Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Thrill Of (Watching) Victory

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I'm not sure who gets credit for that: Wikipedia gives the nod to the ancient Chinese, although I tend to believe it was a paparazzi artist beefing up his resume years ago. In my case, however, it was the lack of pictures that led to a volume of words. A thousand? No. But certainly more than I'm used to. The weather that hit the valley on Saturday prevented me from taking photos, which in turn allowed me to write a more detailed account than normal.

See for yourself. This story, submitted from a corner table at the Starbuck's on March Lane in Stockton, is considerably longer than my usual game recap:

First of all, it helps that the game was exciting. Pacific scored three straight in the third then UC Davis followed suit in the fourth. The two teams played to four ties. Finally, Aggie super-senior Dakotah Mohr popped in the winner on a sweet backhanded shot with eight seconds left. So I had plenty to write about no matter what.

But here's the thing: when the Aggies play at home, I'm busy keeping the official scoresheet for the game. When the team goes on the road, I'm at the mercy of the information provided from the host. Or if I'm there, I'm so busy taking photos that I miss the gory details of the game itself. In fact, there have been times when I've sat down to write my story and had to check the results to remember the score. (Yeah, those details.)

In this case, I gambled on whether or not to come down, knowing that the weather might prevent me from breaking out thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. When I arrived, the wind and rain indeed forced me to leave the gear in the car (which, in Stockton, is a different kind of gamble). So with no camera and no scorer duties, I actually got to watch a game like most of you -- as a spectator.


Standing behind our bench with a pad and pen, I jotted little notes of the game, in case the blow-by-blow account of the game would play into the recap. Sometimes it doesn't: if a game is quite lopsided from the start, often a player's individual statistical totals will form the lead. But if the game is close, as it was here, then the incremental moments determine the ebb and flow of the contest. These don't always show up in the official scoresheet.

For example, here are a few lines quoted verbatim from my fourth-quarter notes:

645 B7 at 1, turns & fires, cross cage (6-4)
541 Dunn stl, CA goal (6-5)
457 B6 shot, Riane SV! Feeney CA, pass from Riane (6-6)
436 Feeney stl
421 Began draws GK out, Eggert 4M lob as GK retreats (6-7), 3-0 run Aggies
326 Eggert wide left
307 PAC off. foul
254 Sutt. bar out, gets rebound, Ags TO

Later in the game, it reads like this:
108 Sutterley BIG stl @ 2M
057 PAC 5 stl entry pass
033 B7 shot SV!
008 Faber to Mohr backhand! (7-8)
000 B7 shot @buzz fell short

Most of it reads like gibberish, even to water polo enthusiasts who would understand some of the terminology coded in there. I put the score in parentheses to tell me where the actual goals were, throw in exclamation points and other editorial hints to remind me of some key non-scoring play. For example, here is a favorite from earlier in the game: 
117 Eggert draws excl., Aggie 6-on-5... Feeney off GK hands BOOM (4-4)

This stuff is just enough for me to piece together a story that provides the detail of an eyewitness account rather than of a guy reading through the official boxscore. My handwriting, normally legible, looks more like a doctor's signature -- both because I'm writing quickly and because my hands were cold. In a few cases, I have no idea what I meant by my note (e.g. "425 Sutt/Mohr/Feen trip" is now beyond decipherable).

Although I do scribble a few notes at home games, my job as official scorer takes precedence. When the team plays nearby, I go into photographer mode, which means I'm more interested in framing a moment in the lens then knowing what actually happened. But today, I had neither job and I got to watch a game.

And I've gotta say, it was pretty enjoyable. So hopefully the recap does it justice.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, will not make the trip down to Irvine and Long Beach next weekend. So while all humanity will be stripped from those recaps, hopefully the result -- i.e. a UC Davis win -- remains.

Friday, March 23, 2012

For Those Scoring At Home...


UC Davis women's gymnastics hosts the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships at the Pavilion Saturday night (meet time is 6 p.m., tickets are available via While the Aggie student populace will have completed its examinations, the gymnasts will have one more two-hour final.

