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Archive for Lacrosse

Oct. 24, 2018 — A second split, and a twist

The hot topic over the last year or so in women’s lacrosse is the debate over the roles of not just one, but two women’s professional leagues held over the summer.

And now, that debate is going to be fired over on the men’s side. This week, it was announced that former Johns Hopkins All-American Paul Rabil would be forming a second men’s lacrosse circuit to travel across the United States this summer, similar to the traveling round-robin feast that the women’s leagues have been doing.

The Professional Lacrosse League is reputed to have signed 140 players, including many of the best stars from Major League Lacrosse, a venture that has been around since 2001. The PLL’s 140 players, including 10 Tewaaraton winners, are to be split into six teams for the traveling lacrosse feast which is likely to go to major markets with mid-sized stadiums (more of the soccer-specific facilities for MLS rather than cavernous NFL stadia) for league competition. The six teams will play three games in two days over the course of 12 or 13 weeks next summer, and action will be broadcast by the NBC Sports Network.

That the league already has a broadcast partner shows that Rabil and the marketing people behind the league have already done some homework. The league also has financial and personal backing from several investment firms, and is being backed by betting site Draft Kings and a sports news site called Barstool.

Barstool, for what it’s worth, did break a number of stories in the field hockey and lacrosse worlds that no other members of the mainstream media would touch, including a full-out stick-swinging attack during a girls’ high-school lacrosse game about three years ago.

But it was a year ago, if you may recall, that ESPN ended a show with Barstool personalities after one episode over claims and complaints about misogyny not only during the show, but on the Barstool website.

And for a sport which has aspirations of being on the Olympic program, this may not be the media partner that the PLL is looking for.

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Oct. 11, 2018 — Knoblochs leave long legacy of success

The list of girls’ lacrosse coaches at Moorestown (N.J.) is a short one, but rich in history.

And some of the great Moorestown lore is about to become a part of past history, as it was announced that Deanna Knobloch was stepping down from the head coaching position, and her husband K.C. was also relinquishing his duties from the team.

The reason is obvious, if you know the Moorestown sports family. Many a time a coach has resigned when an offspring has graduated to go to college, and will spend their time watching them play. Such is the case with Deanna and K.C. now going to watch daughter Kasey play in the midfield for your defending national champion James Madison Dukes.

Knobloch guided her teams to 15 state championships and 580 wins. She was able to identify gifted and skilled players who competed every day for their spot in the side as well as against other opposition.

Part of Knobloch’s legend has to be the quality of her out-of-conference matchups. Thanks to the willingness of athletic director Neil Rosa to schedule quality with national implications, the Quakers played a number of memorable games over the years. The team met Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) as well as Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), a matchup which brought overflow crowds in both 2005 and 2006.

For sure, one of Knobloch’s legacies is the fact that a score of alumnae are now coaching somewhere.

And maybe, one of them may come back to Bridgeboro Road.

Oct. 6, 2018 — USA 14, James Madison 10

As fall-ball exhibitions go, the women’s half of the U.S. Lacrosse Classic shouldn’t have been a fair fight, not with the professionals dotting the U.S. roster as they took on defending national champion James Madison.

Yet, the Dukes stayed within a goal of the prototype 2022 World Cup side and only fell adrift in the last of five 15-minute periods played at Tierney Field in Glencoe, Md.

Taylor Cummings, the three-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner, was her usual excellent self, dominating the draw circle to the extent that, after one goal, James Madison didn’t send anyone to face her, drawing a delay-of-game green card from the umpires.

Both teams, preparing for forthcoming play during fall-ball as well as for tournament play down the line, went with experimental lineups and substituted new players liberally.

I think a couple of players to watch on the Dukes’ roster are a pair of incoming first-year players from long-time national power Moorestown (N.J.), Ava Frantz and Kasey Knobloch are well-trained, disciplined athletes who will, I think, work well in the JMU system, especially given the new rules of the game.

JMU continues play tomorrow at Tierney Field, facing Boston College, Arizona State, and Johns Hopkins. It will be interesting to see how your defending national champions handle a very demanding fall-ball schedule.

