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May 16, 2022 — #VARnow

In May 2016, Florida was eliminated from the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament despite seemingly scoring a goal in the final seconds of play. The goal, however, was not given despite video evidence to the contrary.

One year later, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins played a wild and rainy Big Ten Conference match which saw a late goal, possibly scored after the horn (which was the NCAA rule at the time), leading to a Wildcats overtime win.

Yesterday, Boston College forward Jenn Medjid hit the twine in a game against Denver. The umpires called a goal, although the ball was sitting on the back of the goal, with the shot having missed the frame.

These aren’t the only controversial calls which have happened in the last few years. But, even with the three-umpire system commonly used in college lacrosse, it’s become readily apparent that the game at its highest levels needs some form of a video assistant referee (or VAR).

I don’t think it should be the kind of “eye in the sky” supervision like it is in the National Hockey League, where a game can be stopped at any minute with a call from Toronto. I’m also not sold on the “umpire referral” system which is used in field hockey, where a game official can, at any time, review a play on video.

Instead, I think it should be a challenge system like it is in the NFL, where a coach can ask for one video review per half, and if the coach’s two challenges are upheld, the team gets a third challenge.

I think there should also be optional umpire referrals in the final two minutes of a half. But the referrals should only be limited to the following:

  1. Status of the ball (out of bounds, goal shots)
  2. Status of the clock (resetting of the possession clock, or the running of one clock and the stoppage of another)
  3. Review of certain fouls, including the “water polo” accumulation of fouls in the midfield leading to a green card

One limitation to this kind of review is judging stick checks inside the invisible sphere surrounding a player’s head. We’ve seen a number of missed calls over the years when it was somewhat obvious that a stick contacted a players’ head, but no sanction came of it.

I’m sure you can go to many reunions of college teams when this topic is discussed, especially when an opposing player, not having been called for a second yellow card during a game, scored the telling goal.

Given the number of sports these days which use video officiating these days, it’s mind-boggling that NCAA lacrosse is not on board.

It’s beyond past time for VAR in lacrosse, and it needs to be voted on and voted in without delay.

May 14, 2022 — An appreciation: Janine Tucker, head coach, Johns Hopkins University

The circumstances of Janine Tucker’s final game as the head coach of the Johns Hopkins University women’s lacrosse team were replete with irony.

The loss in yesterday’s first-round game was a 17-12 defeat to the same Duke University which ended Hopkins’ deepest-ever run in the NCAA Division I Tournament, a quarterfinal loss in 2007. That 2007 Duke team would go on to squander a 10-goal lead to Virginia in the Final Four in Philadelphia.

The site of yesterday’s swansong was the University of Maryland. The irony there is that Hopkins’ best player from last year, Aurora Cordingley, transferred there to take advantage of a grad-school year, and has been nominated for the Tewaaraton Trophy emblematic of the best player in the collegiate game.

Tucker has been through a lot the last 29 years as coach at Johns Hopkins, not the least of which was the move of the entire program from Division III to Division I, to be at an equal level with the legendary men’s team.

This site dropped in on a couple of Hop’s games in the first Division I season in the spring of 1999. What I got from Tucker is the sense of positive reinforcement when it came to her team talks. There was some stern talk when it came to how to improve, but the words were never cutting or cruel. And whatever was said was ended with a smile on her face.

Mind you, this was two decades before Ted Lasso.

“It’s a choice,” she said after the loss to Duke yesterday. “I tell my team, ‘It’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be disappointed, but we’re not going to live in that space.’ What we’re going to choose to do is really enjoy each other to the very bitter end. We can still have those emotions because they are competitors and they are fighters. But they also understand that they’re going to give each other the kind of energy to lift each other up versus this incredible despair or sadness and bring each other down.”

Janine Tucker was not only known for her coaching, but for her off-field efforts within the lacrosse community. When Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens waged a very public battle with brain cancer between 1995 and 2003, Tucker was the person organizing coaches and others for fundraising runs and other behind-the-scenes needs such as administering her memorial website. She also delivered her former coach’s final words at her funeral.

Immediately after that, Tucker steered Hopkins to its most successful era. Paced by the mercurial attacker Mary Key, the Blue Jays made the NCAA Tournament the next four seasons, and were one game away from making the 2007 Final Four, but were stymied by Duke.

