The Mirror of Erised, Albus Dumbledore told Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, reflects the “deepest, most desperate desires” of users’ hearts.

So when Amalia Villarreal, then 6 or 7, was assigned by her teacher to draw what her reflection would look like in the Mirror of Erised, she sketched herself in United States women’s national team soccer garb: blue socks, red shorts and blue jersey, with a gold medal slung around her neck.

Villarreal got to live out that dream last weekend, when the U.S. U-17 team defeated Mexico 2-1 in the 2022 Concacaf Championship. The forward tied for the team lead with eight goals during the seven-game tournament staged in the Dominican Republic, including a five-goal outburst in a 13-0 victory over Puerto Rico on April 25 that tied a USA record for the most goals scored in a single game at any age level.

She was driven by the image of herself she drew as a kid.

“Anytime (training) was hard, it was in the back of my mind to work for my younger self,” Villarreal said.


(Courtesy of Mario Villarreal)

Villarreal, a product of Lansing, Mich., played an age group up for the tournament, like she has for much of her soccer life. When she first started playing competitively, for the boys’ indoor team her father coached, she was a year younger than most of her teammates and opponents.

No matter. Villarreal dominated anyway. Neither of her parents played soccer growing up — her father was a baseball and football player at Division III Olivet College (Mich.), and her mother played high school basketball — but she approached the game with an elevated competitive drive.

“They eventually banned her out of the indoor soccer league, because it was a boys’ league,” her father Mario said.

Or maybe it was because the boys could not keep up. Fueled by her national team dream, she continued to excel playing with girls.

When she was 9, she tried out for the local Michigan Jaguars club team and made an impression on coach Trisha Wellock when Wellock asked what position she played.

“What do you mean?” Villarreal replied.

“Don’t you play a position?” Wellock said.

“No,” Villarreal said. “I play where the ball goes, and I put it in the net.”

Villarreal played for Wellock for three years, and led the team to the club national championship her U-13 season. Though the Jaguars fell, Villarreal won the “Golden Ball” award, given to the best player in the tournament — a rare recognition for a player on the losing team.

“There was no question who the player of the tournament was,” said Wellock, who hosted a watch party at the Jaguars’ facility for the U.S. U-17 USA team’s 5-0 win over Jamaica on May 4. Villarreal scored her eighth goal of the tournament that day. “It was easy to teach her. She was so talented, she could do things most players could not at her age.”

In addition to the Jaguars, Villarreal plays for Solar Soccer Club, a northeastern Texas program that regularly competes against some of the best teams in the country. Exposure with Solar helped Villarreal, who takes online courses via the Capital Area K-12 Online program through Sexton High School (Lansing, Mich.), make more of a name for herself on the national stage. She’s No. 6 in TopDrawerSoccer’s rankings for the Class of 2024.

Standing at 5-foot-2, Villarreal weaponizes her low center of gravity to exploit holes in opposing defenses, and that was apparent in the Concacaf tournament. She first found the back of the net in the 81st minute of the team’s opener, a 20-0 win over Grenada on April 23 that set a record for the most goals scored in a World Cup qualifying match for a U.S. women’s national team at any level. After receiving a long ball from teammate Nicola Fraser, Villarreal dribbled into the box and deposited a low shot into the right side of the net.

Two days later, 11 minutes into what would turn into the 13-0 romp of Puerto Rico, Villarreal scored again, this time on a right-footed shot across her body from 7 yards out. Her parents were in traffic and missed the goal, but they made it to Estadio Panamericano in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic in time to see her score four more goals.

“Have I ever seen her score five goals in club soccer? Yeah,” Mario Villarreal said. “But it’s a lot different when you’re playing at this level.”

And it’s a lot different when you’re wearing the jersey you envisioned yourself in as a kid. Villarreal’s father keeps the drawing in a blue three-ring binder under his bed, and while his daughter was in Ft. Lauderdale for the U-17 camp ahead of Concacaf, he texted her a picture of it as a reminder of her journey. The next morning, Villarreal donned the USA jersey for the first time, as part of a team photoshoot.

“It felt surreal,” Villarreal said. “Also, when I put on the jersey to play in games, I remember the picture. This is what I’ve always wanted to be.”

Villarreal’s national team goals are far from complete. The U-17 gold medal was nice, but alongside the drawing she sketched as a kid, she dreamed bigger:

“What I will see in the mirror is me with the US national jersey on,” Villarreal wrote. “In the background will be the rest of the team and the stadium packed tight with fans cheering their hearts out since we just won the FIFA World Cup.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

Lauren Betts, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022, on Tuesday was named the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association (WBCA) Player of the Year.

