Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

Angel McCoughtry is returning to basketball, joining Athletes Unlimited for its third season.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft and a two-time Olympian with USA Basketball, McCoughtry has played in just three WNBA games since 2021 due to injuries. But she will take the court again with Athletes Unlimited, with the season set to run from Feb. 29 through March 23 in Dallas.

“As the newest member of the AU family, I am beyond excited to start this journey. Basketball has always been a passion that drives me,” McCoughtry said in a release. “My focus is clear: I just want to hoop again, to be on the court where I feel most alive. I can’t wait to show the world what I got.”

The 37-year-old is feeling good, she told ESPN, and has been progressing well in both her rehabilitation and workouts.

A former star at Louisville, McCoughtry spent her first 10 WNBA seasons with the Atlanta Dream. While there, she won the 2009 Rookie of the Year award, made the All-Star game five times and was a member of three WNBA Finals teams. Twice she led the league in scoring and steals.

Since becoming a free agent in 2020, McCoughtry has bounced around, helping the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA Finals in 2020 but missing the 2021 season with a right knee injury. She played two games for the Minnesota Lynx in 2022 before being waived.

“It’s been hell,” she told ESPN. “You go over 10 years never getting hurt. But then you get hurt, you have a surgery, and it changes things. It’s been like a domino effect.”

In November, she visited the USA Basketball camp. While there, she spent time with former Olympic teammates Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner.

McCoughtry says that she still has “something left,” and she hopes that Athletes Unlimited might help her get back to the WNBA.

“I look forward to showing that I still have ability,” she told ESPN. “I feel like playing AU can help me get back in the WNBA. I know the narrative is, ‘She hasn’t played, she’s older.’ I just want to prove basketball still exists in my world.”

Other WNBA players, including Kelsey Mitchell, Lexie Brown, Allisha Gray and Sydney Colson, have signed back on for another season with Athletes Unlimited.

NaLyssa Smith delivered a record-breaking performance in the Athletes Unlimited (AU) season finale on Saturday to be crowned 2023 champion. Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, dropped 50 points (a new AU single-game record) to secure her place at the top of the leaderboard.

Competing in the second ever Athletes Unlimited basketball season, the Indiana Fever forward also set records for most rebounds in a season (184), most double-doubles in a season (12), and most leaderboard points in a single game (863, achieved during Saturday’s season finale).

“Every team I was on, they were so supportive of me. They helped me achieve every goal I wanted this year … I’ve been in second in everything… just winning this it means everything,” Smith said in an AU release.

2023 Athletes Unlimited Basketball — Top 10 Athletes

  1. NaLyssa Smith
  2. Naz Hillmon
  3. Odyssey Sims
  4. Allisha Gray
  5. Jordin Canada
  6. Isabelle Harrison
  7. Crystal Bradford
  8. Lexie Hull
  9. Kelsey Mitchell
  10. Kierstan Bell

As the second season of Athletes Unlimited basketball begins, its players want to set the record straight: AU is not just a feeder for the WNBA.

Sydney Colson serves as the chair of the player executive committee for Athletes Unlimited and also plays for the Las Vegas Aces. And ahead of AU’s opening night Thursday, the 33-year-old guard pushed back at the notion that the league could become the WNBA’s version of the NBA G League.

“The WNBA and AU are completely separate,” she said Tuesday. “By no means are we trying to make this a G League. It’s not a mini WNBA.”

While there is some crossover between the two leagues, as a number of players have opted to join Athletes Unlimited during the WNBA offseason, Colson said the goal is to expand the player pool.

“This is to give more women opportunities to play in the States, not just the same women,” she said. “It’s very important to us as a [committee] to not turn this into just another league for WNBA players to come in and overtake.

“There are a lot of capable overseas athletes who aren’t afforded the opportunity to come and play in the WNBA, to ever get on a training camp roster, to be on a team. So for us, it is very important to our core of this league to keep it that way and to always give more people opportunities.”

