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Archive for Lacrosse

Jan. 16, 2021 — An unfortunate blowback

Virtually all of the narrative when it comes to the effects of COVID-19 on North American college sports has focused on the major four-year colleges from the so-called Power Five universities in the NCAA all the way to NAIA schools.

Very little has been written about junior colleges, those two-year institutions which can help students with making up credits for major courses of study, or in many cases, help with the physical maturation of players who may have been a step too slow for the big time.

Community college do not have the place they may have had in the 1980s when the term “junior college transfer” was tossed around scouting reports for football and men’s basketball. Indeed, junior-college field hockey died out across the U.S. at the close of the millenium. Women’s lacrosse, after having its numbers dwindle about that time, have steadied to about 15, stretching from Maine to Illinois.

That’s what makes the one announcement today from the heart of lacrosse country somewhat discouraging. Onondaga Community College in Syracuse announced today that it was shutting down all of its spring sports, including fall sports which were scheduled to compete in a postponed season.

The closure of the OCC sports program for the season adds to the scattered closures of spring sports that have been announced nationwide. But what makes this closure hurtful is the fact that the opting out puts a hole in just about every other team’s schedule for the spring. The Lazers, presumably, were on the schedule of the other nine New York-based junior colleges that play women’s lacrosse, as well as some of the other New England schools.

I have a feeling that Onondaga is not going to be the last lacrosse-playing institution to opt out of women’s lacrosse this spring, given the spread of COVID-19 the last five weeks, with 100,000 dead since mid-December.

Jan. 12, 2021 — The one thing we haven’t seen yet (EDITED)

It’s about a month before the first women’s lacrosse games are usually played.

However, as of this moment, most of us only know of exactly one fixture: the Feb. 13 season-opener between two of the last three NCAA Division I champions, as 2018 champion James Madison takes on 2016 titlist North Carolina.

The Coronavirus pandemic has sent collegiate athletic directors scrambling to create schedules which make sense given local health directives and the presence of COVID hotspots. Multiply this across several sports teams, and you’ll understand the logistical nightmare of trying to run an athletic department during these times.

What we know is that the nation’s most competitive women’s lacrosse conference, the ACC, has a structure already. Though the ACC will remain a single-table league, it is being split into two divisions. Boston College, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Louisville are in one division, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Duke in the other. Teams play divisional opponents twice, and teams from the opposite division once, with up to five non-conference games, for a total of 15.

In addition, the Big East will be having double round-robin, but without travel. That is to say, when Georgetown plays Villanova, both games will take place the same weekend either at Cooper Field or at Villanova Stadium.

The hangup for many of the 120 or so women’s lacrosse teams in Division I seems to be non-conference games.

And imagine: if the Division I teams are having this much trouble hammering out their schedules, what must the Division II and III schedulemakers be experiencing?

UPDATE: This afternoon, the entire UNC women’s lacrosse schedule came out. And, as expected, it was 15 matches in duration.

The Heels’ non-conference schedule does run the gamut. The team will be playing James Madison to open the season, with a good Florida side a week later. UNC is also going to play three teams which they should beat, in Mercer, High Point, and Vanderbilt.

This means, of course, that there are some prominent teams that the Tar Heels won’t be playing, such as Loyola, Stony Brook, and, perhaps most pointedly, Maryland. UNC and Maryland were ACC rivals before the latter jumped to the Big Ten, but still kept playing each other. Regrettably, COVID scheduling has put the kibosh on that.

Jan. 1, 2021 — My hopes for 2021

The end of 2020 sees the end of one of the tumultuous years in the history of the world. Oddly enough, this tumult wasn’t as a result of war, natural disasters, or terrorism.

Instead, the COVID-19 global pandemic has been responsible for 83 million worldwide infections with 1.8 million deaths. It has had devastating effects on many worldwide economies: the United States, the world’s largest economy, leads in infections and deaths from Coronavirus.

But you’re also seeing three out of the four so-called BRIC countries in the top four in terms of the number of COVID infections. Russia, India, and Brazil, with more than three million positive tests each, are similarly overrun by the virus, and they were, along with China, four of the most important growing economies in the world before the onset of the pandemic.

Not only are public health and world economies being affected by the virus, but also competitive sports. Here are my hopes for 2021:

I hope that the spring collegiate field hockey season is able to take place without the kind of tumult that has befallen football and men’s basketball in the last year, and is able to wind its way to a champion.