The 6-foot-7 center and Stanford commit punctuated her high school career by leading Grandview High School (Aurora, Colo.) to a 5A state championship win. Betts scored 13 points in the team’s 52-40 win over Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch) on March 12 and averaged 17.2 points, 11 rebounds, 3.6. blocks and 3.5 assists per game for the season.

Betts’ crowning comes after Sidwell Friends (D.C.) guard Kiki Rice, a UCLA commit, claimed multiple National Player of the Year awards, including JWS’ inaugural honor.

Rice was named to the WBCA Coaches’ All-American team, along with Betts and eight more national standouts. Find the complete list below:

Janiah Barker, Montverde Academy (Fla.), 6-3, F, Texas A&M
Raegan Beers, Valor Christian (Colo.), 6-2, P, Oregon State
Lauren Betts, Grandview (Colo.), 6-7, C, Stanford
Isuneh Brady, Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 6-3, P, UConn
Timea Gardiner, Fremont (Utah), 6-3, F, Oregon State
Chance Gray, Winton Woods (Ohio), 5-9, PG, Oregon
Maya Nnaji, Hopkins (Minn.), 6-4, F, Arizona
Ayanna Patterson, Homestead (Ind.), 6-2, W, UConn
Justine Pissott, Red Bank Catholic (N.J.), 6-2, W, Tennessee
Kiki Rice, Sidwell Friends (D.C.), 5-11, PG, UCLA

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

NEW YORK — “Are you here for the Hulu theater?” the woman asked passersby, in her thick New York City accent, “or da fight?”

Madison Square Garden on Saturday night played host to twin attractions: Franco Escamilla, the comedian, told jokes in the smaller Hulu Theater. Upstairs, in the main building, with the concave ceiling and the championship banners and the 140 years of boxing history, was “da fight.”

The MSG official ended up directing far more people to her left, toward women’s sports history. For the first time ever, two women main-evented a boxing card at the World’s Most Famous Arena, and Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano put on a show for the announced sellout crowd of 19,187.

Taylor successfully defended her WBA, IBF, WBO and WBC lightweight (135 pounds) titles in a split decision over Serrano, but not before a thrilling finish. Both fighters, correctly sensing the decision would be tight, unleashed a flurry of heavy head shots as the final bell approached, foregoing defense as the crowd reached a fever pitch.

Two judges scored the fight 97-93 and 96-93 for Taylor, and a third 96-94 for Serrano.

“I had to produce a career-defining performance to actually win tonight,” Taylor said afterwards, with a cut over her right eye. “Everyone was talking about coming into this fight, it was the biggest fight in women’s boxing history, but I think it actually exceeded everything that people were talking about.”

That was hardly an easy task, given the heavy promotional campaign spearheaded by Taylor’s representation, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, and Serrano’s representation, Jake Paul of Most Valuable Promotions.

Paul and his brother, Logan, are a pair of YouTube stars who in recent years have cashed in on their fame inside the boxing ring. Brash, blond and surprisingly competent as boxers, the brothers have pulled in millions for their fights, against other social media stars and former mixed martial arts fighters and boxers (Logan lasted all eight rounds in an exhibition fight against Floyd Mayweather).

The Pauls, depending on the perspective, have either resuscitated boxing, a sport facing decades of decline, or squeezed it for its last drips of profitability. Either way, there’s no denying the renewed interest and bigger paydays for fighters across the board. Serrano and Taylor, who both pulled in seven-figure purses for Saturday’s bout, aired exclusively on DAZN, can both attest to that after years of being underpaid.

The excitement surrounding the event was clear Saturday night as the fighters walked to the ring.

Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Brooklyn, beamed as her fans sang along in Spanish to her entrance music — “Pepas” by Mau Giemenez Ft. Dj Zeeggo. Taylor, the biggest name in women’s boxing and one of Ireland’s most decorated athletes, was stone-faced as she walked down the aisle. Her fans raised Ireland flags and waved green light sticks.

“Just looking at the packed stadium — unbelievable,” Taylor said later.

The first round was low on histrionics. The fighters were feeling each other out, each landing some notable combinations. Then, Serrano, who holds world championships in seven divisions but is a natural 126-pounder, went on the offensive in the fifth round, busting up Taylor’s nose with a steady stream of powerful blows. At several points in the round, Taylor needed to lean on Serrano to remain upright, and all three judges scored the round for the challenger (10-8, 10-9, 10-9).

