Evelyn Shores may be labeled a left back, but to those closer to her, those two words don’t tell the full story. Yes, Shores often patrols the left side, running up and down the field all game, known for her work ethic and desire to win.

But when her parents and high school coach speak about Shores, the words they use to describe her game are much broader: creative, playmaker, unpredictable.

Wherever the high school senior is on the field — defense, midfield or forward — she brings that magic which can unlock defenses and make observers marvel.

“She just amazes me all the time,” says Sharon Loughran, Shores’ coach at Westminster (Ga.) High School and a former Olympic Development Program coach. “She’s hard to defend because you’re not quite sure what she’s going to do.”

Shores has been turning heads on the soccer field since she was 4 — even at that young age, her mother Debbie recalls there being something special about her daughter. Thanks to her ingenuity on the ball and a tireless work ethic, Shores is ready to take the next step. The No. 7 recruit in the Class of 2023, according to TopDrawerSoccer, Shores was a first-team selection to the inaugural Just Women’s Sports All-American girls’ soccer team last spring. She signed with UNC earlier this year, an integral part of their No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

A part of the U.S. youth national team set-up since the U-14s, Shores has one more season of high school soccer left. Her position may be fluid at times — she plays attacking midfield for Westminster — but her talent is undeniable.

“She’s an extremely creative player,” Loughran says. “We need more creative players in the U.S. and that’s one of her strengths.”

Shores, for her part, credits the different positions she has played with her growth and improvement.

“Playing forward and attacking mid has really unlocked a new part of my game,” she says. “It really showed me how the attacking side works and how to join the attacking play as an outside back.

“As I continue to learn how to play in the attack, it’s helped me as an outside back.”

‘Always been an amazing player’

Loughran used to scour the state for Georgia ODP, searching for standout players. She has seen plenty of talented players excel at the youth level, including two-time World Cup champions Morgan Gautrat (née Brian) and Kelley O’Hara and World Cup winner Emily Sonnett.

Even with that decorated history in the sport, Shores caught Loughran’s eye from a young age.

“She’s always been an amazing player since she was little,” Loughran says.

Shores, the youngest of three siblings, started playing for Atlanta’s Tophat Soccer Club at age 4. She still plays her club soccer there today, a rarity among youth players. Her earliest memories include Debbie coaching her teams and the joy at getting to play alongside her best friend.

“From there, my love for the game took off,” Shores says.

Debbie recalls her daughter’ precocious coordination and balance, the ability to look behind her and keep dribbling.
When an opponent suddenly appeared in her way, Shores blazed past them. In fact, she usually went too fast, often dribbling the ball out of play.

“Gosh, if the kid ever learns to turn the corner, she’s going to be great,” Debbie recalls her co-coach, a mother of one of Evelyn’s friends, saying.

‘She outworks everybody’

Perhaps just as important as Shores’ athletic and technical ability is her desire to constantly improve.

She is always exploring ways to get better, quizzing her coaches and mentors on speed and agility training or soccer drills, and even picking up yoga to increase her flexibility.

“She’s always been very competitive with others and herself,” says Shores’ father, Steven. “She’s had an internal desire to always perform at the best and highest level.”

That desire was further fueled by her first national team experience, a U-14 camp in California. Training alongside 23 other standout players, Shores began to form bonds and friendships with girls who had similar dreams and desires to compete at the top level.

“The amount of time and commitment that athletes put in, especially around that age, is unique,” Debbie says. “To be able to meet other athletes who had similar goals and similar mindsets and a similar mission was really formative.”

Shores watched the U.S. women’s national team growing up, cheering them on during the World Cup and Olympics. After that camp, she started consuming soccer at a voracious level, learning a little more each time she turned on a match.

That passion for the sport is evident to Loughran each day in practice. Sometimes, it’s too much.

When Shores was preparing for a U-20 camp, she trained with the Westminster boys’ team to stay sharp. She got so competitive during practice, Loughran worried she might pick up an injury. Go home, Loughran told her, and rest up ahead of her national team trip.

“She outworks everybody,” Loughran says. “It’s relentless.”

‘The total package’

Shores aspires to compete on the international stage with the U.S. Already this past summer, she helped lead the U-20s to a Sud Ladies Cup title and just missed out on a spot at the U-20 World Cup.

Her dreams also include winning a national title at UNC, her mother’s alma mater and her favorite school since she was little. But first, she has more immediate goals. She aims to lead Westminster to an eighth consecutive state title this spring, this time as a captain. It’s an unusual role for Shores, who never took the captain’s armband while playing up with girls two or three years older at Tophat.

It’s a role that comes naturally to her, though.

“What I notice most is she has probably the most national accolades of all the (Westminster) players, and you would never know it,” Loughran says. “Because she inspires all those around her.”

When Shores is on the field, she always smiling. Her joy for the game comes through in her play. Sometimes at Tophat, Shores is tasked with controlling the entire left side of the field. She’s given free rein to surge forward and drop back.

Shores’ trickery on the ball, the ability to pass through a defense or run by a defender, is an embodiment of that happiness she feels each time she steps on the field, whether it’s a practice or game.

“Evelyn is just a playmaker,” Debbie says. “She doesn’t have to take the glory. She just loves to create.”

Loughran marvels at Shores’ versatility, recalling a time she put her at forward after the starter got injured, and she proceed to score a goal “in two seconds.” Loughran does envision Shores playing left back at the collegiate level and beyond. But put Shores anywhere on the field, and she is going to produce.

“She’s the total package,” Loughran says.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

Irene Riggs may have been born into a family of swimmers, but from a young age, she loved to run. She didn’t have a walking speed, her father Vic says.

Sometimes, it was to her detriment. “I would often fall,” Irene admits.

One of those tumbles Vic vividly remembers occurred at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. An enthusiastic Irene stumbled when trying to race to a platform a couple of inches off the ground and chipped her two front teeth.

But each time Irene fell, she got back up, showcasing a grit and determination that years later have propelled her to national prominence.

Back then, running was an activity for Irene, a way to expel energy. Irene’s parents were elite swimming coaches and her oldest sister, Abigail, was a star in the pool, later competing for Vic at West Virginia University. When Irene’s future coach, Mike Ryan, first met Irene in the fourth grade, cross-country star was not something he envisioned for her.

But Irene soon found outlets to channel that desire, most notably through the organization Girls on the Run. Middle-school races followed, and by the time she finished her freshman year, Irene’s desire to constantly be in motion had developed into a passion for distance racing.

Today, Irene is the best in the country. The Morgantown High (West Virginia) senior and Stanford commit clocked the second-fastest 5K time in girls’ cross country history two weeks ago and followed it up this past weekend with a first-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals.

Just like she did as a youngster, getting back up after each fall, Irene overcame setbacks along the way, including a freak foot injury that kept her sidelined for weeks this fall.

