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BULLETIN: August 15, 2022 — Athletes Unlimited confirms Marino’s championship

After a bit of movement over the last 20 hours or so, the final totals for the Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse league have been confirmed. A point has been added to leader Taylor Moreno’s total from overnight, and five points have come off second-place Sam Apuzzo’s overnight total.

This makes the final margin 16 points, confirming Moreno’s place as the second AU champion, with her score being 1798 to Apuzzo’s 1782.

The two luminaries had been tied on the scoreboard headed into the final three minutes of play, and theoretically finished Matchday 12 level on points after the win bonus for Moreno (45 points), the fourth-quarter bonus for Apuzzo (20 points), and the MVP-3 bonus (25 points) for Apuzzo as well.

The two luminaries had been tied on the scoreboard headed into the final three minutes of play, and theoretically finished Matchday 12 level on points after the win bonus for Moreno (45 points), the fourth-quarter bonus for Apuzzo (20 points), and the MVP-3 bonus (25 points) for Apuzzo as well.

It’s been an unprecedented year for AU women’s lacrosse — the only time a post-overtime shootout has ever been used in women’s lacrosse, and the only recount ever used to determine a champion.

Can’t wait for Season 3 next summer.

August 12, 2022 — Towards the future

It was revealed in at least one news report this week that Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse will be returning to its new home at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md. next summer.

We don’t know yet whether the lacrosse played there will be the same 10-v-10 format that we’ve seen in most iterations of pro lacrosse since 2016, or whether the league will adopt the Lacrosse Sixes format, which is expected to be the preferred format for the sport to enter the Olympic program by 2028.

But there’s one thing that we do know about the site: it’s one which is smack in the middle of mid-Atlantic lacrosse country, right next to Baltimore and within easy driving distance of the complex.

I also find it interesting that Sparks is only about a half-hour away from the burgeoning lacrosse factory that central Pennsylvania is becoming. Sure, the traditional powers are in the southeast corner of the state, in Districts 1 and 12. But in the last few years, good teams from District 3 and elsewhere are making their way through the brackets.

And I can’t help but think that some kid in the stands at this weekend’s games may get inspired enough to propel her team to a state championship one day.

Aug. 6, 2022 — A tone-deaf response to a #MeToo moment

Today, a student-run Internet newspaper called The Tab published a disturbing account of the cover-up of sexual assault on the part of members of the University College London lacrosse club teams.

The main thrust of the story is that the president of the women’s lacrosse team at UCL attempted to have a female player removed from the club after she went to authorities with an accusation of assault, allegedly by a member of the men’s lacrosse club.

The reporting in this story has uncovered a deeply-entrenched culture of toxicity within the team, which involved plying alcohol to first-year students, which are referred to as “Freshers.”

“Binge drinking is actively encouraged,” according to an unidentified member of the club. “It enables people to act badly because the worst side of them comes out. All the club care about is their reputation. If silencing women is what they need to do then they will do it.”

Reporting on the issue has already resulted in the resignation of the men’s president, and the women’s club president has also been pressured to step down.

“It’s a very laddie culture,” a member of a previous steering committee for the UCL lacrosse club tells The Tab. “I don’t think a lot of the guys understand how their behavior is misogynistic and creates that environment.”

It’s pretty amazing that, several years after the Me Too movement in the United States upended a number of careers in industry, sports, the Arts, and general society, the same behavior is being replicated and extended.

It is, to be sure, discouraging.

Aug. 3, 2022 — Who has the real pulse on scholastic sport in the U.S.?

I wrote yesterday about how USA Today, a national newspaper which is now supported by a network of local papers in the Gannett chain, handed out the awards for the finest high-school athletes in numerous athletic pursuits for the 2021-22 academic year.

You might think that, with 100 affiliates in the daily ranks and 1,000 weekly newspapers, that it would have the kind of necessary reach to pick the best scholastic athletes.

But does that reach actually reach everybody? We wrote a year ago about Fran Frieri, who had just broken the record for the most goals scored in a girls’ lacrosse season. She had mentioned that the local newsgathering organization covering Lockport, Ill. had shuttered during the pandemic.

And I have a feeling Lockport is not alone.

I have seen a number of journalistic organizations come and go over the years. I’ve seen the debut and denouement of numerous high-school sports shows, whether on ESPN and on local TV sponsored by newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

And regrettably, I have seen more than one field hockey-centric sports website come and go over the last quarter-century.

I’ve been very lucky to be able to put my pulse on both field hockey and lacrosse nationwide over the last 24 years, and to be able to see people who carried the torch for their respective activity either as a player or in the coaching box.

