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Archive for Lacrosse

Sept. 1, 2021 — Thoughts on the start of Year 24

It was back in 1998 when this website started with a few words on a GeoCities website: “News From The Top Of The Circle,” it said.

Since then, this site has ballooned with not only a text presence, but video, this blog, and the social media accounts in the header. As always, give us a like and a share when you get onto our TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook presences. And if you look us up on those four accounts, you can find our Fearless 5ive for the three NCAA divisions as well as our scholastic preseason Top 10.

Over the last 23 years, we’ve gotten to meet with some of the great players in the history of field hockey and lacrosse in this country, as well as a number of future stars.

We’ve always worried, however, whether the influence of this site has caused some players and teams to divert from the kind of game they are trained to play and either take rash chances or run up the score on opponents.

We’ve noticed players in field hockey and lacrosse who have blasted existing scoring records. Caitlyn Wurzburger had 1,000 points in her varsity lacrosse career, Austyn Cuneo and Mackenzie Allessie with mind-boggling 300-goal field hockey careers, Fran Frieri breaking the single-season lacrosse scoring record for a small-town team in Illinois, Haley (Schleicher) Randall getting 50 goals and 50 assists in a field hockey season, and the 500-goal careers of Taylor Pinzone and Sophia Turchetta, who went to high school a scant 25 miles apart in the western suburbs of Boston.

The statistical achievements have been steered by some great coaches. I find it interesting that, for example, the current leaders in coaching wins — Kathy Jenkins in girls’ lacrosse and Susan Butz-Stavin in field hockey — are still active. In addition, I also find it interesting that two of the most successful scholastic coaches in the last quarter-century — Danyle Heilig in field hockey and Deanna Knobloch in girls’ lacrosse — decided to step away from their successful programs within the space of 15 months.

But as well as these coaches, players, and their teams have done, the overall fortunes of the sports in which they take part have diverged significantly since this site started.

In field hockey, the United States was, and still is, seen as “the sick man” of the sport. The U.S. women’s team was fourth in the world coming out of the 1998 FIH Women’s World Cup, but failed to qualify for the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. The United States had a pretty good patch beginning in 2006, qualifying for three consecutive Olympics between 2008 and 2016, all the while winning its first major trophy in 2014 with the FIH Champions Challenge.

However, after losing in the quarterfinals of Rio 2016, the States finished last in its pool at the 2018 World Cup, then failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Behind the scenes, there were multiple coaching changes and a public imbroglio over the quality of the $12 million Home of Hockey in central Pennsylvania.

Right now, the U.S. women are in the midst of having to occupying its fifth home ground since October 2001. As for the U.S. men, the senior national team has still not qualified for an Olympics or World Cup when it has not been the host since 1956. There still are no varsity field hockey programs at U.S. schools and colleges for boys and young men.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, have legal language to allow boys to play on boys’ teams, but the only boys’ scholastic programs which have even gotten onto the field have been in California.

In addition, the NCAA Division I championship was not on national cable TV for nearly a quarter of a century, only returning in early May 2021 with a memorable grand final between North Carolina and Michigan.

Contrast this with women’s and girls’ lacrosse. The number of girls’ teams across America has nearly tripled since 2000. The NCAA Division I tournament’s field, which had just six teams the mid-1990s, now has 26.

Women’s lacrosse now has an amazing collection of star players who have latched onto social media to build their reputations and, with new NCAA regulations allowing players to make money off names, images, and licensing (NLI). Too, there have been three professional women’s lacrosse leagues since 2016, which has allowed players to develop not only their personal branding, but the quality of their games.

This has allowed the United States to retain the No. 1 slot in just about every major world tournament. There have been a couple of significant exceptions: the U.S. finished second to Australia in the 2005 World Cup, and the U.S. junior national team lost to Canada in the 2015 U-19 World Cup.

The States are coming into the 2022 Women’s World Cup in Towson, Md. as a favorite, but as a tenuous one. No host nation has ever won a World Cup in women’s lacrosse.

But what the U.S. has that no other nation has is an organized pro league, one which competes under the Athletes Unlimited banner. The league, which uses metrics to select captains which choose up teams for the next week, is a concept which gets players to work with each other while using their natural abilities, and without coaches.

