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Archive for Lacrosse

June 17, 2021 — Striking a balance

If there’s one major trend when it comes to the expansion of collegiate women’s lacrosse at the Division I level the last couple of decades, it’s the fact that many of the newer schools — Arizona State, Oregon, Southern California, Florida, Louisville, Cincinnati, Michigan, and Colorado among them — spend an awful lot of their athletics budget on football. Lacrosse is an easy sport to add, logic dictates, to create a Title IX balance.

So, I find it interesting that a football school from the Atlantic Coast Conference — a conference that has had a representative in the Division I women’s lacrosse title game the last eight times of asking — announced its intention to field a women’s lacrosse team.

But the school isn’t Miami, which had set off a seismic quake in the collegiate universe when an announcement — since rescinded — was made in 2004 for a 2007 start.

Instead, it is Clemson, a school which has been in the top four each of the last six years in football.

Of course, the top question on everyone’s mind in the lacrosse community is the degree to which the school will devote resources to the team in order to help them succeed.

And the thing about Clemson is that it is located in the heart of Southern scholastic lacrosse excellence. The school can attract players from top programs such as Milton (Ga.), Delray American Heritage (Fla.), and Myers Park (N.C.) as well as state Class AAAA champion Daniel Island Bishop England (S.C.).

Now, the first thing that the athletic department has to do is to find a coach. And given the coaching moves around Division I since Memorial Day Weekend, I’ll be interested to see just who is chosen to navigate this nascent program.

June 16, 2021 — The medicine game ascends again at Salmon River

Five years ago, the documentary “Keepers of the Game” made its debut in repertory theater across the United States. The story surrounded the girls’ lacrosse team at Fort Covington Salmon River (N.Y.) as it progressed through the NYSPHSAA state tournament, ultimately losing out to Skaneateles (N.Y.) in the regionals back in 2015.

Since that year, Salmon River, located on the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory straddling the U.S.-Canada border, has been an annual contender for Section X and state tournament championships. All the while, the team has been battling financial and cultural obstacles to play a game seen as being reserved for men and boys.

The latest triumph for Salmon River was yesterday’s 21-1 win over Potsdam (N.Y.) in the sectional semifinal round, bringing the Shamrocks’ record to 21-1 on the season.

With the win, Salmon River will have a chance to end its season with a championship tomorrow against Canton (N.Y.). That’s because New York decided to cancel state tournament play and teams are only playing towards sectional championships.

Salmon River High School will have a chance to do a gender double tomorrow as both the girls’ and boys’ lacrosse teams are scheduled for the Section X final tomorrow afternoon.

Should be an interesting doubleheader to watch.

June 14, 2021 — A seismic shift

Remember this?

Well, in the last few days, this subhead appeared on the social media account of the leading field hockey goal scorer in the National Federation, someone who just happens to be the Big Ten Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year:

After two award-winning seasons at Ohio State, Mackenzie Allessie has chosen to change college teams and has transferred to Penn State.

Penn State’s athletic department confirmed this development with a story today naming Allessie and former Camp Hill (Pa.) and Virginia player Gery Schnarrs as those coming through the transfer portal. They join a star-studded team including leading scorer Sophia Gladieux, who, like Allessie, has scored more than 200 goals in a scholastic field hockey career.

When you look at recent history, there are plenty of transfer stories in field hockey and lacrosse. Austyn Cuneo transferred from North Carolina to Rutgers after just two years. Caitlyn Wurzburger decomitted from Syracuse women’s lacrosse team and committed to North Carolina while still in high school. And, of course, there’s current Tewaaraton Award winner Charlotte North, who transferred from Duke to Boston College and won an NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse title this year.

As I mentioned in the blog entry two weeks ago, student-athletes have made the term “transfer portal” part of the ordinary discourse of college sports in the last few years, especially when you have had a global pandemic which has given players an extra “Covid” year of eligibility.

And so it continues.

June 13, 2021 — Championship courage

With 2:25 to go in yesterday’s Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Committee Class L championship game, and with Guilford (Conn.) leading Redding Joel Barlow (Conn.) 10-9, a Barlow player raced to the edge of the 8-meter fan and was checked. A long, loud whistle sounded, and one of the three umpires made the signal to the scorer’s table to halt the clock to not only set the players for a free position, but to assess a yellow card.

Maddie Epke, the fine midfielder for Guilford, was sent to the penalty bench. It was her first yellow card, but it was Guilford’s fourth team yellow. By rule, the Guilford team would have to play short for the rest of regulation and any overtime which ensued.

Barlow scored to the the game at 10-10, which set up a near-crisis scenario for Guilford. Epke, who would normally take the draws as the team’s center, was off for two minutes. Someone else would have to win the draw.

Fortunately, the rules stipulate that three players remain in the center of the park when a draw was being taken. Guilford’s Hannah Tillier was able to take the draw and win it to Lorelei King.

Despite playing shorthanded in the offensive end of the field, Guilford was able to solve the Barlow defense and get the ball to M.J. Santa Barbara for a goal with 1:06 remaining in regulation, which was good enough for an 11-10 win.

