has been made of men coaching women in college sports. You have seen a number of successes and a number of times when the teams have fallen short. A few, like basketball’s Geno Auriemma, soccer’s Anson Dorrance, and softball’s Mike Candrea, are absolute legends.

Male coaches in collegiate women’s lacrosse have had a lot of success as assistants (see: Gait, Gary), but winning a title has evaded the likes of Gait (Syracuse), Joe Spallini (Stony Brook), and John Sung (Virginia Tech). Indeed, one of the best untold stories of success in women’s lacrosse this past spring was when James Delaney steered the University of Indianapolis to the NCAA Division II title. But three months later, the university parted ways with Delaney over rumored player abuse.

Given the cultural changes involving gender and abuse over the past five years, from #MeToo to the Bill Cosby trial to the systemic abuses in women’s soccer, Mager and every other male head coach in women’s lacrosse are facing different kinds of opponents from what they might have in the past. I wish them luck.

Oct. 15, 2022 — A legendary coach reaches another level

Yesterday, with a 5-0 win over William Paterson University, Sharon Pfluger, the head field hockey and women’s lacrosse coach at The College of New Jersey, won the 1200th collegiate game in what is already a legendary career.

Pfluger started off with coaching stints at Kean and Montclair State before moving to Hillwood Lakes in the fall of 1985. At Trenton State/College of New Jersey, she has amassed 20 NCAA Division III championships won on the field (one was later vacated because of an ineligible player).

She has done this through three principles.

One, she has rolled with the changes in the sport. Back when she started coaching, field hockey was a grass sport with cumbersome rules on substitution, restarts, circle penetration, and player movement. Lacrosse was a sport without an outer border, and one without a restraining line keeping only seven players per team in the attack zone.

Today, field hockey is a sports played chiefly on artificial turf or artificial grass, with a self-start and with no offside. Lacrosse now looks a lot like the men’s game, with free movement in dead-ball situations, a restraining line to keep seven players in the attack zone, and with such an emphasis on the center draw that some teams are employing specialists. Both now have free substitution.

Pfluger, throughout her 75 seasons as a head coach, has developed several habits which have led to the field hockey and lacrosse teams’ winning habits. The top habit is an insistence on fundamentals. Whenever you see a Lions team out on the field of play, they are fast and skilled, and they are difficult to get the ball off of.

Another habit is the family atmosphere she has built within not only the team, but amongst her alumnae. Whenever you go to a TCNJ game at the school’s Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex, even without the movable guardrail at the football stadium, you have the Railbirds, which usually comprise alums, some former team parents, and other long-time observers of the game. They pass out encouragement and cheers for the home side, and are an integral part of the team.

But what I also see in these TCNJ teams is a type of hyper-locality. The Lions have been able to get some pretty good Division I-caliber recruits who made the conscious choice to attend The College of New Jersey. I remember one lineup card from an NJSIAA playoff game involving Medford Lakes Shawnee — and that champion team’s first home, second home, and third home round up attending TCNJ. The Lions also were the first choice of the former leading scorer in NFHS field hockey history, Lexi Smith. Her mother, Gina Carey-Smith, was a Division I field hockey player at Ohio State who played both field hockey and lacrosse at TCNJ.

That has continued to the present day. Look at the present field hockey roster, and 23 players are from the Garden State. This includes a defensive midfielder named Kyleigh Pfluger — the daughter of the head coach.

It’s telling that, 50 years after Title IX, Pfluger is one of the last in America to coach both a field hockey and lacrosse varsity team as head coach. It’s been an era in which specialization has gone from the specialization of the student-athlete into one sport to specialization in coaching.

Which is why you’re probably never going to see coaching figures like Pfluger, Sharon Sarsen (1081 and counting), or Angela Tammaro (1446) ever again.