I also hope that teams in the ACC which did not win the automatic qualifier are able to get a fair shot at the two at-large bids in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

I hope that the college women’s lacrosse season is able to take place, especially with the talented players expected to make an impact this fall.

I hope that, in Division I, that teams other than the University of North Carolina are able to emerge as national championship contenders. I think Notre Dame, Denver, and Michigan are going to be major Final Four contenders if they are able to get through their seasons.

I hope that the National Women’s Soccer League is able to put a good product on the pitch, given the fact that a number of NWSL and U.S. stars are currently under contract to foreign clubs.

I hope that the “nouveau riche” women’s soccer clubs worldwide — I’m looking at you, Manchester City, Paris-St. Germain, Club America, and FC Barcelona — are treated as more than just window dressing, and that the corporations that run and sponsor them put the money and resources behind their women’s teams equal to the men’s teams.

I hope that both the WNBA and NWSL are given proper credit for the way they were able to make good on their 2020 seasons.

I hope that two major female athletes who played very little or not at all in 2020 — soccer’s Megan Rapinoe and basketball’s Elena Delle Donne — are able to come back with their club sides and have an impact at the 2021 Olympics.

I hope that the Olympics are able to have a full re-opening with fans in the arenas this summer.

I also hope that the companies responsible for long-term transport — especially cruise ships and commercial aircraft — undergo systemic reform so that their vessels do not continue to be petri dishes for viruses and other diseases.

I also hope that as many of you as are able can will take advantage of vaccine distribution programs in the first three months of 2021 and help flatten the curve of COVID-19, given the fact that there are seven billion people in the world, and there are maybe only 400 million doses of vaccine in the pipeline right now.

And I hope you, dear reader, stay safe and well until then. Mask up, socially distance, and just be careful out there.

Dec. 21, 2020 — An increasingly louder conversation

In the last few weeks, there has been more and more airtime on Sky Sports, a British 24-hour channel, devoted to the long-term effects of head injuries in sport.

Sky has been focusing on the recent deaths of 1966 World Cup soccer winners Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles, as well as the possible legal action on the part of 70 former rugby players who could be party to a class-action lawsuit against the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union and World Rugby.

This is, of course, a half-decade after an enormous lawsuit, backed by 4,500 former college and professional football players, has been working its way through the courts.

Now, if you’ve been keeping an eye on pro sports recently in the United States, you’ll notice blue medical tents on the sideline of football games, and the words “concussion protocol” being omnipresent in any and all sports broadcasts.

I’m glad more and more societies worldwide are having conversations about closed-head injuries and how to prevent them. In so many countries, admitting possible symptoms of concussions is seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment.

There is still a lot to do, especially in the way that sports are policed. I’m seeing a lot more physical contact at the higher levels of women’s lacrosse than I ever have. Going into the fan now often means getting crashed into by more than one defender, which isn’t supposed to happen.

And you’re also seeing more and more concussions in field hockey as goalies are getting hit in the helmet with 80-mph shots and forwards without protection are running into goalkeepers with shoulder and hip pads made of hard plastic.

Indeed, a number of players who I have seen in high school have had to either modify or end their field hockey careers because of repeated blows to the head. This includes at least two players who have represented the United States in international competition.

I think, especially for field hockey goalies, a concussion conversation is long overdue.

Dec. 20, 2020 — Remembrances of the deep past

Of the couple of hundred of birthday messages received today, one of them has stuck with me. My brother sent me a photograph of our sister, the two of us, and our father, who died five years ago.

The picture is a bit of a visual puzzle. The three of us are standing next to a chain-link fence, with bare earth and scrub grass all around, no trees, and no buildings. My father and sister are wearing plaid, and my siblings and I have some unfamiliar haircuts.

All day, I have been expending brain cells trying to figure out where this was taken. I mean, I have some educated guesses, but it’s hard to connect the lines between clothing, hair, and landmarks in this picture.

There are some photos that our family has in our collection where I can remember what the day was like when they were taken, sometimes even the day of the week. Some photos, I can smell the juniper bushes near the birdbath in our old backyard in Mississippi. Other photos, I can taste the butter pecan ice cream at the student union building at the university my father attended for his graduate studies. For others, I can smell the inside of a vintage New York subway car as it trundles down the track.

Which is why this photo is such a mystery. A complete blank.