The win didn’t come without further peril: Tillier would lose the next draw and Barlow got the ball to the attack zone on the power play. In that final minute, Barlow managed to get off a good shot from within eight meters, but it rang off the goalpost in the dying seconds.

Now, it’s situations like this which point out the disconnect between National Federation and NCAA rules. In college, a fourth team yellow results in a two-minute nonreleaseable penalty, after which teams return to full strength.

Perhaps the NFHS can revisit this wrinkle in the rules one day.

June 12, 2021 — How a Championship Saturday could be a preview of the fall

Today, a number of states including Connecticut, Michigan, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey crown girls’ lacrosse champions. The teams playing these championship games have come through the usual brackets as designed by the state governing bodies of their respective sports.

But in New Jersey, the girls’ lacrosse bracket has had a pair of different formats since going away from a single state champion in the early 2000s. This season, as has been the case in many seasons past, each of the group classifications has two sectional brackets; one for the northern half of the state, one for the south.

In field hockey, however, there have been four sectional brackets in each classification: North I, North II, Central, and South.

But a couple of days ago, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to restructure field hockey’s state tournament, which may see each of the state’s classifications go to just two sectional brackets in each: one for the north, one for the south.

Now, we don’t know precisely what the field hockey committee has in mind, but I would envision five classifications, including a single Non-Public tournament (lacrosse has a Non-Public A and a Non-Public B).

Then again, perhaps the realignment may be more geographical in nature; we’ve seen situations where a school listed as a Central Jersey team in soccer, football, and basketball might wind up be in North II for field hockey.

I’ll be interested to see the results of the field hockey realignment. Meanwhile, enjoy the lacrosse finals today.

June 10, 2021 — What USA Field Hockey can learn from a USA Lacrosse broadcast

This evening, on the boutique Lacrosse Sports Network, a broadcast from Sparks, Md., originally billed as an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. women’s national lacrosse team during its training camp turned into something else.

The “Behind The Dream” broadcast was, in essence, a telethon (without the telephones, mind you). The show featured interviews with U.S. candidate players like Taylor Cummings, Charlotte North, Marie McCool, and Izzy Scane, as well as figures within USA Lacrosse such as assistant coach Joe Spallina. The action on the pitch was secondary; there was no play-by-play of what was going on; the broadcast was heavy on the fundraising end.

The show raised about $14,000 in the first hour, with another 19 days left in the fundraising period.

This is something that USA Field Hockey has never done. They have fundraised with silent auction and with golf tournaments. But they’ve never put a fundraiser on TV, either cable or streaming, to reach a wider audience.

Too, I picked up on something that USA Lacrosse chair Sol Kumin said during his sideline interview. He said, “Our national team is our most valuable asset.”

That is something you do not hear from the people who run field hockey in this country. Instead, it seems to me as though the asset given the greatest priority are the players from 17 to 22 years of age who matriculate from the Futures and/or Nex-US program into the high-performance pool.

Once these players leave college, they can either be on the U.S. women’s national roster, or they will drift off into the world of coaching or the working world, never to return. There is no post-graduate national field hockey league for potential national team players or Olympic hopefuls.

Perhaps a little fundraising, or outreach to organizations to Athletes Unlimited, is in order here.

June 9, 2021 — La Dolce vita

This year, New Canaan (Conn.) has been a girls’ lacrosse team which has had to go through a lot to even be able to play this year. The team had to overcome a positive test within the team which necessitated the postponement of its season opener until the last 10 days of April.

But the Rams won 20 consecutive matches, including three over its league and state rival, Darien (Conn.). The teams met twice in their league and once for the FCIAC title. But in yesterday’s CASCIAC Class L state semifinal against Darien, the close defense of Kate and Maggie Bellissimo, Nelle Kniffin, and Kaci Benoit in front of goaltender Shea Dolce.

Dolce, an physically imposing goalie who is headed to NCAA champion Boston College once she graduates next year, had six stops. But her defense was just as impressive in haranguing and imposing their will on New Canaan’s front seven. There was a phase of play spanning four minutes in the first half when the Rams had the ball, but could not put a shot on frame because of the defense.

And all this, remember, without a 90-second possession clock to aid the defense.

“We were so prepared for this game,” Dolce tells The Stamford Advocate. “It stinks losing to a team as talented as New Canaan three times, but this whole season we’ve been waiting for this moment. We owe it all to the coaches. They’ve been pushing us so hard in practice and we earned it today.”

Darien advances to Satuday’s Class L final against Fairfield Ludlowe (Conn.). The Wave have won the last 10 times they have played in a CIAC title match.

BULLETIN: June 8, 2021 — The single-season goals record has fallen

With a 12-goal performance in an Iillinois High School Association playoff game, Francesca Frieri of Lockport (Ill.) Township has broken the existing national record for girls’ lacrosse goals in a single season. She now has 176 goals this season, six more than the 170 goals that Sophia Turchetta scored in 2014.