That doesn’t mean AU doesn’t have any support from the WNBA. This year’s hoops season will be streamed on WNBA League Pass, which Colson called a “big deal” that “speaks to the support of this league.”

But most importantly, the talent this year has grown, as evidenced by the league’s scrimmages last week.

“We just have way more depth in our talent from top to bottom,” Colson said.

The second season of Athletes Unlimited basketball will feature Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray, Chicago Sky newcomers Isabelle Harrison and Courtney Williams and more star power.

Athletes Unlimited volleyball is heading on tour.

The league announced Tuesday that it will go on a spring exhibition tour, with a roster of 15 players visiting the top eight college programs in the country. Of those eight, six are among the top 15 ranked schools in the current NCAA rankings.

“Volleyball is clearly gaining in popularity, both in terms of participation as well as fan interest at all levels. As the only professional league in the United States, we’re excited to expand Athletes Unlimited Volleyball to give more people access to the highest level of the game,” said Cassidy Lichtman, the director of sport for Athletes Unlimited volleyball.

Schools featured on the tour are Louisville, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Baylor, Howard and Penn State.

The player roster includes one Olympian, five national champions and eight All-Americans. Molly McCage (Penn State), Deja McClendon (Penn State), Alisha Childress (Penn State), Erin Fairs (Louisville), Sydney Hilley (Wisconsin) and Taylor Reid (Minnesota) will all get the opportunity to return to and play against their college programs.

Additionally, AU will visit two of the largest youth tournaments in the United States to play exhibition games.

Athletes Unlimited also announced its third championship season for volleyball, which will take place in October and November. This year’s season will air on ESPN and ESPN+ as part of a new partnership deal that expands upon their relationship with ESPN, which includes softball and lacrosse.

“It’s amazing to see industry leaders like ESPN recognize the value of the sport and invest in its future,” Lichtman said. “The Exhibition Tour is a great opportunity to reach the many volleyball fans across the country at the collegiate and youth levels and it will be really special for our athletes to go back to the places and programs that set them on the path to their professional careers.”

Athletes Unlimited has raised $30 million in new funding, the league announced Thursday.

Among the investors are U.S. Olympic ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero as well as Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s 35V. All three have been on the league’s advisory board since its start.

Since its founding in 2020, Athletes Unlimited has expanded from its softball league to add volleyball, basketball and lacrosse.

“We have been advisors for AU since the very beginning, and we’re excited to be a part of this capital raise,” Durant said. “Athletes Unlimited is at the forefront of women’s sports and an inspiration for how sports leagues can thrive with an athlete-first business model.”

Schusterman Family Investments, Sharon Harel-Cohen and Jane Gottesman also are among the investors, and Gottesman will be joining the league’s Board of Directors.

Earlier this year, Athletes Unlimited announced a multi-year deal with ESPN. That deal has since paid dividends, with softball viewership increasing 74 percent from 2021 for the AUX competition in June.

“These investors share our vision and our ambition to not only reimagine professional sports, but also to rethink the way a business can – and should – show up in the world,” Athletes Unlimited co-founder Jonathan Soros said. “The growth of AU has far exceeded my expectations over its first two years. The addition of these strategic investors will only add to the energy and resources available to fuel further growth.”

Dejah Mulipola’s Athletes Unlimited title represents the start of a new chapter for the California native.

After graduating from Arizona in 2021 and helping Team USA to a silver medal in Tokyo, Mulipola felt lost. Then came her breakout 2022 Athletes Unlimited season.

The star catcher finished tied for 18th as a rookie in the 2021 AU season, then tied for third in the two-week AUX competition in June. To start this season, she burst out of the game, earning captainship during Week 2.

Mulipola continued to surge ahead of her competition. She ended the season at the top of the league in the batting average (.432), on-base percentage (.569), slugging percentage (1.182), home runs (9), RBIs (19), and stat points (632), making her the first-ever triple-crown winner in Athletes Unlimited history.

