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Archive for Lacrosse

April 3, 2021 — A game of runs, a season defined by runs

Lacrosse is a game which begins its action with a draw, a process designed to create a 50-50 ball in the midfield. As such lacrosse is very much a game of runs — phases of play where teams can score many consecutive goals.

In the last month, NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse has seen three of the most dominant phases of play we’ve seen in a third of a century observing the game.

On March 6, Boston College was playing even with a North Carolina team which was the consensus preseason No. 1 team. In the final 90 seconds of the first half, Charlotte North scored a goal to cut BC’s deficit to three. Seconds later, UNC got a penalty card and had to play short for two minutes.

Boston College did not score in the last minute of the first half, then lost the draw to open the second, which allowed UNC to bleed away the rest of the power play. North Carolina then went to work. In the first 11 minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels went on a 7-0 run that set off the running clock.

Last Monday, Northwestern played the second of a two-game series against the University of Maryland. The game came two days after Maryland yielded the most goals in a game since the varsity program began in 1974. Maryland, to its credit, made adjustments and played the Wildcats even in the first half.

Northwestern, however, scored a buzzer-beater to end the first half. The goal seemed to change both teams, because, over the next 15 minutes, the Wildcats scored 10 straight times. It was an 11-goal barrage which set off the running clock and led to an eventual 20-10 win.

Today, the ACC league match between Syracuse and North Carolina — a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game which had been anticipated for weeks — had a similar run. Though Syracuse had taken the initiative in the first few minutes of play, running out a 4-1 lead, North Carolina still had a senior-laden lineup supplemented by not only some otherworldly talented underclasswomen, but a defense which had to go against that offense every day in practice.

North Carolina, from the 20th minute to the 36th, outscored Syracuse 10-0. The Carolina defense held Syracuse to just two goals in the second half. That’s something which is completely unheard of in the possession-clock era of women’s lacrosse.

So, we’ve seen these three dominant runs — all amongst elite teams which were in the Top 15 of the national polls. These three runs rival what happened in the 2007 national semifinals when Virginia outscored Duke 10-0 to end the game. But remember: Duke was running a stall in the second half, taking the Blue Devils out of their rhythm. As a result, the perception was that the result was not a product of Virginia’s domination on the attack end, but more of Duke’s passivity.

What do you think about the three multi-goal runs in the NCAA in the last month? I have a Twitter poll up on this subject. If you’re on the microblogging site, feel free to add your two cents here.

April 2, 2021 — Preview: Syracuse vs. North Carolina

Tomorrow, the top two NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse teams meet up in what could be a signature game of the 2021 season. Here’s our fearless preview of the contest:

THE SIDES: Syracuse (6-0, 4-0 ACC); North Carolina (10-4, 4-0 ACC)

AT STAKE: In truth, not much except for the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Both of these teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in this game or how they play in the conference tournament.

But intrinsically, this could very well be a bellweather game to see how these players do under the pressure of an excellent opposition, a national cable audience, and knowing that the teams could meet three times … one regular season, once in the ACC Tournament, and once in the NCAA bracket.

WHEN SYRACUSE HAS THE BALL: Credit the Syracuse offense for sheltering the load evenly after the season-ending injury to attacker Emily Hawryschuk. The junior attackers Megan Carney and Meaghan Tyrrell have been splendid, with 42 goals between them.

Key defenders for the Tar Heels are going to be Caroline Wakefield, Emily Nalls, and Catie Woodruff. Watch also for Elizabeth Hillman and Emma Trenchard on the back end; these two defense wings are capable of swooping in and scoring.

WHEN NORTH CAROLINA HAS THE BALL: Jamie Ortega (43 goals) and Katie Hoeg (31 assists) are having championship-level seasons. Scottie-Rose Growney (27 goals) and Tayler Warehime (21) are equally good options. Trying to go against this high-level offense are Orange defenders Ella Simkins, Sarah Cooper, and Kerry Defliese.

