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Archive for Lacrosse

Nov. 10, 2021 — A new goldmine of girls’ lacrosse talent?

As the game of NCAA women’s lacrosse has grown and become more competitive and athletic over the last quarter-century, the search for next hotbed of the sport has begun.

A number of schools have been looking for undiscovered players. Maryland, for example, has as one of its top players a forward who never played for her high-school team, but was instead homeschooled and played for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club side.

Maryland has also attracted a top player from Arizona (who just happens to be the daughter of alumna Courtney Martinez-Connor), and today a signing ceremony is being webcast of a player from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

The growth of girls’ scholastic lacrosse has far overspread the footprint of NCAA teams, as there are good teams in Georgia, Washington, and Utah, where no women’s team yet exists.

But there has been one odd omission when it comes to scholastic lacrosse, at least in comparison to other athletic pursuits in the region.

That area is Hampton Roads, a region of Southeastern Virginia which encompasses cities all the way from Williamsburg out to Yorktown, Newport News Hampton, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach,along the Atlantic shoreline.

Though the area has had club lacrosse, none of the teams you might expect to have developed two-sport talent from field hockey and soccer have gained varsity status.

That is, until last night. In a unanimous vote, the Virginia Beach School Board voted to start girls’ varsity lacrosse beginning in the spring of 2023.

In point of fact, the start of girls’ lacrosse in Hampton Roads should have been (for lack of a better term) a quick-stick. There has been organized club lacrosse in the region for the past 21 years, and the step up to varsity should have been easy.

The problem is that the competition surfaces used by field hockey and boys’ soccer varsities in the fall are being used by middle-school field hockey players and girls’ soccer players in the springtime.

Yep, Virginia Beach is one of the areas that have girls’ spring soccer.

I guess athletic directors have got some planning to do a couple of years out.

Nov. 8, 2021 — A good bit of reading for your Monday

The cover story for Lacrosse Magazine this month is a profile of Taylor Cummings, the MVP of the inaugural Athletes Unlimited lacrosse season as well as the TopOfTheCircle.com Player of the Decade for the 2010s. It is a good read.

Oct. 31, 2021 — In the NCAA, gender inequities run deep

The pictures hit social media like a bomb last March.

There was a small oddment of dumbbells and yoga mats in a hotel ballroom that a Stanford coach photographed and compared to the full gym setup afforded to the Cardinal men’s basketball team for their participation in their respective NCAA Division I basketball tournaments.

An exhaustive and evolving listing of inequities have been maintained by OnHerTurf, and may be found here.

The story has led to a gender equity review conducted by the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (full disclosure: Roberta Kaplan is my former college classmate).

It should be no surprise that the NCAA, despite its status as a legal non-profit, has aimed resources at revenue-generating sports such as football and men’s basketball. The NCAA spends more than twice the money on male athletes than they do on female athletes in championship settings.

But even when you look at other comparisons between men’s and women’s organizations in the same sport, gender inequities are pervasive and obvious. The lacrosse Twitterverse was rife with comparisons late last week, describing how the Division I men’s lacrosse tournament is played in professional football stadiums and with paid advertisements on billboards. Meanwhile, the women’s lacrosse tournament is held mainly in football stadia of mid-major programs such as Stony Brook and Towson University. It has also been pointed out that while the men’s octofinal and quarterfinal rounds of the lacrosse tournament are broadcast in their entirety, that is not the case for the women.

The pervasiveness of the inequities and the difficulties of reform were reflected in the law firm’s report. Apparently, the NCAA does not maintain records of expenses, ticket sales, amenities, or other items in a standardized manner, which makes it difficult to analyze spending year-to-year or sport-to-sport.

But the biggest problem is, frankly, the television revenue. While CBS and Turner pay the NCAA several billion dollars for carrying the Division I men’s basketball tournament, the ESPN contract for 29 sports (including women’s basketball) is, according to the Kaplan report, a “significant underpayment.”

The NCAA has been promising some reforms, including using the service mark “March Madness” for the women’s basketball tournament. But real reform isn’t going to be as simple as plastering that wordmark at the center jump circle where the words “Women’s Basketball” were.

