All Scores

The South Carolina game ritual started by Aliyah Boston’s mom

Alilyah Boston practices before South Carolina meets Iowa in the Final Four on Friday night. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DALLAS — Aliyah Boston takes free practice seriously.

It’s full of music and fanfare, a chance for spectators to see the Final Four teams in action, prior to the big games. But Boston’s cuts are sharp, her passes crisp. Her garnet braids hang down her back, blending into a South Carolina jersey of the same color. She sings along to Beyoncé’s “You Can’t Break My Soul,” and in between shooting drills and push-ups, she waves to little girls in the stands as they call her name.

And while Boston is focused on practice, a set of blue eyes is focused on her. They belong to Bryn Archie, a 10-year-old with a blonde ponytail sporting a white No. 4 jersey for her favorite player.

When practice is over, Boston rushes over to take a photo with Bryn. This is Bryn’s second time meeting Boston, but the first that she remembers. She was “really little the first time,” she says, but her mom, Lori, confirms that when Bryn was 4 or 5, she did meet Boston.

Whether she remembers or not doesn’t matter. Aliyah is her favorite player. “She’s good at basketball,” Bryn says. “And she’s a good person.”

The basketball part Boston did largely on her own, but the good person that Bryn admires is a product of Al and Cleone, who are sitting on the other side of the gym. It’s through her parents that Aliyah is connected to the Archie family. Lori and her husband have spent years vacationing in Saint Thomas, where the Bostons reside and Aliyah grew up. One day, they met the Bostons, and a conversation about football — the Eagles and the Cowboys to be exact — led to a friendship. As Bryn grew to love basketball, she had a role model in Aliyah.

The Archies, who live in Dallas, and the Bostons have been talking about the Final Four since November.

“Al told us then he had already booked his hotel,” Lori says with a laugh. “He was very confident that they would be here.”

South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, enters Friday night’s Final Four game against No. 2 seed Iowa with the edge. They’ll have to contend with Naismith and AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark, but on their side the undefeated Gamecocks have Boston, back-to-back Naismith Coach of the Year Dawn Staley and the deepest bench in the sport.

Al and Cleone know how special this opportunity is. For Aliyah to have a chance at two national championships is an accomplishment players dream of. But the on-court achievements are not nearly as special as watching the impact their daughter has on others.

“That’s my favorite part,” Al says, pointing across the stands to Lori and Bryn as they wave.

And the Archies aren’t the only ones here to see Boston. A whole crowd of kids call her name, screaming in excitement when she turns to wave. After Bryn, several others line up for photos before Aliyah has to leave, and they all watch as she runs off the court and into the tunnel.

Even Al and Cleone get their share of the spotlight.

Cleone has a schedule of interviews in Dallas, where reporters hope to learn more about her daughter. The two were even approached for a photo while they watched Aliyah’s practice.

“Do you know who I am?” Al asked, confused.

“Oh yes!” the woman replied.

The interaction gave Al and Cleone a good laugh; Al jokingly blames Cleone for being the one people recognize. But even if others don’t recognize the Bostons in person, they know who they are. After all, they raised one of the country’s best, most impactful players.

Through Aliyah’s rise from the best player on Saint Thomas to one of the best in the NCAA, the Bostons have stayed the same. At the core of their relationship with Aliyah, and with each other, is their relationship with God.

Before every game, Cleone sends Aliyah a devotion. She never plans them out in advance, not even for a game like South Carolina’s Final Four matchup with Iowa. Instead, she prays, and the message comes to her.

At first, she just sent the messages to Aliyah, but over the years, other players have been added to the text thread: Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Kamilla Cardoso and Victaria Saxton. They start with “Good Morning ladies,” and end with, “Love you ladies.”

Sandwiched in between the greeting and the sign-off is whatever message God sent to Cleone. Whatever the players need that day.

During the Sweet 16, Cleone told them, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” She signed off with: “With the help of God, victory is your portion. Love you ladies.”

And for the Elite Eight: “No matter how difficult the challenge, when we spread our wings of faith and allow the winds of God’s spirit to lift us, no obstacle is too great to overcome. Seek God. Trust in God. Be Victorious.”

(Jacob Kupferman/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Al takes a different approach. His job is to send Aliyah videos of players he thinks can give her inspiration. Recently, he sent her clips of Hakeem Olajuwon and his famous hook shot. Like Cleone, he doesn’t plan ahead. Instead, he waits for inspiration to strike.

“Tonight I’ll have a bottle of Pinot Noir and it will come to me,”Al joked, as Clone laughed along with him.

Aliyah Boston’s stage is set. On Friday, when she wakes up, she will open her phone to a message from Cleone. Then, she will watch clips of basketball greats sent from her father. Al will call her, too. And finally, she will take the court, attempting to lead her team to a spot in Sunday’s national championship game and make history once more.

When she does, Bryn Archie’s blue eyes will follow her from one end of the court to the other.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

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.'"

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.