Oct. 9, 2022 — When the field hockey and lacrosse communities are capable of great evil

The release of a report by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, the night before a damning documentary on sexual and verbal abuse within the world of women’s and youth soccer, has cast a light on what is wrong within the world of amateur sports, the way coaches treat their players, and the fecklessness of the enforcement mechanisms for so-called “Safe Sport.”

One of the things I did after reading the report was to do a little research. On this blog, we’ve been documenting numerous instances when figures in field hockey and lacrosse run afoul of the law.

We have seen a bizarre kidnapping/murder case involving a girls’ high school lacrosse coach, a murder committed by a field hockey player during a street fight, a former field hockey writer driving to a motel seeking to meet a female teenager that turned out to be a federal agent, and a field hockey booster club officer who quietly ventured into the tournament promotion business, all while hiding a dark secret.

But for the purposes of what I was looking for, I was able to cobble together a list of names of people who, since I’ve been running this site, have been either arrested, charged, or administratively sanctioned on morals charges or for aiding and abetting the commission thereof.

As of Thursday afternoon, the list of people had grown to include 21 people. If you want to know who they are, I’ve talked about these individuals in one way or another since 2006, and you can use the search function in the fourth column of this blog.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t want to publish my list here. One is that many of these individuals have gone on with their lives after their brush with the law. Some have even gone back into teaching after having their licenses suspended, others are gainfully employed. A couple are in prison.

Another reason is that, frankly, the list of people in could grow. Over the course of 33 years of writing about field hockey and lacrosse, you hear stories of behaviors by people in charge, and some of them turn towards abuse. Some of these stories can be brushed off with the explanation, “That coach isn’t for everyone.”

In addition, scenarios unthinkable today occurred in eras when they weren’t thought to be wrong. Take, for instance, the scenario of British army officers teaching children field hockey in Walpole, Mass., giving the intramural teams porcine-related nicknamed (because of the way the players ran while trying to play the ball with their sticks). When I tell non-Massachusettsans that the colloquial nickname for the Walpole field hockey team is the Porkers, I get looks of incredulity.

Coaching behaviors of the past were unquestioned, all the way back to the days of Constance Applebee. The grande dame of American field hockey was a stern taskmistress during summer camps, and often yelled out epithets like, “You one-legged turnip!” or “Run, you dumb things.”

The stern, unsmiling coach was a trope for most of the 20th Century. It was through that the best coaches were the loudest, barking orders and some criticism of umpires from the sidelines, providing a soundtrack that drowned out any conversation amongst spectators.

The lines of authority were clear: the coach was the boss, the players had to do what the coach said. And in amateur sports like field hockey and lacrosse, that is clearly an imbalance of power, and was (and is) ripe for abuse.

As I mentioned earlier this week, SafeSport, the mechanism for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for reporting abuse by coaches, only scratches the surface when it comes to abuse. While I have a list of 21 field hockey figures, SafeSport’s list only mentions seven.

Now, in girls’ lacrosse, I have run into about eight accounts of abuse. There are, however, no entries in the SafeSport database for anyone involved in lacrosse.

And so, regrettably, it goes.

Sept. 29, 2022 — An enormous investment in four women’s sports … why not five?

It was announced that Athletes Unlimited, the promotion which gives women’s basketball, softball, lacrosse, and volleyball players a professional outlet in a unique choose-up format, is in receipt of some $30 million in venture capital from, amongst others, former U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero and current NBA star Kevin Durant.

Let me pull out the one fact from the previous sentence that you should pay attention to: $30 million.

Compare that to the reported $18 million in venture capital that was realized by the investors of the Premiere Lacrosse League, a traveling show of the men’s game which recently finished its third season.

This is pretty big coin.

And it is enough, I think, that it could be split not just four ways, but a potential five.

I’ll step on the soap box again and make the pronouncement: America is ready for an Athletes Unlimited field hockey league.

It would be the first organized professional league for the sport in the U.S. and would be a great, great outlet for postgraduate and/or masters players in a league which is player-centered.

