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Archive for Lacrosse

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.

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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.

Sept. 5, 2018 — Two national teams, two very different goals

In the last few days, announcements were made about the United States senior women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams, who will be preparing for upcoming tournament action.

The lacrosse team, off a World Cup/World Games double in 2017, is preparing to play October 6 in Sparks, Md. in the Team USA Fall Classic, a doubleheader featuring the United States playing against the current NCAA champions in fall-ball. The United States team has 12 players from the last World Cup, and 15 more players coming in from the collegiate and pro ranks.

I find it interesting that, for all of the star power that the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) had boasted in its ranks, United Women’s Lacrosse (UWLX) sent seven players to the American roster.

I had prophesied a few weeks ago that, while the WPLL had the known quantities in their league, there was room for discovery on the UWLX side. I’ll focus on two players, Dorrien Van Dyke and Kelly Glatthorn, as examples. Van Dyke is a graduate of Stony Brook, but she graduated in 2017, and did not participate in SBU’s run at No. 1 for most of last spring before running headlong into Boston College one rung short of the Final Four. She coached at Monmouth last year and was hired into the coaching staff of national champion James Madison for next year.

Glatthorn was the co-captain at Virginia Tech, helping steer the Hokies to their inaugural appearance in the NCAA Tournament. A close defender, she had 50 draw controls, 42 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers this past season.

Meanwhile, the American field hockey team has a much younger team for the Sompo Cup Four Nations tournament in Osaka, Japan. Fewer than half of the members of the World Cup roster will be taking part in this tournament, which features Australia, Korea, and host Japan.

And, as it is a tournament being held in the midst of the NCAA season, you’re not going to see the likes of Ashley Hoffman, Margaux Paolino, and Erin Matson, who are currently with their college teams. This means an opportunity for newcomers like goalies Kealsie Robles and Jess Jecko, forward Mary Beth Barnham, defender Carissa Vittese, and midfielder Laura Hurff.

Indeed, I think this tournament is much more of a combine to assess players for the FIH Hockey Pro League, which begins in earnest Feb. 2 with the States traveling to Argentina, then hosting Holland in what could be called the “Koode Oorlog” (Cold War) Feb. 16th in Winston-Salem, N.C.

For the women on the Sompo Cup roster, it’s a reward with a lot of difficulty, but some inspired choices could bear fruit down the road for Olympic qualifying.

Aug. 30, 2018 — An umpiring crisis in Vermont

Usually, this time of year, there is a story published somewhere in America indicating a critically-low number of game officials for scholastic sports.

Another story was published today in The Stowe News & Citizen about a shortage of officials in Vermont.

But the passage that struck me was this one:

After soccer, the ref deficit is worst for girls lacrosse and field hockey, [Vermont Principals’ Association Associate Director Bob] Johnson said.

That’s troubling. Especially if it becomes a nationwide trend.

 

Aug. 18, 2018 — Addition by addition?

This week, the team that polled as the No. 1 NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse team in the country for most of the season, showed its hand as to what it is going to try to do to win a national championship.

Stony Brook, which lost in the quarterfinal round in overtime to Boston College, may have graduated a sizable and accomplished senior class, but it is also welcoming four transfers amongst its newcomers. Nicole Barretta, Kelsi LoNigro, Sara Moeller and Sabrina Tabasso.

“We look at it as a reload,” SBU head coach Joe Spallina tells Long Island Newsday. “We have a ton of faith in the players that we have back, and now the pieces that we added.”

Of the four, Moeller may have the largest impact. She scored 77 goals and recorded 60 assists for the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the last two years, and was a league all-star last year.

Now, I have seen transfers become bona fide game-changers at times in my three decades of observing the sport. But very few transfers have been the difference in whether a team makes it to NCAA championship level. One of the most memorable transfers was when Dana Dobbie transferred from the disbanded Ohio University program to set records for draw controls at the University of Maryland. Yet Dobbie never won a title with the Terps.

We’ll get an idea about how the transfers affect the team during fall-ball.

