Gary Gait brings golden touch to UWLX as interim commissioner

As anticipation builds towards the second season of UWLX, the newest chapter in this exciting sporting odyssey consists of an individual whose impact in lacrosse is manifold. Appointed to the position of interim commissioner, Gary Gait not only brings great awareness to the budding league, but helps increase its prominence.

Refusing to be sustained by legend alone, Gait has only added to his lacrosse legacy since retirement, with an enthralling legacy as coach that runs parallel to his playing career. Inheriting the position from Michele “DJ” DeJulius, who helped navigate UWLX during its successful inaugural season, Gait is poised to build on her contributions, while supplying strong leadership, running parallel to the aspirations of the sport in general.

Considering that the second UWLX season shall see the league engage in a collaborative effort for this year’s NCAA lacrosse championships with Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, Gait’s presence only adds to the major league feeling surrounding the league’s aura. Although this newest role sees Gait in his first at the executive level, his solid work ethic and dedication over multiple decades has prepared him for such an exciting opportunity.

Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, where his twin brother Paul also played alongside him, Gait’s position as UWLX interim commissioner adds another unique Canadian connection to the league. In 2016, Guelph, Ontario native Dana Dobbie became the first Canadian-born player to be drafted into the league, suiting up with the Baltimore Ride.

In regular season play, Dobbie would lead all players in scoring. Both Gait and Dobbie have played for the Canadian national team. As a side note, other Canadians to have competed in the inaugural UWLX season included Bowmanville, Ontario’s Kaylin Morrissette with Philadelphia. Raised in Suffern, New York, Crysti Foote, whose father is in Ontario’s lacrosse Hall of Fame, was born in Toronto and competed with the Baltimore Ride, playing alongside Dobbie.

During the 1990s, Gait’s superstar status in lacrosse not only made it comprehensible for the sporting novice, but he made it matter. Akin to Wayne Gretzky in hockey or Michael Jordan in basketball, Gait’s countless lists of achievements were secondary to the spectacle, culminating as a member of the charter class to the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.

Surprisingly, the latter half of the 1990s saw Gait balance his playing career while experiencing his first foray with women’s lacrosse. Serving as an assistant coach with the University of Maryland Terrapins, his presence resulted in four undefeated seasons and seven straight national championships.

Having also coached at the men’s level with the Baltimore Bayhawks, which has seen the city also host one of the UWLX founding clubs, along with the Colorado Mammoth, Gait’s efforts as a women’s coach were clearly evident during the inaugural UWLX season. Only the second head coach in the history of the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team, several of his star players were among the first round of the inaugural UWLX draft class, including the likes of Liz Hogan (Boston Storm) and Michelle Tumolo (Philly Force). Other Syracuse alum that would compete in UWLX play included Becca Block, Kailah Kempney, Alyssa Murray, Katie Rowan and Kayla Treanor.

Gait’s acumen and encyclopedic knowledge of the game did more than just raise the quality of play at Syracuse. His tutelage transformed players such as Hogan and Tumolo into All-American players and IWLCA Award winners, while emerging as franchise players for their respective UWLX clubs.

Among the prodigious talents that Gait had the opportunity to coach at Syracuse, perhaps none shone brighter than Kayla Treanor. The first four-time All-America selection in Syracuse women’s lacrosse history, Treanor emerged as the Boston Storm’s catalyst on offense in 2016, leading them to the UWLX Finals. Her no-look pass in late June play during the Storm’s inaugural season would not only gain recognition as one of ESPN’s Plays of the Week, it would serve as a seminal moment in UWLX lore, bringing the league into the national spotlight.

With a golden touch that has resulted in championships as a player and coach at the collegiate, professional and international levels, Gait’s body of work, of which many subsets exist, speaks for itself. Such a distinct presence is poised to make ideas flourish, while working towards making professional women’s lacrosse more than viable, but a necessary component of the sporting landscape, which may serve as his greatest contribution.