BULLETIN: Oct. 3, 2018 — Major merger of athletic programs afoot in New York

New York, as a world financial center and prime real estate market, is used to the concepts of mergers and acquisitions.

Today, there was an announcement that has the potential, if the merger is done right, of making an enormous impact in college sport. It was announced that the athletic programs of Long Island University-Brooklyn and the LIU-C. W. Post campus in Brookville would be merging into a single Division I entity moving forward.

The combined athletics department, with its dual physical plant and combined resources, could represent a significant challenge in some sports for their league and regional rivals.

The LIU-Post women’s lacrosse team has been a force in NCAA Division II in recent years, winning the inaugural championship in 2001 and winning three more titles, and always remaining in the headwaters of championship contention under head coach Meghan McNamara, the former Maryland product.

LIU’s field hockey program, led by Raenee Savin, has been perhaps the hard-luck story of NCAA field hockey across all divisions during the 2010s. Post has made the NCAA Division II final four out of the last five seasons, but has never won.

Now, the Division I programs for field hockey and women’s lacrosse out of LIU-Brooklyn have never finished with greater than a .500 record. But I project that will change with the merger and the move to the Northeast Conference in Division I.

I think, with the resources of two campuses and the draw to the vibrancy of Brooklyn and Manhattan, that could very well lead to a “Why not us?” attitude amongst the people running the athletics program at the school, an attitude that tends to be contagious.

We’ll know starting in September 2019.

Oct. 1, 2018 — Is women’s lacrosse in the American West about to feed upon itself?

Last spring was the first season for the Pac 12 in women’s lacrosse. There were only six teams competing, mind you, but that didn’t stop the conference from competing in a postseason championship with an Automatic Qualifier bid at stake.

The problem is that the rest of the teams in the old Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) clattered all over the place like an overenthusiastic break at the start of a game of billiards.

Denver University joined the Big East as an affiliate member. Saint Mary’s became a club lacrosse program. Only three MPSF teams remained in operation, and the squads — Fresno State, San Diego State, and the University of California, Davis all finished between 47th and 88th for their Ratings Percentage Index; all far, far out of consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

And now there’s a report from The Fresno Bee that head coach Jessica Giglio and the program are under investigation for having an abusive culture.

This site is not even going to hint at the guilt or innocence of the coaching staff; we saw situations when coaches have been fired, and coaches who have been completely exonerated, even in the last 12 months.

Instead, what should be focused on is the two-track development of organized collegiate women’s lacrosse. Right now, it’s the club lacrosse scene in the western half of the United States that is absolutely blooming. From the University of Washington to the University of San Diego, from Utah State to Northern Arizona, the pay-to-play club sides vastly outnumber their fully-funded varsity sisters west of the Mississippi.

It always seems as though whenever momentum to bring more varsity programs to the region is on the upsweep, the cause takes a step back. I’ll refer you to one paragraph in the linked Fresno Bee story:

The MPSF, according to a conference spokesman, is committed to holding a conference tournament in 2019 at UC Davis and in 2020 at Fresno State, but has made “no decisions” regarding women’s lacrosse beyond that.

I don’t like the sound of that.

Sept. 19, 2018 — Farewell to a valuable source

Three weeks ago, LaxPower.com closed its virtual doors, presumably for the last time.

LaxPower, which was a valuable resource for schedules of everything from scholastic to Division I contests in both genders and for the NCAA and NAIA alike, had been around in some form since 1997, having been started by Larry Feldman.

I got to be a semi-regular communicator with George Hollenbeck, who was the administrator of the girls’ high-school lacrosse portion of the website. It was he who aided me in figuring out the trend which saw an explosion in scoring with the imposition of technology in sticks and new rules in changing the way the game is played.

Through his command of the facts and figures of the game, I was able to figure out the different lay of the land when it came to comparing the game that Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) dominated for a decade to the wooden-stick game played for most of the 20th Century.

LaxPower was not just a source of news and information, but also a substantial statistical picture of the game. Numerous states, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, used LaxPower to seed postseason tournaments using the usual Ratings Percentage Index formula (1/4 your record, 1/2 your opponent’s records, and 1/4 the record of your opponents’ opponents).

