Georgina Corrick is grateful for the opportunity to be playing professional softball, even though it comes so soon after the conclusion of the NCAA season.

A pitcher who spent her collegiate career at the University of South Florida, Corrick’s NCAA career only ended in May. The team lost in its regional to both Florida State and Mississippi State, both performances that Corrick says didn’t go the way she wanted. Admittedly, there was “a little bit too much” on her plate.

One month later she’s in San Diego with AUX Softball, competing in the shortened three-series competition. Crediting her trainers for helping her properly recover, she’s been excited to get to experience Athletes Unlimited — even if for a short period of time.

Following the AUX season, Corrick will take a very limited amount of time before heading overseas to play with the Great Britain national team. She won’t be back until early August, which would have meant arriving late for the full third season of Athletes Unlimited.

“At the end of the day, I really just wanted to be here and be a part of AU in general,” Corrick told Just Women’s Sports. “And if AUX was the only season I’d really be able to compete, I absolutely wanted to do that.”

There’s also career longevity to consider, as well as not wanting to overburden herself this summer.

“It’s just one of those things that for the time and what kind of I knew my limitations were, it just didn’t make a lot of sense,” she said. “If I want to keep playing until 2028 for the next Olympics — which I really do — I probably can’t keep pushing myself to do those insane amounts of workloads.”

While softball has yet to be admitted to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, many players — including NCAA and newly-minted Women’s Professional Fastpitch star Jocelyn Alo — have been vocal about wanting to play.

Despite the short rest and admitted nerves, Corrick has been tearing it up in the circle through two weeks of play.

Through six appearances and 16 innings pitched, the ace has a 1.68 ERA — the second best amongst all pitchers behind Danielle O’Toole (1.62) — and has only allowed four earned runs. In a league that has a plethora of sluggers and high-powered scoring, that’s not too bad for a rookie.

Consider this: last year’s champion, Aleshia Ocasio, has given up 11 earned runs and has a 4.30 ERA through six appearances and 19 innings pitched. Haylie Wagner, with four appearances and 14 innings pitched, has a 3.34 ERA with seven earned runs allowed.

That doesn’t mean the prospect of Athletes Unlimited wasn’t overwhelming.

“Now I’m playing against the lineup where my nine batters that I’m facing are the nine best batters in the country,” said Corrick. “It’s a very overwhelming concept sometimes to take as a pitcher. I can’t look too far forward.

“These are some of the best hitters in the nation. People you’re expected to give up hits, you’re expected to give up walks and runs. No one’s gonna hold that against you.”

And, she says, Athletes Unlimited keeps the players honest.

“That’s the coolest thing I’ve noticed about here,” Corrick said. “No one’s picking sides. No one’s calling anything out. Because at the end of the day, the girl that you’re picking might be your teammate next week, or she might be your captain.”

Those who followed Corrick through college aren’t surprised by her success so far with Athletes Unlimited. During her senior season, Corrick had an astounding 0.51 ERA to lead the NCAA while amassing 37 wins and only allowing 20 earned runs innearly 275 innings pitched. With one of the highest workloads in all of Division I, she held strong with 418 strikeouts.

Now the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts, she was one of three finalists for USA Softball’s College Softball Player of the Year award that was eventually given to Alo.

Making the transition from college to the pros is something that Corrick was excited about, but she’s been cognizant of making sure she remains true to who she is beyond all of the accolades. She didn’t want to have to reinvent herself in order to try to fit in, and two weeks in, it’s been working.

“I’m someone who a lot of people will tell me who I am, you know, the awards, the accolades, like, ‘this is Georgina Corrick, she is blank, blank, blank,’” Corrick said. “As opposed to, ‘this is George, this is who she is.’

“I think my team this year, this week, especially if you were able to like see in the dugout and see what we were doing, we’re having so much fun. And that’s kind of what my brand is. That’s what my personality is. I want them to know who I am as a person.”

Athletes Unlimited provides the opportunity for players to extend their careers past college. For the viewers, it provides an opportunity to continue watching some of sports’ best — like Sis Bates.

Bates first graced the Athletes Unlimited softball field last year after being drafted in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited softball college draft. She wound up finishing ninth in the league’s second season with 1,468 leaderboard points after starting in all 15 games.

She finished the season hitting .326, registering 14 hits and tied for the league lead with five doubles.

But her performance last season wasn’t surprising for those who know Bates. A former NCAA Defensive Player of the Year and three-time NFCA All-American, the shortstop had a storied career at the University of Washington.

“I got to work with Sis Bates with USA Softball, and she was just a pleasure to work with,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said of Bates last May. “(She’s) just a gamer, loves to play, great attitude. Very infectious approach.

“Sis is real flash. … She can spin around, throw somebody out. She’s got a knack and nose for the game like nobody I’ve seen, with the exception of somebody like Grace Lyons.”

The all-time leader in Washington history with 18 triples, she’s also the Huskies’ all-time hits leader with 320 in 261 career games. She also ranks third in runs (227), fourth in batting average (.385) and fifth in doubles (54).

A two-time NFCA First-Team All-American, she was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year three times for her play at shortstop, just the second player in Pac-12 history to have won the award three times. In 2020, she was named the Greatest Softball Shortstop of All Time by ESPN.