One thing I’m also seeing in the last year or so, however, are players who are literally making themselves into a brand. We’ve seen female athletes making more than a million dollars from telecommunications companies by making content extolling the virtues of mobile technology.

We’ve also seen “influencers” who, by virtue of the number of followers on their social media sites, can not only make money from the companies with which they partner, but can also create worldwide markets for those companies through a well-targeted video or picture.

And you know something? It’s being allowed through the rules of not only the NCAA, but by state governing bodies of sport.

Want some context? Have a look at this map, generated by OpenDorse.com:

In this map, wide swaths of football country from Arizona to Florida up to Ohio do not allow high-school students to make money off their name, likeness, and image. There are, however, some states such as California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which do allow NLI rights.

It’s led to some interesting developments. One saw a top football prospect from Texas deciding to forego his senior year at his local school to sign an NLI deal worth more than $1 million.

We also saw Ashley Sessa, the talismanic forward who has been playing in the U.S. system to the point where she has 11 national-team caps, sign a deal with STX, wearing socks with that logo along with her Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) uniform last fall.

I have a feeling this is going to be the next big thing in scholastic sport.

Aug. 2, 2022 — Some well-deserved hardware

Over the weekend, USA Today presented its annual high-school sports awards, which covers a pretty wide panoply of scholastic sports.

I don’t know if the selectors have been following this site, but I do find it interesting that the national scoring champions for girls lacrosse and field hockey — Fran Frieri and Ryleigh Heck — won the national player of the year in both sports.

Why? If you went by the pool of players listed as nominees for each sport, as well as the three finalists in each sport, you’d be pretty amazed.

Frieri, who wasn’t selected for the Under Armour All-America Game, beat out two players who did: Kori Edmonson of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Peep Williams of Binghamton Seton Catholic (N.Y.). But also in the pool of nominees are a number of players who are going to become part of the national scene very soon, such as Madison Beale of Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.), Shea Dolce of Darien (Conn.), and Caroline Godine of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.).

Heck, who was just recently selected to the U.S. senior women’s national team pool, had to beat out Maci Bradford of Delmar (Del.) and Alaina McVeigh of Gwynedd Valley Gwynedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.) in the group of finalists. But also in the group of nominees was Ashley Sessa of Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) and Josie Hollamon of Delmar (Del.), both of whom are also in the U.S. women’s national team pool. Too, one of the nominees was fellow 100-goal scorer Talia Schenck of Lawrence (N.J.).

Fran Frieri and Ryleigh Heck are headed off to their respective universities to start preseason: Frieri with lacrosse at Notre Dame, Heck with field hockey at North Carolina. Fair or not, both will have outsized expectations on their performances at the college level.

But I have a feeling that a lot of the other field hockey and lacrosse players who were nominated for the USA Today Awards are also going to be preparing for some absolutely boffo debut seasons during the 2022-23 college year.

Aug. 1, 2022 — Some annual housekeeping

Hi, all. As the domestic field hockey season begins this month with college friendlies as well as the Apple Tournament and the Gateway Invitational, our site is going its usual changeover from field hockey to lacrosse.

We’ll have our Fearless 5ive previews for NCAA Division I, II, and III, and we’ll also have our back-of-the-envelope preseason Top 10 towards the end of the month. On which platform we’re going to be releasing these, that’s yet to be determined.

We’re also keeping an eye on the transfer portal, which really altered the landscape of college sports and could give the first-year Clemson program a rocket boost of talent that other recent startups never had.

Now, you’ll notice in our Chasing History section to the right of this story, we’ve changed the listings of the inactive players from orange to black as the achievements of last year’s seniors blend into history.

This includes field hockey’s Ryleigh Heck and lacrosse’s Fran Frieri, both of whom set records during the past academic year.

And it seems these records have gotten their holders a certain degree of attention. More on that tomorrow.

July 30, 2022 — After 132 years, an unprecedented ending

This afternoon’s doubleheader, encapsulating Matchday 5 of Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse, saw both games go into overtime.

But the nightcap, the game between Team Moreno and Team Apuzzo, could not be settled after three minutes of extra time with the game tied 10-10.

What happened next is an event which we don’t think has ever happened since women’s lacrosse was played in 1890 in Scotland.

The event: a post-overtime shootout. Each of the two teams, captained by Taylor Moreno and Sam Apuzzo, selected two groups of three players each.

One by one, the players lined up outside the 8-meter wedge and fired 2-point attempts towards a guarded goal. The team ahead after three rounds won the shootout.

But as you might expect in Athletes Unlimited, that initial phase did not decide matters. The teams went into a second group of three, whereupon Team Apuzzo won the shootout 3-2.