For what it's worth, the last time this meet came to the Pavilion, UC Davis posted a 194.700, taking down its first-ever MPSF title and setting a school record that still stands.

At this time of year, I inevitably get asked about an oft-quoted figure: the regional-qualifying score, or RQS for short. What it means is rather self-explanatory – it's a ranking system for qualifying teams and/or individuals to the NCAA regional meets. Steve Troester, the diehard among diehards, compiles these rankings at his website.

How it is calculated is less well-known. In fact, the math is pretty simple. Take the top six scores, with a minimum of three coming from road meets. Throw out the highest score, then average the rest.

The Aggies' RQS works out as follows:

Away #1: 194.150 (Mar. 16)
Away #2: 194.025 (Mar. 11)
Away #3: 192.900 (Feb. 24)
Away/Home #4: 193.875 (Feb. 10)
Away/Home #5: 191.600 (Mar. 2)
Away/Home #6: 191.600 (Jan. 27)

Lop off the 194.150 set at San Jose State last weekend and add up the remaining five, you get 964. Divide that by five and you get 192.800.

The same is done with an individual. Here's Katie Yamamura in the all-around:

Away #1: 39.225 (Mar. 11)
Away #2: 39.050 (Feb. 24)
Away #3: 38.725 (Jan. 6)
Away/Home #4: 39.125 (Jan. 27)
Away/Home #5: 39.125 (Feb. 10)
Away/Home #6: 38.450 (Mar. 16)

Toss the school-record 39.225, average the remaining five and you get 38.895. This is the score that has a regional berth locked up. So even though the NCAA will not announce the field officially until after all the conference championships are done, Team Yami might as well start booking flights to Sea-Tac right now.

* * * * *


After an incredibly hot start for UC Davis, the Causeway Cup standings have gotten rather interesting. The Aggies secured 35 points in the fall then added another 10 from women's basketball's home victory on December 19. But the Hornet gymnasts are enjoying one of their best seasons to date, even outscoring the Aggies during their mid-March hot streak. Sacramento State also picked up some steam in men's and women's tennis, men's basketball and softball.

It all comes down to baseball (home and home in April), men's golf (a common tournament on the Sunday after Picnic Day) and track & field (a dual at Sacramento on April 27), and it's anyone's ballgame.

Both schools are working out how to resolve the rained-out game on February 29, which is officially listed as postponed. If this contest is not rescheduled, the likely scenario will be to recalculate the softball rivalry as two games worth 2.5 points each. If the game shows up later in the season, a mighty five-thirds of a point remain up for grabs.

Although it has not come into play in the eight years of the Causeway Cup, I have opted to install a new rule into the scoring: a postseason bonus.

Under current rules, the Causeway rivalry in any given sport is worth five points. Football, volleyball and the two basketball teams contest for 10 points. If a sport squares off multiple times in a year, those points are divided by the number of matchups. This stuff is summarized in the link above, so I see no need to go any further into it.

However, I would like to see the two schools agree on adding another five points in the event of a meeting in the postseason.

Think about this for a moment.

Imagine if both UC Davis and Sacramento State were to reach an NCAA regional in softball. Or perhaps both qualify teams for the national bracket in men's soccer. Apply this to whatever your favorite sport is, and let it settle into your brain. Shouldn't the magnitude of that postseason matchup be worth extra when it comes to Causeway bragging rights?

As of this moment, there are no rules governing what happens on such an occasion. In fact, most rules are unwritten, falling under the "gentleman's agreement" between the two athletics departments. Thus, a chance meeting in the postseason could be worth nothing. Or it could simply recalculate the points per game. There is nothing on paper because it hasn't happened yet.

But again, imagine if it did. I'll use baseball as an example. For 2011-12, the two meetings are worth 2.5 each. Suppose the Aggies and Hornets split. Then they both make a regional hosted at, say, Stanford. They play each other two more times on that stage. Would we suddenly reduce each game to 1.25? Would we not count it at all? In this writer's opinion, both of those solutions seem unpalatable.

