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Archive for Lacrosse

Sept. 3, 2019 — A pair of departures from an unusual place

Judy Baxter and Beth Patterson are two of the best scholastic coaches you probably have never heard of. That is, unless you ran into Eden Prairie (Minn.) on a lacrosse pitch.

Two decades ago, these two women started a lacrosse program in suburban Minneapolis, and it has burgeoned and grown in the years since. These coaches singlehandedly ignited the sport to where it is today: a sanctioned sport by the state governing body of scholastic sports, with nine state titles and 16 appearances in the state title game.

Last week, they announced that they would be stepping away from the program they birthed and nurtured for 20 years.

Baxter’s coaching and playing resumes are particularly remarkable. As Judy Turner, she was a stalwart at Lehigh University, first as a player, then as a coach for both the field hockey and lacrosse teams. She somehow found a way to be part of the U.S. women’s national team pool, and was one of the last cuts from the 1980 Olympic Team, which didn’t play in Moscow because of the Western boycott.

And back in 2003, Baxter returned to Lehigh to coach the varsity team, even as she and Patterson were coaching the Eden Prairie club program.

Now, it seems, both will be turning their attention to their boys, who also play lacrosse in Minnesota. Somehow, I think they’ll be well-prepared every game, just like the girls’ teams over the years.

Sept. 2, 2019 — A bit of a memoir on Year 22

This week begins our 22nd year of this site, one which tries to bring context, perspective, and a bit of controversy in the field hockey and lacrosse communities nationwide.

Today, I want to expand on what we posted on Instagram last Saturday, when we talked about The College of New Jersey’s head coach, Sharon Pfluger.

To me, she’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any level, for any sport. But it is not just because of the championships, the number of wins, the number of seasons she has coached, or the number of All-Americans she has coached.

The reason for her greatness, I think, is the fact that she has maintained a consistent excellence in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse as both games have changed radically over the last three and a half decades.

If you find a VHS tape of a women’s lacrosse or field hockey game from the early 1980s, when Pfluger started her coaching career, you might not recognize either sport.

In lacrosse, you won’t see a possession clock, and the field won’t have a hard boundary. The players all have traditional mulberry sticks, and there are no restraining lines. In addition, you don’t have the additional spot at the goal line where some behind-the-cage fouls are restarted, and you don’t have the hashmark halfway down the fan to keep defenders from taking space close to goal on free position shots.

In field hockey, the obstruction rule is tightly called, the game is almost invariably played on grass, goalies are wearing cane leggings and leather kickers fit over soccer shoes, and the offside rule is in force.

And you won’t find a self-start anywhere.

It’s almost like Pfluger has coached upwards of six different sports in her 70 seasons at The College of New Jersey. You can argue that these six sports represented different eras of the game:

  • Women’s lacrosse Unbounded Era (1923-1997): No boundary, no restraining lines, and teams would customarily bring forward seven, maybe eight attackers into the attack, sometimes sending the third man on a delayed basis in order to create an unbalanced situation
  • Women’s lacrosse 7-v-7 Era (1998-2016): The restraining line and hard boundaries are introduced to make it more like the men’s game, plus the addition of the offset stick makes passing and shooting quicker and more accurate than ever before
  • Women’s lacrosse Go Era (2016 to present): The 90-second possession clock, the self-start, and free movement make the game one of speed rather than tactics and possession
  • Field hockey Grass Era (1901-1994): Goalies with cane leg guards and leather kickers, conservative interpretation of what constitutes obstruction, and wooden sticks
  • Field hockey Turf Era (1995-2015): The introduction of water-based turf at almost every Division I university as well as the elimination of offside forces many changes in tactics, including getting goalkeepers to wear foam pads to create deep rebounds. It was also during this time when the aluminum field hockey stick was first introduced, and there were also some interestingly-shaped sticks for goalkeepers and for drag-flickers
  • Field hockey Go Era (2016-present): The self-start, space-age composite sticks, changes in the long-hit rule (moving from a hashmark near the corner flag to the 23-meter stripe), as well as the widespread availability of rubber-infill turf turns the game into a speed game

The changes in both field hockey and lacrosse are so much more radical than those of other U.S. college sports. It can spawn thought experiments as to how well, for example, Paul “Bear” Bryant would have done coaching against football teams running the jet sweep. Or how well Henry Iba would have done coaching basketball with a shot clock and a three-point line.

Aug. 23, 2019 — The next college sport network, trying to find its niche

Last night, at 7 p.m. Eastern, the ACC Network signed on.

The ESPN-backed network has been seen as a revenue stream for the schools that make up the Atlantic Coast Conference, and as a way to compete with other major conferences with sports networks such as the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Since most ACC schools have only started practice recently, there’s precious little in the way of actual games to be broadcast. And what does a network like that do? Well, it starts off with a football talk show and a “cinema verite” documentary on a critical juncture in the career of Mike Krzyzewski’s career, when he was able to piece together a championship team with the likes of Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, and Jay Bilas.

Looking ahead on our digital TV provider, it looks like the first game to be broadcast is in about three or four days, a women’s soccer game.

But I wonder, given ESPN’s penchant for obfuscating and marginalizing women’s sports on its major network, if the ACC Network is committed to women’s athletics, including field hockey and women’s lacrosse. These are two sports that the ACC is very good at, and almost swept both titles in the last academic year.

Too, the ACC is going to be showing off incredible, dynamic women athletes such as Erin Matson and Charlotte De Vries in field hockey, and Caitlyn Wurzburger and Izzy Smith in women’s lacrosse. And I hope the network is able to showcase these fine players and their teams in a better format than before.