This site has advocated for the professionalization of post-graduate competition since we started. And the success of AU women’s lacrosse has brought up an interesting scenario. Should AU get involved in women’s field hockey? And if so, isn’t it the case that men’s field hockey needs this kind of competitive circuit more than the women?

It’s an interesting discussion point, one which bears watching when it comes to the ground that the game of field hockey has lost in the last quarter-century.

Aug. 29, 2021 — Farewell to a lacrosse lifer

I didn’t want to go much further into the fall without writing a little something about Janine Tucker. This past week, she announced that the 2022 spring women’s lacrosse season would be her final campaign with Johns Hopkins University.

Tucker was a branch of the Diane Geppi-Aikens coaching tree, and she helped organize a lot of the events, fundraisers, and celebrations of the late Loyola coach’s life. But she also put her enormous heart into coaching the Johns Hopkins program and helping the program transition from Division III to Division I, to match the men’s lacrosse program.

Tucker was able to smoothly guide the Blue Jays program from the non-scholarship days of the program into Division I life with aplomb, ever as the city of Baltimore evolved around the school. Over the course of three decades, she made four NCAA Division III tournaments and nine Division I tournaments.

The Jays even won their only major trophy under Tucker: the 2001 ECAC Division I championship with a win over the University of Pennsylvania.

Hopkins’ best days were just after that triumph, starting the 2006 season at No. 2 in the national polls. But the Jays found themselves looking up at their American Lacrosse Conference rivals, Northwestern, during an era in which the Wildcats won seven national titles in eight years.

Currently, Hopkins is also in a position of struggle within the Big Ten. The Jays joined the conference in 2017, only to see rival Maryland win two national titles within three years.

Despite these obstacles, the Hopkins women’s lacrosse program has found its share of successes. The program has had more than 300 wins in 28 seasons, plus plenty of All-Americans and transformative players coming into and out of the team.

It’s not going to be the same, a team playing out of Homewood without Tucker at the helm. She has been good for the game.

Aug. 22, 2021 — Four evolving rosters, one champion

The final matchday of Athletes Unlimted women’s lacrosse is the culmination of five weekends of play at the South Germantown Soccer Plex in Boyds, Md.

It’s the third iteration of a professional women’s lacrosse league in the United States, one which sees an individual champion rather than one given to a team. At the end of the day, Taylor Cummings, late of the U.S. women’s national team, was the glue which made everyone better on her team.

But that’s nothing new if you’ve ever watched her play. At Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), she was part of great teams alongside the likes of Jen Cook, Sammi Burgess, and Megan Whittle, all of whom played Division I lacrosse. At the University of Maryland, she willingly shared the ball in an offense including Whittle, Zoe Stukenberg, Brooke Griffin, and Jen Giles. With the U.S. women’s national team, she shared the ball with the likes of Michelle Tumolo, Kayla Treanor, Alice Mercer, and Laura Zimmerman.

So, it’s no surprise that Taylor Cummings was the glue that helped her teams become successful over the last several weeks of the season. This especially was true the final weekend, one which came with the added pressure of being at the top of the leaderboard.

Cummings’ lead could have been threatened if her team lost the game and all four quarters to a team led by former UNC goalie Kaylee Waters, but Sam Apuzzo wouldn’t let that happen. She had a two-point goal in the third quarter which changed the momentum of the entire contest, and Team Cummings ran out 7-5 winners. At the same time, Taylor Cummings was able to gain team points that kept her at the top of the individual leaderboard. With 1,943 points, she’s the champion of champions in this format of pro lacrosse.

It’s a well-deserved honor for a player who was this site’s Player of the Decade for the 2010s.

Aug. 14, 2021 — The revelation of AU lacrosse

This space took in a doubleheader of Athletes Unlimited lacrosse games held today at Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Md.

As is often the case, a new women’s sports league will make new stars. For the Women’s United Soccer Association, the league helped in the identification of midfielder Shannon Boxx as a future star. For the WNBA, the league helped develop Becky Hammon not only as a top player, but as an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Thus far, for me, the best story of the 57 athletes in the AU lacrosse player pool is Kayla Wood. Wood is a close defender who played this past spring for the University of North Carolina.

