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5 early hot takes from the NWSL Challenge Cup


We’ve now seen every NWSL team play at least twice this Challenge Cup, which is all the time I need to start making extreme generalizations based on limited information. This may be a preseason tournament with incomplete rosters, but whoever said hot takes needed data to back them? 

On that note, here’s five:

1. The North Carolina Courage are going to be fine

Losing Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn and Jaelene Daniels in a single offseason would rightfully make anyone nervous. But Jess McDonald has looked like her old self, Merritt Mathias is back (see: THAT goal) and Debinha is still Debinha. 

The team has reason to feel pretty okay based on their two performances (despite being on the wrong end of that Gotham FC thriller). And I know… the center back situation has to be resolved. But Abby Erceg will return and take care of at least half of that problem, and if someone else doesn’t rise to the occasion, expect Paul Riley to go out and sign a new face.

2. Numbers Don’t Lie: East > West… Or is it West > East?

Each division has played 6 games thus far. The East division has scored 19 goals. The West division has scored 8, with 5 coming from Portland. (Then again, you could also say teams in the East have given up 19 goals while the West has only conceded 8.) 

On the whole, defenses have looked shakier and less consistent in the East, while the offenses have also looked more potent. The opposite holds true for the West, with defenses highlighting a number of 0-0 draws, as every team (minus Portland) struggles to find the back of the net. 

As teams continue to return players from international duty, expect to see some of those problems solve themselves. Additionally, for some sides, this Challenge Cup might be the perfect opportunity to see if any last minute or mid-season signings are needed.

3. Speaking of Numbers…

I don’t want to say I called it (I did), but Orlando got their first win in 609 days! I also lightly suggested that they should put Ali Krieger at CB (which they did), so I’m certainly up on my high horse here.

A giant Ashlyn Harris performance, a controversial no-goal, and a Alex Morgan/Sydney Leroux connection were the difference makers against the Spirit.

Winning this early in the season is MASSIVE for Orlando. I’ve played for the Pride, and I know how heavy not winning weighs on each part of the organization. If they go and win their next one and set the tone for the season, they just might be a playoff team.

4. Racing Louisville FC is in for a rude awakening

Louisville got a best case scenario introduction to the league, facing multiple sides missing their international players, whose leaky defensive performances showed they were still getting settled. Heck, from a fan perspective, you really couldn’t have asked for a better entrance than a stoppage time goal!

But life for the expansion club is about to get a lot more difficult, starting with their game against North Carolina on Monday. Long term, the foundation looks strong. No. 1 draft Emily Fox has impressed, and they certainly are not a bad team. But Christy Holly needs both more time and more pieces (hello, Gemma Bonner!). And the pace of the regular season will make his job tough.

5. Portland should (and probably will) win the NWSL Championship

No team came in moving the ball better and looking as clean, even without their international players. And then those international players came back, and Lindsey Horan proved she is still an absolute animal on free kicks.

The Thorns have turned in consistent and dominant performances in each of their three games. They’ve already clinched the West. We haven’t even reached the regular season, so this feels dramatic to say: but it’s looking like most trophies this year will be theirs to lose. 

Disagree? Fight me on Twitter, or hit us up at the JWS handle.

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

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.'"

Reporter’s awkward exchange mars Caitlin Clark’s Fever intro

caitlin clark at indiana fever press conference on april 17
An uneasy interaction between Fever recruit Caitlin Clark and a local reporter has gone viral. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

An Indianapolis Star columnist is apologizing for an uneasy exchange with freshly minted Indiana Fever player Caitlin Clark on Wednesday.

At Clark's introductory press conference with the Fever, reporter Gregg Doyel introduced himself then abruptly formed a heart with his hands. Throughout her career with Iowa, Clark has often flashed heart hands at her family in the stands after finishing a game. The gesture has since become linked to the standout player.

But what ensued between Clark and Doyel was an incredibly awkward interaction, to say the least.

"Real quick, let me do this," Doyel said before making the heart sign at Clark. A composed Clark responded, "You like that?" After Doyel quipped, "I like that you're here," Clark dropped her eyes to the desk and said, "Yeah, I do that at my family after every game."

“OK, well start doing that to me and we’ll get along just fine,” Doyel said in response, to which Clark raised her eyebrows at the reporter, looking visibly uncomfortable. It wasn't the only unsettling comment Doyel made that day, as he later referred to Clark as "that" and "it" when directing a question to Fever coach Christie Sides. Sides appeared similarly thrown off by his choice of words.

As the clip made its way around social media, Doyel faced backlash from both sports fans and fellow members of the media. Much of the criticism centered around whether or not Doyel or another press representative would address an NBA player in the same manner. 

Doyel later apologized via a column entitled "Doyel: Caitlin Clark, I'm so sorry. On Wednesday I was part of the problem." published on the Indianapolis Star's website late Wednesday evening. Referring to his behavior at the earlier press conference, he called his comments "clumsy and awkward."

"Please know my heart (literally and figuratively) was well-intentioned. I will do better," he wrote, noting that he was "devastated to realize I’m part of the problem."

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

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