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Erica Sullivan speaks out in support of Lia Thomas

(Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Erica Sullivan voiced her support for trans athletes after finishing third to Lia Thomas in Thursday’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA swimming championships.

Thomas has been at the center of the national debate over transgender athletes’ participation in women’s sports, with some arguing against her involvement despite her meeting the NCAA’s outlined standards to compete.

“Transgender athletes should not be denied equal rights when compared to cisgender athletes,” Sullivan wrote in a Newsweek op-ed. “Women’s sports are stronger when all women—including trans women—are protected from discrimination, and free to be their true selves.”

Sullivan, a silver medalist in the 1500m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics, went on to defend Thomas’ participation in women’s collegiate swimming. The Penn swimmer became the first known transgender woman to win a Division I national championship on Thursday, finishing ahead of Sullivan, a Texas freshman, and Virginia’s Emma Weyant.

“Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time,” Sullivan wrote. “And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity.”

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

Cameron Brink Suffers Season-Ending ACL Tear

la sparks rookie cameron brink being helped off the court after an injury
Brink had to be helped off the court after taking a fall during the Sparks' loss to Connecticut on Tuesday. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sparks rookie Cameron Brink will miss the remainder of the WNBA season after suffering a torn ACL in her left knee during Tuesday’s game against Connecticut. 

Brink will also miss the Paris Olympics after having been named to the USA Basketball's 3×3 Olympic roster earlier this month. 

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, Brink started in all 15 games for the Sparks this season. She entered Tuesday averaging 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, while her blocks ranked her third in the league behind Seattle's Ezi Magbegor and Las Vegas's A’ja Wilson.

During Tuesday’s game, Brink appeared to slip on the hardwood while driving to the basket. After standing up with assistance, she then had to be helped off the court before being carried back to the locker room

"You never think it will happen to you," Brink wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. "And despite all the hard work sometimes it does. This is hard to fathom but I know it will only make me stronger. I will not be derailed and I will continue to love this life — I'm not defined by basketball, but it is something that I love deeply and I will work everyday to get back to it. It's not goodbye basketball it's just a see you later. I'm always so thankful for your thoughts and prayers."

In a statement, USA Basketball wished Brink a "speedy recovery" and noted that they will be looking for someone to fill her spot on the 3×3 team. Brink's 3×3 teammate Rhyne Howard also took a knock on Wednesday, although the severity of that injury has yet to be announced. 

After the confirmation, Brink's fellow rookies took to social media to offer up words of support, with Angel Reese writing “\"prayers for my sweet girl!" Aaliyah Edwards also sent prayers, as well as "positive thoughts your way, Cam."

"It just breaks your heart," Caitlin Clark told reporters Wednesday.

"You don’t want to see anybody deal with any sort of injury, obviously an injury of that magnitude," she continued. "I know she’s the type of person that will be able to get through it and come through it stronger."

Veteran Swimmer Simone Manuel Makes 3rd Olympic Team

us olympic swimming team's simone manuel rests in a pool
Simone Manuel returns to the US Olympic Swimming Team after battling health concerns ahead of the Tokyo Games. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Decorated swimmer Simone Manuel made her third US Olympic team on Wednesday, touching fourth in the 100-meter freestyle to secure a spot in the relay event in front of a record crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

With her gold medal win at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, Manuel became the first Black woman to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event. But the former champion in the 100-meter freestyle endured a long road after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I think Paris is going to be a blast," Manuel said after qualifying. "It's a different spot than I'm used to right now with only being a relay swimmer. But it's my third Olympic team, and that's something that's really hard to accomplish.

"It's a miracle that I'm even able to stand up here and be able to race again. The people close to me know the journey it took to get here. I'm really proud of myself and proud of Team USA."

Kate Douglass and Torri Huske will advance as the two individual swimmers in the event. They'll be joined by Gretchen Walsh and Manuel. 

Elsewhere, Katie Ledecky added to her long list of accolades by winning the 1500-meter freestyle in a time that she wasn’t entirely happy with — despite finishing well ahead of the rest of the heat.

"I was expecting to go a lot faster," she said afterwards. "I know I have a lot more in me than the end result today. I just didn't have that next gear."

One day prior, Regan Smith reclaimed the World Record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of record time of 57.33 seconds. Smith had previously set the record in 2019, before Australia’s Kaylee McKeown broke it soon after. The feat marked the second World Record broken at the US Olympic Swimming Trials.

"There were many years that went by after 2019 where I thought that I would never do that ever again," Smith said Tuesday, before adding that she’d love to set a new record in Paris. "I think 56 is a possibility, for sure."

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