The powers that be once determined that football, volleyball and basketball should be worth extra points because of the high-profile nature of those sports. By that philosophy, I believe we should add extra points if our teams meet up in an NCAA championship. Or the NIT or WNIT, for that matter. I've written up an incredibly rough draft of rules for a postseason bonus (including stipulation for a few sport-specific situations). I hope the two schools will take some time to discuss and amend them.

It hasn't happened in the short history of the Causeway Cup, in part because UC Davis was not eligible for the postseason for the first few years. It rarely happened even when both teams were strong Division II programs (a football playoff, a few meetings at the USA Gymnastics meet, etc.) But as both programs continue to develop, it certainly could happen, and I'd like to see our Causeway Cup factor it in.

Until that happens... yeah, I'm pretty sure I'll be at that track meet on April 27. It could be a doozy.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, still recalls the sight of Sacramento State beating his Aggies in the first round of the 1988 NCAA Division II playoffs. That he would still advocate a postseason bonus for the Causeway Cup despite this childhood memory reveals the strength of his conviction toward this idea.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


The age of Facebook and social media is a wonderful thing. A current Aggie soccer player shared this about a former Aggie soccer player. And now I share it with you.

Yeah, quite a bit shorter than my usual entry. But here, the picture is worth the proverbial thousand words.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lacrosse Alphabet Soup

Despite the name of the overall blog, this entry will actually look inside a boxscore.

With UC Davis women's lacrosse just days away from hosting Long Island in its 2012 home opener (1 p.m. at Aggie Stadium, admission is free, /plug), it's perhaps worth taking a few moments to decipher the sport's boxscore for the uninitiated fans.

For starters, women's lacrosse has shown itself to be one of the most challenging sports for which to keep stats or – more precisely – for which to keep the Automated Scorebook for Lacrosse software. To the untrained eye, it resembles soccer and field hockey due to its grass field and the cage-style goals. In reality, the game's stats more closely resemble that of basketball, only it takes place on a field larger than a football gridiron AND has 24 players on the field rather than the hardwood's ten.

As such, it catches many of my SID peers by surprise. San Diego State, which added women's lacrosse this year, wisely assigned their basketball statistician to the sport. Although the Aztec stat crew experienced a trial by fire in the opening weekend, I suspect they will become one of the better desks because of this.

Secondly, this blog entry is not intended to serve as a primer for the game's rules. I could go a thousand words on the "shooting space" and "three second" rules, and yet I fully admit I would have a hard time officiating a game. I leave that for the women and men in stripes. If you're interested on understanding some of the more esoteric rules of women's lacrosse, the US Lacrosse website has a nice HQ on the topic:

No, my aim is to provide a walkthrough of the boxscore and stats, both for fans and for media members who cover the sport. After all, that's the stuff that comes from my desk. I've boldfaced the key points, but you can sift through my verbage for more detail. The true gluttons for punishment can download the NCAA Statistician's Manual.

Here is a sample of a boxscore from one of last year's games. The new version of the software looks much more stylish but this one has some detail worth pointing out. Soak it in for a moment:

I probably don't need to get into these. Points equals goals plus assists in lacrosse (i.e. they're given equal weight). Water polo and ice hockey do the same. Compare this to soccer, goals are worth two points while assists are one.

The assist is defined fairly similarly to basketball – it is the pass that contributes directly to a goal. I would argue it is the most subjective of stats (in both lacrosse and basketball) but it is important to note that there is no limit to the amount of time or the number of steps. If the scoring player had to make any significant effort to elude a defender (other than the goalkeeper) before scoring, this will likely wipe out the assist. The move, not the pass, is what set up the goal.

This also doesn't need much explanation. A shot on goal simply means the ball went into the net or would have had it not been impeded. If you miss wide or high, or your shot hit the cage, it's not on goal. Simple as that. A team's SOG will equal its goals plus its opponent's saves.

I tend to include the SOG distinction on the boxscore but I've found it is too often confounded to be meaningful. Just as baseball/softball fans know that a pitch in the strike zone is not always better than one that missed, a shot on goal is not necessarily a "good" shot. But overall, they indicate a shooter's overall accuracy.