Frieri has more than 300 goals in only two seasons of play, because her sophomore season at Lockport was never played because of the world-wide pandemic. Frieri, a junior, is committed to Notre Dame for her college career.

Lockport plays its next game Wednesday against Orland Park Carl Sandburg (Ill.) in the sectional semifinal round.

June 7, 2021 — Unwilling to admit a mistake

In this COVID year like no other, there was one region of the country which embarked on some radical rules changes for scholastic sports.

It’s not unusual for Massachusetts to make news when it comes to school sports rules changes, sometimes with unintended consequences. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association mandated helmets in girls’ scholastic lacrosse in the mid-1990s, a move which resulted in less-skilled defensive play and the unwillingness of some college coaches to recruit within the Commonwealth.

The MIAA also had a rule for field hockey which was meant to prompt the goalkeeper to play any ball heading into the circle instead of letting a ball from outside the circle to go into the goal. But that had the unintended consequence of taking the striking circle out of the equation when it came to strategy and tactics.

Radical rules changes were instituted by the MIAA in many sports over the 2020-21 academic year, which put Massachusetts student-athletes in the position of playing a radically different sport from neighboring states, sometimes putting them at a competitive disadvantage. In field hockey, the sport went from its usual 11-on-11 format to a 7-on-7 format.

And one major rules change resulted in half of the state playing the fall under a different set of penalty corner rules from the spring-playing schools. In the fall, the awarding of a penalty corner resulted in a 23-meter free-in. In the spring, however, a penalty corner was the result. And it wasn’t just any corner, not even the penalty corner situation which you might find in reduced-side overtime in every other state.

Instead, the all-knowing MIAA decided to alter the penalty corner rules to only allow defenses two outfield players and a goalie to defend the goal instead of the usual three.

This spring, a sizable amount of debate has come up around the four-quarter system used to play girls’ lacrosse. The debate surrounds the final minutes of the first and third quarters. When it comes to timing, the final two minutes of the first and third quarters are not subject to the same stop-time rules of the second and fourth quarters. This means that, if a free position shot is awarded — even in the critical scoring area of the final third — the clock is allowed to run until the end of the period.

Enough coaches saw a problem that a resolution was voted on last week by the Tournament Management Committee of the MIAA. The resolution, which would have reinstituted 25-minute halves, was voted down 10-3.

It’s befuddling how the MIAA is so incredibly willing to interfere in the duly-arbitrated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

And unwilling to know when to quit.

June 5, 2021 — A pair of ambitious concepts

In about three weeks, four of the best girls’ lacrosse teams of the last few years are scheduled to face off against each other in a tournament in Columbia, Md. what is being billed as a “Girls High School Nationals.”

A week later, in a sports complex in Farmington, Conn., some 48 scholastic girls’ lacrosse teams are scheduled to participate in what is called a “Girls High School Lacrosse National Championship.”

Yeah, I said “scholastic.” Instead of prominent club sides like the Yellow Jackets, NXT, or Hero’s Lacrosse, the names of the teams are familiar to you: Darien (Conn.), Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), Moorestown (N.J.), Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.), Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy, Rosemong Agnes Irwin (Pa.), and Wilmette Loyola Academy (Ill.).

Yep, high-school teams, playing weekend-long tournaments towards an ultimate winner.

This isn’t the first time that elite scholastic girls’ lacrosse teams have been matched against each other. A few years ago, LaxPower.com organized a series of games around the country which involved a number of elite-level teams playing intersectional games against each other.

Several years ago, eight games were contested at Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) featuring four Maryland teams and four New York teams in the New York-Maryland Challenge.

And now, 52 teams are looking to see who is the best of the best in two separate competitions.

In the last few years, organizers ranging from websites to shoe companies to major television networks have attempted to create something approaching national championship events in everything from football to cross-country running.

When I first heard of the Girls High School National Lacrosse Championship, I expected it to be a little like field hockey’s National High School Invitational — a weekend of intersectional games where teams would play as many games as it was allowed to, given the rules of each individual state, without an elimination bracket at the end.

But what I found interesting is that this tournament is going to finish off in a competitive fashion, with the tournament finishing July 2nd, which is later than the graduation of several of the teams in the pool of partcipants.

In addition, I find it interesting that there are teams in this competition from states which have been notoriously restrictive in terms of play. Take, for example, New Jersey. Three teams were invited from the Garden State, whose governing body has precise rules on the number of games that can be played in a week, the number of games that can be played in a day, the number of out-of-state games allowed, and the final day of competition, which is, according to the NJSIAA’s website, June 20th.

The Girls High School Nationals, however, is more limited in scope and scale, and has no school which plays under the aegis of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Now, I get the fact that the organizers of these events want to be able to get together a girls’ lacrosse event to match last week’s boys’ lacrosse national tournament held in Washington, D.C. But knowing how thorny the regulations tend to be when it comes to interstate competition, I have a feeling there is going to be a significant revision for any future iterations.