“After the Olympics walking away with the silver medal left a salty taste in my mouth. Then graduating from college and kind of refiguring out my identity it was a low point for me, you know, finishing those two chapters,” Mulipola told Just Women’s Sports. “So to finally be here and find success in softball and to find who I was outside of softball has done a lot for me personally on and off the field. It’s so freeing and it’s so fun.”

Entering the final game of the season, Mulipola trailed pitcher Alyssa Denham by 184 points on the league leaderboard. True to herself, Mulipola tried to focus on attitude rather than outcome heading into the game.

“I didn’t want to be result-oriented,” Mulipola said, “because at the end of the day that wasn’t going to be what gave me joy and it wasn’t going to be something that gave others joy on my team.”

The results, however, swung in Mulipola’s favor.

The 24-year-old capped off her historic AU run with a thrilling finale, blasting a home run to secure her team the win and herself the 2022 championship in her final matchup of the season.

“I just felt so overwhelmed with emotion that I started tearing up,” Mulipola recalls of her trip around the bases. “And when I got to home I actually started crying and everyone was just genuinely celebrating me and when they saw me crying, they started crying too. So a couple of us were actually crying in the dugout.”

The catcher’s crown makes her the first position player to win a softball title. Cat Osterman won the first in 2020, and Aleshia Ocasio won in 2021.

“Being a catcher, you never really get credit,” Mulipola said. “So it was pretty neat to be the first non-pitcher to be able to win.”

While sad to call it a wrap on the 2022 campaign, Mulipola already is looking forward to next year’s AU competition. Heralding the elite level of the league, Mulipola hopes she can continue to grow the game both through her stellar performance on the field and as an ambassador off it.

For the first time in Athletes Unlimited Softball history, it’s unlikely that a pitcher will be crowned champion.

In 2020, veteran pitcher Cat Osterman ran away with the inaugural AU trophy. The next year, right-hander Aleshia Ocasio won it by over 300 points. And in June’s shortened AUX season, Danielle O’Toole edged out fellow pitcher Rachel Garcia for the title.

O’Toole has put up a good fight during the league’s third season, currently in fifth place with 1,226 points, 236 points shy of the leader, catcher Dejah Mulipolah. Alyssa Denham, in third place with 1,316 points, is the only other pitcher in the top 10. Infielder Amanda Chidester (second, 1,364 points) and outfielder Haylie McCleney (fourth, 1,316 points) are the next-closest to first with one week remaining in the season.

Each season, in addition to a Defender of the Year award, AU names just one champion based on who finishes atop the leaderboard. But for most of the athletes, Athletes Unlimited has always been about more than the hardware. It’s an opportunity for them to compete with some of the top players in their sport and continue their softball careers.

Garcia is in her first year with Athletes Unlimited. The pitcher took last year off after winning a silver medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. Though she’s currently in 26th with 962 points and off pace for the title, she’s been one of the best pitchers to step into the circle this season. Her 3.00 ERA through 39 innings is third-best among pitchers with over 30 innings pitched, behind O’Toole’s 3.03 ERA through 34 IP and Denham’s 1.62 ERA through 34 IP.

“You’re facing the best hitters in the nation,” Garcia told Just Women’s Sports. “You’re facing people who are veterans of the game, so you have to be a little bit more smart. It’s more like a mind game at this point. I came out during AUX only throwing two pitches and being able to get away with it. Now I’m out here and I had to put other pitches into my arsenal.”

While her pitching has kept her competitive in the standings this season, Garcia says she’s more focused on other areas of the game, like her pitch count. The leaderboard, in fact, has been the last thing on her mind.

“I want my team to win. That’s what’s important to me,” she said. “I don’t personally like to look at the leaderboard. I like to look more at my pitching, how it’s rolling … because I feel like, for me as a person, [the leaderboard is] something that I think is more of a distraction than anything.”

Many of AU’s athletes are still trying to learn the rules of accumulating individual points and applying them to their performances.

Players can earn points for every element of the game, with a base of 10 points for plays like a single, a stolen base and a drawn walk. Doubles amount to 20 points, triples 30 and home runs 40. Points can also be lost, such as when a player gets caught stealing. Pitchers earn four points for each out and lose 10 for each run allowed.