As she’s made her way to the pros, she hasn’t let off the gas either.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” Bates told the Seattle Times last September about playing in Athletes Unlimited. “It’s felt like a whirlwind. But just being here and being settled in here and competing every day like we have, I feel like I’m learning the routine. I’m a total nerd for softball. Every day here has been the best.”

During the first week of play for AUX, Bates showed once again why she’s one of the best to play the game. She recorded 15 assists on the weekend while giving up just one error, meaning she had perfect fielding percentage in all but one game. She also recorded three double plays — including two against Team Ocasio.

“Defense is super fun,” Bates told Softball America last February. “It sounds so funny for me to say that. But, seriously, I do love it. I love it so much. It is genuinely fun for me.”

“She converts most of the balls she can get to into outs; that’s as good as having a dominant pitcher,” Washington coach Heather Tarr told ESPN in 2019. “The ball is always converted into an out. If it’s possible, it’s going to be converted into an out, whether it’s routine or not a routine play. She’s super efficient.”

Her efficiency currently has her 10th on the AUX leaderboard — just two points behind Aliyah Andrews. As she enters the second series of play on Saturday for Team Gibson, look for Bates to continue doing as she does and find herself climbing up the leaderboard.

Diana Ordoñez is used to being the young one.

The 2021 ACC leading scorer is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft after deciding to leave the University of Virginia a year early. She found herself in a similar situation three years earlier when she graduated high school a semester ahead of her peers, despite already being young for her grade, and arrived at UVA as a 17-year-old.

“I don’t really think about my age too much because before I did, and it would kind of hinder me from a lot of things,” Ordoñez said. “But now, I mean, I’m just doing what everybody else is doing — it doesn’t really matter how old I am.”

Sitting in front of neatly organized shelves during a Zoom call on Thursday, Ordoñez explained the carefully thought-out academic plan she had made at the start of the summer for her junior year, just in case turning pro and graduating college at the age of 20 became a reality.

“[My parents] were really supportive,” said Ordoñez. “They obviously guided me through pros and cons and things like that, but at the end of the day, they were like, ‘We support your decision if you want to go back to school. And if you want to go pro, then you go do that.’”

Finishing her 2021 season as an All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, the timing seemed right to declare for the NWSL draft.

If her production hadn’t been where she wanted it, Ordoñez would have waited another year. But the forward scored 18 goals during the season, which was first in the ACC and second in the nation. She also finished her collegiate career tied for third on UVA’s all-time goal-scoring list with 45 and sixth on the program’s all-time points list with 102.

Coming into season knowing it was potentially her last, Ordoñez focused on refining the small, technical details of her game, like first touch and execution in front of goal.

“No matter how good my finishing is, I always say that I can work on my finishing,” said the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. “Especially being the nine, someone who is expected to produce and score goals, that’s something I will never stop working on. No matter how good you are at it, I just don’t think there’s anything you can just kind of be like, ‘OK, check that off, I’m good at that,’ and then move on.”

Her goal-scoring technique will be under even more acute scrutiny at the next level, but Ordoñez embraces the challenges that come with being a pro, referring to the NWSL as a “whole different beast.”

“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” she said. “That’s the reality of my first season.

“No matter where I go, chances are there’s going to be a world-class person starting in my position already, and to me that’s really, really exciting. Even if I don’t necessarily get as many minutes as I want in the beginning, I can just soak up everything that environment has to offer.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Stanford basketball standout Cameron Brink was featured in Whistle’s “No Days Off” series, with the sports network joining Brink on her day off.

A day off for the sophomore forward meant the beach, spikeball and hanging out with her family — one of her favorite things to do. It also included getting some shots up in the gym.

“It’s important to me to still get in the gym somehow, whatever I do, even if it’s just ball handling or shooting,” she said. “Basketball is therapy to me and it helps me get my mind off things.”

Brink reveals in the video that she wasn’t interested in sports until sixth grade, when she discovered a good coach, good teammates and a knack for basketball. Which shouldn’t be surprising for someone whose parents both played Division I basketball.

“They never forced me into playing, that’s why I started so late,” she said. “They just wanted me to be happy in whatever I was doing. And I really appreciate that because I think if I was forced into it I wouldn’t like it as much now.”

Still, having her parents around has been helpful as she’s continued her career, which includes winning the 2020 NCAA Championship with Stanford.

“They know the sport. They know what they’re talking about, so hearing their feedback was definitely tough at times but they were both elite Division I athletes so I definitely take what they say seriously. They’re both huge role models to me.”

Addressing her career aspirations, Brink revealed that she would love to play basketball “for as long as I can.”

“I definitely wanna play professionally,” she said. “I would love to play overseas. That would be the dream.”

Brink figures to take on an even larger role with the Cardinal during her second year, with the defending champs entering the season ranked No. 3 in the AP’s preseason poll.

Catch Brink’s full appearance on “No Days Off” below:

Let’s get right to it: Whether you look at the small picture or the big picture, what Jonquel Jones has achieved in her career, and especially in this MVP-caliber season, is mindblowing.

We can call the “small picture” what she does on the court, where the 6-foot-6 forward combines a mix of strength, touch, determination and elite skills to average 19.4 points (on a buttery mix of post moves, fadeaways and face-up 3-pointers to the tune of 1.5 triples a game), 1.3 blocks and a WNBA-leading 11.2 rebounds per game. Jones is the unquestioned leader of this year’s powerhouse team, the Connecticut Sun, who led the league during the regular season with a 26-6 record and begin their playoff run this week in the semifinals against the Chicago Sky.

