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Archive for Omnibus

July 3, 2019 — Arrogant, or just good?

Over the last two decades of running this site, I have witnessed some of the best field hockey lacrosse teams and individuals who have ever played the game both at the scholastic and collegiate levels.

Where do I start? The names of certain teams — Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the University of Maryland, Moorestown (N.J.), the University of North Carolina, Emmaus (Pa.), Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), Old Dominion University, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), The College of New Jersey, Watertown (Mass.), and Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.) — strike fear into the hearts of opponents everywhere.

And the players — from Kat Sharkey, Kelsey Kolojejchick, Austyn Cuneo, Meredith Sholder, Haley Schleicher, Rachel Dawson, Lexi Smith, Jill Witmer, and Mackenzie Allessie to Jen Adams, Sheehan Stanwick, Dana Dobbie, Taylor Cummings, Zoe Stukenberg, Kali Hartshorn, Megan Bosica, Carly Reed, Sophia Turchetta, Corinne Wessels, and Caitlyn Wurzburger — are all the stuff of legend in their respective sports.

All of these teams and individuals have come through during a time of increasingly intense scrutiny and withering criticism not of their own making, but by sometimes anonymous critics on both Internet message boards and on social media.

And so it was that, leading into yesterday’s U.S. women’s soccer match, the American team wasn’t just undefeated, it was labeled as being “arrogant.”

Leave it to writer Maggie Ryan, a former member of several high-flying San Diego Serra (Calif.) field hockey teams, to lend perspective to the double-standard good women’s athletic teams face.

June 26, 2019 — An original ESPNer hangs up the microphone

Yesterday, it was announced that Bob Ley, who had been with ESPN for four decades and who broke ground in video sports journalism, taking over in an era when local newspapers dropped the ball on enterprise stories, was leaving the network as of this week.

Ley, in his show “Outside The Lines,” tackled such various and sundry subjects as fake autographed sports memorabilia, steroids in baseball, concussions in football, and the ongoing scandals in the governance of world soccer.

While Ley said this week that he was leaving the network on his own terms, some of his topics, and the undeniable pushback from some of his subjects, may suggest otherwise.

You see, sportswriting is what is called “the candy store” in terms of journalism. Lots of hero worship, the building up of personalities and teams, and certain coddling of the big names in the sport.

That went away, big-time, one morning in 2015 when Ley, having been provided with a copy of a meeting agenda of the FIFA meeting to elect a new president to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, tore it in half.

“This is FIFA, making it up as we go along,” he said.

Ley never capitulated to pressure from ESPN bosses when it came to stories which called into question the integrity of the sports the network considered “properties.” He took on the questions about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE) long before some of the bizarre suicides that some NFL players committed in order to preserve their brains for post-mortem study.

The NFL, with a two billion-dollar footprint on the national sports landscape, has considerable clout, even influencing ESPN to not make another season of Playmakers, a drama which follows a fictional NFL team and its players.

I wonder if some of that clout forced Ley out of his chair.

June 13, 2019 — A perspective on runaway scores

Yesterday, I published an opinion on the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s 13-0 win over Thailand.

It wasn’t the only opinion, naturally.

But my thoughts on blowouts (and how to deal with them) are shaped by what I have seen on this site over the last 21 years.

And some of the defeated teams were American.

On Constance Applebee’s first European tour of the Home Nations of Great Britain back in 1920, the United States women’s field hockey team lost to England by a score of 16-0. Don’t believe me? Read the title card from this vintage newsreel. It wouldn’t be until 1962 until an American field hockey team got at least a draw from the English national team.

On the men’s side, India defeated the United States by a score of 23-1 in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. It stood for decades as the most lopsided international score in men’s field hockey until Argentina’s men beat the Dominican Republic in the 2003 Pan American Games by a score of 30-0. That was only surpassed in 2007 when New Zealand beat Papua New Guinea by a score of 39-0.

And there was one high-school game in Pennsylvania in which Hazelton (Pa.) Area beat Wyoming (Pa.) Area by a score of 29-0.

Lacrosse has also had its share of monumental blowouts. Back in the 1960s, when an England women’s national select team was taking a tour of North America, the team played a Long Island all-star team and beat their hosts 40-0. There have been some blowout defeats domestically on the part of teams like the girls’ team at Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.), a side which routinely beat teams by 25 or more goals during the late 80s, early 90s, and the 2000s.

In college lacrosse, the record had been a 1993 game between Roanoke’s men and Virginia Wesleyan, which the former won by a score of 40-0. That is, until the Colorado Mesa men beat Johnson and Wales-Denver by a score of 52-0 in a game this past April. It is a game which had been shortened by 7 1/2 minutes due to a severe injury.

So, I ask you: where were the pundits then, decrying the victors in these games?

June 12, 2019 — (Un)lucky 13

History will show that the U.S. women’s national soccer team started its 2019 World Cup with a 13-0 win over Thailand.

But it will take a lot of perspective to know whether this game was the best thing to happen to the U.S. or the worst thing.

Of course, if you look at the game and only it’s result, it is the very best thing that could have happened to the Hammers. The team logged in more than 100,000 meters in movement, according to FIFA.

The team kept the ball, kept pressure, finished well, and kept their foot on their opponent’s neck, not letting up.

The team’s most important cogs — Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and super-sub Carli Lloyd — found net. And so did role players such as Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan.