Taylor was able to recover, however, and was the clear victor in the final three rounds. With the win over Serrano (42-2-1, 30 KOs), Taylor (21-0, six KOs) remained undefeated in her professional career.

“She’s tough. She’s a warrior. She’s Irish,” Serrano said. “She was able to withstand the power.”

It’s been quite the run for a fighter who was not even legally allowed to box when she began her amateur career. Pretending she was a boy named Kay, Taylor carved her own path and literally blazed the trail for female boxers in her country and abroad.

She faced perhaps her stiffest yet Saturday against Serrano, who looked impressive in defeat. So impressive, in fact, that the boxing world — including Serrano and Paul — is already looking toward a potential rematch.

“We’re going to get the next one,” Paul said, “in Ireland.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

On Saturday, before she stands in the ring opposite Katie Taylor in the first superfight in women’s boxing history, Amanda Serrano will step inside her sanctuary: the local nail salon.

Seated beside her older sister, Cindy, in a massage chair, Serrano will close her eyes as the nail technician paints her toenails red — matching with Cindy. “And,” Serrano said, “I (will) picture me winning.”

It is a pre-fight ritual that has grounded Serrano on her journey to the top of the sport. She enters Saturday’s match, the first women’s bout to headline Madison Square Garden in the building’s 140-year history, with a 42-1-1 record (30 KOs) and the owner of world titles across seven divisions.

She is considered the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, behind Taylor, the undisputed lightweight (135 pounds) champion who brings a 20-0 record (six KOs) into the bout. Taylor is a national hero in her native Ireland and, along with Serrano, is credited with helping to elevate the sport’s global profile.

They are a pair of fighters powered by ability, hustle and, most importantly, belief in themselves. But both Serrano and Taylor admitted they never pictured themselves main-eventing MSG.

“This is going to be the pinnacle for me,” said Taylor, who will defend her WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, and The Ring female lightweight titles.

When Taylor began boxing as a teenager, in the late 1990s, women’s boxing wasn’t allowed in Ireland so she pretended to be a boy with the faux name Kay. By the 2012 Olympics, when women’s boxing was sanctioned for the first time, Taylor was a household name in her home country, winning gold as a lightweight.

Around the same time, Serrano was starting her run of dominance in the United States. A native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Brooklyn, Serrano took up the sport as a way to connect with her sister Cindy, a multiple-time world champion before her career ended in 2018.

As Serrano rose up the ranks, winning championship after championship, she grew frustrated with the gender pay disparity.

“We were fighting for world titles and getting nowhere near what men were getting,” Serrano said. “When I won my title at 135, I got paid about $4,000-5,000. I didn’t get paid much, but we did it for the love of the sport. We were hoping and praying that one day it would get better.”

Serrano found her lifeline in an unlikely source: Jake Paul.

The controversial YouTuber turned boxer, whom Serrano referred to as a “feminist,” signed Serrano to his Most Valuable Promotions in September 2021. With Paul by her side, Serrano has reached even bigger audiences, and both Serrano and Taylor, who’s represented by Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn, are set to earn seven-figure paydays for the fight.

Paul and Hearn during Thursday’s news conference agreed on a $1 million bet for the match, which will air on DAZN and have highlights featured on Buzzer. Paul noted that, if Serrano wins, he’ll give the bet earnings to her.

For all of the hoopla surrounding Saturday’s showdown, neither fighter will be content with just showing up at MSG. It’s one thing to headline the biggest women’s boxing match of all time; it’s another to win it.

“I love these sorts of challenges,” Taylor said. “I was born for these challenges.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) did not consider as part of its investigation into racist taunts at a championship soccer game written testimony from the mother of the affected player, the mother, Rachel Wilson, told Just Women’s Sports.

The CIF then issued sanctions against Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills), the offending school, that have been panned by many as too lenient considering the stakes of the incident and the comparisons to similar episodes.

Ciara Wilson, a senior forward at Buchanan (Clovis) committed to Fresno State, on March 5 stepped to the line for penalty kicks in her team’s Division 1 Northern California Championship game against Oak Ridge, which was hosting the match.

As Wilson wound up for her kick, a fan seated in Oak Ridge’s student section pierced the silence with a monkey sound: “Oo-Oo-Ah-Ah!” Wilson, who is Black, immediately pointed to the crowd, and her coach, Jasara Gillette, ran onto the field to tell the referees the game could not continue. Her request was not heeded, and Oak Ridge won the game in penalty kicks.

The student who made the noise was not ejected from the game and was not reprimanded until several days later.

Rachel Wilson submitted a letter to Ron Nocetti, CIF’s executive director, on March 19.