Jones compares her game most directly to former NBA MVP Kevin Durant, and he enthusiastically co-signs the match even if he’s not nearly the rebounder Jones is. While the achievements themselves may not be quite unprecedented (a few past MVPs have posted similarly impressive statistical seasons), the way Jones plays inside and out has arguably never been seen before.

The “big picture” would be where this unbelievable talent came from before unleashing herself on the WNBA: a country (The Bahamas) with a negligible history in the sport, and then a college (George Washington University) with a decent history of team success in hoops but an equally negligible history of actually producing WNBA players, let alone the best player in the league.

And what was that path? While it’s been shared over the years, it’s a story worth retelling because, MVP favorite or not, we’re talking about a player who was nowhere to be found on the WNBA’s top-selling jersey list and has a small social-media presence. It stands to reason that this undercoverage is related to fans’ lack of awareness, because once you grasp Jonquel Jones’ story … it’s impossible not to, well, like, follow and share.

“I’m so proud of her,” gushes Diane Richardson, Jones’ high school coach and temporary legal guardian. We’re chatting over the phone in mid-September, the day after Jones’ Sun whomped the Liberty 98-69. “She called me after the game like she always does to review the tape. I told her I hadn’t watched the game yet, but I’d call her once I did. So I did, and we talked about where and how she’s getting double-teamed, her positioning, stuff like that.”

This was after a 30-point win.

How’d we get here? As essential as Richardson, now the head coach at Towson University, is to most phases of Jones’ life in basketball, the story begins before high school, of course.

Jones was born in 1994 in Freeport, the second-biggest city in The Bahamas. She was a soccer lover at first, but by 12 she’d transitioned that passion to hoops. Finding the facilities, coaching and overall support for the sport lacking in The Bahamas, Jones told her mother she would go to high school in the States and play college basketball.

While that path was extremely rare, Jones was determined, and had a role model to show the way. “Coach Yo!” Jones exclaims over the phone. “She’s the one.”

Coach Yo is Yolett McPhee-McCuin, now the head coach at Ole Miss. Spurred by her father, Gladstone “Moon” McPhee, who coached many kids in The Bahamas (including Jones and the NBA’s Buddy Hield), McPhee-McCuin was the first Bahamian woman to earn a letter of intent from a Division I college. She played at and graduated from Rhode Island after spending two years at Miami-Dade Community College.

Jones learned from McPhee’s basketball path. She also knew a local, Jurelle Nairn, who had attended Riverdale Baptist High School in Maryland as an exchange student. Nairn connected the 13-year-old, high school freshman to Riverdale Baptist coach Diane Richardson and they began speaking.

“I spoke with Jonquel and her mother. She wanted to play here, but tuition was a lot. ‘You can apply,’ I told them. Mom said they couldn’t afford that,” Richardson recalls. “We just went our ways for a little, but I called her back a couple of times to check on her. You could tell she and her mom were awesome. Four or five months later, I spoke with my husband: ‘This is a great kid with a great family — can we sponsor her?’ He said yes.”

During her successful tenure at the school in Upper Marlboro, Md., Richardson and her family occasionally sponsored local kids they wanted to help attend, but never international students.

“This was before Facetime,” Richardson continues. “So I’d never looked at her or seen her play. Just talked periodically. Then she came with her parents. They spent a week at my house and got acclimated with my family. We took them downtown, went to the White House and the monuments and spent time with my family. Her mother says, ‘It was meant for me to come here and turn my child over to you.’ My husband and I were honored. She was such a great kid.”

It was September 2008 and the families agreed Jones would move in with the Richardsons, who would eventually become her legal guardians. Riverdale Baptist was a nationally ranked program that didn’t necessarily have minutes for a player as raw as Jones, so she worked on her game at her new home.

“She has a tremendous work ethic,” Richardson says. “We had a court at home and she’d be out there shooting at 5 a.m. When she came over, she was actually behind our team with her skills. We played for the national championship that first season and she was the only player not to get in. She cried in the car on the way home. I told her, ‘You’re not ready and I’m not gonna play any favorites. You need to work.’”

So she did. Jones would launch shot after shot on the Richardson’s court — including from deep. “My husband and I both played college basketball and he taught her to shoot 3s,” Richardson says. “We’d play 3s and 2s and she’d get so mad when my husband would make 3s. So she practiced them.”

Jones also kept growing, and studying the game. “[Coach Richardson] started showing me video clips of great players that I should learn from,” Jones says today. “A mix of players that would make me a better overall player: Candace Parker, Delle Donne, Hakeem Olajuwon and KD. KD was always my favorite.” (Jones’ No. 35 with the Sun is no coincidence.)

Jones’ unique origin and late start to high school playing time meant she didn’t get much college attention until very late in her high school career. She received her first college letter after 10th grade from Brown University, a school not known for its basketball program.

The experienced Richardson knew she had something special, though. “She saw the potential,” Jones remembers. “She would look at the players ranked ahead of me and say, ‘I’ve seen this girl. She’s not better than you.’ She really recognized what I could be before anyone else and put that confidence in my head.”

Eventually, the recruitniks came around. As Jones was finishing high school, she moved up to No. 17 in ESPN’s national rankings and received an offer from UNC.