Brush with history establishing Danika Ranger as the real deal

As Canada looks to avenge its overtime loss to the United States in the gold medal match of the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, a key component can be found between the pipes. Having already made history as the first player to have gained the distinction of Top Goaltender honors at the Esso Cup and the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Danika Ranger is ready to stake her claim at the 2017 edition of the U18 worlds.

Currently starring with the PWHL’s Durham West Lightning, where she led the league in goals-against average (0.99) and save percentage (.955) during the 2015-16 campaign, the native of North Bay, Ontario was also recognized as the league’s Goaltender of the Year, respectively. Ranger would win the Esso Cup in 2015 with the Sudbury Lady Wolves while starring for the powerhouse Team Ontario Red squad at a victorious outcome at U18 nationals in November 2016, the tenth gold medal in team history.

As a side note, she is only the second player ever to have won gold medal at the Esso Cup and U18 nationals. The other is current Toronto Furies rookie Michela Cava. A former star at the NCAA level with the Connecticut Huskies and UMD Bulldogs, Cava accomplished the feat with the Thunder Bay Queens in 2010 and the prominent Ontario Red in 2011.

At the 2016 National Under-18 women’s championships, Ranger and Team Ontario Red faced off against six-time silver medalist Team Quebec for the gold medal. A scoreless first period saw Ranger make 11 saves, helping to set a tone filled with composure and poise. In a game where the first two periods saw a seemingly countless number of penalties, a 4-1 final still resulted in a hard-fought contest. After Sarah Fillier scored the first goal of the game at the 6:07 mark of the second, Ontario Red would be called for six straight penalties.

With Quebec’s Alexie Guay called or a double minor at 18:31, it opened the offensive floodgates as Avery Mitchell, Ranger’s future teammate with Team Canada added to Ontario Red’s lead. Merely 23 seconds after Mitchell’s marker, Stouffville’s Camryn Tait provided a three-goal cushion.

In the third period, Alexa Vasko, whose grandfather Elmer once played for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, scored the fourth goal for Ontario Red, while Joannie Garand spoiled Ranger’s bid for a shutout. Making 31 saves, Ranger emerged as a key factor in the 4-1 triumph, going undefeated in the tournament with a 3-0 mark, while sporting an exceptional 1.00 goals against average.

The chance to stand between the pipes at the 2017 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships has served as Ranger’s coming out party. Her confidence would quickly rise to the surface, surrendering one goal in Canada’s victory over a boys team from the Czech Republic, who are the host country for this year’s edition of the U18 Worlds.

Coincidentally, her fellow goaltender on Canada’s roster is Edith D’Astous-Moreau, who was the goaltender for Team Quebec when Ranger captured the national U18 crown with Team Ontario Red. Adding to the sense of national pride and tradition is the fact that her goaltender coach is Amanda Mazzotta, who competed with Canada at the inaugural U18 Women’s Worlds in 2008.

While it seems difficult to fathom that Ranger is the only member of Canada’s roster that was not part of the team’s summer camp, her heroics with Team Ontario Red definitely raised her stock, establishing her as a prime time player. Among Ranger’s highlights at the 2017 U18 Worlds was the fact that she registered an overtime shutout victory against the United States. With team captain Ashton Bell scoring at 1:57 of OT, it provided the Canadian contingent with a highly emotional 1-0 triumph. Ranger would register 23 saves while American backstop Alex Gulstene faced 30 shots in the loss. As a side note, a gold medal at the U18 Worlds would make her the first Canadian female goaltender (and player) to have won the Esso Cup, the U18 Nats and IIHF U18 Worlds.

Although she was on the wish list of every NCAA recruiter, Ranger is returning to her roots, opting to compete in the Ontario University Athletics’ conference with North Bay’s Nipissing Lakers, led by head coach (and former NHL All-Star) Darren Turcotte. For a program that competed in the OUA semifinals in 2016, the Lakers are inching ever closer to a chance to play for a national title. With a prodigious talent such as Ranger, that elusive opportunity may prove to be a victorious reality.