Aug. 17, 2018 — A toxic culture, examined

This afternoon, the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland held a conference call to discuss the ramifications of news reports and other allegations surrounding a toxic culture in the Maryland football team, one which pushed a young student-athlete named Jordan McNair past his physical limits, dying of heatstroke during spring workouts.

The football coach, D.J. Durkin, stands accused of a lack of oversight over the people who are in charge of various aspects of the team, and he and other members of his staff have been put on administrative leave. A strength coach has been fired.

Today, the death of a football player is enough to bring out tabloid sports media, university compliance officers, and even the governance of the university.

Not so long ago, death and serious injuries in training were seen as a fact of life or even a necessary process of whittling down a group of trainees into a team. A recent telefilm, “The Book of Manning,” detailed Archie Manning’s own training as a University of Mississippi freshman in the 1960s under a head coach named Wobble Davidson.

“His job,” Manning told the Times-Picayune a few years back, “was to run a bunch of people off.”

To “run people off” means to push players sometimes beyond their physical and mental limits, to the point of quitting. The hope is that those who remain will be able to serve the varsity program after the limited freshman schedules of the time.

This being the month of August, this kind of whittling down is happening all the time, and in all sports, in all 50 states and the six non-voting U.S. territories. Maybe not with the brutality as was found a half-century ago, but you do hear stories as a sportswriter.

I once saw a field hockey program, run by one of the all-time greats, winnow down a group of 64 walkons and trialists down to less than 10 in five days. I once saw one of the most-skilled and creative players I ever saw on a high-school field last less than three days in a Division I program.

I have heard stories of torn knee ligaments, hip sockets, broken bones, and heat exhaustion. I even remember one team which was overtrained to the point where half the roster was injured by midseason and the matchday roster had just one outfield substitute. More than once in the last few years, NCAA teams have had to go into games with 11 outfielders and no goalkeeper because of injuries in that position.

Mind you, this wasn’t through physical violence or intimidation or the kind of abusive overtraining that killed Jordan McNair.

Sometimes, the attrition came from a realization on the part of the players who left that they didn’t have the time, fitness, skills, or ambition to make the varsity team. Other times, players have felt as though they were targeted for removal because of a lack of production or the perception that an enormous recruiting class would be coming in.

But at the heart of the matter when it comes to collegiate sports in America is that student-athletes are often seen by athletic programs as little more than a disposable resource with anywhere from one to four years of usable talent and sinew. A player with a severe injury is of no use whatsoever to a coach, and I have seen oft-injured players be off the coach’s radar and off the team by the start of senior year.

You might not like to hear it, but there’s a reason why they call organized workouts and combines of youth sports “meat markets.” The most organized may be the NFL Combine, but there are enough youth tournaments held around the country — some televised by sports networks or the Internet — that serve the same purpose.

The nation will take a few moments to reflect on the circumstances of the death of Jordan McNair. But coaching habits die hard, especially when you’re dealing with the livelihoods of coaches who must win to keep their jobs.

It’s a far cry from decades ago when college coaches moonlighted as instructors at their universities instead of being the highest-paid public employee in a particular state or commonwealth.

Aug. 9, 2018 — A death in the lacrosse family

Yesterday morning, Chris Barnes, the head girls’ lacrosse coach at Webster Thomas (N.Y.), died after a bout with colon cancer.

Barnes worked with both scholastic lacrosse programs in the town of Webster, located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, a few miles east of Rochester. Indeed, he started both Thomas and crosstown rival Webster Herbert W. Schroeder (N.Y.), not exactly the easiest career path.

But that path bore fruit. Barnes won nearly 200 games as head coach while playing in a league and section featuring regional powers Canandaigua, Pittsford, Brighton, and Penfield. Barnes’ career highlight was getting the Titans all the way to the NYSPHSAA Class A semifinals in 2006, losing to eventual state champion Yorktown.

Off the field, however, his career highlight was his courage in the face of cancer. Media reports in the last day laud his focus and positivity with his players.

“He coached his last game in June and coached our team through the entire season,”  former Thomas athletic director Scott Morrison said. “He was just so positive about everything and the way he fought this is a tremendous example for anybody.”