After that were some lean years, but the team has managed to recover. Johns Hopkins, over the last seven seasons, has been a dark-horse contender for NCAA honors. But it must be said that the silverware cabinet is still dwarfed by the men’s team — a men’s team that has been playing for more than 100 years, mind you. Tucker has only won one major trophy for the team: the 2001 ECAC Division I championship.

But you can’t blame her or the Blue Jays for not trying. During her time in Division I, she’s been unfortunate to have to face the likes of Northwestern and Maryland (winners of 15 national titles since 1999) during their membership in the American Lacrosse Conference or in their Big Ten Conference games.

Somehow, I don’t think she’d have it any other way.

May 13, 2022 — Friday Statwatch for games played through May 11

This week’s statistical occurrence is obvious. With nine goals last night in a win over Lincoln-Way Central (Ill.), Fran Frieri, the fine senior from Lockport (Ill.), became the fifth member of the 500-goal club.

Mind you, it’s a 500-goal club which includes more than one athlete who competed in more than the four-year varsity career that most publications recognize. If, for example, you wanted to count just the freshman through senior years in high school, the current leaders are these:

540 Sophia Turchetta
520 Taylor Pinzone
501 Fran Frieri
485 Bridget Ruskey
479 Jane Earley

All five of these players are from the 2010s, but the commonalities amongst the five are few. Yes, three of them are from Massachusetts and just about all of them were forwards, although Turchetta was known to be on the draw team at times.

But Frieri has one big upside: she has scored all of her goals in just three varsity seasons. Lockport lost the 2020 season to the global pandemic, and it is an open question as to how many other records she could have eclipsed in four full seasons. But she’ll have the rest of this scholastic season to try to eclipse Turchetta’s four-year mark before taking her talents to Notre Dame.

The figures in red below are compiled from available sources across the nation. I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
156 Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
144 Sara Williams, Winter Haven All Saints Academy (Fla.)
126 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
119 Hayden Head, Lewisville Forsyth Country Day School (Ga.)
117 Kayleen Favreau, Holly Springs (N.C.)
113 Sydnee-Anne Mueller, El Segundo (Calif.)
113 Sienha Chirieleison, Camp Hill Trinity (Pa.)
112 Annabelle Biggar, Lafayette Dawson School (Colo.)
108 Brooklyn Suttlemyre, Syracuse (Utah)
107 Riley Cormier, Denver Northfield (Colo.)
107 Trinity Cassidy, Snellville Brookwood (Ga.)
106 Brinley Christiansen, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
106 Caroline Ling, Springboro (Ohio)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
94 Kayla Conroy, Marin (Calif.) Catholic
93 Riley Nee, Hampstead Topsail (N.C.)
93 Ryann Banks, Peachtree McIntosh (Ga.)
82 Evelyn Guyer, Durham (N.C.) Academy
69 Taylor McGovern, Parkland Margery Stoneman Douglas (Fla.)
67 Emily Philips, Wake Forest (N.C.)
65 Taylor Santos Scotts Valley (Calif.)
64 Morgan Coleman, Camp Hill Trinity (Pa.)
64 Maggie Wilson, Boca Raton (Fla.)
64 Grace Mattimore, Cleveland St. Joseph Academy (Ohio)
62 Kayla Nguyen, Cary Green Hope (N.C.)
61 Frances Poch, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)
61 Lauren Hayden, Newport Croatan (N.C.)

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, CAREER
501 Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
406 Reagan O’Brien, Boston (Mass.) Latin

COACHING WINS
829 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

We’re pretty sure that these aren’t 100 percent complete, so here is where you come in. If there’s something that needs a correction, please send an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the needed changes.

Thanks for stopping in and settin’ a spell. See you next week.

May 11, 2022 — A big social media story impacts the lacrosse community and the wider world

For the last week or so, the story which has gone viral on Twitter in the women’s lacrosse community is the video of three uniformed law enforcement officers in Georgia searching the team bus of the Delaware State women’s lacrosse team during a traffic stop 20 days ago.

It is the third time that a lacrosse team or lacrosse players of color have been harassed in the past two years. Last year, a men’s lacrosse game between Emmanuel College and the University of the South was called off because of racist epithets on the part of Sewanee fans, and this year, the Howard women’s lacrosse team was the target of racist taunts by students at Presbyterian College.