Thing is, there is no excuse not to have the league somewhere in the footprint of the country with the game of field hockey. It could be held in the winter in locales like Chula Vista, Houston, or Moorpark. It could be held in the spring in temperate climate in places like Chicago, Louisville, or the nation’s capital. Or it could be held in the summer in Michigan or New England.

There are more than 100 water-based turfs across the United States, with most at U.S. colleges but also a few at U.S. high schools.

Now, I also recognize that sometime in the next year, the FIH standard for the waterless turf for the Paris Olympics is supposed to be made known, and that could prompts the people who run AU to go from water-based to waterless turf, given the fact that the major sponsor for AU Lacrosse last summer was an environmental firm.

I know that what I’ve been saying on this blog and out in public is repetitive. But the field hockey community has been begging for a professional league for years. Look at the number of people who signed up for the original Harrow Cup. There were dozens of players, from Division III standouts to local pickup players to athletes at the edge of the U.S. national team pool.

It’s time. #AUFieldHockeyNow!

Sept. 1, 2022 — The start of Year 25

It was 24 years ago when this venture began with a small Yahoo site, and it has ballooned to more than just a site; it’s now a web presence.

As always, give us a like and a share when you get onto our TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook presences. And if you look us up on those four accounts, you can find our Fearless 5ive for the three NCAA divisions as well as our scholastic preseason Top 10.

We saw a lot in the last year. We saw single-season goal-scoring records for field hockey (Ryleigh Heck, 125) and girls’ lacrosse (Fran Frieri, 200). We saw the final Tournament of Champions in both field hockey and lacrosse in the state of New Jersey, and we saw a recount for the championship of Athletes Unlimited lacrosse — a championship which might have been decided by a single point had Taylor Moreno not won a fan vote for third-place points for game MVP on the final matchday.

We’ve seen the benefits of good player development on the national scene, as the U.S. women’s lacrosse team won the 2022 World Cup on home soil. But we’ve also seen struggles with the field hockey team, as it saw the FIH World Cup go on without them, continuing an unprecedented qualification drought for world-level events.

In field hockey, we saw a number of new faces join up with the senior national team, like Heck, Olivia Bent-Cole, Josie Hollamon, Beth Yeager, and Ashley Sessa. In lacrosse, we saw the final games of stalwarts such as Taylor Cummings and Kayla Treanor.

The upcoming year is going to have Olympic qualifying for field hockey and presumably a final vote as to whether Lacrosse Sixes will be an Olympic sport in time for Los Angeles 2028.

In the colleges, North Carolina is entering into their respective field hockey and lacrosse seasons as favorites, but both Karen Shelton and Jenny Levy are being faced with the same problem: reminding a rosterful of star players that, despite the amount of talent that can be put on the pitch at any one time, that there is only one ball.

It’s been a time of transition over the last couple of years in girls’ lacrosse, as Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), the most dominant team of the 2010s, didn’t even make the semifinal of its own league championship. It’s known that Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the most dominant field hockey team of the last two decades, cannot win the Tournament of Champions. With a roster diminished by the graduation of record-setting players, you wouldn’t blame them for a blip in their form.

And yet, we still look forward to what the Vikings are going to do this fall because of the culture of positive peer pressure within the team. The same goes with McDonogh next spring because of up-and-coming players as well as the coaching of Taylor Cummings.

This is what makes these games great: the anticipation of greatness. May there be more greatness in the year to come.

August 25, 2022 — An additional competitor in a crowded field

When you look at a map of the U.S. marked with the locations of universities with women’s lacrosse teams, the additional programs which have been added the last 25 years have created a large wave which has spread out from the sport’s roots along the Northeast, and has resulted in funded women’s lacrosse in Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, and California.

Which makes one of the more recent universities seeking to start a women’s lacrosse program a bit of an outlier. Rider University is a former teachers’ college tucked into central New Jersey between a Princeton University which has won three NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse championship, and The College of New Jersey, which has won a record 12 Division III titles (a 13th, won in 1992, was vacated because of the use of an ineligible player).

