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A guide to the Just Women’s Sports podcast (so far)

The Just Women’s Sports podcast has featured plenty of stars since its July 2020 debut, with host Kelley O’Hara of the USWNT talking to some of the world’s biggest athletes about the secrets behind their success.

Season four of the Just Women’s Sports podcast launches this week, making now a good time to catch up on the highlights from the first 32 episodes. While every episode has its share of behind-the-scenes moments and unexpected revelations, below is a guide to some of the most compelling moments on the Just Women’s Sports podcast so far:

Best behind the scenes scoop: Nneka Ogwumike talks WNBA bubble

Nneka Ogwumike stopped by the Just Women’s Sports podcast back in December 2020, giving listeners a behind-the-scenes look into how the WNBA bubble came to fruition. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy.

As the WNBA Players Association President, Ogwumike was a part of every conversation. Only months after signing a historic CBA, Ogwumike had to help re-configure a season on the fly.

“It was a hot mess,” she tells O’Hara, “and I mean that in the most respectful way.”

As the country was still adapting to its new normal amidst Covid, “No one knew what they were doing,” Ogwumike remembers. The WNBA star says trying to forecast the trajectory of the pandemic while also planning for a safe season was one of the most challenging things she has ever been a part of.

“Professionally speaking, that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Ogwumike concedes. “We were able to piece it together however we could.”

The players had two objectives going into the bubble: the first was to be compensated fairly, and the second was to harness their platform for social advocacy work in the wake of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders.

“Going in, a non-negotiable for us was amplifying our voices,” Ogwumike says. “We knew we wanted to dedicate the season to Breonna Taylor.”

Ogwumike said conversations with Michelle Obama, Tamika Palmer, Stacey Abrams and Rev. Warnock allowed the players to focus on their mission while still playing basketball. The season ended up being one of the most successful of the quarantine era among all sports, with the WNBA being heralded for its display of unity and purpose.

“Us being able to do all that on the fly while playing games was remarkable, and I am really proud of everybody.”

Biggest Game-changing moment: Allyson Felix’s fight for athlete moms

Motherhood in sport is starting to be more widely discussed, acknowledged, and understood, thanks in large part to the likes of Allyson Felix.

Felix made waves in 2018 when she took her fight for maternity coverage with then sponsor, Nike, public. The move shifted how motherhood and pregnancy are adapted and accounted for in sports.

The track star stopped by the JWS podcast in October 2020 to talk about her preeclampsia diagnosis and giving birth to daughter Camryn one month early via emergency C-section.

“I knew statistics about Black women giving birth and having far greater complications,” said Felix, “I just never saw myself in that position.”

“My mind wasn’t prepared for everything that I went through”

Her daughter, Camryn was in the NICU for the first month of her life; Felix remembers being by her side 24/7 during that period. According to Felix, getting back on the track left her mind, and all that mattered was her daughter’s survival.

During her pregnancy, Felix was also re-negotiating her contract with Nike. Her then-sponsor was proposing a significant, 70% pay cut. But what ultimately inspired Felix to speak out was Nike’s refusal to provide her with maternity coverage. If she couldn’t have it written into her contract as one of the world’s most decorated track athletes, who could?

“The piece that I wasn’t willing to budge on was around maternal protection in contracts,” said Felix. “It wasn’t enough for them just for them to put it in for me — this needed to happen for everyone.”

Felix eventually left Nike for the company’s failure to include protections for mothers and moved to Athleta, where she says she now has a seat at the table. Supporting her role as a mother, advocate and athlete, Felix calls her partnership with Athleta an “authentic fit.”

Sweetest friendship story: Nastia Liukin on competing and re-uniting with Shawn Johnson East

Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson captured national attention during the 2008 Summer Olympics as two of the most promising gymnasts the U.S. had seen in years. Both teens were at the top of their game, but there could only be one all-around champion. Liukin came out on top, capturing individual gold in the sport’s most coveted event, spurring a media storm that pitted the two teammates against each other.

“We went 1, 2 and that was the first the U.S. had ever done that,” Liukin explained to O’Hara. To make matters worse, after capturing gold and silver, Liukin and Johnson still had to compete against each other in individual events and were bunking together in the Olympic village.

“We were fine being roommates — we were actually really good friends just that happened to have the same exact goal.” That all changed after Liukin took all-around gold in Beijing.

“We tried really hard — I would say we tried our best, we supported each other through the rest of the competition.”

However, after the athletes came back to America, the media circus that followed whipped up a rivalry between the two gymnasts that included sponsors, fan speculation, and management woes.

“It felt like the world just started pitting us against each other in every single aspect — it was 10 times worse than leading up to the Olympics.”