Only this time, the harassers were wearing weapons and badges. They searched the bus for drugs and made statements to the players as if they were adjuged to be guilty of breaking the law without proof or probable cause. The team was let go after 45 minutes without charge.

Given the national conversation about police overreach and misconduct, I’m not surprised about the traction this story is getting. At the moment, everyone from the Delaware governor to activists in both Georgia and Delaware, as well as Del State students have been weighing in.

Yesterday, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman read a six-minute statement defending the stop. Tellingly, he did not take questions from reporters.

“It should not be lost on any of us how thin any day’s line is between customary and extraordinary, between humdrum and exceptional, between safe and victimized,” said Delaware State University president Tony Allen. “This is true for all of us but particularly so for communities of color and the institutions who serve them.”

And it says here that the police officers did not serve its public well on that day.

May 10, 2022 — Top 10 for the week of May 3

As the nation’s best girls’ lacrosse conference, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, draws to a close this week, we’re also seeing representatives of some other good lacrosse areas such as the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC). Their postseason tournament, a prelude to the Connecticut state tournament, is another opportunity for Darien and New Canaan to meet again. But then again, watch out for the likes of Wilton, a team more than capable of winning the state title.

1. Darien (Conn.) 13-0
The Blue Wave played Moorestown (N.J.) yesterday and have Fairfield Ludlowe (Conn.) Thursday to finish out the regular season

2. Glenelg (Md.) 13-0
The Gladiators have four 25-goal scorers in their lineup, spreading out their scoring

3. Glenelg (Md.) Country School 16-1
Dragons take on a good Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.) side in the semifinals of the IAAM Class “A” Tournament

4. Victor (N.Y.) 12-1
There’s a reason why they beat Canandaigua this year and are a favorite for state honors; a team which can play lock-down defense

5. New Canaan (Conn.) 11-2
The Rams play Westport Staples (Conn.) and Norwalk (Conn.) back-to-back

6. Westwood (Mass.) 10-0
Wolverines host a Franklin (Mass.) team that took them to the brink in last year’s state final

7. Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) 15-1
The Gators play an athletic and motivated Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) in today’s IAAM “A” semifinal

8. Northport (N.Y.) 12-1
Tigers got by East Setauket Ward Melville (N.Y.) 9-9

9. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 15-2
The Eagles need to win more than their share of draws in order to get past Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) in the IAAM Class “A” semifinals

10. Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) 16-0
A game next week against Philadelphia Penn Charter (Pa.) looms large as the Patriots head into the postseason

Who’s out: Canandaigua Academy, lost 13-12 to Rush-Henrietta (N.Y.) and to Victor (N.Y.) 6-2.

And bear in mind: Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) 18-2, Sykesville Century (Md.) 13-0, Ridgewood (N.J.) 13-2, Rush-Henrietta (N.Y.) 13-1, South Huntington St. Anthony (N.Y.) 12-2, Bronxville (N.Y.) 14-1

May 9, 2022 — A prescient story

It was in May 1995 when I first saw Christa Samaras on a lacrosse pitch. She completely took over an NCAA Division I semifinal against Dartmouth with her enthusiasm and relentless energy in a 13-8 win.

It turns out that day was the last time we would see Sarah Devens on a lacrosse field. Her own enthusiasm and relentless energy masked personal demons which would see her take her own life in July of that year.

Last week, Samaras was the subject for a Forbes Magazine story, detailing her own mental health struggles at the time. Reading her struggle against suicide is a complete shocker and eye-opener that one of the greatest female lacrosse players our country has ever produced almost never stepped on that world stage.

As far back as the early 90s, while attending Annapolis (Md.), she was looking for a way out, including trying to see if there was a gun in her household.

“If I had found one,” she tells Forbes, “it would have been over.”

In this month, set aside for mental health awareness, we’ve been reading numerous accounts of struggle on the part of not only female athletes, but just plain folks who have found the Global Pandemic Era one of extreme emotion and trauma.

The Samaras story has had me going back over a quarter-century of mental notes about people I have seen in the sports world. Were there frowns when I asked questions? Was there a quaver or tremor in a voice? Did the behavior of an athlete or coach change over time? Were there coaches who, while finding success on the pitch, were creating numerous individual mental health crises off it?

I have my own suppositions regarding the role of coaching in the downward spiral of athletes. In some of the support areas of the teams, if you brought up the name of a player who may have flunked out of school or had a drop in form that relegated them to the bench, the player was dismissed as either a “head case” or a “lost soul.”