“Her competitive drive is what separates her compared to other talented runners that I’ve coached,” Ryan says. “She’s always had that drive to not shy away from running against the best and racing against the best.”

‘The intangible I can’t coach’

It’s a roughly seven-hour drive from Cary, N.C. to Morgantown, W.V., and in November 2019, Irene cried the entire ride home. A high school freshman at the time, Irene had just missed out on qualifying for the Cross Country Nationals. She would instead stay home while her teammates Lea Hatcher and Athena Young, both now with Division I programs, traveled to Oregon for the national meet.

“I would be OK and then I would think about it again,” Irene says. “I would start crying again.”

Irene had a stellar freshman season, running a sub-18-minute 5K at the regional meet in North Carolina. She wanted more, though. Going into her sophomore year, the sting of missing out on nationals kept Irene motivated. Even when the coronavirus pandemic took away opportunities for Irene to compete in national meets, she dedicated herself to getting better.

“That’s the intangible I can’t coach, that personal self-desire,” Ryan said. “She wanted to do more, she wanted to go faster, she wanted to go longer.”
Irene swam competitively through middle school, and she credits that experience with building up her endurance. By the time the high school swimming season rolled around her ninth-grade year, she needed a break.

Her time as a competitive swimmer was done.

‘All of this is kind of surreal’

Vic Riggs is an expert in the pool. He swam at Cal-Berkeley and has coached various club and college swimming teams, including guiding the men’s and women’s swimming programs at West Virginia since 2007. When it comes to cross country, though, he’s a relative novice.

But Vic could see his daughter’s emerging potential as her times began to drop. It all clicked for him last year at the Eastbay Cross Country Championships in San Diego when Irene nabbed 14th place, good enough for an All-American nod.

“I realized her competitiveness was going to take her to the next level,” Vic said.

Through her running, Irene has carved out a niche for herself. There are several talented swimmers in the family, including her twin, Caroline, who will swim at Yale next year. Irene enjoys excelling in a different sport.

“We do so much together, and it’s nice to have this little thing,” Irene said.

Vic has also relished the chance to simply be a dad, not a coach, and learn along the way.

“It was really cool to watch that development over the four years,” Vic said. “Every once and a while I would ask, ‘Are you having fun?’ She would always say yes. That was always our main thing.

“All of this is kind of surreal and unexpected. We never really expected this level of running.”

The journey, though, hasn’t been without bumps in the road.

Turning a setback into power

For someone who relishes motion, inactivity gnawed at Irene. When her foot got run over by a car this September, Irene’s daily route changed. While no bones were broken, the foot was badly bruised. She was in a boot for about a month and reduced to cross-training in the pool to maintain her aerobic fitness.

“I did have to take some down time, my foot had gone through such trauma,” Irene said. “When it’s in the middle of your season, you just feel like each day you are losing fitness.”

When Irene’s foot healed, she then had to regain the rhythm of her stride. Through it all, her goals of competing for national titles didn’t change.

“The focus was always on the end of the season championship race,” Ryan said.

Irene first broke a state championship course record by more than 45 seconds, clocking a 16:32, well under her goal of sub-17 minutes. With Irene leading the way, Morgantown captured a fourth consecutive state title.

A month of training followed, leading up to the Nike Southeast Regionals in late November. While Irene tries not to fixate on running certain times heading into races, she had hopes of clocking a time in the 16:20 range. Even she wasn’t prepared for the number she saw as she approached the finish line.

Not only did she break Katelyn Tuohy’s course record of 16:22.8, but she also clocked the second-fastest 5K time in girls’ cross-country history, finishing in 16:02.01.

“Literally a year ago, I ran that exact same course,” Irene says. “If anything, it was muddier this year and I ran 17:17 last year. I dropped one minute and 15 seconds this year. That was a little shocking.”

Four years earlier, Irene sobbed in the car ride home from regionals, distraught over missing out on nationals.

“I put that mental picture of her running up the hill her freshman year versus what I saw her senior year,” Vic says. “She was moving.”

But Irene wasn’t finished. A switch had flipped in her head before the season, when she told herself she could win a national championship. That’s exactly what she did on the first Saturday of December with a time of 16:40.9, nearly 14 seconds ahead of the next closest runner.

“To come back and accomplish my initial goal, it was really special for me,” Irene says.

Next up is the track season — she focuses on the 1,600 and 3,200-meters — and then Stanford. It will be hard for Irene to be so far away from Caroline and the rest of her family, but she’s found a second home with the Cardinal.

“They said you’ll always be sad to leave, even though you’re excited to see your family,” Irene says. “You just love it so much.”

Irene is ready for that next chapter, to see what she can accomplish in cross country and track and field. There will be new goals and setbacks, but there will be one constant: running.

As a young child, Irene ran everywhere. Years later, she’s still on the move.

“I think that shows,” Vic says, “her true love for what she does.”

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

With the high school volleyball season wrapped up, Just Women’s Sports has new honors to bestow upon the nation’s top high school student-athletes.

JWS is proud to announce its All-American girls volleyball teams, honoring 24 of the top high school players in the nation, including 10 seniors on the Second Team.

Learn more about these outstanding athletes below, including what college they plan to attend. Find our selections for the All-American First Team here and look out for our profile of the JWS Player of the Year next week.

Second Team

Eloise Brandewie, Bishop Hartley (Ohio), Sr. | MB

278 kills, 97 blocks, 66 digs, 22 aces

Ohio State

The Under Armour All-American led the Hawks on a program-record 14-match winning streak, averaging four kills per set at an incredibly efficient .554 hitting percentage.

Brooke Bultema, Ursuline Academy (Ohio), Sr. | MB

376 kills, 107 blocks, 33 aces


The 6-foot-3 force averaged more than four kills and one block per set, leading the Lions to a Division I state championship and a top-15 national ranking.

Saige Damrow, Howards Grove (Wis.), Sr. | Libero/OH

301 kills, 329 digs, 73 aces


Standing at 5-foot-8, Damrow averaged 4.4 kills per set and 4.8 digs per set in leading Howards Grove to a state championship.

Charlie Fuerbringer, Mira Costa (Calif.), Jr. | S

119 kills, 284 digs, 72 blocks, 34 aces


Fuerbringer quarterbacked a Mustangs offense that averaged 13 kills per set while ascending to a top-10 national ranking.

Nayeli Gonzalez, Cornerstone Christian (Texas), Sr. | OH/MH

573 kills, 117 blocks, 91 digs

Iowa State

The leader of the nation’s No. 2 team, Gonzalez averaged more than four kills per set as the Warriors beat California powers Marymount and Mira Costa.