Jones chose Clemson, where McPhee-McCuin was a fast-rising assistant coach. When things didn’t work out at Clemson, Jones transferred back “home,” enrolling at GW in Washington, D.C., where Richardson had become an assistant coach.

“My youngest son, Michael, was going through some things and Jonquel said, ‘I gotta come home for my little brother,’” Richardson says. “When she decided to transfer, Baylor, Louisville, everyone was calling about her. I knew there would be bigger programs for her. Her wanting to be home for Michael was touching. We lived about 45 minutes from GW, so she lived on campus but came home on weekends and holidays. And she just kept working. She was always practicing. People would say to me, ‘Every time I walk past the Smith Center, Jonquel is in there, putting up shots.’”

Lisa Cermignano is a past GW great (yours truly covered her as the Colonial’s beat writer during their Elite 8 season in 1996-97) who went on to become a successful college coach and now runs the coaching division at SIG Sports, the Maryland-based agency that represents Jones. “I’d watch her GW games and be like, ‘Holy cow!’ For the A10, she was head and shoulders above the rest,” says Cermignano, who also wore No. 35 at GW.

Despite GW’s and the Atlantic 10’s complete lack of relevance at the WNBA level, Jones showed such dominance as a scorer and rebounder that there was no doubting her pro potential. Fueled by Richardson, Jones knew it, too. She was confident she could make it to the W no matter what school she went to after Clemson. “Coach Thibault would come watch our practices and he told me I could play in the WNBA,” Jones says of the current Washington Mystics coach and 2019 WNBA champion.

Jones won A10 Player of the Year as a junior at George Washington in 2015. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

As a senior, Jones averaged 16.2 points and an NCAA-best 14.6 rebounds per game while leading GW to a 26-7 record, the A10 tournament championship and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sure enough, she was the sixth pick of the 2016 draft — the same number her childhood buddy, Hield, was chosen in the NBA draft of the same year. Jones was the first GW player drafted since 2009 and by far the highest ever taken.

Jones took her ever-expanding game up to Mohegan Sun, and after a so-so 2016 season for her and the team, she began an ascension in 2017 that hasn’t abated. That season she won Most Improved Player as the Sun had their first winning season (21-13) since 2012. In 2018, the Sun tweaked her usage, bringing her off the bench in half of their games as they again went 21-13. Jones promptly won Sixth Woman of the Year. The next year, the Sun rode their All-Star to a 23-11 mark and advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005, when Jones was just 11 years old.

Last year, of course, was “the Wubble.” Jones, who over the course of her pro career has become a citizen of Bosnia-Herzegovina and starred professionally for Russian power BC UMMC Ekaterinburg alongside the likes of Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart, sat out the shortened season. She returned to the court for the 2020-21 EuroLeague season and helped Ekaterinburg win the title.

The 2021 regular season has been a lesson in momentum, with Jones building off of her success in Russia and the Sun picking up where they left off in 2019. “There’s definitely been some continuity from 2019,” Jones says. “We had a championship-caliber team that year. But we didn’t have DB [DeWanna Bonner] in 2019. And we haven’t had Alyssa [Thomas] yet this year (though she returned the day after we spoke).”

The Sun rolled to a league-best 26-6 regular season mark, going 15-1 at home and closing the year on a 14-game winning streak. Jones was the WNBA’s Player of the Month in August and September (not to mention May) and has already been named the AP’s Player of the Year. MVP honors (with even more prestige than ours) seem sure to follow.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Cermignano gushes. “For all of my former teammates and coaches, it is very special to watch. It was so rare for someone of JJ’s caliber to come into the A10, and then to see what she’s accomplishing is beyond special. It’s close to all of us.”

“I’m so proud of her,” Richardson echoes. “And she’s still working. She just wants to get better and I think she will. Kevin Durant has reached out to her and she’s so excited about that. They’re going to work out together and that’s only going to take her to another level.”

At this point, with the personal accolades flowing in like a waterfall, Jones is more focused on what the Sun can do when they begin their title chase Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. “It’s championship or bust for us,” Jones says with literally zero hesitation. “There are no excuses. We have everything we need to do it.”

And what would a title mean to Jones?

“The world.”

Ben Osborne is the Head of Content at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked for FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and served as SLAM’s longest-tenured Editor-in-Chief. He has written articles for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post and books with NYU Press and Rizzoli. Follow him on Twitter @bosborne17.

Allie Quigley lifted the championship trophy in front of a packed arena in July after winning the 3-Point Contest during the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas. The longtime Chicago Sky guard hit shot after shot from beyond the arc, making it look easy and effortless on her way to claiming the title for the third time.

Quigley’s success in the contest has become so automatic that players joked in Las Vegas that the league should name it after her.

“I’m just not surprised at all by her,” says Sky center Stefanie Dolson. “If she’s not making shots in a game, we’ll have a last-minute shot or a last-chance play to win a game, and we’ll still go to Allie. She is one of the greatest shooters. We always have the most confidence. So even during that 3-point contest, I was like, she’s still got it.”

In her 13th WNBA season, Quigley certainly still has it. Connecting on a career-high 45.4 percent of her 3-point shots during the regular season, she posed a constant scoring threat whether she started or came off the bench. She helped the Sky turn around their season after a 2-7 start to earn the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, where they’ll face the Dallas Wings in the first round Thursday.