Whirlwind week for soccer star Kadeisha Buchanan

In becoming only the second Canadian-born competitor to capture the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy, which recognizes the most outstanding performer in NCAA women’s soccer, it has placed Kadeisha Buchanan on the map as one of the brightest stars on the pitch. Having starred with the West Virginia University Mountaineers, the Brampton, Ontario native joins Christine Sinclair in this accomplished group.

Of note, Buchanan becomes the first player in the history of the Mountaineers program to have the Hermann Trophy honor bestowed upon her. Prior to this win, she was a two-time finalist in 2015 (the year that she captured both the Soccer News Net Women’s College Boot award and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player) and in 2016. In addition, she is also the first defender since Cat Reddick of North Carolina (2003) to capture the honor.

Leading up to the Hermann Trophy win, Buchanan also captured several other prestigious prizes, testament to her talent and her defensive prodigy. In December 2016, Buchanan was recognized by both espnW and by TopDrawerSoccer.com as their National Player of the Year winner. The year would culminate with recognition as the Honda Sport Award winner for soccer.

Buchanan’s list of soccer achievements at West Virginia establishes her as one of the greatest student-athletes, male or female, to don their colors. In addition to four straight All-America honors, the only player in program history to do so, she has gained recognition as a four-time All-Big 12 honoree, complemented by three Big 12 Tournament Defensive MVP honors. Equally impressive is the fact that the assiduous Buchanan was also recognized during her sterling career with four Academic All-Big 12 awards, displaying similar proficiency in the classroom.

During her career with the Mountaineers, Buchanan appeared in 90 of 91 games, missing one game due to her participation with the Canadian national team in a bronze medal effort at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. As a defensive stalwart, Buchanan was a key factor in the Mountaineers logging an NCAA-record 18 shutouts this past season, 55 overall since she first joined the program. During the 2016 season, the program did not allow one goal during Big 12 Conference play, the first time in Big 12 women’s soccer that any team ever pitched a season shutout.

Having helped the program reach the finals of the NCAA College Cup, the first in its history, Buchanan’s legacy also included recognition as the NCAA Tournament’s Defensive MVP. The fellow nominees included a pair of players from California-based teams, including Morgan Andrews of the Southern California Trojans, the team that defeated the Mountaineers in the College Cup finals, plus Stanford Cardinal competitor Andi Sullivan.

Among her teammates at West Virginia included fellow Canadian national teammate, midfielder Ashley Lawrence, who was a semifinalist for the Hermann Award. Having also graduated this year, the two, who have been teammates since they were nine years old in Brampton, Ontario, will see their careers to run parallel.

With 109 combined caps for Canada, both continue their careers at the professional level in France, although this new chapter sees the long-time friends become rivals. Lawrence has signed with Paris Saint-Germain while the reigning UEFA Women’s Champion League champions Olympique Lyonnais acquired Buchanan less than one week after the Hermann Trophy win.

Among Buchanan’s new teammates with Lyonnais shall be American superstar, striker Alex Morgan along with German defender Josephine Henning (who signed a six month contract to expire on June 30), who were both introduced to the press on January 7 by team President Jean-Michel Aulas. Of note, Lyonnais is the most successful team in France’s Ligue 1 Feminine with 14 league titles.

Adding to the intensity of this newly minted rivalry is the fact that both Paris Saint-Germain and Lyonnais are among the Ligue 1’s elites in French Cup play. Currently, PSG stands atop the standings with an undefeated mark of 10-0-0. Lyonnais sits at second at 9-1-0, with its only loss coming to Paris Saint-Germain in a 1-0 final on Dec. 17. The first match between Lawrence and Buchanan is scheduled to take place on May 14, 2017.

Lawrence gained the opportunity to don the PSG colors in a January 8 match against Bourges, one of the lower-division clubs in French Cup play. Prevailing in a 19-0 whitewash, Brazil’s Cristiane led PSG with a sensational seven goals.