The two didn’t speak for eight years after the Games, with the stalemate finally ending in serendipitous fashion. Liukin remembers being in New York speaking with a New York Times reporter when he asked if she would be invited to Johnson’s upcoming wedding to Andrew East. Liukin stalled. Then, in a strange twist of fate, Liukin got a message on her phone as the interviewer briefly left the room — it was from Johnson. The two set a time to reunite, and the rest is history.

“I still remember this moment so clearly,” said Liukin, “she walked in and we both started crying.”

Liukin ended up attending Johnson’s wedding and is now a godmother to her former teammate’s child.

Most inspiring comeback story: Mal Pugh on being cut from the USWNT

Mallory Pugh’s December 2020 episode of the JWS podcast is particularly timely as the star striker formally re-enters the USWNT conversation for the team’s fall friendlies. After being left off the Tokyo Olympic roster, the 23-year-old was invited to join the U.S. camp for the squad’s international series against Paraguay.

Pugh’s meteoric rise to soccer stardom was cemented at the 2016 Olympics, when she became the youngest player in U.S. history to score at the Olympics at 18 years old. Since then, the phenom has struggled to live up to the child prodigy label bestowed on her in her early career.

The most significant hurdle came in 2020, when Pugh was left off Vlatko Andonovski’s Olympic qualifying lineup, the first time the striker had ever been excluded from a USWNT roster.

“It was pretty rough, but I am a strong, strong believer of everything happens for a reason,” Pugh told O’Hara of the ordeal. Pugh went on to say that she felt she needed the setback, calling it “the thing that’s going to light a fire.”

“I just had this deep sense like I knew I was going to be okay,” she said, adding, “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh this is the end.’ In fact, I was like, ‘No. This is the beginning.’”

Pugh’s positive outlook seems to have paid off, entering back into the USWNT fold for the Midwest fall series and ahead of the 2023 World Cup cycle.

Check out these episodes and more on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, and be sure to subscribe today!

Angel Reese Adds USL Team Owner to Growing Résumé

chicago sky rookie angel reese speaking at an event
Star rookie Angel Reese is all in on the USL Super League. (JC Olivera/Variety via Getty Images)

Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese continues to add to her résumé, becoming the newest member of the DC Power Football Club’s ownership group

The No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft joins an group that includes the MLS team DC United as well as other DC-area community members and business owners. One of the USL Super League’s inaugural clubs, DC Power FC is set to begin play in August. 

"I want to help grow women's sports and elevate female athletes across the board," Reese, who's from Maryland, said in a statement. "We're taking over, and I'm honored to be able to support Power FC and invest in women's soccer in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) community."

The USL is a sanctioned Division I league, meaning that it is on par with the NWSL and MLS in the United States. The league's eight current clubs are Brooklyn FC, Carolina Ascent FC, Dallas Trinity FC, DC Power FC, Fort Lauderdale United FC, Lexington SC, Spokane Zephyr FC, and Tampa Bay Sun FC.

DC Power FC will also be playing their home games in a familiar location: Matches will be hosted at DC’s Audi Field in partnership with MLS side DC United. Audi Field also home to the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

"Angel's decision to be a founding investor alongside us in Power FC is groundbreaking," Jason Levien, DC United's CEO and co-chair, said in a statement. "As a Maryland native, Angel is so passionate about being a catalyst for positive change in women's sports in the DMV as well as globally while inspiring the next generation of female athletes. We're looking forward to her partnership in the boardroom as an equity partner."

It's been speculated that the Super League ultimately intends to compete outright with the NWSL. But in its first year, the league will focus on featuring the depth of women's soccer talent in the US.

Former NWSL players like Taylor Aylmer (Spokane), Jordyn Listro (Tampa Bay), Erika Tymrak (Tampa Bay), and Domi Richardson (Tampa Bay) have already announced a return to professional soccer via the USL.

The league is aiming to provide counter-programming to summer women's sports in the States, with a season running from fall to spring like the European calendar.

In a social media post, Reese said that she’s "grateful & blessed" to be part of the new ownership group. It’s the latest move in what has been a whirlwind spring for Reese, which included getting drafted, attending the Met Gala, signing a new partnership with Good American, and debuting with the Chicago Sky, among other achievements.

"Looking forward to creating new opportunities for women in professional soccer," she tweeted. "I’ve always had to desire to invest in a local team as a Maryland native!"

Reese is the latest female athlete to buy into a women’s sports team, joining the likes of Naomi Osaka, who owns a stake in the North Carolina Courage, and Serena Williams, who's part-owner of Angel City FC. 

Other pro athletes involved in women's sports team ownership include Patrick Mahomes, who shares ownership responsibilities of the Kansas City Current with his wife Brittany. Kevin Durant and Eli Manning are part-owners of Gotham FC, while NFL superstar Tom Brady is part-owner of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

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