“We want to know: why did the game continue without a full investigation of who made the loud monkey sounds toward my daughter? Why did the Oak Ridge staff, coaches, referees and CIF official present not uphold and honor the rules and bylaws that they are supposed to uphold to protect student-athletes?” Rachel wrote in the letter, citing Oak Ridge’s student handbook. “When the game was over, I saw my beautiful daughter’s body shaking uncontrollably.”

On March 25, the CIF announced its sanctions against Oak Ridge, placing the school on “probation” through the end of the 2023-24 school year. The sanctions called for school staff and students to complete sportsmanship workshop/training and for administrators and athletic directors to undergo “game management training.”

It also stipulated that Buchanan must host any soccer games between the schools during the probation period, and that Oak Ridge administrators were “strongly encouraged” to engage with Buchanan administrators to “begin the process of developing a positive relationship between the two school communities.”

The CIF sanctions represented a stark contrast to those levied against Coronado in June 2021. The school was stripped of its regional boys’ basketball championship after fans threw tortillas at players from Orange Glen, which has a high Latino population.

After the Oak Ridge sanctions were announced, Rachel Wilson said she requested a call with Nocetti but was denied. In an email to her, Rachel said, Nocetti noted the CIF had considered all “timely” information submitted for the investigation; the CIF had instituted a March 11 submission deadline that Rachel said was not relayed to the Wilson family.

In response to a question about the family’s ongoing quest for more clarity on the decision-making behind the sanctions, a CIF spokesperson pointed JWS to its statement issued March 24 containing the original sanctions. When asked about the consideration of Rachel’s testimony, which was submitted after the deadline, the spokesperson referenced a different statement the Wilson family had posted to Twitter detailing the incident.

“CIF reviewed and considered the Wilson Family’s ‘final statement’ that was submitted as part of Buchanan High School’s documentation,” the spokesperson wrote.

Rachel said the social media statement was not intended to be its last comment on the account. “In no way did we ever intend that to be a final detailed testimony of how we felt and our account of what we saw and what happened. It was very brief,” she wrote in a text.

Nearly two months after the incident, Gillette and the Wilson family are not ready to give up the fight.

“The people in the room, how many of them have been in this situation? How many of them know what it means to be a 17-year-old girl standing by themselves?” said Gillette, who sent her teams’ plaque and second-place medals back to the CIF in protest. “I want to fight to make people understand this is a big deal.”

“What these people don’t get is, the rest of our lives, we don’t move on, we just carry it with us,” Rachel said, holding back tears.

Rachel, who said she’s been in contact with the NAACP about the situation, and that the NAACP plans to meet with CIF officials, often thinks back to the moments after the incident. As Buchanan players, coaches and parents screamed in protest, Gillette turned to the Buchanan side and insisted the referees were going to do something.

Wilson is still waiting for action.

“I think we’re putting too much trust in these people in these leadership positions,” Rachel said. “A 17-year-old girl is suffering now.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

First, there was shock.

Just hours earlier, they had all been together in Chicago, at the Jordan Brand Classic game, a showcase for the top 26 basketball players in the class of 2022. At the center of it all, as is often the case at these gatherings among the nation’s elite, was Aaliyah Gayles, the Spring Valley High School (Nevada) point guard, USC commit and owner of the group’s most contagious smile.

Then came fear.

The news spread on social media: Gayles had been shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Her condition was unclear. The four- and five-star recruits bounced into each others’ Instagram DMs, frantically trading what little information they had. It was Sunday night.

“When you see multiple gunshot wounds, you don’t know,” Sidwell Friends (D.C.) point guard Kiki Rice said. “You assume it’s bad.”

“It just broke my heart,” Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.) wing Ayanna Patterson said.

“This can’t be real. Not Aaliyah, not Aaliyah,” Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.) forward Maya Nnaji said she thought.

Finally, as the school week progressed, there came some relief.

Gayles had been shot 10 times, including eight times in the legs and ankles, but her injuries were not life-threatening. She underwent three surgeries and is expected to make a “full recovery.” Doctors were hopeful Gayles would be able to learn how to walk again from rehabilitation.

Her basketball future, however, is less certain.

What happened to Gayles at a Las Vegas house party on Saturday night will take time to process, for Gayles, her family and her loved ones. Among those impacted are the girls from across the country who’ve gotten to know the springy guard over the years, who’ve been her direct competitors for awards, rankings and scholarship offers.

Instead of enemies, they’ve become friends, forming a basketball sisterhood whose bond was strengthened at the Jordan game and the McDonald’s All-American Game, also in Chicago, on March 29. Gayles, with her flashy handles and flashier dance moves, had become the group’s purveyor of joy, on and off the court.