Ashley Mullen, Liberty (Mo.), Sr. | S

1,124 assists, 202 digs, 71 kills, 65 aces, 37 blocks


The Under Armour All-American averaged more than 10 assists per set, leading the Blue Jays to a 35-win season and surpassing 3,000 career assists.

Skyler Pierce, Olathe Northwest (Kan.), Jr. | OH

488 kills, 248 digs, 44 blocks, 44 aces


One of the top junior recruits in the country, Pierce has already surpassed 1,000 career kills and still has one high school season remaining.

Jurnee Robinson, Mauldin (S.C.), Sr. | OH

538 kills, 324 digs 51 aces, 51 blocks


Robinson, an Under Armour All-American, averaged over five kills per set on a .446 hitting percentage and chipped in defensively with more than three digs pet set to lead Mauldin to a state title.

Ava Sarafa, Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), Sr. | S

1,359 assists, 291 digs 98 kills, 54 blocks, 47 aces


One of the nation’s assist leaders, Sarafa quarterbacked a dominant offense that propelled the Mustangs to a third consecutive Division I state title.

Kyndal Stowers, Guyer (Texas), Sr. | OH

274 kills, 170 digs, 35 blocks, 19 aces


Stowers averaged 5.5 kills per set on a .348 hitting percentage, leading Guyer to the state quarterfinals.

Sydney Schnichels, Willmar (Minn.), Sr. | OH

490 kills, 232 digs, 51 aces, 28 blocks


Schnichels was named Minnesota’s Ms. Baden Volleyball after a stellar five-year career, finishing with 1,324 kills, 697 digs and 170 blocks.

Ella Swindle, Rock Bridge (Mo.), Sr. | S

841 assists, 230 digs, 171 kills, 81 blocks, 41 aces


Another Under Armour All-American, Swindle averaged nearly nine assists this season and finished her high school career with more than 3,000 assists.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

With the high school volleyball season wrapped up, Just Women’s Sports has new honors to bestow upon the nation’s top high school student-athletes.

JWS is proud to announce its All-American girls’ volleyball teams, honoring 24 of the top high school players in the nation, including 11 seniors on the First Team.

Learn more about these standout athletes below, including what college they plan to attend. And look out for our Second Team selections on Friday and our profile of the JWS Volleyball Player of the Year next week.

First Team

Olivia Babcock, Sierra Canyon (Calif.), Sr. | OH/Opp.

539 kills, 326 digs, 114 blocks, 65 aces


Babcock propelled the Trailblazers to their first-ever CIF Division I title as Sierra Canyon proved they belonged among Southern California’s elite programs.

Julia Blyashov, Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), Sr. | OH


Blyashov led Cathedral Catholic to a 42-0 season as the Dons cemented their status as the nation’s top team by winning the California state championship and dropping just one set all season.

Nya Bunton, DuPont Manual (Ky.), Sr. | MB

516 kills, 97 digs, 47 blocks, 47 aces


Bunton won gold with Team USA at the U19 Pan American Cup and then earned Miss Kentucky and Under Armour All-American thanks to a stellar senior season.

Chloe Chicoine, MCCutcheon (Ind.), Sr. | OH

549 kills, 271 digs, 49 aces, 25 blocks


The Mavericks fell just short of a repeat state title, but Chicoine did her part, averaging six kills and three digs per set and earning Indiana’s Miss Volleyball honors.

Laney Choboy, Leesville Road (N.C.), Sr. | Libero

244 digs, 206 kills, 51 assists, 24 aces, 14 blocks


Generally considered the top libero in the Class of 2023, Choboy won gold at the U19 Pan American Cup and bronze at the FIVB Girls U18 World Championship.

Brooklyn DeLeye, Washburn Rural (Kan.), Sr. | OH


DeLeye led Washburn Rural to its eighth state championship and holds the school record for career kills.

Caroline Jurevicius, Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin (Ohio), Sr. | OH

445 kills, 224 digs, 44 blocks, 41 aces


Jurevicius led the Lions to a state title, racking up 27 kills in the state championship match and is part of the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class at Nebraska.

Kennedy Phelan, Fayetteville (Ark.), Sr. | S/OH

977 assists, 227 digs, 217 kills, 80 aces, 31 blocks

Florida State

Phelan led the Bulldogs to a third consecutive state championship and a top-10 national ranking. She will play both indoor and beach volleyball in Tallahassee.

Harper Murray, Skyline (Mich.), Sr. | OH

663 kills, 372 digs, 73 aces, 38 blocks


Michigan’s Miss Volleyball capped a stellar high school career with an eye-popping 663 kills on a .410 hitting percentage, finishing with 2,245 career kills and 1,423 digs.

Bergen Reilly, O’Gorman (S.D.), Sr. | S/OH

440 kills, 338 digs, 70 aces, 29 assists, 26 blocks


Reilly is constantly testing herself against more experienced opponents. First as an eighth grader starring for the O’Gorman volleyball team and then this fall as a high schooler on the U.S. Pan Am Final six squad.

Torrey Stafford, Marymount (Calif.), Sr. | OH

568 kills, 305 digs, 57 blocks, 42 assists, 35 aces


After sharing the court last season with one of the nation’s top players, Elia Rubin, Stafford proved more than capable in a leading role, averaging five kills per set as an Under Armour All-American.

Ellie White, Mother McAuley (Ill.), Jr. | MB

542 kills, 289 digs, 103 blocks, 28 aces


White averaged six kills, three digs and one block per set, leading the Mighty Macs to their 16th national championship and a top-10 national ranking.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

The Cathedral Catholic volleyball team began the season at No. 1 and has yet to relinquish its grasp on the top spot.

The Dons passed their latest tests with flying colors, beating Torrey Pines for the third time in a month and then defeating top-10 Mira Costa in four sets to advance to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern California Open Division championship match. There was one slight blemish — Cathedral Catholic lost the second set to Mira Costa, the first time all season they have dropped a set.

It’s been that dominant of a season for the Dons, who won three regular-season tournaments, including the prestigious Durango Fall Classic.

Now, Cathedral is just one win from an undefeated season. Their final test? Fellow unbeaten Saint Francis in the state championship match on Saturday.

For the Dons, this is nothing new. They have been getting each team’s best shot all season and have yet to falter.

Cathedral Catholic remains at No. 1 in the final edition of the Just Women’s Sports team volleyball rankings. Click here to see last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 41-0

If Cathedral wins Saturday, it would be the program’s sixth state title.

2. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 55-2

Cornerstone remains at No. 2 in this week’s rankings.

3. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 47-1

Sophomore Izzy Busignani had a combined 38 kills, senior Lauren Heming contributed 40 digs and Kentucky commit Ava Sarafa racked up 90 assists and 25 digs as the Mustangs won twice this past week to advance to the Division I state semifinals.

4. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 40-1

Sophomore Macaria Spears racked up 37 kills in the semifinals and final to lead the Lions to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 6A state championship. Juniors Jadyn Livings and Camille Edwards added 27 digs and 57 assists, respectively.

5. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 34-1

The 4A state champions will return 10 of the 12 players from this year’s team.

6. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 45-1

The Rural Blues are still savoring their first state title in 10 years.

7. Fayetteville (Ark.), 36-2

The Bulldogs won their third consecutive state crown in late October.

8. Tompkins (Texas), 41-4

Cindy Tchouangwa combined for 30 kills and 29 digs as the Falcons recorded sweeps on consecutive days to advance to the Class 6A state semifinals.

9. Mira Costa (Calif.), 38-5

After beating Sierra Canyon to advance to the Southern California Open division championship, the Mustangs did something no other team this year has accomplished when they won a set against No. 1 Cathedral Catholic. Alas, it wasn’t enough to extend their season as they lost 3-1 on Tuesday.

10. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 39-3

Michigan commit Ellie White had 43 kills, averaging over seven kills per set, and Northwestern recruit Gigi Navarrete amassed 39 digs as the Mighty Macs won two matches in two days to claim the Class 4A state title, the program’s 16th state championship.

11. Saint Francis (Calif.), 34-0

The Lancers defeated Archbishop Mitty for the sixth time this season to win the Northern California Open Division. Next up: a state title matchup against No. 1 Cathedral Catholic.

12. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 35-5

A week after beating Mira Costa to win the Southern Section Division I championship, the Trailblazers fell in the rematch, losing a five-set thriller in the Southern California Open Division semifinals.

13. Wayzata (Minn.), 29-4

The Trojans’ 60-plus game winning streak ended in early September, but they were crowned Class 4A state champions for their third state title in the last four years.

14. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 40-3

Yale commit Betsy Goodenow was named 5A Player of the Year, one of three Saints to earn first team all-state honors.

15. Ursuline Academy (Ohio), 25-3

Kentucky commit Brooke Bultema had 30 combined kills in the semifinal and final, Creighton recruit Sydney Breissinger totaled 37 digs, and Lindsey Green had 90 assists as the Lions won the Division I state championship.

16. Buford (Ga.), 38-5

The Wolves will go for a fourth consecutive state title next season.

17. Notre Dame Academy (Ky.), 34-5

The Pandas return 12 of 17 players from this year’s state championship team.

18. Pope (Ga.), 45-5

The Greyhounds are still savoring their state title.

19. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 25-5

‘Iolani is the best team on the islands.

20. Corona del Sol (Ariz)., 39-5

Kierstyn Barton racked up 25 kills, Maggie Beauer and Erin Clark had 35 digs apiece, and Julia Owens played provider with 57 assists as the Aztecs knocked off the defending state champions in a five-set thriller to win the 6A state title.

21. Pace Academy (Ga.), 42-1

Pace’s sole loss was to Pope.

22. Northville (Mich.), 46-3

The Mustangs have dropped just one set during their playoff run, which has taken them to the Division I state semifinals.

23. Flint Hill (Va.), 36-0

The Huskies dropped their first set of the season in the Division I state championship but rebounded to win the next three and a state title, completing an undefeated season.

24. Immaculate Heart Academy (N.J.), 28-1

The Blue Eagles won their last 26 matches of the season to claim the Non-Public Group A state title.

25. Horizon (Ariz.), 32-10

There were plenty of bumps along the way, but the Huskies defeated Millennium in four sets to win back-to-back 5A state titles.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

Sierra Canyon athletics may be most known for its basketball program, but the Trailblazers’ star power extends to the volleyball court. With No. 2 basketball recruit Juju Watkins and the rest of the Sierra Canyon basketball team looking on, the Trailblazers volleyball team swept No. 10 Mira Costa to win the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship on Saturday.

Pitt commit Olivia Babcock had 22 kills on a .486 hitting percentage, junior Sade Ilawole racked up 50 assists and Lauren Lynch had 17 digs, as the Trailblazers staked their claim as one of the top teams in Southern California and the nation with the win.

It didn’t get any easier for Sierra Canyon, though. Awarded the second seed in the CIF Southern California Open Division, the Trailblazers faced reigning state champion Marymount in the first round Wednesday.

It was the fourth meeting between the teams, and it was as tightly contested as the previous three. The Trailblazers showcased their championship mettle and managed a five-set victory for their third win of the season over the Sailors.

The Trailblazers’ next opponent is another familiar nemesis: Mira Costa. But for a program ascending to new heights, the limelight hasn’t bothered them yet.

Behind those two quality postseason victories, Sierra Canyon cracks the top 10 in this week’s Just Women’s Sports team volleyball rankings, rising seven spots to No. 8.

Check out the complete rankings below, and click here to see last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 39-0

The Dons won the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship last week and still haven’t dropped a set. Now, they must navigate a crowded Southern California Open Division to compete for the state title.

2. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 55-2

The Warriors’ season is over. Due to their national schedule, they won’t compete for a state crown.

3. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 34-1

Duquesne commit Avery Hobson was everywhere with 17 kills, 19 digs and 12 assists as the Royals defeated No. 19 Yorktown in three sets to win the Class 4A state title. After opening the season with a loss to No. 22 McCutcheon, Hamilton Southeastern did not lose again, beating McCutcheon in the regional championship.

4. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 43-1

Star outside hitter Brooklyn DeLeye, the No. 6 overall recruit in the Class of 2023, has officially signed a National Letter of Intent with Kentucky, where she will team up with Bloomfield Hills Marian setter Ava Sarafa.

5. Westminster Christian (Fla.), 27-0

After sweeping Lake Highland Prep in the semifinals, the Warriors must beat 20-win Clearwater Central Catholic to claim their first state title since 2016 and overcome three consecutive state championship defeats.

6. Fayetteville (Ark.), 36-2

The Bulldogs, who won a state title in late October, did not lose to an Arkansas team all season.

7. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 45-1

The Mustangs cruised to a district championship and then opened the Division I state playoffs with another sweep.

8. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 34-4

If the Trailblazers defeat Mira Costa in the regional semifinal, a potential matchup against No. 1 Cathedral Catholic looms in the regional final.

9. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 38-1

The Lions bring a 26-match winning streak into Friday’s Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 6A state semifinals.

10. Mira Costa (Calif.), 37-4

The Mustangs were handed their first loss since Oct. 1, falling to Sierra Canyon in the CIF Southern Section Division I final, but they bounced back with an opening-round win in the Southern California Open Division.

11. Tompkins (Texas), 39-4

Rice commit Cindy Tchouangwa notched 21 kills, Erica Dellesky had 23 assists and Tendai Titley contributed 21 digs, as the Falcons swept Ridge Point to advance to the regional tournament for the first time in school history.

12. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 37-3

Michigan commit Ellie White had 10 kills, Northwestern recruit Gigi Navarrete compiled 16 digs and Tess Hayes played provider with 18 assists, as the Mighty Macs advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals.

13. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 40-3

The Saints are still savoring their Class 5A state championship.

14. Buford (Ga.), 38-5

The Wolves completed the three-peat, beating Lambert in a five-set thriller to win the Class 7A state championship. Mississippi State commit Ashley Sturzoiu led the way with 22 kills and 11 digs, while Polly Cummings had an astounding 48 assists, surpassing 1,000 career assists during the match.

15. Saint Francis (Calif.), 32-0

Taylor Williams racked up 29 kills and Havannah Hoeft had 42 assists as the Lancers beat Archbishop Mitty for the fifth time this season to win the Central Coast Section Open Division. Saint Francis picked up another win in the state playoff opener Wednesday.

16. Notre Dame Academy (Ky.), 34-5

The Pandas beat national power Assumption for the third time this season in the state semifinals and followed it up with a sweep in the state championship, as UNC commit Sydney Nolan recorded 18 kills. Louisville recruit Kamden Schrand added 22 digs, and Lauren Ott and Lizzy Larkins each had 20-plus assists.

17. Pope (Ga.), 45-5

The Greyhounds, who handed No. 20 Pace Academy their only loss this season, came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Sequoyah in a five-set thriller and capture their first state title since 2018.

18. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 25-5

The Raiders already wrapped up the season as state champions.

19. Yorktown (Ind.), 34-3

The Tigers fell to Hamilton Southeastern for the second time this season, losing 3-1 in the state championship despite stellar performances from sophomores Charlotte Vinson (15 kills) and Addi Applegate (26 digs).

20. Pace Academy (Ga.), 42-1

The Knights won their sixth consecutive state title — in their third different classification — this past weekend when they swept Lovett in the 4A state championship. They appear primed for another state title run next season as well, with juniors leading the team in all major categories.

21. Papillion-LaVista South (Neb.), 34-5

The Titans started out the year in the top 25, and that’s where they’ll end it after winning the Class A state championship behind 25 kills from South Dakota commit Lauren Medeck and 21 kills from Hawaii recruit Stella Adeyemi.

22. McCutcheon (Ind.), 33-2

The team’s season ended with a loss to Hamilton Southeastern earlier in the playoffs.

23. Benet Academy (Ill.), 36-4

If the Redwings get past 39-1 Barrington in the state semifinals, a potential matchup against Mother McAuley looms in the 4A state championship.

24. Highland Park (Texas), 42-3

The Scots’ season ended with a four-set loss to Guyer in the 6A regional quarterfinals.

25. Immaculate Heart Academy (N.J.), 28-1

The Blue Eagles bring a 25-match winning streak into the state championship and have dropped just four sets all season.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

Any hopes the Washburn Rural (Kan.) volleyball team had of going undefeated in 2022 were quickly dashed after the Blues lost their second match of the season back on Aug. 30.

From that point on, however, they didn’t lose again.

Washburn Rural ended the season on a 44-match winning streak, winning the Class 6A state championship this past weekend for the eighth state title in program history and the first since 2012.

After losing in the state semifinals last year, the Blues didn’t drop a single set throughout postseason play this season. In fact, they lost just four sets all year.

It was a fitting end to a stellar high school career for Kentucky commit and reigning Kansas Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year Brooklyn DeLeye. The No. 6 overall recruit in the Class of 2023 was one of five seniors to end their time at Washburn Rural with that elusive state title, one year after losing in the state semifinals.

Thanks to the impressive 40-plus match winning streak, capped by a championship trophy, Washburn Rural moves up two spots in the Just Women’s Sports team volleyball rankings, cracking the top five at No. 4.

Check out the complete rankings below, and click here to see last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 37-0

The Dons still haven’t dropped a set this season. That record will be put to the test in the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego Section Open Division championship Friday against Torrey Pines.

2. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 55-2

The Warriors made a tradeoff — they tested themselves against the best teams in the country with a national schedule, giving up the chance to play for a state title by forgoing district matches due to travel requirements.

3. Mira Costa (Calif.), 36-3

Drew Wright notched 25 kills, and Erin Inskeep recorded 19 digs as the Mustangs beat Mater Dei in a five-set thriller this past weekend and booked a spot in the CIF Southern Section Division I Championships final against Sierra Canyon.

4. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 45-1

The Blues will lose DeLeye but return several key contributors next year.

5. Westminster Christian (Fla.), 26-0

The Warriors are just two wins away from their first state title since 2016 and have not dropped a set since Sept. 3.

6. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 33-1

The Royals have already knocked off one top-25 team on their way to the Class 4A state final, and they will have to beat another to win the state crown. Hamilton Southeastern, which ended No. 17 McCutcheon’s season in the regional final, faces No. 16 Yorktown for the title Saturday.

7. Fayetteville (Ark.), 36-2

It was only appropriate that the seniors led the way as the Bulldogs won their third consecutive state title. Stanford beach volleyball commit Brooke Rockwell smacked 17 kills, and Madeline Lafata added 13 in a straight-set championship victory. Kennedy Phelan was everywhere with 37 assists, 18 digs and seven kills, while Ashley Ruff had a team-high 22 digs. Those four were part of Fayetteville’s 14-player senior class.

8. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 37-1

The Lions ended the regular season on a 25-match winning streak and now turn their attention to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools playoffs.

9. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 43-1

The Mustangs opened the playoffs Wednesday with a straight-set victory in the district semifinals, booking a spot in Friday’s district championship.

10. Highland Park (Texas), 41-2

The Scots dominated their postseason opener, not allowing their opponent to win more than 10 points in a set.

11. Tompkins (Texas), 37-3

The Falcons are riding a 17-match winning streak and eyeing the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state crown.

12. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 40-3

The Saints defeated St. James Academy for the third time this season to claim the 5A state championship. Two of their losses came against Washburn Rural.

13. Oconomowoc (Wis.), 37-1

Cordelia Kearns became the Raccoons’ all-time kills leader in a postseason victory this past weekend. Kearns has 394 kills this season alone, and now the senior and her teammates are just three wins away from a state title.

14. Cypress Ranch (Texas), 43-2

The Mustangs opened the playoffs the same way they ended the regular season, with a sweep. But a tough test awaits Thursday against The Woodlands, who are 39-9 with a win over Cornerstone Christian.

15. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 32-4

The Trailblazers defeated reigning state champion Marymount for the second time this season to finish unbeaten in pool play and set up Saturday’s showdown with No. 3 Mira Costa.

16. Yorktown (Ind.), 34-2

Charlotte Vinson had 20 kills, Addi Applegate contributed 27 digs and Kynnadi Bell added 25 assists as the Tigers knocked off Floyd Central in the state semifinals to set up a championship showdown with No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern.

