In the Crease: America's First Sport

In his regular Saturday column, lacrosse analyst Dan Fleuette discusses and comments on the latest news from the world of lacrosse. Be sure to check this space every Saturday at Breitbart Sports for incisive analysis and news of all things lacrosse.

I like math. As in simple equations. It helps keep my life in order. It’s through math that I know that, if my son has only two juice boxes left in the pantry, then the probability of him screaming about wanting more is about 50%. If I wait a day, it’s around 99%. I also know that as he gets bigger and starts eating more, needs more clothes, and gets ready for college, that based on today’s prices, I’ll be taking out a second mortgage in approximately 7.3 years. Math.

Complex mathematical analysis is a whole different ballgame though. Things like programming the space shuttle, rockets, and the DVR, put me in a catatonic anxiety state. Not so for Brian Burke, founder of Advanced NFL Stats.

The site centers around football, and uses “real statistical methods–regression, tests of significance, game theory, simulation and other advanced techniques. This isn’t the kind of analysis you get on TV, and it’s not for everyone.”

It’s chock full of graphs, equations, charts, and analysis, so if math is your thing, there’s plenty to love here.

Burke is a former Navy fighter pilot, and instructor, and holds a degree in aerospace engineering. While his site is devoted to football, he has a son who plays lacrosse, and so in the football off-season, he turned his attention to creating analytics for the game.

Lacrosse doesn’t offer the rich strategic questions that football does. It doesn’t have the game-theory dynamic of run/pass, two-point conversion dilemmas, or 4th-down conundrums. But there are questions of strategy that can be analyzed. For example, let’s say a team has a 1-goal lead in the final minutes of the game. Should it try to score or try to simply run out the clock?

A team with a 1-goal lead and possession with 3 minutes to play has a 0.829 WP. If it can hold onto the ball until 1-minute to play (without trying to score), it will have a 0.950 WP.

But if they try to score in typical fashion, having a 25% immediate chance of scoring on its current possession, they have a lottery of outcomes to consider. They could score to make it a 2-goal lead with, say, 2:30 to play, which is good for a 0.969 WP. If they miss their shot they could regain possession by ‘chasing-down’ the ball out of bounds, which would retain possession and give them a 0.956 WP. Alternatively, the opponent could gain possession which equates to a 0.28 WP.

Beyond complex analysis, there’s some good background on the game, insights on coaching, and strategies.

Girls Gone Wild

In an email to the University of Pennsylvania women’s lacrosse coach and athletic department, Fado Irish Pub General Manager Casey Neff alleges that members of University of Pennsylvania women’s lacrosse team “smoked marijuana, exposed a young woman’s genitals, stole liquor, and broke facilities” in a wild party last Saturday night.

From the Daily Pennsylvanian:

“[T]he bar owner complained that the team members intentionally broke facilities such as a light fixture which caused a ‘broken glass hazard.’ The students also allegedly stole a bottle of liquor from the bar and attempted to steal a six-pack of beer. Neff claimed that the lacrosse players also smoked marijuana in the bathroom and exposed a young woman’s genitals to the ‘adulation of the rest of the party.’ They also allegedly tipped less than 4 percent on the \$1,300 tab.”

Neff went on to say “The team members’ behavior represented ‘patterns of behavior with [Penn] groups over several years.'”

According to the report, “Neff has not filed a police report and does not plan to do so. ‘We don’t know any individual who broke anything, it was a group. We were not able to single out anyone,’ he said. However, Neff is asking the University to help compensate for the damage to the bar.”

Michael Mahoney, Director of Athletic Communications at University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement,

“We have been made aware of the allegations by Fado, and we are deeply concerned about them. Our coaches and senior staff are meeting with the members of the women’s lacrosse team, and we will continue to thoroughly nvestigate the allegations around this event. If the description of incidents around this event is accurate and found to involve our team and their guests, this was deplorable behavior that will not be tolerated.”

New Lacrosse Gaming App

This week, Crosse Studios announced a new Lacrosse App, called Lacrosse Arcade that promises more interactivity and control over players, and is billed as just the first phase of an “entire new series of lacrosse games.”

From the press release:

For the first time ever lacrosse players will be able to control every aspect of the player’s movement, shooting, passing, and defense on their iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. The game features five unique modes where you shoot on a goalie, progress through transition offense, weave through relentless defenders, compete in a full-field game of four on four, and unlock a practice mode where you adjust all aspects of the game. Lacrosse Arcade 2014 also includes motion capture animations, two control schemes to select from, realistic lacrosse artificial intelligence, social integration, and online leaderboards.

Crosse Studios, which bills itself “as the premier provider of lacrosse video games” has been creating lacrosse games for various platforms, including iOS, Android, and XBOX 360 since 2009.

Crosse studios was founded by Carlo Sunseri, a former player at Robert Morris who, according to his site, “spent more than 15 years playing, coaching and instructing lacrosse at some of the game’s most elite levels” and is “currently an Assistant Coach at Robert Morris.”