As such, a Rider University women’s lacrosse program is starting on the back foot when it comes to tradition and success. And it’s hard to envision Rider, which will be playing out of a one-bid conference once it becomes a full member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, becoming an instant powerhouse on the level of an early 2000s Northwestern or an early 2010s Florida.

Then again, if the Rider folks make a great hire for a head coach, I think the possibilities are endless. There are enormously talented teams within a two-hour car trip from the New Jersey capital region, including the likes of Long Island, the Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, and, of course, the traditional hotbed comprising the eight-county South Jersey area.

I remember once that TCNJ’s entire front line came from Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.) and they helped the Lions to part of their purple patch in the 1990s when they rang up more than 100 consecutive victories between 1992 and 1997. And Shawnee also gave Princeton one of its all-time greats, Hollie McGarvie Reilly, who won two World Cups with the United States.

The choice of head coach for the new Rider program will give us an idea as to how aggressive the program is going to be at trying to be successful. I guess we’ll know when the first Rider players step on the pitch this time next year for fall-ball.

August 23, 2022 — Women’s sports making a break for over-the-air TV, but at what cost?

Today, it was announced that two major women’s athletic competitions were going to be showing their grand finals on not some out-of-the-way streaming service, but on network television.

Yep, that’s right — on the Big Four.

The National Women’s Soccer League will be hosting its championship game in prime time on CBS later this fall. This has occurred while most of the rest of the league’s contests have been shown on either Paramount Plus, or on Twitch.

Meanwhile, the NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship is moving from ESPN to parent network ABC for the first time. This, as other women’s championships like lacrosse and softball have been getting record ratings on various ESPN platforms.

There’s just one thing that concerns me, however. Both Paramount and Disney — the parent companies of these two major networks — have seen the reach and pull of the over-the-air network being driven down the last quarter-century, as there is a grappling between cable networks and streaming networks for the viewer dollar. The legacy over-the-air rabbit-ears networks are seen at little more than afterthoughts.

Want proof? Paramount has not shown a single episode of two of its most popular series — Picard and Discovery — on CBS, making fans of the Star Trek universe have to pony up to get the streaming service. Too, Disney is moving its most popular reality show, Dancing With The Stars, exclusively to Disney Plus, making fans of that show pay in order to watch.

So, what’s responsible for the NCAA and NWSL moving championship games to over-the-air TV? A lot of it is, of course, money. Ally, an insurance and banking company, became the sponsor of the 2022 final once it was known the game — and its commercials — would be on CBS.

When it comes to the NCAA, the move to ABC is coming right before a new series of contracts are being negotiated for collegiate sports which are not football and men’s basketball. Rumor has it that women’s basketball will be getting its own multimillion-dollar deal.

Now, with women’s hoops getting a standalone contract, what does that do for the rest of the NCAA sporting universe? What about events like the College World Series, or the Frozen Four? Or, even moreso, the event which set all kinds of records last spring, women’s lacrosse?

I couldn’t tell you what is going to happen to individual championship events. Indeed, I wonder if the playing field will go back to what it was before 2010, when individual networks had the right of first refusal for sports content.

It’s this kind of system which resulted in the women’s Frozen Four appearing suddenly on the Big Ten Network one year because there were multiple Big Ten teams in it. It also resulted in College Sports Television suddenly broadcasting the NCAA Division I men’s volleyball championship in 2003, the year Lewis University won the title but had to vacate because of numerous rules violations.

And there was also 2010, when ESPN, after largely ignoring women’s lacrosse, thought it necessary to broadcast Virginia’s first NCAA Tournament game in 2010 after the murder of Yeardley Love. The coverage did little to counter the perception of ESPN as tabloid sports media. No other first-round games were broadcast that year.

One can hope that the coverage of non-basketball and non-football events won’t go behind the proverbial paywall. But given what we’re seeing (or not seeing), I’m not so sure the next contract will be good for field hockey or women’s lacrosse.