In recent years, the official statistical term has changed to "eight-meter shots" and I expect future versions of the stat software will catch up to the lingo. For now, these still appear on stat reports as FPS and many coaches and fans continue to refer to them as such.

In oversimplified terms, the eight-meter shot is akin to the penalty shot in soccer or water polo. Sort of. The penalty shot tends to be one-on-one, shooter vs. goalkeeper, and starts from a single spot on the field. The eight-meter shot involves other defenders and may take place at one of the five hashmarks around the cage.


Basketball games open with a jump ball or tip-off. Water polo games start with a sprint, in which a player from each team races toward the ball placed in the center of the course. (The short-lived XFL borrowed water polo's sprint to replace the traditional kickoff. How they avoided a fatality is beyond me.) Ice hockey and men's lacrosse have the faceoff. Women's lacrosse begins with a draw:

Once the official blows the whistle, the two players flip the ball into the air and it becomes a mad scramble by both teams to gain possession. Whoever wins control of the draw gets – you guessed it – a draw control. UC Davis led all of NCAA Division I while Hannah Mirza (shown above) set a school record in this very category.

In most sports with a goal, the scoring team concedes possession to the opponent. In soccer or water polo, the team that gave up the goal will be awarded the next possession at the center line. Sink a bucket or hit your free throws in basketball, and the ball automatically goes into the other team's hands. (In pickup games, you probably called this "loser's outs.")

But imagine if in basketball, the two teams returned to the center circle for a tip. A particularly tall player and/or one with some serious hops could give his or her team a substantial advantage. As former Aggie head coach Brendan Blakeley liked to say, "lacrosse is one of the few sports in which you can score a goal and get the ball back."

Did I mention before that lacrosse plays like basketball? These two categories are where the stats are the most similar. And I'll skip the ground ball for a moment, for reasons that will soon be apparent.

Most people know what a turnover is. Give up possession to the other team and you get dinged for one. Fling an errant pass out of bounds? Get the ball stripped by an opposing defender? Throw an interception? Commit an offensive foul? All turnovers.

A caused turnover is lacrosse-speak for a steal: a "positive, aggressive action" that forces your opponent to commit a turnover. Sometimes a boxscore will further break down this category into the types of caused turnovers, in order of frequency:

Stick Check (SC) - use your stick to knock the ball out of your opponent's stick such that your team gains possession, and a tally goes under the CT column for you.

Interception (INT) - slightly distinct from the definition in football, because you have to aggressively create the situation. In football, you can get an INT simply by being in the right place at the right time (see also Larry Brown, Super Bowl XXX). In lacrosse, if an opponent throws a bad pass straight at you and you catch it, you won't get a CT. But if an opponent throws a pass and you leap up or run into a passing lane to pick it off, you'll get a CT. As such, this subcategory requires the statkeeper to exercise a certain amount of judgment.

Blocked Pass (BLK) - the counterpart to the interception. Knock down a pass such that your team gains possession, and you'll get a caused turnover for it.

Drawn Charge (DCH) - I love this rule, and I wish basketball had it. If you draw a charge, you'll be awarded a CT. And chances are, you earned it.

If you've come this far, you're ready for a stat that is unique to women's lacrosse.

The ground ball has gone through both slight tweaks and outright overhauls in the past 13 years. Ultimately, it comes down to two simple tests: a ground ball is a a) change of possession that b) takes place during live-ball play.

As one would guess by the "change of possession" test, the majority of turnovers result in ground balls. Remember the stick check above? You knock the ball out of your opponent's stick. Think about the blocked pass, in which you got a piece of an opponent's pass. In either case, whichever member of your team picks up that ball – yourself included – earns a GB.

Now go back to the interception. If you pick off a pass, you'll get a ground ball. In fact, all INTs are also ground balls. But I poked fun at Super Bowl XXX MVP Larry Brown for his "right place, right time" picks against Neil O'Donnell. By lacrosse rules, he wouldn't get an INT but he would get a GB.

The "live-ball play" test adds another element to the ground ball. I mentioned earlier that the majority of turnovers result in ground balls. But not all of 'em. If your opponent throws an errant pass that sails out of bounds, the official will award possession to your team. But no player earns a GB because the ball went dead when it crossed the boundary line.