It’s hard to imagine that a sharpshooter as calm and effective as Quigley struggled to get a foothold in the WNBA. But there was a time when the 35-year-old wondered if she’d ever find her place in the league, when she lacked confidence in her abilities.

In 2008, when the Seattle Storm drafted her in the second round out of DePaul, Quigley was so excited to hear her name called that she didn’t consider the next steps.

“I didn’t know too much about the team. Didn’t really know much about the coach or the process involved, either,” Quigley says. “You’re a little bit naïve to think, I’m drafted so I’m on the team. Then, the more you look at the roster and you get to camp, you realize, OK, I really have to make this team. And it’s looking like it’s going to be pretty hard to do that actually.”

Landing in the right situation means everything for a draft pick in a 12-team league where roster spots are limited. For Quigley, being in Seattle meant sitting behind veteran players who already had defined roles with the team.

During 2008 training camp, then Storm head coach Brian Agler had Quigley playing backup point guard. It was a position she wasn’t used to after a standout four-year career at DePaul, where she graduated as one of only four players to score 2,000 career points. But Quigley did her best to soak up professional basketball knowledge and be flexible while learning a whole new system in order to stick with the team.

It didn’t work. Just before the start of the season, the Storm waived Quigley. From there, she landed with the Phoenix Mercury as a free agent but was cut the next season. In 2010, she had brief stints with the San Antonio Stars and the Indiana Fever. She returned to Seattle in 2011, appearing in only seven games.

When Quigley showed up for Storm training camp in 2012, her mind was in Europe, where she’d found success playing in Hungary and in the EuroLeague.

“I was contemplating getting my Hungarian passport to play overseas for the year or to try and make the Storm roster,” Quigley says. “I was feeling good about my chances, but the passport was going to help me out with getting better basketball opportunities over in Europe.

“I talked to Brian about it, and he knew the European process and the league, and he said, ‘I think you need to get the passport and we’ll keep you in mind.’ Went and got the passport, was in Hungary for a month or two, and Seattle never called back.”

Quigley shoots during the 3-Point Contest of the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game. (Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

In 2012, as the WNBA season continued on without her, Quigley played basketball overseas. At the time, she was dealing with confidence issues and questioned whether she was good enough to play in the WNBA.

Quigley comes from a basketball family. She spent her childhood playing with her brothers and sister in the backyard or at the YMCA in their hometown of Joliet, Ill. They grew up loving the game. So it was hard for them to watch Quigley struggle when they knew how hard she was working.

“We Skyped a lot, just talked about like, what are some other things [she] could be doing?” says Quigley’s younger sister, Sam. “Coaches would sit her down and say, ‘You’re doing everything right, you had a great training camp, but we’re gonna cut you.’ And she was like, ‘Wait, I don’t understand.’

“I remember her saying that she sat down with Agler and just said, ‘Why? Can you just tell me why?’ And he gave her some truths and probably some pretty blunt answers of things she needed to improve on.”

While playing in Europe, Quigley focused on ball-handling, reading pick and rolls, learning how to score off the pick and knowing when to shoot or pass. The more experience she gained overseas, the more confident she felt. When she went up against players in the WNBA, she realized she could not only hold her own but flourish.

Others noticed her improvement, too. Pokey Chatman was the head coach of Russian basketball club Spartak during Quigley’s early years in the WNBA. Although her team never played against Quigley, Chatman kept a close eye on the guard. She liked what she saw in her and, as the head coach of the Chicago Sky by that time, she wanted Quigley on her team.

“I was watching her game evolve, not just watching the stats and highlights, and watching her compete and not just be a catch-and-shoot player,” Chatman says. “Her handles were getting better, everything. It was a no-brainer.”

For Chatman, seeing Quigley’s basketball evolution in real time was the difference. It also helped that there was a fit in the Sky’s system.

“I think some people hear that a player bounced around and think, oh, that’s never gonna work,” Chatman says. “I just saw this silent assassin-type mentality, like her emotions very seldom changed. She just knocked down shots. I always said, ‘If you can space the floor, you have a shot to have some success.’ And that was the initiating factor in it — adding someone who had some pro experience, a little bit of grit and a chip on her shoulder, like, ‘Sh—, this is my last go-round, I’m gonna make this happen.’

“And that was the beginning of Allie having a beautiful impact on the Sky program.”

Quigley spent her first season with the Sky on the bench. She averaged only 9.4 minutes per game in 2013 but tried to make an impact whenever she got on the floor. Chatman was still feeling her out as a player at the time, but told her she’d have a bigger role the following season.

In 2014, Quigley’s minutes jumped up to 24.8 per game. She took full advantage, averaging 11.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and earning the Sixth Woman of Year award. In 2015, she repeated the same production off the bench and won the award again.

Her career hasn’t waned since.

Quigley became a full-time starter in 2017 and was voted to her first All-Star Game. Now in her ninth year with the Sky, she’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the history of the league, ranking fifth all-time with a 39.9 3-point percentage.

Quigley’s career renaissance started and very well may end in Chicago. Looking back on her time in Europe, Chatman giving her an opportunity, winning back-to-back Sixth Woman of the Year awards — even her marriage to Sky teammate Courtney Vandersloot — Quigley can’t help but think it was destined.

“Just having been with different teams before that and thinking about giving it up, just to have that chance to be in Chicago and have my family be at every single game, it was perfect,” she says. “It was meant to be, to know that the previous five, six years of struggles were kind of worth it.”