I guess, as I start my 56th journey around the sun today, I am beginning to realize that these kinds of things are more and more liable to happen. Memories fade. Feelings amongst family members change. Favorite locations close or are torn down — especially in The Year Like No Other.

I’m hoping that, as I face a surgery later this month and hopefully a vaccine injection before too long, that we’ll get to a sense of normalcy in life, the world, and everything.

But at the same time, keeping our eye on the target of bringing you, my readers, the best possible perspective and coverage of field hockey, lacrosse, and various other athletic endeavors with a context and perspective you can’t get anywhere else.

It’s going to be a very tough six weeks or so between now and the expected restart of field hockey season in California. But we’ll endeavor to fill this blog with stories, information, and context.

Dec. 16, 2020 — Once again, a better result for the men than the women

This morning, it has come out that the two major televised professional field lacrosse leagues have decided to merge.

Major League Lacrosse was started two decades ago by Jake Steinfeld, the fitness machine impresario. On the other hand, the Premier Lacrosse League was launched a couple of years ago by former U.S. World Cup player Paul Rabil, backed by tens of millions of dollars.

Both of these leagues have enjoyed varying degrees of popularity over the years, despite some teams having trouble finding a home. The original Bridgeport Barrage, for example, moved to Philadelphia in the mid-2000s only to see the club fold, then reappear in 2020. The Chesapeake Bayhawks have played in Baltimore, Towson, Md., Fairfax, Va., and Annapolis, Md. during their existence.

The Premier Lacrosse League, for its part, had no home. It was a movable feast of round-robin lacrosse matches in large stadiums from New England to California.

According to reports, the new Premier Lacrosse League will continue to be a movable feast, as the Cannons franchise will join the current list of nicknames such as the Whipsnakes, Atlas, and Chrome as an eight-team operation.

So, while these two leagues have become one with this merger, there’s a significant group left out of the equation.

The women.

In the last three years, two women’s lacrosse leagues — United Women’s Lacrosse and the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League — have started, played complete seasons, and, as of early 2020, folded their tents. Not once has capital on the level of the PLL’s backers or the funding from Body By Jake has been reported behind the efforts to start these women’s leagues.

Granted, a third women’s lacrosse league is to begin next year with the start of the Athletes Unlimited lacrosse circuit. It is to be a player-centered league where teams change every week through drafts held by the top players in the league, determined by statistical formula.

But I remain disappointed in both the MLL and PLL for their failure to back a women’s circuit.

Dec. 10, 2020 — A needed (if not late) postponement

Yesterday, World Lacrosse, the global governing body for the game of lacrosse, had to make its first big decision since renaming itself.

And it did the necessary thing, which was to postpone both the 2021 men’s and women’s World Cups to the summer of 2022. The men’s World Cup was scheduled for Limerick, Ireland, while the women’s was scheduled for Unitas Stadium on the campus of Towson University.

The postponement dates are likely to fall alongside the 2022 World Games, a multisport athletic competition for events like lacrosse, netball, and squash which are not part of the Olympics. The proposed plan would have the Women’s World Cup taking place before the World Games, and then the Men’s World Cup taking place afterwards.

The thing is, the postponement of the World Games had been announced in April of this year. I find it odd that it took eight months for World Lacrosse to do the same.

Nov. 26, 2020 — Giving thanks

Usually, on Thanksgiving Day, I’ll link to a good local story about a field hockey or lacrosse player who has overcome misfortune or circumstance in order to find success or even to find their way back to the field of play.

But, if you’ll indulge, this year’s Thanksgiving story is about me.

About 2 1/2 weeks ago, I was in a hospital room. I had traveled from my apartment to see a field hockey game involving Harrisburg Central Dauphin (Pa.) and Hope Rose, the senior attacking midfielder who was the nation’s leading goal-scorer.

But about 20 minutes before the game started, I felt overheated. I drank a 28-ounce bottle of Gatorade Zero before heading into the game, but it didn’t do any good. I felt unstable and woozy, though I was lucid. I knew where I was, I knew multisyllabic words, and I cracked jokes.

The Central Dauphin athletic trainer and one of the vice-principals at the school called in an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. Once there, after a liter of IV fluids and a blood test, I was admitted to the hospital. I was not exactly thrilled because of this, given the fact that our nation is in the midst of a global pandemic, and hospitals are notorious germ factories. Also, I felt somewhat guilty that I might have been taking a hospital room away from a COVID-19 patient who might have really needed it.