Regrettably, a number of factors contributed to the demise of LaxPower. The biggest one was the corporate ownership of the site beginning a couple of years ago. That put the business onus onto making money, rather than inform the public for simple love of the game, so part of the site had a paywall on it.

(NB: It’s why TopOfTheCircle.com has never partnered with any school sports news publication; we’ve seen too many of them disappear without a trace. Anyone remember SportsHuddle, for example?)

But LaxPower had plenty of die-hard adherents, including communities of people who frequented the lively pHpBB discussion forums. Colorful characters with even more colorful nicknames dotted the space, and many of them displayed impressive wisdom.

I even remember one time when, during a Maryland-Virginia game, I noted that a UVA player left the penalty bench before her two-minute yellow card had expired and predicted the player would be sent off minutes before everyone else on the rail at the Lacrosse & Field Hockey Complex (including a couple of LaxPower denizens) realized what was happening.

For LaxPower forum users, the Final Four was always a great meetup, where stories got swapped about players past and present, and mostly from a neutral perspective (a couple of Maryland fans notwithstanding). Even though there are social media avenues that allow lacrosse fans to connect with others,  LaxPower was a unique community.

And I’m sad that it, and the site, are gone.

Sept. 10, 2018 — Behavior, gender, and officiating

Last Saturday’s U.S. Open tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka has been overshadowed by commentary after the event about the way Serena Williams was treated by the chair umpire after she was caught receiving advice from her coach in the stands, a no-no in International Tennis Federation professional singles events.

Much of the discussion has been about whether a double-standard exists between men and women on the pro tennis circuit when it comes to how penalties are meted out.

In truth, there has been a difference, and it was so stated in a 1982 New York Times article referencing Jerry Diamond, executive vice-president of the Women’s Tennis Association:

Diamond said that the women had always had stricter penalties and enforcement than the men. ”The women players are younger than the men, too,” he said. ”They are more accustomed to accepting a reprimand.”

I’ve been fortunate, in my 30 years of field hockey and women’s lacrosse, to not see more players sent off the pitch. Most have been second yellow cards in lacrosse, which is more akin to picking up a fifth foul in a basketball game.

But I think there’s going to be a bit of a kerfuffle in the next few years when it comes to girls’ and women’s lacrosse in the United States, especially as more men coach the game. That’s because men in lacrosse are more used to challenging the referees and sometimes challenging their integrity, which is a big no-no in the women’s game.

I’ll take you back to the 2010 NCAA women’s lacrosse final between Northwestern and Maryland. Northwestern, recall, had taken a 6-1 lead into the 13th minute of play, and Maryland was looking to get a second goal. The Terps were dispossessed, and Northwestern jetted away with numbers up in the midfield.

Suddenly, there was a whistle from one of the game umpires, and a yellow card was issued to the Northwestern bench. What could have been a 7-1 lead on that fast break became an 8-8 tie at the interval, from which Maryland pulled out a 13-11 win.

Only later on did word get out that the card was directed to Northwestern assistant coach Scott Hiller, who had played men’s lacrosse for Massachusetts and had a six-year coaching run with Boston and Washington/Chesapeake of Major League Lacrosse.

Over the course of the last few years, I have noticed that male coaches in the sports of field hockey and girls’ and women’s lacrosse have tended to receive more sanctions from umpires than their female counterparts. Note: this isn’t a scientific read on data, but just sideline observation.

But there’s also another observation I’ve made when it comes to lacrosse: there have been a lot fewer yellows given to scholastic coaches of both genders, because cards issued to coaches count towards the team total of three, beyond which a scholastic team is obligated to play short for the rest of the game. In other words, the rule which was designed to rein in rough and dangerous play has also seemingly reined in vociferous coaches.

That goal was the goal of the codes of conduct in tennis which were not well enforced in the 70s and 80s, but with the formation of the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1990, the rules were more heavily enforced. The McEnroes, Vilases, and Nastases of the men’s tennis world had long since retired, and the tennis world was worried about other types of behavior, including consorting with betting interests.

That is, until last Saturday night.