I think the key is going to be if the Syracuse defense can cut the cord between Hoeg and Ortega. But as we’ve seen in the sport over the years, that is easier said than done.

KEY MATCHUP: I think the key matchup is going to be within the four players who collapse on draw controls after the centers pull back on the ball. Ella Simkins of Syracuse and Kerrigan Miller of UNC are going to be very busy in this regard. Keep track on how many ground-ball pickups are won in between the 35s rather than which of the two centers win the draws to each other.

THE X-FACTOR: Goaltending, which always seems to happen in high-level games. Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock, after having four sometimes shaky seasons, has gotten a lot more consistent this year. Check our her year-by-year save percentage numbers:

2017: ,412
2018: .438
2019; .420
2020: .481
2021: .536

In a sport where a 55 percent save percentage almost guarantees you a spot in the Hall of Fame, the improvement is remarkable.

On the other end of the pitch, UNC’s Taylor Moreno has always played at a high level, and, frankly, could have a Tewaaraton moment this game on the level of Megan Taylor during the 2019 title match.

THE SKINNY: Syracuse has played the No. 1 women’s team in the ILWCA polls 27 times since the program was started in the 1990s. The Orange, however, are only 2-25 in those games, including not only a 12-9 win over UNC in 2014, but also a 2012 NCAA semifinal match whose denouement, involving a pocket check, changed lacrosse forever. The incident led to the institution of the rule which requires that a goal-scorer drop her stick for an immediate pocket check by the umpiring crew.

North Carolina, as a team which is incredibly loaded on the attack end of the field, has been expected to be the 2021 champions. Because of this “championship or bust” perception, I think all of the pressure is on the UNC team. But I’ll remind you that Boston College played UNC tough earlier this season, but scored 11 straight goals in the 12 minutes surrounding halftime.

April 1, 2021 — Another new TV contract could connect field hockey and lacrosse

National and international television broadcasts for prominent games in both field hockey and lacrosse have been scattered across numerous streaming sites, web presences, and cable sports entities over the years.

But TopOfTheCircle.com has learned that a new player could be coming onto the scene after the expiration of some of the major contracts. That player is Nickelodeon, which saw boffo ratings for an NFL Wild Card game shown on the network in January.

Sources say that the acting talent on the network, including Gabrielle Greene, could be paired with prominent field hockey and lacrosse talent in the entertainment scene.

A list of enhancements and coverage elements has been drafted, including the following:

  • Penalty corners in field hockey and free positions in women’s lacrosse will have an insert of SpongeBob in the goal at the inception of the play.
  • Umpire penalty cards will have a “slime” element to them. A player getting a green card will also receive a virtual shot of green slime. Yellow and red cards will also have the requisite color of slime attached to the penalty.
  • Goal cages will have Hawkeye goal-decision technology built in so that the goalposts flash when the entire ball crosses over the goal line. The Hawkeye system can detect a flying object traveling at more than 150 miles an hour, as it has been tested in the world of tennis and soccer.
  • When a goal is scored, the goalposts not only will flash, but virtual cannons at the corners of the pitch will pump out confetti which will not have to be swept off the playing surface.

None of the game enhancements, except for the goal-decision technology, will be visible to live viewers, a feature which has caught the attention of some world governing body decision-makers.

“Having a broadcast partner with such a wealth of experience in reaching youths would be an absolute winner,” said FIH broadcast chair Avril Folle. “I mean, in hockey especially, we’ve been relying on the referral system, but can a camera see through a goalie pad to see if the ball crossed the line?”

“I thought we’d go for a while without technology interfering with the game,” said World Lacrosse electronic media coordinator Nalaka Araw. “But the NCAA game a few years ago between Florida and Penn State, involving the ball hitting the crossbar and dropping nearly straight down, was a harbinger of things to come. This year, if you notice, there have been some phantom goals scored when the ball hits the upper part of the netting and drops down. Though we have three umpires out there, it’s hard to be absolutely sure of the goal.”

Owing to complications with contract negotiations, the earliest we may hear something definitive is April 1, 2022.