Head coaching debut results in victorious weekend sweep for deserving Jessica Koizumi

Even though it may have been in a capacity as the acting head coach, it was still a well-deserved opportunity for Jessica Koizumi of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Currently in her first season as the associate coach, Koizumi gained the chance to serve as acting head coach starting on December 29, 2016. This was attributed to head coach Nadine Muzerall being absent as she was serving as the head coach of Canada’s Under-22/Development Team for the 2017 Nations Cup in Germany.

 

Challenging the Penn State Nittany Lions in a road series on January 7 and 8, 2017, it allowed Koizumi the opportunity to serve as a head coach at the NCAA level for the first time in her career. Prior to joining the Buckeyes, she served in the capacity of assistant coach on two separate occasions, serving on Shannon Miller’s staff with the UMD Bulldogs, where she spent four seasons as a player, reaching the 150-point club.

 

Following UMD, she joined Joakim Flygh for a memorable stint with the Yale Bulldogs, where she coached on penalty kill while balancing a playing career with the CWHL’s Boston Blades, followed by the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale (where she played alongside several Yale grads). This season, the Buckeyes have benefitted greatly from Koizumi’s expertise on the penalty kill, compiling a streak of more than 36 periods without a power play goal allowed.

 

Taking to the ice for their first series since the holiday break, the result was a convincing 5-0 victory against the Nittany Lions. With USA Hockey alum Jincy Dunne scoring the opening goal of the game, said goal would also stand as the game winner. From there, the Buckeyes top line, featuring leading scorer Maddy Field, Katie Matheny and Julianna Iafolo set the tone for the rest of the contest.

 

Hailing from Missouri, Matheny (who played with Dunne on the St. Louis Lady Blues) logged a hat trick, the first in her Buckeyes career. Adding to the excitement of this milestone was the fact that Matheny and her linemates each logged career highs in plus/minus rating with +5 each.

 

Despite a scoreless first period in the second game of the series, the Nittany Lions could not contain the Buckeyes. Opening the scoring was Samantha Bouley, who was followed by Maddy Field, with her team best eighth marker this season. With a 2-0 lead, the Buckeyes continued their offensive ways with an incredible four goals in the third. Dani Sadek, Jessica Dunne and her younger sister Jincy, along with the first goal of the season for Breanne Grant resulted in six different Buckeyes skaters placing their names on the scoresheet in a 6-0 triumph.

 

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that this was the second time this season that the Buckeyes shutout an opponent in a series this season. The first took place against the Lindenwood Lady Lions during a November 4-5 series that saw the Buckeyes score a cumulative seven goals. With the sweep, the Buckeyes return to the .500 mark, enjoying a 10-10-2 record.

 

During the weekend sweep, Kassidy Sauve continued to establish herself as one of the best goaltenders in the WCHA. Gaining back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season, she has accumulated six so far. Recording 29 shutouts against Penn State in the opening win, she followed it up with 26 saves for the sweep, amassing an impressive 55 saves. Against non-conference opponents this season, Kassidy is not only undefeated (5-0), she has a miniscule 0.20 goals against average, four shutouts and a sparkling .994 save percentage. 

Natalie Darwitz enjoys milestone of skating with Minnesota Wild

Over the last few seasons, Winter Games medalist Natalie Darwitz has experienced several coveted milestones. From the transition from world class competitor to assiduous coach, along with the treasured milestone of becoming a mom, it only adds lustre to her lasting legacy as a role model.

Adding to such a series of memorable moments was an opportunity to join an accomplished sorority. On December 16, 2016, Darwitz became the last USA Hockey women’s player/alum to practice with an NHL club. Among the other names that have enjoyed the same sensational moment included Hilary Knight with the Anaheim Ducks, along with the Tampa Bay Lightning extending an invitation to blueliner Anne Schleper, who also held a hockey camp for youngsters with the franchise.

The opportunity for Darwitz to practice with the Wild bore similarity to Schleper’s experience, as the chance to skate with the Wild signified the start to Minnesota’s Girls Hockey Weekend, of which the Wild is a proud sponsor. Having established herself as one of the greatest to wear the colors of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the chance to don the Wild jersey for one special day serves as the glorious denouement to her playing career, solidifying her legacy as one of the greatest players to hail from the State of Hockey.