So, for the girls who’ve come to know Gayles, the past week was a rollercoaster of emotions: Shock. Fear. Relief. And something else less quantifiable, but just as visceral.

“It makes me want to go out there and compete even harder,” Nnaji said, “for her.”


The moment that best encapsulates Gayles, her friends said, came on March 28, the evening before the McDonald’s game. The 24 girls had just been awarded their All-American rings, and were being called to load back on the bus for the hotel.

Gayles had another idea.

She saw a DJ and a dance floor. It was time, she decided, to dance.

“She was dancing so hard,” Nnaji said. “She was going crazy!”

With her “West Coast flavor,” as Patterson put it, Gayles urged the rest of the girls to join her on the floor. Soon she and Janiah Barker, the 6-foot-2 forward from Montverde (Fla.) committed to Texas A&M, were sweating through their white T-shirts, and Iman Shumpert, the NBA shooting guard from 2011-21, was dancing by their side.

Rice, winner of the JWS Player of the Year award and several other national honors, is the most celebrated name in the class. But Rice, who does not identify as a “good dancer,” was not too proud to admit she could learn something from Gayles.

“We were joking about how she needed to teach me how to dance,” Rice said.

Rice first met Gayles, she said, in eighth grade, at the Blue Star 30 camp in Las Vegas. Same with Patterson, who recalled that Gayles took control of an impromptu dance circle at the camp despite being among the youngest players in attendance.

“She wants everyone to feel as happy as she is,” Nnaji said. “She’s always trying to get other people to smile.”

That also applies to the court, where Gayles has built a reputation among her peers for her ankle-breaking handles and calls for the crowd to make noise. In a practice ahead of the McDonald’s game, she successfully threw a between-the-legs lob to Patterson. The same behavior from a lesser-liked player might evoke bitterness, but not Gayles, who averaged 13.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists for Spring Valley this past season.

On Monday night, a local parent set up a GoFundMe page to help Gayles’ family pay for medical expenses. Several of the players Gayles has met on the national scene from the class of 2022, Patterson said, donated $22 each as an act of solidarity.

Gayles will probably spend about two months in a wheelchair, former Spring Valley coach Billy Hemberger (he left to take the head job at Liberty this month) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But Gayles was in good spirits, he said.

Still, questions remain about her future, as well as what happened Saturday night. Her father, Dwight, wrote in a since-deleted tweet that Gayles normally doesn’t attend house parties.

“For the record my kid hates house parties,” he wrote. “Anybody that knows her knows that. She was simply returning a favor to a friend that came to her birthday party and within (minutes) of being there this happened.”

It’s all still a little difficult for Rice, a UCLA signee, to wrap her head around. Will she ever get to play against Gayles in Pac-12 rivalry games, as they had talked about?

Rice, Gayles and a few other girls rode on the same bus to the airport Saturday morning. Gayles told Rice she was going to head straight to the gym from the airport. She didn’t hear about a party.

The next day, it was Rice who told Patterson what had happened. Patterson, who is bound for UConn, did not have a workout scheduled for Monday, but after school she hopped in her car and drove 30 minutes to her father’s facility, the McMillan Park Community Center in Fort Wayne.

Patterson threw up shot after shot, seemingly alone. Though the ball was flying off Patterson’s fingertips, she felt like someone else was taking the shots.

“This,” Patterson said, “is her moment.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

Basketball had betrayed Melanie Page, and so Page moved on: She graduated college, moved to California and embarked on a career in film.

Then, in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic brought the world to a halt, Page came home to Laurel, Md., and volunteered as an assistant coach with her mother’s AAU team. That’s when it hit her: She was not ready to say goodbye.

Page had been a star player at Elizabeth Seton High School (Bladensburg, Md.), only to have her college dreams cut short when she suffered a concussion during a game in front of recruiters. She told everyone who would listen that she was done with the game forever. But as she worked with her mother’s players, a group of 16-year-old girls who’d gone wild when they learned she’d won a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title as a player, Page realized the impact basketball had on her life — and the lives of players throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area.

The filmmaker hopes to capture that essence in “Can’t Retire From This,” an upcoming four-part documentary series highlighting women’s basketball in the DMV, and the role the game plays in uplifting local youth. The project is now in post-production, and Page is searching for a distribution home.

“Being re-accepted in this community and finding my lane in the sport that I loved so much and immersed myself in so much, it’s like becoming a child again,” Page said. “And rewriting the story.”