If you looked at her stat line for the 2021 college season, you would have no idea that she would develop into the player she has become with Athletes Unlimited. For UNC, she started just 10 of the team’s 21 games, with one assist, 11 caused turnovers, 14 draw controls, and 17 ground-ball pickups.

She has only a goal and an assist on the 2021 AU season, but she has played lights-out defense, helping her teams win quarters and games. At the end of today’s doubleheader, she sits third in overall points in the AU scoring system, a scant 10 points behind three-time Tewaaraton Trophy-winner Taylor Cummings.

And if you watch her on the field of play, you understand how good she is. She is comfortable in all phases of play, but she truly excels when she takes a turnover and bursts into the attack end, reminiscent of former U.S. World Cup winner Cherie Greer.

The next World Cup is set for 2022 in Towson, Md. Thus far, the roster of 61 in the U.S. player pool for the tournament doesn’t include Kayla Wood. Perhaps her work this summer will merit a look by the U.S. staff.

Aug. 13, 2021 — 18 out of 19 aren’t bad

In the last few days, a raft of new rules for girls’ high school lacrosse have been passed muster with the National Federation of State High School Association and USA Lacrosse. Most of them are going to have minimal impacts on game play, especially considering the free-movement rule which was used this past spring.

The one rule, however, that jumps out at me is a rule which, I think, could do some serious damage to the game.

The rule is that the clock, in the final two minutes, only stops for a goal, a card, or for a defensive foul in the critical scoring area, which is loosely defined as an box three meters outside the 12-meter arc and extending nine meters behind the goal.

Usually, the final two minutes of a girls’/women’s lacrosse game are tense and taut affairs, ones in which every pass, every ground-ball pickup, every save, every shot, every decision are magnified. In a sense, the final two minutes of a non-runaway game were also magnified, since the game clock gets stopped every other whistle to allow umpires to mete out 4-meter penalties, set up free positions, and sometimes made critical decisions. Often, the last two minutes of a half would last five minutes or more in real time, as each of the two minutes would involve some kind of game action.

But with the rules in place for next year, there will be extended time in the final two minutes during which the ball won’t actually be in play, with the clock ebbing towards zero. We’ve seen this in the WPLL, and it’s very dissonant. I think you’re going to see a number of teams, especially those ahead by a goal, engage in various forms of gamesmanship in order to see a game out.

Such tactical delays include dawdling or taking your time to get set for a restart or getting up slowly from getting knocked down. These delaying tactics usually don’t affect the outcome of games because the clock is meant to stop on every other whistle in the final two minutes.

But I have the feeling this rule will lead to some controversial finishes — and some hard feelings — in state tournament games next spring. Stay tuned.

Aug. 7, 2021 — The U.S. is still the best in women’s team sports

Tonight, the U.S. women’s basketball team will be taking on host Japan in the gold-medal match in basketball at the Tokyo Olympics. And like many iterations of the team before them, they should win gold.

Indeed, since this site started 23 years ago, team sports have been at the head of the women’s sports revolution in America. The States are guaranteed to medal in basketball (both full-court and 3×3), volleyball (indoor and beach), soccer, water polo, and softball.

Too, the States won medals in a number of team events in what are usually individual sports. American women have medaled in the 4000-meter team pursuit in cycling, synchronized platform diving, team gymnastics, three swim relays, three track relays (including a mixed-gender relay), the mixed-gender triathlon relay, and team dressage and team jumping in the equestrian events.

Now, not all of these have been gold medals. Indeed, there will be more ink expended on the bronze medal won by the U.S. women’s national soccer team than is usually expended on the Boston Red Sox.

But the level of competition in all sports on the Olympic program has been raised across the board the last several years. Some of the competition boosters have been governments, especially state-sponsored funding by China and Russia — and, to a smaller extent, the United States, which has more and more talent identification within governing bodies of sports at younger and younger ages.

Some of the other competition boosters have been privately-owned. The X-Games, the Dew Tour and the like have been the springboards for the recent additions of skateboarding, BMX, freestyle skiing, and other “extreme” sports in the Olympic program.

Another booster, I think, is going to be Athletes Unlimited. With this week’s demise of the Women’s Professional Softball League, AU is going to be the primary outlet for the player pool of softball players as they have to play and train through an Olympic cycle without the sport (softball and baseball won’t be played at Paris 2024). Too, the AU is going to be helping train a generation of pro players for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, by which time lacrosse is reputed to be added as a medal sport.