In addition, there was a strong feeling of reciprocation. The Wild’s kind gesture, along with the gracious and friendly reception from head coach Bruce Boudreau, extends the franchise’s growing legacy as a proud supporter of women’s ice hockey in Minnesota. Of note, the franchise has served as a key sponsor for Let’s Play Hockey, which recognizes the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award recipient, along with the Senior Goaltender of the Year Award.

As a side note, Darwitz is not the only member of the USA women’s ice hockey program to hold ties with the Wild. Prior to their inaugural season, the club hired the likes of Alana Blahoski and Karyn Bye, members of the historic gold medal team from the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, to serve in consulting capacities, becoming one of the first NHL clubs to provide employment for women’s hockey players.

MMA headliners Rousey and Holm enter UFC pay per views as challengers

As the year in mixed martial arts culminates with the destined to be classic UFC 207 event, the women’s division consists of the most intriguing storylines. With the bantamweight title being contested, and the inaugural featherweight title to be fought for in February 2017, the challengers for both of these prestigious titles see their legendary careers possibly being on the line as well.

With batnamweight champion Amanda Nunes making her first title defense, she does so against the trailblazing Ronda Rousey, who helped elevate the importance and eventual main event status for women in UFC. Not only was Rousey the first women’s champion in UFC history, but she enters the match with the undertones of being an underdog.

After suffering the devastating upset to Holly Holm, Rousey has not entered the octagon. Although Holm should have defended her title first against Rousey in a rematch, she opted for Miesha Tate, losing the title, altering the balance of power once again in the women’s division. As promoter Dana White stated, “it cost him a big payday”. Coincidentally, Miesha Tate would lose the title in her first defense.

While Rousey’s first match fittingly puts her in a position to fit for the title, there are many doubts as to whether she still has the killer instinct that made her such a feared opponent. After Holm exposed some weaknesses against her, many fight pundits feel that Rousey may not be as intense, somewhat declawed, so to speak. Adding to this insinuation that Rousey may no longer be the dominant fighter that she used to be are the claims that Nunes is now the fighter to beat and should be poised to hold the same vice-like grip on the title that Rousey used to have.

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

One could compare Rousey vs. Nunes to the iconic match that took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which was Ali’s big comeback, placing him back in the stratosphere of the elites. Doubts about Ali were evident before the match, claims that he may have been washed up. Although he beat Foreman, he did so because he made adjustments and did not rely on his former fight style, employing the “rope a dope” to reclaim the title he brought unprecedented prestige to.

Suddenly, Rousey is in the same position as Ali, who passed away earlier this year. If she loses this match to Nunes, her career will lose the luster it once had, no longer holding her in the conversation for the title. Should she manage to defeat Nunes (which will mean not panicking if things do not go her way in the first round), she will make history as the first woman to capture the UFC Bantamweight title twice.

Adding a tinge of irony to Rousey’s predicament is the fact that Holm, the woman who beat her for the title, is in a similar situation, as she enters UFC 207 with her career in the balance. Since Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey to capture the bantamweight women’s championship, the division has experienced a carousel of champions, with the title changing hands four times.

After losing to Tate, Holm suffered a second straight loss, bested by Russian fighter Valentina Shevchenko, which was the main event of UFC on Fox 20. With Holm entering UFC 207 with two straight losses, the baseball analogy of three strikes and you’re out may hold tremendous meaning. If she has any hopes of reviving her career, her fight against Germaine de Randamie for the women’s Featherweight championship is a must-win situation.

In addition, there is the potential element of unprecedented achievement for Holm, who could make mixed martial arts history with a win against Germaine de Randamie. Of note, there has never been a woman in the history of UFC to hold titles in two different weight classes, which would place Holm in rarified air, adding to her amazing legacy that also consists of several boxing titles.