March 29, 2021 — A great lacrosse builder steps down

This morning, it was announced that Steve Stenerson, the chief executive officer of U.S. Lacrosse, will be stepping down after some four decades of leadership within the game. Starting as the executive director of The Lacrosse Foundation in 1984, he was named CEO of U.S. Lacrosse when a consortium of eight national lacrosse organizations formed what is now the national governing body of the sport.

That formation occurred in the first year of this website, 1998. Since then the growth of the game in America has been nothing short of amazing if you look at any metric. The sport went from roughly 1,100 girls’ varsity teams to more than 3,200 today. The overall budget has grown 22-fold since the consolidation of the several organizations which sought to build the game.

Since U.S. Lacrosse came along, five professional field lacrosse leagues — two on the men’s side, three for the women — have formed. The U.S. Lacrosse museum and headquarters moved from a building on a postage-stamp lot of land next to Homewood Field in Baltimore to a large suburban facility out along I-81 in Sparks, Md. In addition, lacrosse is poising itself to become an Olympic sport as early as Los Angeles 2028.

Not everything about the Stenerson Era of leadership has been overwhelmingly positive. Though the expansion of the sport at the youth and scholastic levels have been positive, the follow-on by the NCAA has been very resistant. In Division I, only two men’s programs exist west of the Mississippi river — Utah and the Air Force Academy.

But the regrettable failure of the growth of the game over the last four decades is that the game has become a rich parent’s sport — and one which is overwhelmingly white.

Read this devastating op-ed penned by two members of the women’s lacrosse team at the University of the South. The school underwent a major scandal a couple of weekends ago when a bunch of rowdy undergraduates shouted verbal and racial epithets at the visiting team from Emmanuel College.

These words are a challenge and a mandate for whoever is the next CEO of the organization. It should be posted in the executive office.

March 27, 2021 — Northwestern returns in kind

The last time the University of Maryland and Northwestern met on a women’s lacrosse pitch was the 2019 national semifinal in Baltimore. On that occasion, the Wildcats suffered a difficult defeat, losing 25-13.

This afternoon, Northwestern made its own history in a 25-12 defeat of Maryland in the first of a two-game series in the Big Ten Conference.

The historical marker was this: the 25 goals for the Wildcats represented the largest total ever conceded by a Maryland women’s team since becoming a varsity team in 1972.

Of course, we have to add some context to this. Today’s contest was held under radically different rules from when Maryland allowed 19 goals to Ursinus in 1976. Back then, all the sticks were made of wood, there were no hard boundaries or 35-yard lines, and there was no possession clock.

Indeed, it’s notable that since the institution of the 90-second clock, scoring has trended upward, with only rare occurrence of winning teams in the single digits.

All you have to do is scan the scores for Maryland during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In the 2016 varsity season, no game in which the Maryland women played had the losing team in double digits. This includes the NCAA final won by North Carolina 13-7.

But the next season, with the stall out of play, Maryland allowed double-digit scores in 11 out of 23 games — and still won the national championship. In 2018, that number rose to 13, and in 2019, that number dropped to eight, but that was the year goalie Megan Taylor won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate player.

Maryland can’t brood on this result for very long: the team has a rematch Monday against Northwestern in a game scheduled for a national cable broadcast.

March 26, 2021 — Social media as a creative process

Some of you may remember what I did with this site when Leroy Nieman, the sports artist, died nine years ago. For 10 days, I changed the colorway of the logo in the header of this site to honor his splashy, colorful artistic style.

Well, as many of you know from being long-time users of this site, one of my favorite artists is Andy Warhol, who would make studies of multiple images in different colors. If you’ve seen any of my “unfiltered” commentaries on our Instagram account, you’ll notice that the backdrop we use is full of different treatments of this site’s logo.

Most of these images have one thing in common: they have been created on, of all places, my phone. The Apple App Store has a number of free or low-cost photo or image applications with names like Olli, MegaPhoto, HipsterCam, and Hyperspektiv, and they can turn pictures and videos of objects, landscapes, and people into remarkable pieces of art.

