December 17, 2012

The Big 12: Stories That Shaped This Year in Lacrosse

by Lacrosse Magazine staff | | Twitter

The NCAA men's game will institute a 30-second shot clock after stall warnings in 2013, but the countdown won't be visible by a clock on the field.
© Brian Schneider

Lacrosse Magazine's celebration of the year that was continues with a look at the biggest stories that shaped the last 12 months.

For more, check out LM's Best of Lacrosse 2012 coverage: Best Players, Coaches | Best Game, Breakthrough, Performance, Comeback, Milestone Moment | Best of the Rest

Pace of Play and the NCAA

Its roots run deep and, like party politics, separate where you stand on the direction of college lacrosse. Among men and women alike, debating speed of the game evolved beyond water cooler talk. It became: Are you pro- or anti-shot clock?

After another low-scoring Division I men's final slowed to a stall — or arguably a snooze — the NCAA surveyed 200 coaches. About 40 percent indicated pace of play was the area most in need of improvement, yet nearly 55 percent said no to a shot clock.

In response, the men's lacrosse rules committee proposed and an NCAA oversight panel approved drastic changes for the 2013 season, including the introduction of a 30-second modified shot clock procedure after stall warnings. They also doubled the size of the substitution box, eliminated horn-signaling substitutions and placed an emphasis on quick restarts. The long-term staying power of the soft shot clock, which puts a greater responsibility on officials and isn't visible, is unclear. But nobody will be yelling "Horn!" unless they want to live in the past.

Meanwhile, in the women's national championship, Northwestern met a chorus of boos and criticism for its effective stall tactics against Syracuse. Orange coach Gary Gait said after the game, "It's not great for TV, and it's not great for the growth of our game," and then took action: Syracuse experimented with a 90-second shot clock in the fall.

Could the women beat the men's to a shot clock? Maybe lacrosse isn't all that different from basketball in the 1980s.

Franklin & Marshall Hazing

Franklin & Marshall's Lauren Paul, who won the 2009 NCAA Division III championship as a first-year coach and was the 2009 IWLCA Coach of the Year, was fired April 17 as the result of a school investigation into a 2011 hazing incident. Eleven players also were suspended from the team. Franklin & Marshall was ranked No. 7 in the country at the time.

The Diplomats played their final two games with a depleted roster under an interim coach before withdrawing from the Centennial Conference tournament and NCAA tournament consideration. Mike Faith, the former coach at Elizabethtown, was hired as Paul's replacement in July. Paul, now known by her married name of Lauren Norris, was hired as an assistant at Division I High Point later the same month.

Cinderellas and Trailblazers

Oregon native Peter Baum of Colgate became the first Tewaaraton winner from west of the Mississippi River. Northwestern's Taylor Thornton and Loyola's Mike Sawyer were Tewaaraton finalists from Texas and North Carolina, respectively. Little Loyola loosened the big boys' grip on NCAA Division I championship hardware by knocking off an in-state Goliath in Maryland. The UMass men rose to No. 1, while Colgate and Lehigh rose out of Patriot League purgatory to make some serious noise. (Who really thought the Mountain Hawks had staying power after that early March upset of North Carolina?) Florida beat Northwestern — twice — and reached the women's final four in just its third season.

2013 has a tough act to follow.

The George Huguely Trial

George Huguely was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Yeardley Love and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
© Andrew Shurtleff

Several significant milestones in the case against former Virginia midfielder George Huguely in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love came to pass in 2012.

On Feb. 22, an emotional 10-day trial ended when Huguely was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in the May 2010 death of Love, also a player for the Cavaliers. On Aug. 30, Judge Edward L. Hogshire sentenced Huguely to 23 years in prison for his crimes.

Sharon Love, Yeardley's mother, and Lexie Love, her sister, released a statement after the trial saying, "Time has not made us miss Yeardley any less, in fact quite the opposite...We will continue to keep her spirit alive by performing works of kindness in her name."

The Love family has channeled its grief into a cause with the One Love Foundation. In cooperation with Love's high school alma mater, Notre Dame (Md.) Prep, the organization helped raise $1.2 million to build an athletic field that bears Yeardley's name. The Yeardley Reynolds Love Field was dedicated Sept. 9. Two weeks later, One Love launched the "Be 1 for Change" campaign, a partnership with Johns Hopkins University, dedicated to becoming a leading voice in combatting relationship violence.

The legal battle surrounding Love's death continues. Huguely's lawyers twice appealed his conviction. Sharon Love filed two wrongful death suits in civil court in May. The first is against Huguely; the second names the state of Virginia and several university officials, including coach Dom Starsia and athletic director Craig Littlepage. It alleges the school should have disciplined Huguely after other violent incidents. Each suit seeks more than $29 million in damages.

FOGO Nation

Faceoff specialists were already a tight-knit group, but their reaction to the NCAA men's rules changes as originally announced in August showed just how much common ground they really have. FOGOs, as they are called (face off, get off), rallied in strong opposition of changes that would have outlawed the motorcycle grip and put in place an experimental rule for the fall moving faceoff players from four- to 12-inches apart.

"Correcting a FOGOs grip is like telling a kid he can't shoot sidearm," said one Division I all-conference specialist.

High school takers who had practiced the grip for countless hours were also concerned, including one who started an online petition titled "Face off men unite." They did. More than 1,000 later, the NCAA rules committee reversed course on the most concerning changes, although stiffer penalties have been added for repeat violations.

Headgear in Women's Lax

Bullis (Md.) became the first high school girls' team to mandate that its players wear headgear.
© John Strohsacker/

The Bullis School in Maryland did not intend to make national headlines when it mandated its girls' lacrosse players wear rugby helmets. But with concussion awareness at an all-time high, the Bulldogs being the first team ever to issue such a mandate and US Lacrosse's rigorous pursuit of a women's lacrosse-specific headgear standard, worlds collided and media flocked.