As we are all learning from the examples of Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and other athletes who have either retired or withdrawn from competitions citing the need for a mental health break, the need for such a break has existed for long, long before.

I always observed, during the early 1990s in covering field hockey, that often the best goalkeepers were burnt-out soccer players. And I knew there were plenty of burnt-out soccer players who were going to camps and training events like the Olympic Development Program, all hoping to become the next Michelle Akers, Mary Harvey, or Lisa Gmitter (the U.S. right winger immediately before a legend named Mia Hamm came along).

I have seen different forms of what could be called abusive behavior. It wasn’t all about raised voices or raised hands, but commenting on appearance sometimes. I have seen more than one Division I athlete starve themselves and overtrain because their coach talked about a player’s baby fat.

And I have also seen overtraining like you wouldn’t believe. I once attended a week-long training camp for first-year students and walk-ons for a college field hockey program. The group numbered more than 60 at the start of the week, but were whittled down to about a dozen in about five days. It’s this kind of “survival of the fittest” which has often claimed promising players because of devastating lower-body injuries borne of overtraining, overstress, and dry, old-style artificial turf laid out on concrete.

Now, we’ve seen a major exodus in coaching in the last two years — not just in terms of field hockey or girls’ and women’s lacrosse, but in sports overall. Great leaders such as Mike Krzyzewski, Anne Horton, John Savage, C. Vivian Stringer, Laurie Berger, Jay Wright, and Karen Doxey have walked away from their coaching positions in the last few months.

I understand that some of them may be seeing the evils of the NLI on the horizon. It’s gotten to the point where high-school students are now receiving money to endorse products like athletic wear.

And maybe, just maybe, these coaches are looking for a mental-health break of their own, given the pressure to build on past success.

BULLETIN: May 8, 2022 — The NCAA Division I goals mark has fallen

With a pair of goals in the Big South Conference final against Mercer, High Point graduate student Abby Hormes has eclipsed the year-old record of Charlotte North for the number of goals scored in a collegiate season.

Her two goals give her 103 on the season, beating North’s mark of 102 from North’s Tewaaraton-winning total.

HPU, however, were defeated in the Big South title match today, and are unlikely to be selected as an At-Large bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament later tonight.

North, by the way, has 75 goals on the season, and could have as many as four games left in her stellar college career.

May 8, 2022 — Parallels on the banks of the Raritan

Last fall, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I field hockey tournament was a team that came out of nowhere. That team was Rutgers, a team which had played in only two NCAA Tournaments before head coach Meredith Civico came to the program. Under Civico, the Knights parlayed their Big Ten success into a deep postseason run in 2021, winding up a shootout goal away from a Final Four.

Friday night, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team had a performance befitting its sisters on the field hockey side. The Scarlet Knights, who had played exactly one NCAA Tournament game before head coach Melissa Lehman came to the team, has seemingly earned at least an at-large berth in the 2022 tournament with a 13-5 Big Ten semifinal win over third-ranked Northwestern.

So, what have Civico and Lehman found in their coaching journeys in New Brunswick?

Both coaches have recruited exceptionally well, especially in the state of New Jersey, where lacrosse and field hockey have been strong at the youth level. Civico’s field hockey program has players from powerful teams like Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.), Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), and West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.), all of which are amongst the very best in terms of winning state champions.

The same can be said for the lacrosse team, which has the likes of Moorestown (N.J.), Tabernacle Seneca (N.J.), Mountain Lakes (N.J.), Ridgewood (N.J.), and Haddonfield (N.J.) Memorial.

At the same time, however, both coaches have also recruited strategically from other places. Civico’s field hockey team boasts players from New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Argentina, Holland, and Germany. Lehman’s laxers feature players from the Philadelphia Main Line, Australia, Florida, and four players from Long Island.

And both coaches have taken their diverse rosters and made it work beautifully.

May 6, 2022 — Friday Statwatch for games played through May 4

Well, as you might expect, this week sees a number of individual stats coming in behind the players whose seasons have already finished. We’re seeing players from the heart of lacrosse country starting to nip at the heels of the early stat leaders.

While all this is happening, Fran Frieri, last year’s national scoring champion, has started ascending the rostrum of the best goal-scorers in the history of the sport. At the end of Wednesday’s play, she had 475 goals. With four regular-season games remaining, she is set to join Sophia Turchetta, Taylor Pinzone, Shannon Smith, and Caitlyn Wurzburger in the 500-goal club.