Opening weekend filled with historic milestones for UWLX

As the highly anticipated opening day arrived, it would prove to be an exciting time for the United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX). League co-founder Digit Murphy, one of the most accomplished women’s hockey coaches of her generation always liked to tell her players, “Every day, we are making history.”
Undoubtedly, that pioneering spirit defined opening day as all four teams took to the field at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. As a side note, all teams shall be participating in a barnstorming schedule, allowing a great opportunity for fans throughout the Eastern United States to appreciate this latest chapter in American women’s sports.

With pleasant 91 degree weather, complemented by a vigorous sunshine blanketing the field of play, it helped set the tone for opening day. The emphasis on such a meaningful day was one defined by sportsmanship, fair play and perhaps more importantly, an empowering achievement.

Such a day started with the Baltimore Ride and the Long Island Sound facing off, both ambitiously looking towards gaining the first win in league history. With no shortage of talent on either side, as evidenced by the results in the historic UWLX Draft, excitement built as to which player would score the first goal of the game, which would simultaneously be the first in league history.

This unique distinction would belong to Baltimore’s Beth Glaros, who took a feed from Courtney Swan, firing the ball past Long Island goaltender Devon Wills. Said goal would be scored under the four minute mark, although the early lead would not be relished for long.

Action from inaugural UWLX match. Photo credit: John Strohsacker

Action from inaugural UWLX match. Photo credit: John Strohsacker

Long Island quickly replied, as McKinley Curro tallied the equalizer, making her own mark with the first goal in team history. Curro would continue to make an impression early in the game, breaking the tie with the first two-point goal in league history.

Despite the advantage, Long Island would not be able to contain Baltimore, watching its lead evaporate. By halftime, Baltimore enjoyed a 7-6 lead, as head coach Jen Adams, one of the most prominent individuals in modern lacrosse, was in a position to possibly become the first winning coach in league history.

As the second half progressed, neither team was able to make any inroads and grab a convincing lead. Instead, the score was 12-12 heading into the last minute of play. Although Baltimore would score the first goal of the game, it was Long Island that would score the last. Alyssa Leonard would score the first game-winning goal in UWLX history as goaltender Devon Wills made a last second save to preserve the historic win. Lindsay Scott would also lead the way for Long Island by scoring the first hat trick in franchise history.

Boston Storm and Baltimore Ride players chat in between games (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/unitedwlax)

Boston Storm and Baltimore Ride players chat in between games (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/unitedwlax)

With the Philadelphia Force and Boston Storm both fighting for bragging rights in the second game, anticipation built over which players would log their respective team’s first-ever goals. Rebecca Lynch would carve her place in league history, logging the first goal of the game and the first in Force history. Assisted by Hilary Bowen, Boston first round pick Liz Hogan allowed said goal.

Despite the early setback, Boston’s Kailah Kempney would tie the score, recording the club’s first goal, with the assist credited to Danielle Estrasco. The quick exchange of goals set the tone for most of the first half as the score was tied at 5-5. Despite Philadelphia’s Katie Webster breaking the deadlock, it would be the last time that her team enjoyed any scoring advantage in the game. Boston would score another four goals, as the scoreboard at halftime reflected a 9-6 lead in their favor.

As Philadelphia goaltender Bridget Bianco was peppered with shots in the second half, compiling 11 overall, her teammates struggled to mount an offensive attack, managing to score only two more goals. The second half saw Boston make adjustments, as their defense shut down the Force. With the offense maintaining their high scoring ways, Boston would emerge as the highest scoring team on opening day, compiling 16 goals.

The 16-8 final saw Danielle Spencer of Boston and Kara Mupo of Philadelphia lead their teams in scoring. Coincidentally, each player would score a two-point tally, resulting in other franchise firsts. Statistically, Spencer’s five points were a game-high, while Kempney scored four goals and Estrasco logged a hat trick for Boston. Other goal scorers for the victorious Boston squad included Kristin Igoe, Tanner Guarino and Kara Cannizzaro.