Those who know Quigley best always believed her WNBA career would pan out.

“We weren’t surprised because of all the success she had growing up. I mean, she was phenomenal in many sports,” Sam says. “For us, it was like, we’re not surprised that Allie did this. What we’re most surprised about is her transformation as a person and as a woman. She’s become a professional.”

“Allie probably knew at some point, ‘I’m a great shooter. It doesn’t matter what else I can or can’t do on the court. I’m really good at shooting and people are gonna need that,’” Dolson adds. “And I’m just glad that Chicago took that chance on her and really committed to her being on the team and has stuck with her for so long.”

Chatman will always revel in the memory of helping bring Quigley back to the WNBA, and she couldn’t be more proud of the player Quigley has become.

“She deserves it because she’s put in the work. And it’s not just the shooting anymore. That’s what I want people to highlight — she’s not just catch and shoot,” Chatman says. “Of course, she’s a laser. We called her ‘laser.’ But it’s just the evolution of her game to positively impact it in different areas of offensive play. I think it was timing, environment. She just rocked it, and I’m glad she did.”

As the Sky head into the playoffs, Quigley is calm and confident. The days of questioning her skill and place in the WNBA are a distant memory. These days, she has the same belief in herself and her basketball abilities as she does in her teammates.

“We’ve beaten almost every team ahead of us so far. Especially the top three teams,” Quigley says. “So I think we just need to use that confidence, to know that we can do anything.”

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League. Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Sofia Jakobsson has had a busy summer.

Twelve days after completing an Olympic silver-medal run with the Swedish national team, Jakobsson finds herself thousands of miles from Tokyo. She’s in Louisville preparing for The Women’s Cup, her first competition with new club team FC Bayern Munich.

“During the Olympics, it felt like I would go back to Madrid, but I actually knew I would come here,” Jakobsson told Just Women’s Sports on Tuesday. The Swedish striker signed with Bayern Munich in July after two years with Real Madrid.

Jakobsson says it took her until “some days after” a whirlwind Olympics to remember she’d be playing with a new club team.

The star forward helped lead Sweden to the gold-medal match in Tokyo, trouncing the United States 3-0 on the way to the podium. The Swedes’ bid for gold was ultimately halted by Canada, who beat Sweden on penalty kicks in the Olympic final.

“It’s obviously still a little bit disappointing,” said Jakobsson, adding that she felt Sweden was “the better team.”

“It still stings a little bit, like a lost gold medal and not a silver medal won, but I hope in the future that it will feel great and I can be proud of the great tournament we did together.”

With the Games now behind her, the 31-year-old is ready to turn her focus to the club season, which begins later this month.

“I know the German league is really tough and every game will be super tough,” she said, adding that she expects the Frauen-Bundesliga will be more competitive than the Spanish league. “Trainings will be more intense and I will keep up my level and even progress even more.”

Before Jakobsson can settle into the German league and in with Bayern, she and the squad will first compete in the inaugural Women’s Cup, a Louisville-hosted tournament that includes two European teams (FC Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain) and two NWSL teams (Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars).

Bayern Munich comes to Louisville after a successful 2020-21 season in which they made a run in the Champions League before falling to Chelsea in a hard-fought semifinal. PSG comes to The Women’s Cup after squashing Lyon’s 14-year reign atop France’s Division 1 Féminine, winning the 2021 title for the first time in club history.

Racing Louisville and the Red Stars, meanwhile, have had impressive seasons in the NWSL. The hosts have posted an impressive four wins and three draws in their debut season in the league. International talents like Ebony Salmon and Nadia Nadim have energized the upstart team. And Chicago, after a mid-season three-game winning streak, sits fifth in the NWSL standings, with a playoff spot well within reach.

Even in its first year, Jakobsson, 31, says there are already “big eyes on the tournament.”

“I think really this can help women’s soccer to grow and the teams to get more followers from U.S. and vice versa,” she said.

Bayern’s Women’s Cup matchup against PSG is a game Jakobsson thinks could preview a potential Champions League collision.

“It will be a really exciting game I hopefully play, or even to be on the sidelines to see both teams compete,” she said.

The European teams will meet Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, streaming on Paramount+, while the NWSL teams will follow at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Hailey Van Lith barely had time to relax this summer, let alone keep up with the flurry of developments surrounding name, image and likeness rights for college athletes.

After Louisville’s basketball season ended in a loss to Stanford in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Van Lith spent most of her summer in Los Angeles training with skills coach Jordan Lawley. She worked on her game and on re-building her confidence after a freshman season she says was “up and down” for both the team and her mentally.

She wasn’t thinking much about NIL legislation and what it would mean for her until she got a text in late June. Van Lith learned that Kentucky governor Andy Beshear had just signed an executive order making Kentucky the seventh state to allow college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness by July 1.

“I had always been dreaming of what I could do with it, but I don’t know if I ever really took it seriously, just never having seen anything like that done before,” Van Lith said during a sitdown interview in midtown Manhattan before the NBA Draft late last month.

Six days after Kentucky signed its bill into law, the NCAA adopted an interim policy granting NIL rights to all current and incoming student-athletes. From there, Van Lith’s eyes were opened to a whole assortment of possibilities.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “We have so much potential to grow the game and allow ourselves to be successful, but the rules have kept us held back till now. So, I think we can really explode and take it over.”