Now, I’ve done a little digging into the history of women’s lacrosse, and I have not seen any reference to any kind of women’s lacrosse tiebreaker set out in the rules except for the rules regarding overtime.

This is is marked contrast to field hockey, which has used as many as five different post-overtime tiebreakers to determine a winner in case of a draw.

I don’t pretend to know the thinking of lacrosse rulesmakers over the last 132 years. I just find it fascinating that nobody has come up with this kind of elegant solution before: free positions from the 8 to end a game.

I don’t know whether this will catch on in other levels of the sport, but I get the feeling it just might before too long.

July 29, 2022 — Your national scoring champion

When Fran Frieri scored her 200th career goal in an Illinois High School Association sectional final against Lenox Lincoln-Way (Ill.), it was the last gasp for the Porters in an 18-14 loss. And it was her final appearance on a scholastic field, since, as we mentioned yesterday, she did not get a berth in this weekend’s Under Armour All-America girls’ lacrosse game.

But the 200-goal effort is a landmark effort not only for girls’ high school lacrosse, but in the realm of youth athletics. Here’s a rundown of the known records for U.S. scholastic field invasion team sports:

TotalNameSportSchoolYear
200Fran FrieriGirls’ lacrosseLockport (Ill.) Township2022
130Kassi GintherGirls’ soccerSummit Christian Academy (Mo.)2017
125Ryleigh HeckField hockeyVoorhees Eastern (N.J.)2021
110Krissy WendellGirls’ ice hockeyPark Center (Minn.)2000
109Jace ConleyBoys’ lacrosseOrchard Lake St. Mary’s (Mich.)2018
94David RussellBoys’ soccerWeatherly (Pa.)2002
94Ron RolstonBoys’ ice hockeyFlint Powers Catholic (Mich.)1984
Sources: TopOfTheCircle.com, NFHS Record Book

Mind you, sports like ice hockey and soccer have had their elite school-age players weakened through pay-to-play clubs, but that in no way diminishes Frieri’s achievement.

For the second time, Frieri, the Notre Dame golden-domer, is your national scoring champion. Indeed, when you look at recent history, a number of players have been the No. 1 goal-scorer twice:

2022: Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.) Township, 200
2021: Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.) Township, 191
2020: No award because of global pandemic
2019: Brittany Sherrod, Versailles Woodford County (Ky.) 158
2018: Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.), 147
2017: Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.), 160
2016: Bridget Ruskey, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.), 135
2015: Sophia Turchetta, Harvard Bromfield (Mass.), 158
2014: Sophia Turchetta, Harvard Bromfield (Mass.), 170
2013: Daniela McMahon, Saddle River Country Day School (N.J.), 143
2012: Emma Lazaroff, Lafayette Centaurus (Colo.), 143
2011: Alex Moore, Allentown (N.J.), 148
2010: Autumn MacMillin, Tecumseh (Mich.), 157
2009: Katie Ferris, Carthage (N.Y.), 138
2008: Courtney Miller, Chappaqua Horace Greeley (N.Y.) 125
2007: Mallori Selliger, Clarkstown (N.Y.) North, 88
2006: Shannon Smith, West Babylon (N.Y.) 129

July 28, 2022 — MISSING: 1,052 goals

They published the final rosters for this Saturday’s UnderArmour All-America girls’ lacrosse senior game as 46 of the best players from the scholastic class of 2022 are set to play in Baltimore on Saturday.

But there will be two players missing from the roster: two generational talents which have done something only four other players have done. That’s scoring over 500 goals in a scholastic career.

Fran Frieri, who is heading to Notre Dame, and Reagan O’Brien, the Johns Hopkins incoming first-year, were amongst the nation’s leading goal-scorers this year. Frieri became the first 200-goal scorer in a high-school lacrosse season. She helped propel her fifth-year varsity program, Lockport (Ill.) Township, to its deepest run in the state tournament. She finished with 545 goals, the most ever scored by a high-school player in a four-year career — and she did it in just three.

O’Brien, a senior from Boston (Mass.) Latin, finished her scholastic career with 507 goals, despite also losing the 2020 season to the global pandemic.

And yet, these two layers aren’t on the roster for this weekend’s game.

Now, I could understand if their college coaches already have them on mandatory preseason conditioning, or if they are holding themselves out of the game because of potential injury. It’s the kind of thing that has happened all the time in professional all-star games, where leagues have had to scramble to find last-minute replacements for players who have been voted into the lineup.

But if you have two players who have done what only Caitlyn Wurzburger, Shannon Smith, Taylor Pinzone, and Sophia Turchetta have done, you’d think that there would be room for them on the All-America teams.