"Did the rugby helmets prevent more concussions? We have no idea," said coach Kathleen Lloyd, who supported US Lacrosse's commitment to research before implementing a sport-specific standard. "But they generated awareness."

Chase for the NLL Scoring Title

On the morning of April 28, there were two players chasing the National Lacrosse League single-season points record of 115, previously set by John Tavares in 2001: John Grant Jr. of the Colorado Mammoth and Garrett Billings of the Toronto Rock. Grant had 110 points. Billings had 106. It came down to the season's last day.

Billings scored five goals and dished three assists against the Edmonton Rush, which was enough to set the record for assists (82), but not points. In the end, it was Grant who carried the day and the season, dropping two goals and four assists on the Minnesota Swarm to bring his season points total to 116 and set a new league mark.

U.S. U19 Losses and Redemption

U.S. under-19 men’s coach Tim Flynn left the 2012 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships in Turku, Finland with this thought, among others: “The next coach of the USA team needs to thank me and this team for taking the pressure off in terms of never losing a game. We lost a couple battles but we won the war. This was that kind of group.”

The 2012 version of the U.S. U19 national team became the first U.S. team to lose a U19 game in sanctioned international competition. Two days after losing in overtime to Canada in pool play, they became the first team to lose twice, falling to the Iroquois Nationals, 15-13. Another dubious distinction: No Iroquois team had ever defeated a U.S. field team at any level before Finland.

But then came redemption. Team USA beat the Iroquois in the semifinals and Canada in the championship game to secure a seventh straight gold medal for the red, white and blue.

It’s probably unfair to plainly state “the team overcame adversity.” In between, there was a players-only meeting, a revamped offense and team-wide re-focus on the task at hand.
Some future stars emerged along the way. Current Notre Dame freshman attackman Matt Kavanagh was named tournament MVP, Virginia sophomore midfielder Ryan Tucker played through a shoulder injury and was named All-World with Harvard sophomore defenseman Stephen Jahelka. Goalies Zach Oliveri (UMass) and Kyle Turri (Duke) stood tall in net while splitting halves, and faceoff men Charlie Raffa (Maryland) and Tyler Barbarich (Delaware) dominated the possession battle for the U.S. as it avenged its pool-play losses in the medal rounds.

“We went through a lot,” Kavanagh said. “The two games we lost we knew we could have won. It was a matter of fine-tuning our offense, defense and doing the little things on the field that we did to come out on top.”

Chris Sanderson's Death and Legacy

Chris Sanderson's legacy lives on with the Canadian national team.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Chris Sanderson, the goalie on Canada's 2006 FIL World Championship team, died June 28 after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 38. When doctors first diagnosed Sanderson in 2008, they gave him nine to 12 months to live. He endured several surgeries and treatments to play in the 2010 world games and earn his third All-World Team honor.

Survived by a wife and two daughters, Sanderson inspired the Canadian U19 and senior teams, the latter of which wore a No. 17 patch on its jersey to honor him in an 11-9 win over the U.S. at the Duel in Denver.

Crooked Arrows

Lacrosse's first feature film starred Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") as the conflicted mixed-blood Native American tasked with restoring a rag-tag reservation team as part of his spiritual journey. Made in the mold of "Mighty Ducks," the movie brought authentic on-field action and talent to silver screens across North America.

Conference Realignment

It's largely driven by football and basketball concerns, but lacrosse was no doubt impacted by conference realignment at the college level in 2012. The most significant news — until November — was Notre Dame's announcement in September that it will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in all sports besides football. The timetable of the move has not been determined, but the switch, along with Syracuse's addition to the ACC this July, will strengthen what are already widely considered the top men's and women's lacrosse conferences in the nation. That was before Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten, raising questions about the Terps' and Scarlet Knights' future conference affiliation in men's and women's lacrosse. Elsewhere, Loyola and Boston University announced pending realignments to the Patriot League.

Rising Sophomore Recruiting Rush

The process confuses many, infuriates others and too often leaves everyone involved guessing. And collegiate recruiting of high school players just keeps accelerating in both men’s and women’s lacrosse.

Summer 2012 will be remembered for a rush of several rising sophomores, those entering 10th grade, making verbal commitments to Division I schools. It was not long ago that rising juniors were considered early bait. On the women’s side, even last year, top recruit Cortney Fortunato committed to Notre Dame before her junior season.

To what end does the cycle continue? Many players, parents and coaches continue to shake their heads.

In November, the first freshman verbal commitment on record was made, when Haverford (Pa.) ninth-grader Forry Smith secured a spot at Johns Hopkins.

Nicky Galasso, once the most sought after high school boys’ recruit in the nation, committed to North Carolina the fall before his junior season at West Islip (N.Y.). He had pointed comments on the early recruiting process after deciding to transfer from North Carolina to Syracuse in the fall.

“I kind of wish that I explored my options more instead of rushing into something. This recruiting process is so young now that people are making decisions at such a young age and you don’t know what to expect,” Galasso said. “The recruiting process is a lot on someone who is 14, 15, 16 years old. It’s so nerve-wracking. It’s so much thrown at you at such a young age that you don’t know what you really want.”

US Lacrosse in October released a position statement saying in part that the organization “shares the concern of many lacrosse players, parents and coaches that the college recruiting process is not structured or timed in the best interests of high school student-athletes.”

Think about it: A current high school sophomore will typically graduate from college in spring 2019. That’s seven seasons from now and does not take into consideration the rapid turnover in among college coaches.

Just 15 of 61, or 24.6 percent, of NCAA Division I men’s college coaches in 2012 had been at their schools for more than seven years.

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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