Players also earn 10 points for each inning won and 50 points for a game victory. MVP points are also up for grabs among those who have standout performances.

“I feel like each week it’s just a different challenge. You kind of learn the game in a different way,” shortstop Sydney Romero said of the points system.

“Being able to pay attention to [the individual points] and winning each inning — really taking the game inning by inning because each inning literally matters — has helped me personally because you have to pay attention literally to each inning, and you can’t miss a beat in between.”

“You pay more attention to detail,” added infielder Sierra Romero, Sydney’s sister. “So even if your team is losing, you’re thinking, ‘OK, as a team, how can we win this inning to get everybody points?’ You’re still thinking about the team aspect of it. Every single inning matters, and what’s cool is even if you are losing right now, if we can win this inning, we got ourselves some points, and we might even take the lead.”

Sydney Romero, in 21st place entering the final three games of the AU season, didn’t always have an optimistic perspective of the leaderboard. Coming from a standout career at Oklahoma, where she won two College World Series, and the National Pro Fastpitch league, she had to learn how to approach the new rules in her two years with AU.

“Last year, I could not look at the point system. It would drive me nuts knowing where I was at on the leaderboard,” she said. “But this year, I actually like to pay attention to it and look at it because I feel like I have a better understanding. And it doesn’t make me that mad anymore.”

Of course, Sydney says she still wants to compete and move up the leaderboard, though her sentiment isn’t shared across the league. Sierra, for one, has a laser focus on winning each time she steps onto the field.

“I might know the basic stuff, but I couldn’t tell you where anybody’s at on the leaderboard ever,” she said. “I am a perfectionist [about hitting], but for me I’ve just noticed that not paying attention to the leaderboard has helped me and I’m just focusing on winning games. I think the one time I looked at it was last year when Sydney showed me.”

AU’s first-ever champion took a holistic approach from the start. Osterman has since retired, but her message continues to resonate with current players.

“At the end of the day, does [our performance] make or break where we end in the standings? Yes,” the softball legend said last year of the Athletes Unlimited leaderboard. “But does it make or break our careers? No, not at all.”

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

Dejah Mulipola finished atop the Athletes Unlimited leaderboard for the third straight week, which puts her in prime position heading into the final stretch.

The catcher led her team to a 3-0 win Sunday over Team McCleney to claim the golden jerseys for her team for championship week. Amanda Chidester, Alyssa Denham and Haylie McCleney will serve as the three other captains for the final week of the Athletes Unlimited Softball season.

Stellar pitching from Shannon Saile and Taylor McQuillin anchored Team Mulipola in Sunday’s victory, with McQuillin earning MVP 1 honors after conceding one hit over five innings while throwing five strikeouts. She relieved Saile, who claimed the MVP 3 nod for her strikeout and three walks.

Mulipola powered her team on offense, scoring twice while knocking in a homer in the sixth inning for MVP 2 accolades.

“Credit to all four of our pitchers… Everybody is going to have their moment to shine and when their name was called, they did what they needed to do,” said Mulipola of Saile and McQuillin. “Big shoutout to them for holding it down for our hitting lineup to come through, and we did today.”

Chidester preserved her second-place spot on the AU leaderboard Sunday by powering her team to a 1-0 victory over Team Jaquish.

Alyssa Denham played hero from the mound, allowing no hits through 5.2 innings before Morgan Zerkle smashed a double to left-center field. The tidy pitching performance earned Denham MVP 1 honors, as well as 120 win points and 84 stat points.

Kelsey Harshman claimed MVP 2 accolades after blasting the lone run of the game, hitting a double to right center field in the sixth inning.

Though Team Jaquish was on the losing side Sunday, pitcher Rachel Garcia walked away with MVP 3 points, allowing only one hit and notching a season-high nine strikeouts.

The final Athletes Unlimited draft of the year kicks off at 5 p.m. Monday on YouTube.

Sydney and Sierra Romero have enjoyed getting to play on the same field again through Athletes Unlimited Softball.