Van Lith remembered an Opendorse report that came out during the NCAA Tournament in March estimating the annual earnings for the top athletes in the Elite Eight based on their social media followings, market size and school revenue. Eight of the top 10 athletes listed were women, and Van Lith was projected to make $965,000 annually, more than any other athlete by a wide margin.

The No. 7 recruit in the 2020 class, and the highest-ranked player to sign with the Cardinals since 2015, Van Lith had a following before she arrived at Louisville. She lived up to that promise during her freshman season, earning a spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team after averaging 11.2 points per game as a starting guard alongside senior Dana Evans. By the time of the Elite Eight in late March, Van Lith had 696,000 followers on social media.

The timing of the report’s release wasn’t lost on Van Lith. Just weeks earlier, the NCAA had come under fire after social media posts revealed disparities in facilities and resources between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, forcing NCAA president Mark Emmert to apologize.

“I think the biggest part is everyone’s like, ‘Oh, people don’t want to watch women’s basketball,’ but the times they’ve actually put it on main TV channels where people can find it, it gets watched,” Van Lith said. “I think with NIL, allowing individuals to push that more than just schools and universities, there will be a lot more push behind getting those games broadcasted and brands getting more involved with individual players.”

Indeed television ratings for the women’s NCAA Tournament this year were up, and Van Lith’s own social media following has grown since then, as well.

She now has 713,0000 followers on Instagram and has multiple people helping her determine what and when to post, including her parents. She also signed with Octagon as one of the sports agency’s first NIL representation clients.

“Sometimes I’m like, wow, there’s way too many people that care about what I want to post,” Van Lith said. “I’m mindful about what I can and can’t do and like, ‘Will this help me target the right audience if I post this?’ There’s a lot more thought going into my social media now than there was before.”

In both her words and her actions, Van Lith points to two near-term consequences of the NIL rules: With money on the line, athletes will start behaving like businesses. And female athletes, in particular, will finally know their actual value.

Just as the Opendorse report was released amid the outcry over the NCAA’s handling of the women’s basketball tournament, NIL rules are changing at the same time that we’re beginning to understand the depth of the NCAA’s gender inequities.

The Kaplan report, published last week after an investigation by an outside law firm, found that the NCAA has systematically undervalued its female athletes, especially its high-profile basketball players. Now Van Lith and other stars have an opportunity through individual deals to create a more accurate picture of the value they bring.

But Van Lith isn’t just in it for the money.

She says she’s focused on working with brands that align with both her interests, such as streetwear and fashion, and with causes that are important to her. At the top of her list are companies that are committed to elevating women in sports.

“Whether that’s incorporating teammates into my deals or other women athletes that I think deserve a platform, I have an opportunity to give them that platform and just push for representation of more female athletes,” she said.

Van Lith also recognizes the racial disparities that exist in the marketing and media coverage of athletes and wants to help be a part of the solution. Paige Bueckers’ call to shine a light on Black women during her acceptance speech at the ESPYs in July resonated with Van Lith, who has played with Bueckers on the USA Basketball youth circuit.

“Now it’s my job to make sure other girls behind me get that same platform,” Van Lith said. “I’m obviously white and a lot of my teammates are Black, and just making sure that I push them because I know that they deserve it just as much as I do.”

Van Lith is just starting to learn how to navigate the NIL landscape and the responsibilities that come with being more than a student-athlete. It’s a lot for a 19-year-old to wrap her head around, but Van Lith hasn’t had much time to think about it in the past few weeks.

After watching her boyfriend, Jalen Suggs, get drafted fifth overall by the Orlando Magic in New York City, Van Lith flew to France to compete with Team USA in the 3×3 U23 Nations League tournament. Playing two to three games every day from Aug. 2-4, Van Lith and her U.S. teammates — including Louisville transfer Emily Engstler — finished second in the standings behind the host country. From there, she headed back to Louisville for basketball camps and will get just a short break before classes start on Aug. 22.

Then, it’s onto the college basketball season, which Van Lith is calling “national championship or bust” for Louisville. The Cardinals lost Dana Evans to graduation and the WNBA, but they have multiple transfers, No. 12 recruit Payton Verhulst and a more self-assured Van Lith leading them in the backcourt.

“Last year, I didn’t always trust myself. I would have confidence dips, and at the highest level, it’s hard to have confidence dips because the competition is so tough,” she said. “I grew up a lot. I know a lot more about making relationships with teammates and how to just connect with people and make them better. So I’m really excited about next year.”

In an NIL world, excitement abounds in more ways than one.

Sam Kerr is this year’s WSL Golden Boot winner.

The Australian striker scored her 21st goal of the season in Chelsea’s title-sealing win over Reading on Sunday, making her the league’s top scorer.

With numbers like that, it’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the season, Kerr had her fair share of detractors.

Some said she missed too many easy chances in front of goal, while others claimed that Kerr struggled to adapt to Chelsea’s playing style.

Both claims have surely been quieted by Kerr’s stellar performance on the pitch.

Not only is the Matilda a consistent goal scorer for the Blues, but alongside Fran Kirby, the two form one of soccer’s most dynamic on-field duos. Kirby herself finished third in scoring in the league with 16 goals. In the Reading game alone, Kerr assisted on Kirby’s brace, while Kirby returned the favor for Kerr’s goal. Their 37 combined goals this year is more than seven other WSL teams.