July 26, 2022 — United States Coach of the Year: Jill Thomas, Princeton (N.J.) Day School

Heading due north out of Princeton, N.J., is County Road 604. But nobody calls it that. For generations of residents, that corridor is called The Great Road.

Take a left off Great Road at the top of a rise, and you will find Princeton (N.J.) Day School, an institution which has been around since 1899.

For the last 34 years, Jill Thomas has been an fixture in the life of the school, coaching basketball, coaching and umpiring field hockey, and being the public-address announcer for football games until the sport was discontinued in 2011.

In recent years, Thomas has also coached the school’s girls’ lacrosse team. The girls’ lacrosse program has gone through a number of coaches throughout the years, including the late Kim Bedesem, Leslie Hagan, and Thomas. Throughout, the Panther team was a dominant force in private-school girls’ lacrosse in the capital region of New Jersey.

The 2022 season, however, brought a new opportunity. Princeton Day School followed a number of its sister schools and gained admission into the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of public and some non-public schools in the state.

It also turned out that the first season of PDS’s dual membership in the NJSIAA and the New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association was going to be Thomas’ last as a coach, as she announced her retirement.

For her years of coaching and an unprecedent 2022 campaign, Thomas is the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year.

What did the Panthers do in 2022? Well, within a period of three weeks, they won the NJISAA private-school tournament with a 13-12 win over Montclair-Kimberley Academy (N.J.), then won four win-or-go-home games in the NJSIAA Non-Public “B” tournament, culminating in a 17-11 win over Absecon Holy Spirit (N.J.).

Three days later, Thomas’ career ended with a 14-9 defeat to Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) in the final NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, but the Panthers were able do match what Oak Knoll has done in recent years — win the private/public school double for the Garden State.

In addition, PDS became the first girls’ lacrosse team from Mercer County to win a public-school state championship since the spring of 1985.

All the while, Thomas did it with her usual combination of hard work and humility. In what has become a Score-O decade in both field hockey and lacrosse, Thomas held fast to the principle that a field hockey team shouldn’t score more than five goals in a game, or win more than a certain amount in a girls’ lacrosse game.

And yet, throughout the years, Thomas has racked up win after win after win on the court and on the turf. It’s estimated that she has more than 600 wins in a coaching career that began in 1988.

When it comes to coaching, the year 1988 has a significance: it was when The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School started admitting girls, and immediately became a rival for Princeton Day School and the other private schools in the capital region.

It always seemed as though when a Thomas-coached team played Lawrenceville, the game became more than just a game. It was an occasion, and a mission.

But if there is one game I’ll always remember Thomas for, it was in another sport: field hockey. It was in 1996 when PDS took on the reigning NJSIAA Group IV champions in Flemington Hunterdon Central (N.J.). Despite the fact that PDS has one-sixth enrollment of Hunterdon Central, the Panther eleven played even up with Central for 60 minutes, coming away with a 0-0 draw.

In terms of small vs. large schools, this was a definite lesson for anyone watching or participating in this intersectional contest.

Jill Thomas taught a lot of lessons to her students and to observers for a third of a century. The girls’ lacrosse universe in central New Jersey is going to be lessened with her retirement.


ALSO CONSIDERED:

Allie Ferrera, Morristown (N.J.): Steered the Colonials through a murderous North Jersey Group IV bracket and won the state championship in the group. Only losses were to national powers Oak Knoll, Summit, and Chatham

Mary Gagnon, Brooklandville St. Paul’s School for Girls (Md.): It wasn’t the fact that the Gators were able to come out of the COVID years a winner in 2022, it’s just the fact that the team has had great and consistent winning form in the country’s finest lacrosse conference

Becky Groves, Sykesville Century (Md.): Steered the Knights to a state championship and the second unbeaten season in program history. Century handled Parkton Hereford (Md.) 15-6 to win the Class 2A state championship.

John Kroah, Massilon Jackson (Ohio): Came close to winning a first state championship against established powers

Savannah Porter, Canton Creekview (Ga.): Almost upended an established power, Milton (Ga.) in the state final, but lost a late lead

Laura Sandbloom, Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.): In her final year as head coach, she was able to best Highlands Ranch Valor Christian (Colo.) 13-9 in the Class 5A final for the team’s seventh straight championship

Olivia Smart, Huntington Beach Edison (Calif.): In five years, this team has become a true contender for postseason honors. Edison won its first Sunset League title and qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section Division 1 Tournament

Paige Walton, Glenelg (Md.) Country School: The veteran coach has won titles at the IAAM “C” Division and the “B” Division, and made a memorable run at a first “A” Division championship

Kristin Woods, New Canaan (Conn.): Playing a tough league schedule, the Rams were able to get past county rival Darien (Conn.) when it counted, the state championship final after each team split previous matches