The 2020 Showtime documentary “Basketball County: In the Water,” produced by Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures (disclaimer: Thirty Five Ventures is an investor in Just Women’s Sports), shone a spotlight on the history of youth basketball in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

That film mostly focused on the boys’ game, though, and Page saw an opportunity for a project focused on girls and women in the area. Her first interview for the project was with Hank Lloyd, a former assistant at local independent power Riverdale Baptist under Diane Richardson, now the head coach at Temple, on June 1, 2020.

Lisa Bodine, a longtime DMV coach and talent evaluator who now runs the non-profit Godmother Sports Foundation, was also among the early interviewees.

“It’s a story that needs to be told,” Bodine said. “(In the 2000s) you could look down an ACC roster and every team would have a DMV player on their roster.”

Page at one point thought she might be the next in line. Her love for the game began in the late 1990s when the Washington Mystics, one of the WNBA’s first expansion franchises, showed Page women who looked like her could be basketball stars. She caught on as a ball girl for the Maryland women’s basketball team, with her final season coming in 2006 when the Terps won the national championship.

She made her own name as a player in the DMV, brushing elbows with a lot of the women she would later interview for the documentary, including Kenia Cole.

Cole grew up in Silver Spring, Md., about 30 minutes from Page in Laurel, and played with and against Page when they were kids. She then played college ball at Hampton, an HBCU in the southwest corner of Virginia not considered to be part of the DMV (the area cuts off in Northern Virginia), where she now works as an assistant coach. When Page, who founded her Major Motives production company as a North Carolina A&T freshman (she graduated in 2015), approached Cole about sharing her story in the documentary, Cole was hesitant.

“I didn’t think anyone would want to hear my story,” Cole said. “Most of the time, when young girls hear about women’s basketball, they want to hear about the professionals. … I didn’t do that. I also didn’t get a lot of offers. I worked for everything I got through basketball.”

Part of what Page wants to highlight in the documentary is the off-court opportunities basketball can provide, especially for those who don’t make it to the top level. The DMV regularly ranks among the top areas in the country for sending players to Division I schools, Page said.

“Knowing myself as a Black woman, and seeing how many educated Black women have come from the area because of basketball, is astounding,” Page said.

The project will examine some of the bigger names to come out of the area, too, like Penny Toler, the D.C. native who scored the first basket in WNBA history for the Los Angeles Sparks and later led the franchise to the 2001 WNBA championship as general manger. Page also took a particular interest in Rebekkah Brunson, the former Minnesota Lynx forward who’s won the most WNBA championships (five) of any player.

Brunson, now an assistant coach for the Lynx, was born in Washington, D.C. and attended Oxon Hill High School (Md.), a public school. As Page dug deeper into the local basketball scene, she learned about the disparity in resources facing players at public and private schools.

At Elizabeth Seton, Page had no problem building relationships with college coaches. But Brunson had to rely on her hard work.

“She did what she had to do to become what she’s become,” Page said. “I want girls, going back to my mom’s basketball team, (to know) if they don’t go to private schools in the area, they can still become successful in the sport and because of the sport.”

Page, Cole and so many others are examples of the latter point.

Cole often commutes three-plus hours from Hampton, a university in the southwest corner of Virginia, to recruit in the DMV area. When she meets with prospects, she sees younger versions of herself and Page, girls who love the game and are eager to excel as adults.

They have the same dreams as the players on Page’s mother’s AAU team, who inspired a lapsed basketball lover to dive back into the game. Fifty-eight interviews later, Page feels like she’s wound back the clock.

“Every person I’m talking to,” Page said, “I feel like I’m 10 years old again.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

Lake Highland (Orlando) could only do so much against Sidwell Friends in the inaugural State Champions Invitational national final.

The Highlanders were down to just seven players, because of injuries and other circumstances, against the nation’s top team — and even still, they led last Saturday’s contest after the first quarter.

Then No. 1 Sidwell Friends kicked things into another gear, and much like all of the Quakers’ previous opponents this season, Lake Highland had no answer. Sidwell Friends earned the hard-fought 50-39 victory.

But the Highlanders, who finish the season slotted No. 10 in the JWS rankings, should be proud of their performance, and the rest of their campaign.

Behind 6-foot-2 forward Nyla Harris, a Louisville signee, Lake Highland won its third straight 4A state state championship and nearly made history on the national stage.

1. Sidwell Friends (D.C.), 30-0

The Quakers solidified their stature as basketball royalty by winning the State Champions Invitational national title.

2. Hopkins (Minn.), 25-1

The Royals capped a near perfect season with a 72-56 win over St. Michael-Albertville in the AAAA state semifinal.