After growing up in an athletic family — younger sister Sophia is an outfielder at Vista Murrieta High School and brother Mikey was a first-round draft choice of the Boston Red Sox this year — the sisters separated in college. Sierra, 28, went off to the University of Michigan, where she became the first player in NCAA history to record 300 runs, 300 hits and 300 RBIs and left as the NCAA’s all-time leader in career grand slams (11) and runs (302). Sydney, 25, starred at Oklahoma, winning two NCAA championships in 2016 and ‘17 and finishing as the Sooners’ all-time leader in at-bats (853) and second in hits (320).

The two reunited on the USSSA Pride in 2019, but Sierra was injured while Sydney earned All-NPF honors during the Pride’s run to a championship. Now, a year after Sydney joined Athletes Unlimited for her first season, she and Sierra are finally back on the softball diamond together with two weeks left in the 2022 AU campaign.

“I feel like AU has provided just such a professional background when it comes to being a professional athlete,” Sydney says. “I think it’s really important just for the future of softball, specifically because they’re hearing us out and they’re applying it to the next year.”

Sierra is grateful to be back playing after spending over a year rehabbing ACL and meniscus injuries. Used to having Michigan’s athletic resources at her fingertips in college, Sierra sought out treatment on her own and ended up having three different surgeries to repair her knee.

“I was kind of going in blind,” she says. “I had to do it all by myself. That was definitely the hardest part just because I didn’t know what I was looking for.”

She put the knee to the test earlier this summer during AUX, Athletes Unlimited’s shortened softball season in San Diego, just over an hour’s drive from the Romero family’s hometown of Murrieta, Calif.

“We just so happened to get drafted to the same team for the first weekend at AUX, which was just luck,” Sierra says. “I feel like it’s a full-circle moment, just being able to come back, play with her and be around her 24/7.”

Sierra and Sydney, after enjoying remarkably successful college careers, have leaned on each other through the challenges of the often unreliable and unsustainable professional and international softball landscape. As dual Mexican-American citizens, they both tried out for the Mexican national softball team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, with Sydney representing the team during its run to fourth place.

For Sierra, in her seventh year as a pro, Athletes Unlimited has reignited her love of the game. Having briefly contemplated retirement before the season, she no longer plans to do so this year.

“I feel like I’ve seen it at a lot of different levels and stages. After joining AU this year for the first time, I definitely think that we’re on the right path,” Sierra says.

Still, professional softball salaries don’t typically allow for year-round dedication to the sport. In the fall, Sydney will start as an assistant softball coach at Duke University after spending two seasons as a student assistant at her alma mater.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to honestly start out, going out there and meeting Coach [Marissa] Young and meeting the girls,” she says. “Taking this route, I think, is not only helping me as a coach, but helping me as an athlete myself. Being able to continue to play softball and play Athletes Unlimited for the five weeks in the summer, and then going into my coaching job it works out perfectly. I feel like it’s a dream job. I’m living in the best of both worlds.”

Before that, she and Sierra will finish out the Athletes Unlimited regular season. Sydney currently ranks 29th with 704 points, while Sierra sits in 42nd with 618 points. Sydney is also tied for third with nine runs on the season, two behind league leader Haylie McCleney. Sierra has four runs off six hits so far and, in the infield, has recorded 15 assists, 15 putouts and three double plays.

Both admit they are very competitive, especially in the batter’s box. But that doesn’t mean they’ve taken the same approach to AU’s unique points system.

“I don’t know the point system because I don’t look at it. I couldn’t tell you where anybody’s at on the leaderboard ever,” Sierra says. “My focus is just winning. And I feel like if I keep that mindset, then everything will fall into place.”

Sydney, meanwhile, has learned how not to let the leaderboard affect her mindset. Instead, she views each week as a different challenge.

“It makes you appreciate the little things a little bit more in the game, and really put the game into perspective,” she says, heading into Week 4 of the five-week season. “Because all of these things mean something like, a walk means something, a hit by pitch. Those little things that we kind of take for granted, in a game they all matter.”

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.