When we started posting on TikTok, we knew we didn’t have the kind of content that would normally attract viewers. I’m not one for doing small stunts or lip-syncing to songs I barely know. But we do have our logo and a bunch of different still and video filters.

I’ve been having fun mixing up still and video effects for TikTok — adding a color here, an overlay there, posterizing, rasterizing, and then, at the end, adding a musical track.

I’ve also been occasionally taking video from my screen and adding it in there to point you in the direction of an issue or an event that we’ve not covered in the blog.

All this has gotten me, oddly enough, an outsized number of likes and views per day. I mean, it’s just a logo, right?

March 25, 2021 — In amongst the moving pieces, one interesting bit

Between now and early May, the worlds of domestic field hockey and lacrosse intersect as never before.

You have seven states (and maybe the District of Columbia) playing scholastic field hockey, alongside all three NCAA Divisions, although only Division I will have a national championship tournament.

Women’s lacrosse has all three divisions going apace, with national finals set for Salem, Va. in Divisions II and III, while Division I will be in Towson, Md. At the same time, girls’ high-school lacrosse has already started in many locales, although some places, chiefly in the Northeast U.S., are delaying their start until April, with Massachusetts scheduling the end of its season in July.

Now, when it comes to field hockey and women’s lacrosse, there used to be a lot of overlap between the two sports — players, coaches, and even uniforms. Until about 1990, you could line up team photos of the field hockey and girls’/women’s lacrosse team at the same school, college, or university and see the same players, same coaches, the same kilts or pinafores. The only differences would be shinguards for field hockey and the sticks used by the teams.

Of course, this is to be expected, as both games are of the stick-and-ball variety which involve a five-ounce ball — albeit one is rubber and one is plastic. Tactics and training are relatively similar, with each coach and player having to mind some archaic rules which were drawn up some 100 years ago.

Today, however, it is rare to see crossover in the two athletic pursuits. Coaches and players are demanding — and getting — specialized uniforms for each sport. No longer do you see the field hockey coach of the lacrosse team serving as assistant to the field hockey team. And the crossover between teams is much less than it used to be. For all of the success that, for example, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) had in both sports in 2019, there was little to no crossover between the two sides, despite the fact that the upper-school population is just north of 325 students.

But one figure has had her foot in both coaching boxes for the last three and a half decades. Sharon Pfluger, the Hall of Fame coach of The College of New Jersey, has experienced 71 Opening Days, and has had more than 1,100 wins in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse.

Only this spring, she’s only coaching one of them. The College of New Jersey is not playing field hockey this fall, and only five members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference are playing during an abbreviated spring season, which is not culminating in a national championship in Division III.

On the other hand, the Division III powers-that-be are planning on holding a women’s lacrosse national championship event this spring in Salem, Va., alongside their Division II sisters. As such, you can’t blame TCNJ for going full-bore to play women’s lacrosse this spring, as a national championship awaits.

March 23, 2021 — Monthly lacrosse top 10 for games played through March 20

Well, for the first time in more than two years, we’re assembling a national Top 10 for girls’ scholastic lacrosse across America.

Usually, we try to do this sort of thing every week, but because we are focusing on two sports this spring, our monthly lacrosse Top 10 will occur the third Tuesday of every month until the domestic season ends, which won’t be until late June this year.

This is a very difficult list to try to toss together because we don’t have data for most teams from last year since most teams never even stepped onto the field for an actual game. Too, the 2021 season is shortened and won’t have the usual selection of interstate games because of travel and competition restrictions.

What you see below is probably as effective as throwing darts blindly at a target, but we hope to be able to do some better-researched Top 10s later in the season.

Our honorary No. 11 Team of the Week is a side which I have had my eye on for some time: the University of Indianapolis. The Greyhounds have been in the conversation within Division II circles for the last couple of years, and I think they would have been a strong bracketbuster in the national tournament last year before the worldwide pandemic. This, friends, is a team to watch. They play a solid and athletic game of lacrosse and could surprise some people.

1. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 2-0
Though the Eagles won’t play their usual out-of-state matchups this year, the competition within the IAAM will be more than formidable, including the fact that two out of the next three games are against Northern Parkway rivals Bryn Mawr and Roland Park

2. Northport (N.Y.) 0-0
Defending state champions have waited nearly two years to start back up, and have sophomore Kaylie Mackiewicz, who will be counted on to pace the team once the season begins

3. Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 10-0
Ashley Thurston has been a draw-winning machine; Highlanders have mercy-ruled seven opponents on the season

4. Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.) 1-0
A loaded side should be more than a match for McDonogh when they meet in April

5. Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) 0-0
Seahawks going for third straight state title with a good roster and a positive history

6. Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) 0-0
How will the Royals do after the surprise departure of head coach Rachel Lasda last year? They still have respected players on their roster

7. Darien (Conn.) 0-0
Want to build from the goal out? The Wave have BC-bound Shea Dolce, who has had success on the national and international levels

8. Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 0-0
This team should be running out of the traps when their season begin; Churchwomen led by senior Madison Vetterlein

9. Sykesville Century (Md.) 0-0
Demma Hall is a true leader for this side, which could very well replicated its championship success of 2017

10. Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) 13-0
Gibbons met East Chapel Hill (N.C.) last night in the third round of the NCHSAA tournament

11. University of Indianapolis 5-0
UIndy was able to beat its first four opponents via the running clock, then bested Grand Valley State 9-7 on Sunday.

March 20, 2021 — The Final Third, Neapolitan edition

Please join our Facebook Live presence this afternoon from about 11:55 a.m. for a panoply of women’s lacrosse games from all three NCAA divisions.

We call it The Final Third, and we call this one The Neapolitan Edition because we’ll have three layers’ worth of coverage, including who we thin are going to be viable contenders for each divisional championship. Come and join us, won’t you?

March 15, 2021 — An unprecedented response to a shameful incident

The University of the South, commonly known as Sewanee, is an evolving series of contradictions. It is a university with gothic stone buildings smack in the middle of the American countryside. It is a place of great academic and artistic endeavor in an area of the state which is rated in the bottom 50 percent of the state when it comes to reading and math scores.

It is a religious school, but its chapel had a window with the seal of the Confederate States of America. Too, a mace commissioned in the 1960s to be used in academic ceremonies features the Confederate battle flag.

Saturday, a men’s lacrosse game was played between the host Sewanee Tigers and Emmanuel College. According to reports on social media, a group of some 130 undergraduates attended the game and started heckling the opposing team because of the color of the skin of some of them.

The game officials did something that I’ve never heard of before: they ejected the group of students.

Today, a campuswide walkout was organized at Sewanee, just hours after the athletics department released an official statement condemning the incident:

The Sewanee Athletics Department condemns the behavior of those who attended Saturday’s men’s lacrosse game against Emmanuel College and hurled racist epithets at opposing players. We have joined Vice-Chancellor Brigety and our lacrosse coaches and student-athletes in personally conveying our apologies to Emmanuel College and its student-athletes, staff, and coaches. We encourage anyone who knows who was responsible for Saturday’s incident to inform the University […] We have reported this incident to the Southern Athletic Association; moreover, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of our game management protocols and will be implementing changes wherever necessary to prevent such incidents in the future. This behavior does not reflect the values of our University and our athletics department, and it will not be tolerated at Sewanee. 

It’s not surprising that racism has been bubbling under the surface of our society, sometimes coming out in the open through incidents recorded on cell phone cameras. Indeed, it’s America’s original sin, over which the entire nation went to war in the early 1860s over the privilege of agrarian interests to be able to own other people.

But I’m amazed that, after all that has happened in the last year, with nationwide protests during the summer of 2020, that a group of undergraduates at Sewanee thought it important enough to show up at a lacrosse game to heckle members of an opposing team to make political points.

Frankly, it’s the dumbest thing that this group of people can do. I hope the university throws the book at them.