Monday, June 19, 2017

A Super 8 for Every Sport? Girls' Lax & Closing the Book on Spring Sports

Cohasset's Elle Hansen leads a fast break against Walpole in Saturday's Division 2 state championship game.   Photo by Brendan Hall.

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

With Saturday's MIAA state championship marathon, spring sports, and the 2016-2017 HS sports year, came to a close. It was an interesting spring, to be sure, and here are a few wandering thoughts I've had as we close the book on this season.

The Super 8-ification of MIAA Sports

The Super 8 is great. I know this, you know this, we all know this. It's worked tremendously well for hockey, and the last few years have proven that it works very well for baseball as well.

As far as crowning a "true state champion," there are few better ways to do it. It seems inevitable that we will soon hear rumblings about a Super 8 for darn near every sport, and in most cases, I wouldn't object.

A Super 8 lacrosse tournament? Sign me up. That likely would have given us the Lincoln-Sudbury vs Hingham game everyone wanted to see (and that we might see next season when the Harbormen move up to D1), and I would have loved the debates involving D2 and (gasp) D3 teams finding their way into the field.

How about a Super 8 for football? Sure. I mean, Division 1 in football has pretty clearly shown itself to be a cut above in this state, but last year would have actually been a perfect season to experiment with a Super 8 football tournament, featuring mostly D1 schools, plus King Phillip and Duxbury. I don't think MIAA football really needs it, but it would add a cool dynamic where smaller schools could punch above their weight and challenge the big boys, not unlike Boise State and TCU's runs during the days of BCS bowl games.

But one sport we must avoid Super 8'ing at all costs is basketball. Save my MassMadness. The basketball tournament is one thing the MIAA does soooo right, that I hesitate to tinker with it in any way (even if realignment has already ruffled some feathers in Central Mass).

A Super 8 wouldn't be the end of the world for basketball, but how many years does a team come out of left field to win a sectional, or even state championship? It seems like every year, doesn't it? If you ranked teams based just on the regular season, that surprise team would almost surely be excluded, and then we would end up saying that one of the 4 or 5 best teams in the state missed the Super 8.

Or we would just totally dismiss their achievement, because now they've done it in a bracket without the state's best teams.

In a sport like baseball, where the long regular season shows the true value of a team, or in MIAA hockey and lacrosse, where the best teams almost always rise to the top in the tournament, a Super 8 is a great way to create true clashes of titans. But in basketball, I wouldn't have the confidence that anybody could tell me the best eight teams in the state before tournament action.

So spread your Super 8, but leave me hoops.

Girls' Lacrosse

I only cover girls' lacrosse every now and then, but I always come away impressed with the players and coaches. The stick skills and athleticism are far greater than you'd expect after hearing people complain about the girls' and women's game.

I defy anyone to watch Cohasset's girls lax team this year and not be impressed and entertained by the way that team plays the game. A fast-breaking group of girls who push the pace, and show exceptional passing and finishing ability.

My problem, and I'm sure the issue many have with women's lax, is with the way the game is officiated.

Is there any more insulting way to tell girls they aren't as good as boys than to bar practically all physical contact? Seriously, I don't know how you're supposed to play defense in girls' lacrosse, because any kind of stick check, any body bump, any incidental contact… They all draw whistles. Not only does it put defensive players in a bind, it slows the game down and never lets any players get into a rhythm.

Virtually every ground ball results in a penalty, because of course when multiple players chase a bouncing ball, somebody is going to touch somebody.

As a result, the players don't get the respect they deserve, even as girls' lax numbers continue to rise. And the sad part: It doesn't need to be this way!

Yes, player safety is, and should be, the paramount priority for any sports governing body, but I guarantee you if you asked the players, they would tell you they can handle a little contact. If you've seen Cohasset's Jane and Elle Hansen play, you know they are no less capable of taking a bump than anybody else, and that defending them without that contact is borderline impossible.

This isn't an MIAA issue, it's a sport-wide one, but for women's lacrosse to take the next step, the game itself needs to start respecting its players and allowing them to showcase their skills.

Grafton Boys' Lax Takes Another Step

Grafton made its third straight trip the Division 3 boys' lacrosse state title game Saturday, losing a heart-breaker to Ipswich, 8-7. The Indians lost to Dover-Sherborn in lopsided games at BU the two prior years, then finally defeated the Raiders to get back to Nickerson Field this season.

That's why this one hurts so much. Grafton had gotten over the hump, but it still wasn't quite enough to bring home the program's first ever state championship. Still, let's not downplay the run that Grafton is currently on, or fail to realize what the Indians have become, and that is one of the top lacrosse programs in the entire state.

Even with all the seniors they will lose (All-American middie Anthony D'Angelo, star poles Tom Nicalek and Danny Bartosiewicz, among others), this program is good enough to get back to BU yet again next season. For a smaller public school, that doesn't happen by accident, so you have to admire what longtime coach Alan Rotatori has built in Grafton, and give props to everyone in the town's youth program.

Even beyond that, there's a lacrosse culture in that town that just breeds success. There are a few true "lax towns" in Massachusetts, and now Grafton is one of them. The Indians will get that state championship someday, probably sooner than most think.

All-State Teams

Be on the lookout for our MIAA baseball All-State team and player of the year tomorrow, as we continue this year's tradition of doing one gigantic all-state team for every season. In the fall we did football, in the winter we did basketball, and now we've chosen baseball as our spring sport.

Why not lacrosse? Well, a few reasons.

First of all, the lacrosse coaches do such a great job with their All-American selections in each region, that an All-State team would mostly be a regurgitation of those picks. Plus, sites like BostonLaxNet do a great job covering lacrosse across the state, and we really don't think we can add much more than all those other lists.

Basically, we don't want to half-ass it, or just give you the same list you can get somewhere else. That said, I will still be doing my annual Central Mass Lax All-Star Team and Award Winners by the end of the week, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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