17. McCutcheon (Ind.), 33-2

The Mavericks’ season ended last week in a loss to Hamilton Southeastern in the regional finals.

18. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 35-3

The Mighty Macs avenged one of their three losses with a taut, three-set victory over Marist in Wednesday’s sectional final.

19. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 25-5

The Raiders ended the season on a 12-match winning streak, earning the Division I state title as Brooke Naniseni racked up 16 kills in the state championship match. Tessa Onaga contributed 32 digs, and Maya Imoto-Eakin dished out 39 assists.

20. Dike-New Hartford (Iowa), 45-2

The Wolverines play for the Class 2A state championship Thursday, with Madelyn Norton leading the way with 894 assists. Twins Payton and Jadyn Petersen lead the team with 456 kills and 295 digs, respectively.

21. Buford (Ga.), 37-5

If the Wolves beat Lambert in the 7A state championship Saturday, it will be their third state title in three years.

22. Marymount (Calif.), 30-8

The Sailors struggled in the CIF Southern Section Division I Championships, going 1-2 in pool play, but their season isn’t over yet. They could receive an invite to the Southern California Regional Open Division playoff bracket.

23. St. Francis (Calif.), 29-0

The Lancers’ reward for winning their CIF Central Coast Section semifinal match Wednesday is a fifth matchup against Archbishop Mitty.

24. Assumption (Ky.), 33-7

The Rockets are just three wins from another state championship. First, they must navigate past a Mercy team they have already beaten twice this season.

25. Flint Hill (Va.), 31-0

The Huskies haven’t faced the same caliber of competition as Cathedral Catholic, but just like the top-ranked Dons, the new top-25 entrant has yet to drop a set this season.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

Westminster Christian (Fla.) volleyball has advanced to the state championship the last three seasons, but each time came up just short of a title. The Warriors hope this year brings a different result.

Already, the Warriors have turned heads with a win over No. 2 Cornerstone Christian, part of an unbeaten start to the season that has now stretched into postseason play. The Warriors knocked off a fellow unbeaten, Boca Raton, in their regular-season finale before opening the district tournament with a straight-set victory to improve to 22-0.

An undefeated start to the season is nothing new for Westminster Christian. The Warriors won their first 22 matches in 2020 before losing in the state final, but if the Warriors complete an unbeaten season, it would be a first for the program.

The prize the team truly craves, though, is a state title, which would be the school’s first since 2016. As it stands now, the Warriors are just one win from another district title, the first step toward capturing the state crown.

Behind this 22-match winning streak, filled with dominant performances and just three set losses all season, the Warriors are a fixture in the Just Women’s Sports volleyball team rankings, moving up one spot this week to No. 5.

Check out the complete rankings below, and click here to view last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 34-0

The Dons still have not dropped a set and have just one more regular-season match remaining before postseason play begins.

2. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 55-2

Iowa State commit Nayeli Gonzalez racked up 15 kills in a sweep Tuesday to push her season total to 573.

3. McCutcheon (Ind.), 32-1

The Mavericks cruised to a sectional title, winning all three playoff matches in straight sets, and will compete for a regional title this Saturday.

4. Mira Costa (Calif.), 34-3

The Mustangs capped the regular season with a win over Redondo Union and opened the playoffs with a sweep of 28-win Lakewood.

5. Westminster Christian (Fla.), 22-0

The Warriors face Ransom Everglades in the Class 3A-District 15 championship Friday.

6. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 38-1

The Blues pushed their winning streak to 37 matches, winning six this weekend to claim the Emporia Tournament title. Kentucky commit Brooklyn DeLeye, the No. 6 recruit in the nation, surpassed 2,000 career kills in the process.

7. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 33-1

The Lions notched two more victories this past week, and Macaria Spears racked up 31 combined kills for a team-leading 434 this season.

8. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 35-1

Without Miss Volleyball finalist Ella Schomer and senior Reagan Sass, the Mustangs lost in the Beast of the East championship, their first defeat since September 2021.

9. Highland Park (Texas), 37-2

During their 15-match winning streak, the Scots have dropped just one set.

10. Marymount (Calif.), 30-6

The Sailors opened sectional pool play with a sweep of Huntington Beach.

11. Fayetteville (Ark.), 32-2

In a pair of straight-set wins this past week, Brooke Rockwell had a combined 32 kills, Madeline Lafata added 25 kills, Kennedy Phelan racked up 62 assists and 23 digs, and Ashley Ruff contributed 31 digs.

12. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 30-1

The Royals reeled off three straight-set wins to claim a sectional title, with a potential regional final matchup against No. 3 McCutcheon looming this Saturday.

13. Tompkins (Texas), 34-3

The Falcons’ winning streak has reached 14 with just two regular-season matches remaining.

14. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 30-4

The Trailblazers opened sectional pool play by beating Newport Harbor in straight sets, with a matchup against Marymount looming ahead.

15. Oconomowoc (Wis.), 34-1

Lilly Wagner dished out 30 assists, and Cordelia Kearns and Marlee Sivak both had 10 kills, as the Raccoons cruised to a straight-set victory in their regular-season finale.

16. Cypress Ranch (Texas), 39-2

The Mustangs have won 23 consecutive matches, dating back to an August defeat to No. 2 Cornerstone Christian.

17. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 33-2

Alea Goolsby notched 11 kills and Kelsey Schenck contributed 21 assists, as the Saints ended the regular season with a sweep of Olathe Northwest, which finished third in Class 6A last season.

18. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 32-3

A loss to Barrington in the semifinals of Glenbard East’s Autumnfest tournament resigned the Mighty Macs to a third-place finish.

19. Yorktown (Ind.), 31-2

The Tigers’ reward for winning their sectional is a regional semifinal matchup against 26-win Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory, one of the two teams to beat Yorktown this season.

20. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 22-5

The Raiders beat rival Punahou twice to win the ILH Tournament and now have over a week off before the state tournament begins.

21. Dike-New Hartford (Iowa), 41-2

The Wolverines opened postseason play with a sweep to push their winning streak to 18 matches.

22. Mater Dei (Calif.), 28-7

The Monarchs opened sectional pool play with a four-set win over 19-win Palos Verdes, and they have a matchup against Mira Costa on the horizon.

23. Buford (Ga.), 34-5

State champions in Class 6A last season, the Wolves moved up to 7A this season and remain state title contenders, sweeping their first playoff match Tuesday.

24. Saint Francis (Calif.), 26-0

The Lancers have dropped just three sets all season after losing 12 matches last year.

25. St. James Academy, (Kan.), 31-3

The Thunder enter the postseason on a six-match winning streak but are in the same sub-state as No. 17 St. Thomas Aquinas.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

An undefeated season is quite the task, and Cathedral Catholic (Calif.) has taken it one step further. The Dons haven’t just lost a match this season; they haven’t dropped a set.