Oct. 11, 2021 — The medicine game

Today, a day celebrated amongst many as Indigenous Peoples Day, we think about the origins of a game that has become incredibly popular amongst a growing segment of America over the last quarter-century.

That game was originally called baggataway, but is now known as lacrosse. It was a game which originally settled disputes amongst native tribespeople before European conquest of the Americas, but has also come to be a cultural touchstone amongst current members of the Haudenosaunee.

As the game grows across the United States, it is useful to understand how important location is. While the original Six Nations does have great lacrosse, so does the area of the Piscataway, which encompasses much of the Delmarva Peninsula.

As you head west, however, many of the native games played by tribes involved sticks, but not with the ball being played in the air. Instead, a lot of the games involve the ball being played on the ground, as if to be more connected to the earth.

Implements in games played by Native Americans are on display to this day at the National Museum of the American Indian in our nation’s capital. The implements are a smorgasbord of shapes and curves, meant to carry, shield, or propel whichever the chosen instrument of play is — a ball or a chain of small stones.

Your Founder would like to remind you that he was born on land formerly occupied by the Chocktaw and Chickasaw nations, was raised in the Lenni-Lenape territory, was educated in the Massachusett and Haudenosaunee territories, and currently lives in what was the Piscataway and Nacotchtank tribal lands.

My parents were born and raised in what was Taino territory in the Caribbean, although they were of southern European origin.

So, why this disclosure? I think in order for us to be truly American, we have to understand that we are still very much a melting pot of people coming from around the world, even though it has come at great cost to the original occupants of this land.

Oct. 4, 2021 — Multiple outlets, a good thing

This site hasn’t been affected at all by today’s outage of social media presences like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

Indeed, the great thing about what we’ve done over the past 23 years on this site is to build in a measure of redundancy. For the blog, we designed this site to have a front and a side door; there are three ways to get to these words.

It’s much the same with our social media posts. Although our Unfiltered series is based on what we have on Instagram, you can access the post through Twitter or Facebook. Our TikTok videos can be found through Instagram.

So, we’re still here, still writing, and still listening to what is going on so that you, the readership, can be informed.

Sept. 19, 2021 — The value of Athletes Unlimited

In four weeks, the U.S. women’s national lacrosse team takes its first steps on the road to the 2022 FIL Women’s World Cup and the 2022 World Games. The event is the U.S. Lacrosse Fall Classic, which brings together the women’s national team, Canada, and current NCAA champion Boston College for a round-robin series of games at U.S. Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Md.

U.S. head coach Jenny Levy will split her 37-member squad for these games (save for the injured Emily Hawryschuk) and the games will go a long way towards determining which players will be representing the United States next summer.

The U.S. player pool has the usual cavalcade of star players such as Tewaaraton winners Taylor Cummings, Charlotte North, and Sam Apuzzo, and veterans of the 2017 World Cup team such as Kayla Treanor, Marie McCool, and Gussie Johns. The team also has a bunch of young stars such as Izzy Scane and Belle Smith.

But the roster also includes newcomers Ella Simkins and Kayla Wood, two defenders identified through their play in the Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse league. Wood, especially, was magnificent in her play, with her command of the defense as well as her ability to start attacks through transition.

Both Simkins and Wood played for collegiate teams reknowned for their offensive prowess, Syracuse and North Carolina. As defenders, I don’t think they would have been tapped for national team duty without their five-week turns with Athletes Unlimited.

This is, I think, the value of the Athletes Unlimited promotion. The softball, volleyball, and lacrosse leagues are giving women a second chance at an elite level of play for possible berths on their respective national teams.

The volleyball league helped bolster the United States to its first women’s volleyball gold medal — an amazing development considering how good the U.S. has been in the past with players like the legendary Flo Hyman, Kerri Walsh (yep, she played for the U.S. indoors as well as on the sand), and new Hall-of-Famer Logan Tom.

I can’t help thinking that an Athletes Unlimited field hockey league would help with the growth and development of the sport as well as its national team pool.

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.