When Kerr isn’t linking up with Kirby or banging in goals, the Aussie is setting up the rest of her teammates. Kerr’s eight assists in her 22 appearances emphasize her role as an offensive playmaker and facilitator for Chelsea.

The Australian’s most recent Golden Boot trophy is her sixth in five years across various leagues, a feat that puts her squarely in the conversation of the best player in the world.

A Champions League final victory on Sunday against Barcelona would secure Kerr and her team’s place in the history books and add to an already record-breaking season.

In the back of my mind, I think I always knew about my sexuality. For one, I wore knee length khaki shorts, Nike sneakers, and a sporty t-shirt almost every day in middle school. I was the spitting image of a prepubescent tom-boy that was a little too excited to play the “husband” during house at recess so I could hold hands with a pretty girl. I was bullied all throughout elementary school and middle school for not dressing like the other girls, or because I loved playing sports with the boys.

I didn’t know why I was different, but I was. At that age, I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be lesbian or bisexual. All I knew was that I liked dressing sporty, playing basketball and softball, and that I was slightly obsessed with the popular girls at school.

My love for sports was a continuous escape from the mental torture I put myself through for being different. I played basketball and softball on extremely competitive travel teams. This forced me to train constantly, and as a result, I put my emotions on the back burner.

At fourteen years old, in the middle of my freshman year of high school, the distractions I used to occupy my mind became less efficient at helping me avoid the inevitable.

This happened because I became obsessed with Alabama Softball. I religiously followed the team, knew all the players, and talked about them just enough for my teammates to start raising their eyebrows and asking questions. Of course, I denied everything, claiming it was their style of play I admired. While this was true, it was not true to the extent that I emphatically tried to explain to my teammates.

I started making my computer backgrounds and phone backgrounds pictures of players on the Alabama team. While I told myself it was for inspiration, my subconscious knew that wasn’t the sole purpose. I forced myself to develop crushes on boys. I made it known to my entire friend group that I liked certain boys at school to distract myself from the mental anguish of my complex emotions. I even went as far as to occasionally make homophobic comments to really mask the true me inside.

I did such a good job of selling it, my entire basketball team crowned me “the most boy crazy girl” in school.

At times, I felt like I was living a double life. There was the fake me that pretended to have a crush on every testosterone-filled body that walked by, and then there was the real me — the one who, deep down, knew her obsession with certain strong female icons was a little more than just inspiration itself.

This is where sports began to play a bigger role in my life. As an athlete, sexual preference, gender-identity, and emotional hardship don’t follow you to the court or the field. When I was at practice, the world was simple. All that mattered was the next rep, the next play, and the unity of working together with a team. It wasn’t a coincidence that I finally developed the bravery to accept my true self while I was on the field.

I was sixteen years old when I had the “ah-ha” moment. I remember I was in the outfield fielding balls for batting practice when I started to succumb to the pressure of my thoughts. I just kept repeating the same words over and over in my head: “Maybe you’re just gay.”

Later that night, I fought back tears and laid on my bed staring at the ceiling trying to pull myself together to make sense of my thoughts. I was terrified to truly acknowledge my feelings. But the more I processed my emotions, the more I began to feel this overwhelming sense of relief. The weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’d finally come out to myself.

That was step one. The next step was the hardest, and that was coming out to everyone else.

I told my closest friend that night that I may like girls. She welcomed me with open arms and told me that being gay just made me uniquely myself. Her response was a big reason I developed the courage to continue coming out at such a young age.

The more I came out, the more I realized which people I needed in my life, and which I didn’t. I was ridiculed and judged by many, but I found support from my teammates and closest friends. And by surrounding myself with people who accepted me, I grew stronger.

Sport continued to build me up, even when I struggled with the judgement from others. There were many times when I felt like I had to apologize for my sexuality. Yet, on the court and the field, I didn’t have to apologize to anyone. There was no judgement. And in sports, you don’t have to apologize. The game accepts you for who you are.

Soon, all of my varsity basketball and softball teammates came to close supporters. They loved me because I was Casey Maggiore. The real Casey Maggiore.

This support from teammates and friends carried over into college at Tufts University. The athletes there inspired me to not just be out about my sexuality, but to openly fight for the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Growing up, I had to be my own gay hero because I had no one to look up to for guidance. I know that if I had someone to tell me it was going to be okay, I wouldn’t have gone through the mental anguish I did. At Tufts, I wanted to create something where everyone, regardless of their sexual preference or gender identity, would be welcome. With the encouragement and support of an inspirational Tufts’ men’s soccer player, I crafted the idea of Pride Games: a spring sport event where spring sport teams play a game in honor of the LGBTQ+ Community.

I was nervous that there would be backlash, but on the day of the event, the support was overwhelming and heartwarming. The Pride Games created an environment full of smiles and acceptance that allowed people to be uniquely themselves. They were yet another example of how sports can be used to unify the world.

It’s been five years since I came out, and each year I come to appreciate sports that much more for allowing me to develop into a person I am proud of. There is no greater environment in which to thrive in and become yourself.

It’s through sports that I became not only a better athlete, but a truer Casey Maggiore —  a softball-loving, dog-adoring, goofy badass who is unapologetically herself. And it’s through sports that I believe we can build a more accepting and generous world.