Given the fact that the network is only having three conference field hockey games shown on the network this year, it is not a promising start.

Aug. 10, 2019 — U19 World Cup: USA 13, Canada 3

The U.S. Under-19 women’s lacrosse team has been so good, so devastating through pool play and knockout play that it was hard imagining anything — or anyone — stopping it. It was as unstoppable as an express train at full momentum, scoring 20 goals in three straight matches, winning all but one 15-minute quarter, and never falling behind in any match.

Turns out, early in the championship final of the U19 World Cup, that the only thing that could stop the States was the weather. After the Americans took a 3-0 lead at quarter-time, heavy wind and rain came over the pitch in Peterborough, Ontario, whereupon the Americans yielded two quick goals to Kylea Dobson and Annabel Child. The pro-Canada crowd went berserk; could the defending champions reverse a 13-5 result from a scant six days earlier?

In stepped the Americans’ talisman this tournament, Izzy Scane. The Northwestern freshman pumped in two goals 2:01 apart to fuel the U.S. Express, which kept on rolling to the tune of nine straight goals over the next three periods, winning the game and the gold medal 13-3. Not even a second yellow to Kasey Choma could dampen the States’ attack, as the incisive American attack kept on solving the Canadian defense.

Leah Holmes stamped her authority on this match with four goals to lead the Stars and Stripes. But tellingly for the American side, all six assists were recorded in the 30th minute or later; Canada was paying for its inability to defend against cross-fan skip pass in the second term, where the Leafs had been bailed out by its fine goaltender Cassidy Eckert.

Canada also tried a number of tactics to thwart Maddie Jenner in the draw circle, putting one and sometimes two players on her on the catch, and redefending like wolves trying to keep the ball from entering the attack zone. That tactic worked for a while thanks to Canada center Jordyn Sabourin, the product of Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.). Yep, the one player who knew best about Jenner through their time in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.

But through the second and third quarter, the U.S. Express left the station and wouldn’t be stopped. Caitlin Wurzburger had a goal and two assists during the American barrage. Wurzburger, a rising senior in high school, led the U.S. in scoring in this tournament with 21 goals and 19 assists. Strikingly, she had her 21 goals on just 25 shot attempts, shooting 84 percent from the field: an unheard-of percentage at this level.

 

 

Aug, 9, 2019 — U19 World Cup: USA 21, Australia 6

You could excuse the United States U19 women’s lacrosse team for taking their foot off the gas pedal a little bit.

After their three pool matches, including a 12-4 opener over Australia, the States won their next two games by a combined score of 51-0.

The American prowess, dominance, and overall mastery of the game has been building, and building, and building since the team touched down in Ontario. Last night in the U19 World Cup semifinals, the Stars and Stripes laid down a terrifying 21-6 defeat of Australia, almost doubling their scoring output from their pool-play matchup.

Once again, the story revolved around draw-takers Maddie Jenner and Bri Gross, and Izzy Scane, Caitlyn Wurzburger, and Belle Smith, all of whom have been awesome in this championship.

The Americans have a game to go to reach their ultimate goal of a world championship. For that to occur, the States will have to face a Canadian side which are not only the hosts, but the current champions. Canada, oddly enough, is the only team that has beaten the United States in any quarter of the six games its has played. In pool play, Canada edged the Americans 2-1 in the fourth stanza.

Canada is going to need that, and more, in order to win tomorrow.

Aug. 8, 2019 — U19 World Cup: USA 26, Wales 0

The U.S. U-19 women’s World Cup team delivered its second straight clean sheet of the knockout round, overwhelming Wales 26-0. Aside from the number of goals scored, there is one segment that shows the dominance of the U.S. side and the gulf in talent between itself and everyone else.

With under five seconds left to go in the first half, Maddie Jenner trotted out from the scorer’s table to the center stripe to take a draw. It was not the most consequential moment of the game; the States were ahead 14-0. But Jenner went to work as if it was a tie game in the final minute. She won the draw to herself, popping the ball over her right shoulder and catching it with one hand like she has done so many times in her life.

After the halftime interval, the teams lined up to begin the second half. Once again, Jenner trotted out from the shadow of the scorer’s table to take the draw. And when the whistle blew, she again wrested the ball from control of the Welsh center, popiing the ball over her right shoulder, catching it with one hand.

Jenner’s draw-control prowess has been well known in the U.S. lacrosse community since she was a high-school star at Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.). But what she has been doing at the U19 World Cup is at another level. She won just about every draw in the first half as the States staked themselves out to a lead that would never be touched.

Jenner’s not yet a sophomore in college, but in this oeuvre, she could easily be compared to someone like Trevor Baptiste in the men’s game, a draw specialist whose prowess can change games and even flip the prospects of a team like Duke, which has not made the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons.

And I wouldn’t bet against that happening.

 

Aug. 7, 2019 — U19 World Cup: USA 25, Hong Kong 0

In the opening round of the knockout phase of the 2019 FIL U-19 Women’s World Cup, the supporters of Hong Kong brought inflatable ThunderStix to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

The U.S. U-19 women’s lacrosse team, however, brought thunder in their lacrosse sticks.

Scoring from the first minute on, the Americans built an 8-0 first-half lead on the way to what has to be a record of some kind for a lopsided win, a 25-0 win over a Hong Kong side that had qualified for the bracket through its performance in one of the lower brackets in this tournament.

Leah Holmes had five goals for the U.S. team and Caitlyn Wurzburger added four. The Americans will play Wales, a 12-10 win over the Czech Republic, in today’s quarterfinal round.