Another example of the live-ball test takes place when a foul resolves the change of possession. So your opponent loses the ball. You go after it and get fouled before you get there. The official awards you the ball. You won't get a GB because the possession was gained while the ball was dead. But if your stick was in contact with the ball at the time of the foul, you will get a GB because the rulemakers have decided that contact shall constitute possession.

The other instance of a ground ball takes place when a missed shot is recovered in live play, somewhat like basketball's rebound.

I'll pause for a minute to allow you to reach for some aspirin.

You shoot the ball. The ball misses and returns to play. Whoever wins that ball will earn a GB, assuming she picks it up while the ball is still live.

You shoot the ball. The ball misses and heads out of bounds. Whoever is nearest to the ball (and inbounds) will be handed the ball. She does not get a GB because the ball was dead when it crossed the boundary line.

You shoot the ball. The ball misses and heads out of bounds. But a player stops it before it can cross the boundary. She gets a GB.

Pop that asprin.

You shoot the ball. The goalie catches it. If the shot would have missed, give the goalie a ground ball but not a save. If the shot was on target and would have gone into the net, give the goalie a save but not a ground ball.

You shoot the ball. The ball hits the pipe and begins rolling toward the goal. If the goalie stops it, she gets a save but no GB. If another player stops it, that player gets a GB but not a save.

Drink some water with that aspirin. 

You shoot the ball. The goalie saves it but doesn't control it. Whoever picks up the loose ball gets a ground ball. If the goalie saves it, doesn't control it immediately, but picks up her own ball, give her the ground ball if she had to contest for it. If no one was around her, she only gets the save without the ground ball.

The good news for statkeepers: most missed shots will not have a ground ball. Shots that miss high or wide generally sail beyond the field's end line (negating any possibility of a GB). Shots that are saved usually stay in the goalkeeper's stick head. Shots that hit a post or are blocked cause a statkeeper's hair to stand on end.

This final category shows up on the team stats of a boxscore or season report. It measures a team's effectiveness in transitioning the ball from defense to offense.

As soon as your team gains possession behind the defensive restraining line (loosely similar to the blue line in ice hockey), a clear attempt begins. If you can get the ball across the opposite restraining line without turning the ball over, it's a good clear. If you cough it up along the way for any reason, it's a failed clear (or broken clear).

The NCAA complicated this a bit by factoring in situations when a yellow card forces a team to play short-handed. I'll spare you the gory details but suffice to say a team operating a player down gets a freeroll: they'll generally be credited for a good clear when successful, but they won't be charged with a failed one if they don't make it.

In the past two seasons, UC Davis has been successful on 347 of 443 clear attempts for a 78.3 percent success rate. The Aggies went a combined 21-11. In the two previous years, UC Davis made 370 of 517 clears for a 71.6 percentage, falling below 70 percent in 2009. The team had a 13-23 record in that span. Last year's NCAA runner-up Maryland cleared at 84.6 percent. Semifinalist Duke finished at 79.2 percent. (Champion Northwestern and semifinalst North Carolina did not report clearing numbers.) The three lowest-ranked teams cleared at 68.4, 71.0 and 55.6 percent.

During our weekly meetings, head coach Elaine Jones will often comment on how well the Aggies transitioned the ball when evaluating their performance from the previous weekend. Chances are, I already saw it in the boxscore.

* * * * *

I've kept stats for the Aggie basketball teams since the mid-1980s and used the StatCrew software since Doug Dull introduced it to our office in 1991. I was essentially a one-man volleyball stat crew for a JC championship and a Division III regional. The long, scrambling rallies of those tournaments create quite a challenge for a statistician. Yet in my experience, no sport is quite as nerve-wracking for an SID as women's lacrosse.

If you've read this far, you can see why.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, gives a huge nod to former Virginia and Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association info guru Chip Rogers. Now an assistant field hockey coach at Miami (Ohio), Rogers codified collegiate women's lacrosse stats in the late 1990s and continued to educate his industry for the next decade, raising the profile of the game like almost no other individual.