Now, there will be those (like me) who are going to be comparing and contrasting this feat with the rest, given the fact that Turchetta, Smith, and Wurzburger had varsity careers longer than four years. But as we do here, we don’t blame certain states for keeping deserving seventh- and eighth-graders from varsity play because of the notion of protecting some players from those older and sometimes more physically mature.

The figures in red below are compiled from available sources across the nation. I encourage you to keep convincing your teams, your schools, leagues, or state governing bodies to adopt the easy-to-use MaxPreps.com platform, and we encourage you to get your fellow teams to enter their information there as well as whichever is your local news site, so that we can aim for as complete a statistical picture of the country as possible.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, SEASON
144 Sara Williams, Winter Haven All Saints Academy (Fla.)
131 Francesca Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
126 Cassidy Jones, Memphis White Station (Tenn.)
115 Hayden Head, Lewisville Forsyth Country Day School (Ga.)
107 Sienha Chirieleison, Camp Hill Trinity (Pa.)
107 Trinity Cassidy, Snellville Brookwood (Ga.)
107 Kayleen Favreau, Holly Springs (N.C.)
106 Brinley Christiansen, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
103 Sofia Chepenik, Episcopal School of Jacksonville (Fla.)
101 Chiara Scichilone, Wellington Palm Beach Central (Fla.)
100 Sydnee-Anne Mueller, El Segundo (Calif.)

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTS, SEASON
93 Riley Nee, Hampstead Topsail (N.C.)
93 Ryann Banks, Peachtree McIntosh (Ga.)
72 Evelyn Guyer, Durham (N.C.) Academy
69 Taylor McGovern, Parkland Margery Stoneman Douglas (Fla.)
65 Taylor Santos Scotts Valley (Calif.)
64 Maggie Wilson, Boca Raton (Fla.)
62 Grace Mattimore, Cleveland St. Joseph Academy (Ohio)
62 Kayla Nguyen, Cary Green Hope (N.C.)
61 Emily Philips, Wake Forest (N.C.)
61 Frances Poch, Charleston Bishop England (S.C.)

INDIVIDUAL GOALS, CAREER
475 Fran Frieri, Lockport (Ill.)
406 Reagan O’Brien, Boston (Mass.) Latin

COACHING WINS
823 Kathy Jenkins, Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.)

Here is where you come in. If there’s something that need corrections, please send an email at TopOfTheCircle.com. Give us a name or a bit of documentation (a website will do) so that we can make the needed changes.

Thanks for reading and we’ll give this another go in seven days.

May 5, 2022 — Keep watching

The bulk of play in conference tournament for NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse begins today. And the regrettable thing is that so much attention is being heaped on the ACC and the Big Ten tournaments that it’s easy to overlook the other 14 conferences which will be choosing a champion between now and Selection Sunday.

Each of these 14 conferences has a story. Two of them have extra-special stories because their best teams aren’t in the conference tournament. Stony Brook won the regular-season title for America East with an undefeated league record, and James Madison won the regular-season title in the Colonial Athletic Association, also with an unbeaten league record.

And yet, neither the Seawolves nor the Dukes are playing this week. That’s because their respective conference rendered these teams ineligible because both schools announced they would be changing conferences later this year. SBU is moving to the CAA, while JMU’s lacrosse team is joining the American Athletic Conference as an affiliate member.

There will be some good games coming up in the next couple of days. One that pops out at you immediately is this evening’s Patriot League match between the Naval Academy and Army West Point. These teams met recently, and the Cadets were able to win the game 14-9. It was the only time in seven meetings that Army had the privilege of singing its alma mater second after the end of the game.

The late game today should also be an incredible encounter between Southern California and Arizona State. The sides met just two weeks ago to finish the regular season, with USC winning 15-13. This one should be just as close.

Tomorrow, I think a game to watch is the CAA game between Hofstra and Drexel. The Dragons were a great Cinderella story a year ago, finishing runner-up to James Madison in the CAA Tournament, but getting into the NCAA Division I bracket as an at-large team. Drexel had won 13 out of its first 14 games of the season before running into tougher competition.

That tougher competition continued this year as Drexel went 10-7 on the campaign. The Blue and Gold are the three-seed in the tournament, and could have a tough road back to the Division I national tournament.