Cathedral Catholic has done so while winning the prestigious Durango Fall Classic, the Kamehameha Tournament and now the GEICO High School Volleyball Invitational this past weekend. To claim the title, Cathedral Catholic defeated Ponte Vedra, runner-up in Florida’s highest classification last season, and Nebraska powerhouse Papillion-LaVista South.

The Dons are led by Stanford commit Julia Blyashov, the No. 3 recruit in the nation, but talent is sprinkled across the roster with six more Division I commits — senior Noemie Glover (Oregon), senior outside hitters Cate Schell (Tennessee) and Milan Bayless (Colgate), senior middle blocker Ryleigh Patterson (Harvard), junior middle blocker Jenna Hanes (Michigan) and junior setter Amanda Saeger (DePaul).

A few more regular-season matches remain before the most important tournament begins, as Cathedral Catholic eyes a state title and tries to maintain its unblemished set record.

Check out the complete rankings below, and click here to view last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 32-0

Coming off the GEICO title, the Dons won twice more Tuesday and Wednesday.

2. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 28-0

The Mustangs have over a week off before they return to action at the Beast of the East tournament.

3. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 54-2

The Warriors returned to the court with a three-set sweep Tuesday, pushing their winning streak to 18 matches. Two of those victories came against top-25 teams.

4. McCutcheon (Ind.), 29-1

After notching 28 kills over three matches to lead the Mavericks to a conference tournament title, senior Chloe Chicoine learned she was one of 27 players selected to compete at the Under Armour Next All-America game.

5. Mira Costa (Calif.), 32-3

Fresh off a second-place finish at the Tournament of Champions Southwest, the Mustangs went 6-0 at the Molten Power Classic, beating Redondo Union in the championship.

6. Westminster Christian (Fla.), 20-0

The Warriors may not play the type of national schedule that other top-10 teams face, but they defeated Cornerstone Christian and have dropped just three sets all season.

7. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 31-1

Since a loss to Cornerstone Christian, Prestonwood has reeled off 19 victories in a row.

8. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 30-1

The Junior Blues just continue to win, claiming the Derby Tournament title with six wins Saturday before notching three more victories Tuesday to stretch their unbeaten streak to 29 matches.

9. Highland Park (Texas), 35-2

The Scots continue to roll in district play, and their winning streak has reached 13 matches.

10. Marymount (Calif.), 28-6

Torrey Stafford recorded 20 kills, Alexa Trapani had 26 digs and Lauren Brooker racked up 49 assists in the Sailors’ four-set league win over Alemany on Tuesday.

11. Fayetteville (Ark.), 30-2

The Bulldogs have three more regular-season matches remaining before their quest for a third consecutive state title begins in earnest.

12. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 27-1

The Royals’ path to a Class 4A state title begins Thursday with a sectional matchup against 22-win Carmel, which eliminated Hamilton Southeastern last year.

13. Tompkins (Texas), 32-3

The Falcons’ winning streak has reached 12 matches with a handful of regular-season contests remaining.

14. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 26-2

The Mighty Macs flexed their muscles with a sweep of 24-win De La Salle on Tuesday, winning both sets without giving up more than 12 points.

15. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 29-4

After losing to Marymount last week, the Trailblazers ended the regular season on a high note with three consecutive wins.

16. Oconomowoc (Wis.), 33-1

Cordelia Kearns notched 18 kills, and Lilly Wagner added 37 assists in a four-set victory last week to conclude conference play. The Raccoons now wrap up regular-season play Thursday.

17. Cypress Ranch (Texas), 37-2

With two more victories, the Mustangs’ winning streak has reached 21 matches.

18. Assumption (Ky.), 28-6

Whitney Woodrow had 61 assists, Kristen Simon added 34 digs and Emma Barnett had a team-high 20 kills in the Rockets’ five-set victory over Mercy, last year’s state runner-up. Assumption followed that up with a win Tuesday on Senior Night.

19. Santa Fe (Fla.), 21-1

State champions last season, the Raiders’ winning streak is at 14 matches, and they’ve dropped just four sets all season.

20. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 32-3

The Saints defeated four teams, including three with 20 or more wins, to claim a tournament title this past weekend.

21. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 20-5

Maya Imoto-Eakin racked up 61 assists as the Raiders beat rival Punahou, avenging a loss from earlier this season.

22. Dike-New Hartford (Iowa), 39-2

The Wolverines wrap up the regular season Thursday and then turn their attention to the postseason.

23. Mater Dei (Calif.), 27-7

The Monarchs have depth across the board. They have two players with more than 200 kills, two players with more than 300 assists and two players with more than 200 digs.

24. Liberty (Mo.), 29-1

The Blue Jays’ sole blemish is a loss to St. Thomas Aquinas.

25. Yorktown (Ind.), 28-2

The future is bright for the Tigers, who are the only team to have beaten McCutcheon this season and have sophomores leading the team in kills (Charlotte Vinson, 363) and digs (Addi Applegate, 354).

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

Alyssa Thompson needed to speak with her younger sister. It didn’t matter that Gisele was asleep halfway across the globe. Alyssa had learned she was about to live out a dream — a dream she and her sister, Gisele, cultivated and worked toward for years — and this news could not wait.

At 17 years old, Alyssa had been called up to the U.S women’s senior national team, the youngest player to earn a call-up in five years. The two sisters, teammates most of their lives, have relied on each other throughout their soccer journey, and Gisele knew as well as anyone the sacrifice and work that led to this point.

That path has included playing with and against girls four or five years older — the sisters were underclassmen in high school when they played on the same team as then-college stars Ashley Sanchez and Savannah DeMelo — and being the only girls on the field when competing against some of the top boys talent in MLS Next matches.

Alyssa and Gisele have been together through it all, balancing school work, soccer and a social life. When they knew no one else on the team, they could talk to each other. Away from the field, they shared a room and imagined playing for the U.S.

They just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

“It was definitely a dream come true,” 16-year-old Gisele said recently from Dubai, where she was training with her U.S. teammates for the U-17 World Cup. “We talked about this stuff a lot, especially doing it together. That was both of our dreams.

“Having both of us accomplish these big dreams is such an amazing thing.”

Gisele thought her father, Mario, was joking — his reputation for playing tricks didn’t help — when she awoke to texts and calls from him and Alyssa.

“Alyssa and I felt that this time was going to come,” Mario said about the call-up. “It was more of when. It’s sooner than we all expected.”

Being ahead of schedule is nothing new for the Thompson sisters, who have quickly risen through the U.S. youth system. This past summer, Alyssa was the only high school player on the U-20 World Cup roster, and she scored a goal in the opener.