3. DeSoto (Texas), 33-2

The Eagles completed their “legacy tour” with a 40-23 win over South Grand Prairie and a second consecutive 6A state championship.

4. Classen SAS (Okla.), 23-1

The Comets won the school’s first state championship in any sport with a 55-22 win over Tuttle in the 4A state finals.

5. St. John Vianney (N.J.), 32-1

The Lancers ended their season in style, defeating Rutgers Prep 72-52 in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions finals.

6. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 29-2

The Trailblazers rolled Archbishop Mitty, 85-61, to claim their second straight CIF Open Division state crown.

7. Montverde (Fla.), 20-3

The Tigers defeated DME, and then New Hope, to claim the GEICO Nationals championship.

8. Cedar Park (Texas), 36-0

Gisella Maul scored 27 points as the Timberwolves earned their second straight 5A state championship with a 45-40 win over Memorial.

9. New Hope (Md.), 28-3

The Tigers beat IMG in the GEICO Nationals semifinal but then fell to Montverde, 61-57.

10. Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), 24-5

In the SCI final, the Highlanders gave Sidwell Friends more of a challenge than most other opponents have this season.

11. Incarnate Word (Mo.), 29-0

The Red Knights routed Kickapoo 67-50 to claim the Class 6 state crown and complete a perfect season.

12. Etiwanda (Calif.), 28-1

Despite their loss to Sierra Canyon in the state semifinal, the Eagles put together a season worth remembering.

13. La Jolla Country Day (Calif.), 24-3

The Torreys’ season came to an end in the CIF open division region semifinal.

14. Hazel Green (Ala.), 33-0

The Trojans defeated Oxford 55-38 in the 6A championship game for their fifth straight state title.

15. Johnston (Iowa), 26-0

The Dragons beat Waterloo West 51-31 to claim the 5A state title one year after losing in the championship game.

16. DME (Fla.), 21-4

DME fell to Montverde, 67-54, in the GEICO Nationals semifinal.

17. Lone Peak (Utah), 23-0

The Knights beat Fremont in the 6A state championship to cap a perfect season.

18. Noblesville (Ind.), 25-4

The Millers beat Franklin Community 76-52 to claim the 4A state title, the program’s second state crown and first since 1987.

19. Woodward Academy (Ga.), 28-3

The War Eagles got shellacked by Lake Highland, 81-57, in the State Champions Invitational semifinal.

20. South Bend Washington (Ind.), 27-3

The Panthers annihilated Silver Creek, 93-35, in the 3A state championship game last weekend.

21. IMG (Fla.), 12-5

The Ascenders beat Bishop McNamara 67-48 in their opening round GEICO Nationals game, but then fell to New Hope.

22. Fremont (Utah), 24-3

The Timberwolves fell to Lone Peak in the 6A state final.

23. Duncanville (Texas), 34-7

The Pantherettes’ season came to an end Feb. 26 with a loss to DeSoto in the 6A Region II final.

24. Hoover (Ala.), 34-3

The Buccaneers beat Vestavia Hills 73-64 to claim the 7A state crown.

25. Centennial (Nev.), 17-4

The Bulldogs were outclassed by Sidwell Friends and fell 63-30 in the State Champions Invitational semifinal.

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

Hand in hand, the Sidwell Friends players and coaches lined up at the edge of the hotel pool. Backs straight and faces giddy, the Quakers were ready to lift off.

The Quakers, long a middle-tier program in the D.C. area, took a massive leap in 2021-22, rolling to a perfect regular season, a conference title and a state championship. And on Saturday morning, coach Tamika Dudley’s team added one last piece of hardware to its collection, defeating Lake Highland Prep 50-39 in the inaugural State Champions Invitational (SCI) national title game after trouncing Centennial (Las Vegas) in the semifinal, 63-30.

When the Quakers returned to their Tampa hotel after the championship, around 1 p.m., their first stop was the pool. The players were still in their white jerseys; the coaches in their slacks and polos. Against a crystal blue sky and a throng of palm trees, the team that vaulted into the nation’s upper echelon capped its season with one last, cathartic jump.

“We were just trying to win the (D.C. State Athletic Association) championship this year,” Dudley said. “I wasn’t even thinking this big.”

Dudley’s players forced her hand. Sidwell Friends announced itself on the national stage on Dec. 11 when it defeated DeSoto, a team from Texas with seven Division I commits, by 18 points. Senior guard Kiki Rice, who would go on to win JWS Player of the Year honors, recorded 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in the 54-36 victory, a harbinger of things to come.