The regrettable constant throughout the last 23 years? Field hockey has brought up the rear when it comes to achievements. Yes, the women’s national team won its first major trophy in 2014, but the current world ranking for the team is 15th.

Yep, 15th.

And so it goes.

Aug. 5, 2021 — A “poach” for a new hire

A few days ago, Clemson University, a school which has gained a lot of notoriety in college sports for winning two national championships and finishing in the top four for the last six seasons, hired its first women’s lacrosse coach.

For a university looking to make an immediate impact in a growing sport, you might think that the school would poach a current head coach, or perhaps an assistant with name recognition, from a Division I school.

I find the hire of former Richmond head coach Allison (Evans) Kwolek interesting because of her work the last eight seasons. Her record with the Spiders is 64-16, which is an 80 percent win percentage in a tough Atlantic-10 Conference. Richmond was nationally ranked in the top-10 each of the last two seasons and has qualified for the NCAA postseason in two of the last three Division I tournaments.

Kwolek had taken her lumps when she took over the Richmond program in 2013. The Spiders lost their first four games to start her career there, part of a five-game losing streak against ranked teams. But Kwolek’s teams got better over the years, culminating in a 13-12 win over No. 6 Virginia in 2020. The problem is, the entire NCAA season was COVID-cancelled a fortnight later; we will never know how good this Spiders team would have been.

It’s this kind of promise that awaits Clemson University’s fan base, and it will be interesting to see what kind of team Kwolek assembles. We’ve seen different approaches to building new teams over the years; some have worked right away, and others have yet to lead to championship form. And the university, in choosing her, is giving her the keys to a program which is expected to succeed not only within the always-tough ACC, but nationally.

Aug. 1, 2021 — A pivot, and some housekeeping

Hi, all. This being August 1, we start looking forward to the start of the domestic field hockey season with scholastic games starting as early as Aug. 17th in Kentucky. 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.

Now, you’ll note that, in the Chasing History lists to the right of this space, we’ve changed the colors of the graduated seniors to black, and the two current players amongst the top scorers in their respective sports — Ryleigh Heck in field hockey and Fran Frieri in lacrosse — are listed in red.

Unlike in previous years, however, we’re keeping both the field hockey and lacrosse lists on the site rather than swapping out the field hockey list in January and the lacrosse list in August.

Mind you, we’ll still be keeping an eye on lacrosse during this month, with the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited heading into the homestretch and with rosters for the 2022 FIL Women’s World Cup and 2023 U-19 World Cup being determined in the next few weeks.

Best of luck to the competitors, no matter what the sport.

July 30, 2021 — Your national lacrosse scoring champion

On June 8, Fran Frieri, a junior attacker from Lockport (Ill.) Township, broke the existing national record for girls’ lacrosse goals in a single season. She wound up with 191 goals, which is 21 more than the highest known number of goals scored in a scholastic season.

It was a pretty big deal for the small town of about 25,000 located 30 miles southwest of Chicago. Thing is, it barely made a dent in the local media.

“Our newspaper (The Lockport Legend) closed down because of COVID,” Frieri says. “We had to rely on our social media team in order to get the word out about getting people to come to our games. And that’s how we roll.”

Frieri’s story, and word of her achievements, have circulated within the U.S. lacrosse community. Your national lacrosse scoring champion was chosen for the UnderArmour lacrosse All-American tournament in the Highlight Division as well as a combine of youth lacrosse players competing for spots on the U.S. U-19 World Cup team, scheduled to compete in 2023.

Not bad for a representative of a Lockport team which has only been a varsity program for four years.

“We have a really special program, because none of our girls had really played lacrosse before,” Frieri says. “Our seniors were freshman on that inaugural team.”

Frieri’s talents and skills are readily apparent when you watch her play at the UnderArmour tournament. Her speed, honed by track and field, allows her to skirt opposing defenders before they are ready to throw a check. She is able to execute from the 8-meter arc on free positions. And at one juncture, she took a pass from a teammate and zinged in an over-the-shoulder shot which was nullified by a shooting-space call.