So far, the game has a 4.5 out of 5 rating.

Thompson Trio Bring Their Road Show to Hopkins

The Baltimore Sun has an article up on Albany’s Native American attack squad, the Thompson trio of Miles, Lyle, and Ty.

The Thompsons, all attackmen, aren’t the first Native Americans to play lacrosse at the Division I level, but they may be the most talented. Lyle Thompson produced 113 points on 50 goals and 63 assists last spring and finished one point shy of tying the NCAA record for most points in a single season. The junior, who leads the country in points with 55 this season, is the leading candidate to win the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman; it has never gone to a Native American.

Miles Thompson, a senior, is tied for second in the nation in goals with 33 and ranks third in points with 50. Ty Thompson, also a senior, has registered 23 points on 19 goals and four assists.

More than just three of the most dynamic scorers in the college lacrosse game, they take their Native American history seriously. Miles and Lyle are from the Ononaga Nation, Ty is from the Mohawk Nation, which are both part of the Haudenosaunee nations. According to the Haudenosaunee website, “The Mohawk nation in New York are located mainly on the St. Regis Indian Reservation also called Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. Onondaga territory is located south of Syracuse.”

The Thompsons are very active and involved in promoting their traditions and customs, and serve as inspiration to other members of the tribe.

“A lot of little kids on our reservation hit us up on the social networks,” Miles Thompson said … “I don’t look it as like pressure. I just look at it as a kid who just wants to get better. So he comes to me and I’m there willing to help him out because that’s what I want to do. I want to help out the younger generations.”

Albany, currently ranked #18 in the nation, played  #10 Johns Hopkins in Baltimore on Friday night. Hopkins, looking to end a three game slide, came out of the gate fired up, and went in to the locker room at halftime up 9-1.

Albany made a spirited effort in the third quarter, when they went on a 4-0 scoring run, but in the end, Hopkins’ defense, led by goalie Eric Schneider who had some critical and dynamic saves, was too much for the Great Danes.

The Thompsons were held to just nine points on the night, and the team was held to just eight goals, both totals well under their season averages.

For the casual lacrosse fan, the Albany squad represents an easy access point into the game. The Thompsons’ ball skills, behind-the-back passes and shots, awareness of their teammates, and command of the game are compelling and showcase some of the most exciting parts of the game.

America’s First Sport

Last Saturday ESPNU aired America’s First Sport, a documentary created by students at Syracuse University.

The film is an exploration of the history of the sport, and puts a heavy emphasis on its Native American roots, and the spiritual component of the game. To the Native Americans, lacrosse was “a gift from the Creator.” It was played as a way to “resolve conflicts, or as a healing game, powerful medicine to heal the sick.”

A big part of the spiritual component is the belief that while a person is playing lacrosse here on earth for the Creator, and there is another game going on in the afterlife simultaneously, and that each player is playing the game with their ancestors. In the Native Americans tradition, people have a lacrosse stick for their entire lives, and are even buried with it, so they can continue to play in the afterlife.

It wasn’t until the 1830s that lacrosse was introduced to white audiences as exhibitions. Interest grew from there, and led to the establishment of codified rules, which up until that point, were hashed out among the Native American teams through councils, feasts, and celebrations, and agreed upon before the game began.

Of course, the requisite exclusion of Native Americans was also codified into the rules at the time, and led to them starting their own leagues.

The film takes you through the changes of the game, its immense growth, and its warts, including the Duke lacrosse scandal, as well as George Huguely, who murdered his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love in 2010.

America’s First Sport is narrated by Mike Tirico from ESPN.

From the film’s Vimeo page:

The first sporting event ever observed by Europeans in North America was a lacrosse game in 1637. Jesuit missionaries from France saw hundreds of native men playing a ball game with sticks that they thought resembled a bishop’s crosier, so they called the game “lacrosse.”

That makes lacrosse the oldest sport in America, and in the 21st century it is also the fastest growing. This rapid growth in participation, domestically and globally, presents the sport with a new set of opportunities and several challenges.

Students in The History of Sport class at Syracuse University’s Department of Sport Management researched the history, current status and future prospects of lacrosse during the 2012-13 academic year. This film is a product of their research which was led by Sport Management faculty.

Game of the Week

#3 Duke @ #8 Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, at 4-3 on takes on 9-2 Duke at home. Both teams are 2-1 in conference play. Notre Dame is coming off a tough overtime loss to Syracuse last week, while Duke is riding a five game winning streak since last losing to Loyola at the beginning of March.

The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU at 12:00 EST.

Game Notes:

• Notre Dame has won the last four matchups with Duke.
• Face-off middies Brendan Fowler for Duke, and Liam O’Connor for Notre Dame, are winning over 60% of their faceoffs on the year.
• Both of Duke’s losses this year have come on the road.

Games on Tap

Full coverage here

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