The swagger with which the U.S. dispatched its opponent, however, cuts in two directions. The scoreline may be a shot across the bow of the other 23 teams in this World Cup.

But the result also doesn’t take away the perception of the team as the “big, bad Americans” which every other team would take delight in defeating.

In addition, I would be worried if I was a coach within the U.S. camp. I’d be worried, first of all, if the team is peaking too soon. The Americans have always been at their best when they have seen some adversity, such as the 1999 and 2015 knockout games against Germany, when the U.S. fell behind in Landover and almost did the same in Montreal. That kind of experience has allowed the team to grow and get better as the tournament has gone along.

Another reason I’d be worried is that, with a 13-goal output, the team has exposed a lot of its considerable playbook. Opposing coaches are likely at work trying to figure out how to disrupt the American attack.

And ultimately, the U.S. team is faced with this question: “What do we do for an encore?”

Chile is going to find out Sunday, certainly.

June 3, 2019 — The way errors in sport are remembered

This past week saw major life events for a pair of athletes who became infamous in their own athletic endeavors for a single mistake.

Last Monday, Bill Buckner, the former Red Sox infielder whose error led to the game-winning run score in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, died of dementia at the age of 63.

Today, Laura Bassett, the veteran England soccer defender whose own goal in the final minute of play denied the Lionesses a berth in the 2015 FIFA World Cup final, announced her decision to retire from both club and international soccer.

The circumstances of each of these two physical errors are different in both their backgrounds and their aftermaths.

Buckner’s error continued a seven-decade history of futility and poor luck for the Red Sox baseball club — not to mention that the team wasn’t the best in its own league for much of that time. It was hoped that, in that tenth inning back on Oct. 25, 1986, that the team would win its first World Series since 1918.

The error — and subsequent loss to the New York Mets the next night in Game 7, made Buckner pretty much a pariah in the six states that make up New England. He had to move his family to Idaho after his kids were bullied in school. And it’s a pretty good turn of fate that the term “soclal media” had not been invented yet, else his Twitter feed might have been uncontrolled for years.

For Bassett’s part, her own goal denied England a chance to play the United States in the World Cup final. It ended a feel-good story for U.K. football fans, who found unlikely heroines, even though it was in England where the rules were codified more than a century ago.

In comparison to Buckner, Bassett received a lot of support on social media from the likes of Mia Hamm, Landon Donovan, and the English public.

“One time in particular you (the game of soccer) dragged me to my knees and rocked me to the core,” she said in a prepared statement. “I doubted whether I would ever trust you again, but you allowed me to confront my human nature and show my character. This gesture will last forever.”

Bassett, who played for Notts County in England, has come to live in the United States as life partner to Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner.

June 1, 2019 — On the verge of a unique treble

Today at 2 p.m. at Kean University, the Group IV girls’ lacrosse championship for the state of New Jersey will be contested.

For one of the schools, Ridgewood (N.J.), it’s a chance to repeat as group champions for the third straight year.

But for the other, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), it’s the chance for a different kind of treble.

In the fall, Eastern not only won the state’s field hockey championship (in both Group IV and the Tournament of Champions), but also the girls’ soccer championship with a 1-0 win over Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.). A win today would secure a sweep in field-invasion sports at the school during the same academic year.

It’s a feat that hasn’t happened (that we know of) since Moorestown (N.J.) won the 2004 field hockey and girls’ soccer championships, and added the girls’ lacrosse title in the spring.

Of course, it was probably easier to transfer skills between sports a decade and a half ago, given the fact that coaches of the field hockey and lacrosse teams used to be one in the same. But as coaches have gravitated to just one sport, and some scholastic athletes have done likewise, it is something you’re not going to see as often, going forward.

Then again, if Moorestown is able to win its Group III game today, the Quakers might have had another claim on the field-invasion treble but for a 1-0 loss in the girls’ soccer final to Allendale Northern Highlands (N.J.).

 

May 29, 2019 — The original “superprep” folds its tent

Last week, it was announced that Henderson (Nev.) International School would be re-opening its high school and start competing in international sports.

This means that entity that represented the school in athletics, Findlay Prep’s highly successful basketball team, is on its way out, possibly never to return.

Findlay Prep has been a successful, albeit controversial addition to the U.S. interscholastic system. It operates as a “superprep” school, where the team and its coaches choose a different level of competition from its peers.

The Pilots chose to play a national schedule featuring the best high-school teams that could be assembled, even as the schooling the students received was bare-bones. The school sent 13 players to the NBA; three more could be joining the pros when the NBA Draft is held later this summer.

Findlay never won a state championship: they didn’t have to. The school struck a deal with the powers-that-be in the state of Nevada: the team could co-exist with the school, but could not have any Nevada resident.

Not that it bothered potential recruits, who came from all over to play for the superprep team, whose lone goal was to win whatever “national championship” tournament for boys’ basketball could be organized at the end of the year.

Never mind that most of the half-million boys who play high-school basketball each year have no possible way to compete in these end-of-season tournaments — if not because of travel restrictions, then by restrictions on the number of games a team can play in one season.

That takes out many states in the union, which always made me wonder what Findlay and their peers in the “superprep” basketball world were so obsessed about if not every team was eligible to play in a “national championship.”

Especially since the National Federation of State High School Associations still, I believe, holds the trademark over the designation “National High-School Championship.”

It’s something to consider once the next “superprep” starts lording itself over a particular competition.