She’s going to be taking her talents to Notre Dame in the fall of 2022. And a big part of the adjustment is to make sure that she’s not going to be defined by her 191-goal season.

But first, there’s a matter of her senior year at Lockport, and trying to improve on the team’s match through to the IHSA Super Sectionals last spring.

“My sister is coming up on the team next year,” Frieri says. “And I want to be able to raise that assist number.”

For the record, Frieri recorded 24 assists in 2021.

Frieri joins a list of past national goal-scoring leaders:

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

June 26, 2021 — My 14

This evening, Kayla Wood, Kayla Traynor, Haley Warden, and Dempsey Arsenault — the four highest point-scorers in Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse last weekend — will be choosing up sides for this coming weekend’s games.

This kind of “rotisserie” drafting for each week’s fixtures is a hallmark of Athletes Unlimited thus far. But it also has people on social media asking the question, “What kind of lacrosse team can you draft?”

I have pointed out on this site that, while 56 great players are in this player pool, others are not in the pool for one reason or another. And, at the risk of hubris, I do think I could field a competitive side with 14 women’s lacrosse players who are not in the league at all.

A few ground rules: First off, no players with college eligibility. That rules out fifth-year seniors like Charlotte North or Jamie Ortega, and top prep players like Mallory Hasselbeck or Fran Frieri.

Second, despite my fealty for great players of the past like Cherie Greer, Jen Adams, Quinn Carney and Sarah Forbes, our goal is to pick a side which could have a realistic chance of competing in this league, if money were not an object to fly in the players and have them train for a few days.

Fourth, we’re designating two goaltenders for this team, since all of the AU teams are employing two netminders.

Finally, this entire thing is a thought experiment. A number of these players may have had their own reasons for not being in the league, so this is more of a “what if?”

Here is our team:


GOAL: Gussie Johns, the U.S. women’s national team goaltender is a special, special player with great instincts, the willingness and ability to double, and makes the difficult save.

GOAL: Megan Taylor is a Tewaaraton Trophy winner, and the Maryland alumna got better every day by facing the likes of Taylor Cummings and Zoe Stukenberg on a daily basis.

DEFENSE: Julia Braig can not only bring you a number of caused turnovers in this wide-open game, but I was impressed with her ability to carry the ball up the pitch with great speed and skill to build an attack. I called her “The Human Ridebreaker” when she was at Maryland.

DEFENSE: Cara Trombetta was a great player and leader at Florida, and a person who caused the most turnovers of anyone in Gators history.

DEFENSE: Taylor Thornton was a fearsome defender while at Northwestern, and the free-range nature of the pro game will allow her to showcase her all-around talents in the attack half, too.

MIDFIELD: Elena Romesburg, the James Madison graduate, always seems to make things happen in the attacking third of the field. She was also a player who seemingly was made for the pro game.

MIDFIELD: Kate Canizzaro was a tenacious all-rounder at North Carolina, and I think the open spaces of the 9-v-9 game will make her a deadly attack threat.

MIDFIELD/DC: Zoe Stukenberg was one of the great all-around midfielders for Maryland in the 2000s, who could play defense, score goals, and win draws in a variety of ways.

MIDFIELD/DC : Dana Dobbie, who was a record-setting player at the University of Maryland, may have been even better as a post-graduate player. She lit up the UWLX with the Baltimore Ride and the WPLL with the Baltimore Brave with an array of stick skills several years before Charlotte North lit up social media with her stick tricks.

MIDFIELD/DC : Kali Hartshorn was on the way to breaking a number of Maryland and NCAA records as a draw-taker before COVID intervened. She also has shown a penchant for scoring big goals in big games.

ATTACK: Kara Mupo, the former Northwestern star, was an excellent scorer for the Philadelphia Force of UWLX and the New England Command of WPLL, and seemed to thrive in the open spaces of the pro game.

ATTACK: Selena Lasota, who also played at Northwestern, was a game-changer in so many ways. She would be the focus of the attack in our system.

ATTACK: Megan Whittle played on one of the great teams in scholastic history as well as Maryland. I think the professional game suits her quickness and penchant for improvisation.

ATTACK: Laura Zimmerman, at her prime at UNC, was one of the quickest players I have ever seen. In the pro role, she would be a great disruptor.