With that win, the Quakers entered winter break with a 5-0 record. When they finally returned to the court about a month later, Dudley found a team with a special swagger. At the center of it all was Rice, a superlative all-around talent with a stubbornly great mindset.

“There’s nothing I hate more,” the UCLA signee said, “than losing.”

Her teammates shared that sentiment. Junior Jadyn Donovan, a 6-foot junior, was Rice’s right-hand partner, averaging 15.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

But it was Donovan’s defense that took center stage when it mattered most in the SCI, an alternative to GEICO Nationals for programs that had competed in state championships. (Montverde claimed the GEICO crown the previous weekend.)

Late in the final against Lake Highland, the Highlanders went on a bit of a run with a couple of 3-pointers. Dudley put Donovan on Lake Highland’s lead facilitator, and Donovan responded with a number of blocks despite the fact she was running on fumes.

“I swear, that court was bigger than any court I’d ever played on,” Donovan said.

Donovan, who finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and four steals, scored the Quakers’ last basket when Rice (10 points and seven rebounds) tossed her an alley-oop in transition from just past half-court in the game’s final minute.

That was the lone assist of the contest for Rice, who had some trouble getting into a rhythm offensively. In her stead, Dudley’s daughter, sophomore forward Kendall, poured in a game-high 18 points.

“The (defense) slept off Kendall,” the coach said. “I told Kendall she needed to take shots. … She attacked the basket and scored for us at all three levels.”

When the Quakers got back to D.C., one co-worker congratulated Dudley, but then offered a challenge: They wanted to see Sidwell Friends, which went 30-0, win another national championship next season, but to do so even “better.”

“I was like, ‘I don’t even know if we can do it better,’” Dudley said. “We checked every single box this season.”

The Quakers, of course, will be without Rice, the conductor of this championship orchestra. But Sidwell Friends has a couple of tantalizing incoming transfers, and the team will retain much of its core with Donovan, rising junior point guard Leah Harmon (who averaged a team-high 16 points per game) and Kendall Dudley.

Donovan trusts in the foundation Sidwell Friends laid this year, setting the team up for long-term success.

“We built this,” she said.

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

It is a favored cliché of the basketball commentariat to declare a player as having footwork like a dancer. But in the case of the New Hope wing Jalyn Brown, the truism is rooted in truth.

Brown, a lanky 6-foot senior signed to Arizona, grew up dancing ballet and hip-hop. When she transitioned to basketball full-time, in middle school, her coaches often commended her footwork. It looked as if she was prancing around defenders, shimmying and shuffling to the rim.

Last Saturday, early in New Hope’s game against Montverde in the GEICO Nationals final, Brown did just that. Then, as she whirled into the restricted area, she looked to her left while passing straight ahead to senior forward Taniyah Lawson. The no-look dime brought the Tigers’ bench to its feet and sent the ESPN announcers into a frenzy.

New Hope fell to Montverde 61-57, but Brown stood out in a tournament full of some of the nation’s best. After scoring 28 points in the Tigers’ 80-50 win over IMG in the semifinal, she recorded 14 points and four steals against Montverde in the championship.

It was a weekend that earned Brown a spot on the All-Tournament team, as well as JWS Player of the Week honors. Nearly a week later, it’s the no-look assist to Lawson that Brown is most proud of.

“I can score, yes,” she said, “but the thing that gets me hypest is when I make a really good dime.”

The sleek pass to Lawson was years in the making.

Brown has been attempting no-look dimes in games since eighth grade. Except back then, they weren’t always hitting the mark.

“Let’s just say the ball didn’t get there,” Brown said, chuckling. “My parents would say, ‘Stop doing it.’”

Instead she doubled down, and these days, she’s often on the mark. It helps that she’s been playing with Lawson — as well as teammates Kirah Dandridge, Laila Reynolds and Channing Williams — since they were kids, for local AAU team Lady Prime.

The group split up for a couple of years, attending different area high schools, before converging this season at New Hope for coach Sam Caldwell. The group rolled to a 27-2 record entering GEICO Nationals, having claimed the National Association of Christian Athletes Division III crown.

Brown led the way all season long, and will look to bring that same success next year to Louisville. She is trained by her father, Lawrence Brown Jr., who has been pushing her hard since she decided to give up dance and focus on basketball, sending her on hill runs and into the weight room.

Her father, Brown said, felt he never got a fair chance to show Division I coaches his ability at the high school level.

“I think that’s why he puts so much pressure on us,” she said, referencing her young brother, Lawrence III. “He wants us to go to (college) for free.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.