Alyssa Thompson celebrates after scoring against Ghana in the Women's U-20 World Cup. (Ezequiel Becerra/AFP via Getty Images)

“There are times when I sit back and watch her play,” said their mother, Karen, “and I’m always struck by even for how young she is, how much she can compose herself on the ball and how patient and how skillful she can be.”

Alyssa and Gisele are pioneers off the field, too, becoming the first high school athletes to sign Name, Image and Likeness deals with Nike, putting pen to paper this May.

Mario and Karen have focused on making sure Alyssa and Gisele live a balanced lifestyle. They attend Harvard-Westlake School, where they dominated in soccer two years ago and also run track. They find time to attend Friday night football games and hang out with friends, playing board games, Twister or just relaxing outside.

“It’s a priority for us to make sure the girls get to appreciate and experience life,” Karen said.

‘I always envision Gisele being there with me’

Getting a teenager to admit they miss their younger sibling is often a fruitless task. But as Alyssa lounged about her Southern California home one August afternoon, she needed no prodding. She felt a little lonely with Gisele in Spain, playing on the U-17 national team.

“I always have someone with me, and that’s Gisele,” Alyssa said. “When she’s gone, it’s kind of weird.”

Born 13 months apart, the Thompson sisters were separated by grade level but did pretty much everything else together. Gisele could have played with girls her own age, but it was easier for Mario and Karen to drive their kids to the same games and practices instead of ferrying them back and forth between separate games.

“I really liked it because it was a built-in friend,” Gisele said. “Whenever we would play soccer at different clubs, it was easier because she was there.”

It helped that Gisele’s silky-smooth passing and defensive ability perfectly complemented Alyssa’s nose for the goal, and the two often preferred playing on the right side of the field.

“It’s so much easier to play with her,” said Gisele, now primarily a right back. “We’re sort of like twins, so we know what our next move is.”

“She was always giving me the final pass or through-ball,” Alyssa added.

When Gisele and Alyssa weren’t playing basketball and volleyball or competing in gymnastics and track, they were usually together, whether on a family beach trip or a park picnic.

“We could say, ‘Hey, go in the backyard and go play with each other,’ and we knew they were entertaining each other,” Mario said.

That bond remains strong even as they see less of one another due to different national team commitments. Next year, Alyssa plans to attend Stanford while Gisele finishes high school. Gisele’s college of choice? Stanford.

“Any team I’m on, I always envision Gisele being there with me,” Alyssa said. “I love having her as a teammate.”

In a league of their own

The sisters thought their time playing against boys was over.

In 2020, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on youth soccer in southern California, the Thompson sisters were left in limbo. Their club teammates for the last several years had moved on to college. But they were still in middle and high school and had few training opportunities.

So Mario reached out to Paul Walker, director of Total Futbol Academy, which does not field girls teams. Gisele and Alyssa had played with TFA for several years, starting at 8 and 9 years old when Walker recognized their talent at a training session. Unlike most youth soccer clubs in the U.S., TFA does not rely on the pay-to-play model, providing Walker flexibility to bring in the Thompsons without ruffling feathers.

Mario credits that experience with improving his daughters’ all-around game.

But that was years ago, and the boys were now much faster and much stronger.

“You could get hurt because they’re really big and basically men now,” Alyssa said.

Alyssa and Gisele were accustomed to competing against bigger players. They played up four and five years, respectively, with their club team Real So Cal, and starting in eighth grade, Alyssa and then Gisele joined Santa Clarita Blue Heat of the second-division United Women’s Soccer League.

They faced off against college stars, like current U.S. international Taylor Kornieck. And the sisters were deemed good enough to share the field with teammates like Sanchez and DeMelo, who joined Alyssa on the U.S. roster for this international break.

Harvard-Westlake’s Gisele Thompson dribbles the ball down the field during a match against Villa Park. (Photo provided by Eric Dearborn)

“The only two players that were in high school were Alyssa and Gisele,” Santa Clarita Blue Heat sporting director Carlos Marroquin said. “I had never had high school players before. I didn’t want them.”

It didn’t take long for Walker to extend an offer for the Thompsons to join TFA’s MLS Next teams, a chance to compete against some of the top boys talent in the country.

Mario just had one question for his daughters: Did they want this? The answer: a resounding yes. It was a challenge they relished.

“I have had a parent ask me, ‘Why are they playing in MLS Next?’” Karen said. “It’s what they thought they needed to work on and what they thought they were capable of and confident in doing.”

Alyssa and Gisele credit the last few years with improving their first touch and decision-making.

“The speed of play is very different,” Walker said. “Being able to execute your thought and your decision, with or without the ball.”

When Alyssa was young, she sometimes struggled to fit in at TFA. Used to being the primary goal-scorer, she had to learn other roles. In her second stint at the club, she has been embraced by teammates.

When she scored her first goal after rejoining TFA, she was nonchalantly jogging back to midfield when her teammates called her over to the corner flag. They all wanted to celebrate with her.

“They are competing and now being impact players on their current team,” Mario said. “When they don’t show, their coach is like ‘Hey, where are they? We need them.’”

Alyssa Thompson shows off the crest on her jersey ahead of the Women’s U-20 World Cup in August. (Tim Nwachukwu/FIFA via Getty Images)

United for the next challenge

On Tuesday, the same day Alyssa and the U.S. women’s national team face Spain in an international friendly, Gisele will be in India for the Americans’ opening game of the U-17 World Cup.

But they still lean on each other. That’s why Gisele was the first person Alyssa thought to call when she got off the phone with Mario, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski and general manager Kate Markgraf.

“Everyone used to say they’re like twins,” Mario said. “They relate to what they’re going through. There’s very few friends that can relate to their experiences.”

When Gisele and Alyssa connected, Gisele’s message was simple: You belong. Now show everyone what you can do.

She plans to watch Friday’s game against England on the plane ride to India. But Alyssa will have some familiar faces in London. Both Mario and Marroquin plan to be there.

“For her first call-up, I have to make it,” Mario said.

Alyssa and Gisele Thompson pose for a photo donning their Harvard-Westlake jerseys. (Rayne Athletics Creative Studio)

When Mario and Karen signed their daughters up for soccer, this was not the plan. Even when Gisele and Alyssa turned heads as youngsters, the family viewed soccer as a fun hobby, perhaps an avenue to a college scholarship.

It took Marroquin just a few minutes to realize the Thompsons were elite players as middle schoolers. Walker immediately recognized that talent when they were 8 and 9 years old. Years later, so did scouts for the Mexican boys’ youth teams.

Now, the Thompson sisters will look to impress on the world stage.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Is Alyssa ready for the women’s national team,’” Mario said. “Yeah, she’s ready. … Alyssa and Gisele are training with 17- and 18-year-old (boys) on a daily and weekly basis. I know how difficult it is.

“I know when they do play with women at a high level, they’ll be fine.”

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.