For the next two days, I was hooked up to an IV to administer heart medication. The doctors thought I had a heart attack, even though I had no symptoms to indicate that. Fortunately, three screenings found that there were no blood clots in my lungs and my bloodstream, and no evidence of a heart attack.

Still, the cardiologist at the hospital gave me a raft of prescriptions and had me stop taking a diuretic that I had been taking for hypertension (it’s that diuretic which I believe was the cause of the whole episode).

In the aftermath of all this, I am thankful for several aspects. First of all, I’m glad I had this episode where I had it: central Pennsylvania. The reason why is that I learned over the course of talking with my doctors is that there were no available hospital beds in the facility which I might have gone to if I had this episode in my backyard.

Second, I’m thankful that the location of my episode, the hospital, and the hotel I stayed in the night afterwards (to recuperate for the drive home), were all within a two-mile radius of each other. Bonus: I was able to become a Lyft subscriber for the first time.

Finally, I’m thankful for health insurance. My plan is paying for everything — tests, medication, transport, the works. At the same time, I recognize that there are more than 40 million of our fellow citizens who do not have health care coverage, coverage which is in jeopardy thanks to the current makeup of our Supreme Court.

My friends in field hockey and lacrosse, this health scare may have knocked me off-stride, but you may not have noticed it at all. I posted a blog entry here every day, and pretty much on schedule.

And I’ll continue to do this as long as I am able.

Nov. 22, 2020 — By way of correction

Yesterday, Providence Classical (R.I.) won the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Division III state championship with a 2-0 win over Warwick Toll Gate (R.I.). It was the program’s third state championship, following on state titles in 2002 and 2016.

And herein is a problem, especially with the kind of fact-based field hockey journalism you have come to expect over the last two-plus decades.

Classical, a highly competitive academic magnet school, won the Division II state championship in 2002. Yet, this site had recognized Louisville DuPont Manual (Ky.) as the first magnet school to have ever won a state championship title when the Crimson won gold in 2011.

The great thing about a website (as opposed to printed paper) is that you can make corrections readily. Within 15 minutes, I had revised every reference to Manual having been the first magnet-school field hockey title. Sometimes I added a reference to Classical, others, I didn’t.

So, some of you might ask why I care so much that a particular institution is a magnet school, or a religious school, or a military school. The reason is that schools which aren’t your usual American public school add to the fabric and diversity of the nation’s educational system, both in terms of academics and physical education.

I love it, for example, when a STEM school such as Alexandria Thomas Jefferson (Va.) is able to make the Virginia High School League postseason. It’s cool from a journalistic standpoint because the players and coaches are very analytical and are able to explain how they were able to succeed on a particular day.

Given the rise of specialized education in this No Child Left Behind era, there are a lot of different schools that are out there — schools for science, the Arts, civics and government, and technology. And these are the ones that play field hockey. There are so many others in areas of the country like Michigan, California, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas.

Some of them will want to add varsity athletics to enhance physical education, which could really help grow field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and other sports in the United States.

BULLETIN: Nov. 18, 2020 — The 40th USA Field Hockey National Festival is a no-go

A week before the scheduled start of the two-site National Hockey Festival in Virginia Beach and the greater Charlotte, N.C. area, the event was suddenly cancelled this afternoon.

It was an event which was going to be fraught with problems, given the ever-changing rules on gatherings and quarantines which were likely going to be invoked for players and coaches coming in from elsewhere.

The Festival was going to be held solely at a soccer complex near Charlotte, but a late decision was made to split the event in half, with games played in Virginia Beach, Va. and Bermuda Run, N.C.

The cancellation comes in spite of the fact that there was a major girls’ lacrosse tournament held in the greater Baltimore area last weekend, and the Bethesda Premier Cup had been held in Boyds, Md. last weekend as well. A separate Bethesda Premier Cup for boys is being held this weekend in Boyds, Md. as well.

Now, I’m not an epidemiologist, nor a statistician. But I do wonder if the decision to split the Festival, coupled with an upward curve of COVID-19 cases around the country, made organizers think twice about having two possible super-spreader events instead of just one.

In any case, this has to be a setback for a cash-strapped USA Field Hockey, as well as for the parents who bought hotel and airline tickets already. I can but hope that the travel agents will be lenient about refunds, especially given the volume of business that the Festival usually generates.

I also feel for the average Festival athlete who works hard, plays by the rules, and is just on the edge of some Division I coaches’ radar, but won’t have a chance to show what they can do.