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After Tokyo breakthrough, April Ross eyes Paris Olympics

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

April Ross cemented her place in beach volleyball history over the summer, capturing gold along with partner Alix Klineman during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The top of the podium had long eluded the American star, with Ross winning silver and bronze at the 2012 and 2016 Games, respectively. For most athletes, securing the medal trifecta would signal a logical end to a remarkable career. But not for Ross.

At 39 years old, the American superstar says she is not yet ready to step off the sand.

“I considered retiring [after Tokyo],” Ross admits. “I accomplished my biggest goal — all the goals I have in volleyball.”

While the Costa Mesa native says she always thought she would move onto something else, Ross says right now, “I just feel like I’m playing such good volleyball and physically, I feel great.

“I still feel very young and just can’t wrap my head around the idea of walking away while I’m still competitive.”

Ross’ enduring drive means fans may be treated to a fourth Olympic run from the beach volleyball icon, with her sights set on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“I’m going to continue playing and Paris is only three years away, so going to give it all I have,” says Ross. “And if it’s in the cards, [I’ll] go to Paris.”

The 2024 Olympics, however, Ross says, will “for sure” mark the end of her career, with the Team USA star already starting to envision her life post-volleyball.

Winning gold in Tokyo

The Tokyo Summer Games marked the apex of Ross’ career, a culmination of two previous Olympic campaigns with two different partners.

Ross entered the 2012 London Olympics as the No. 4 seed alongside partner Jennifer Kessy. The duo pulled off an upset over the No. 1-seeded Brazil team to set up a gold-medal match against Team USA giants Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Ross ultimately fell to her American teammates in her Olympic debut, heading home with a still-impressive silver medal.

“My first one, I thought it was a one-time deal,” says Ross, adding that growing up, she never thought the Olympics were an “attainable goal.” After three Olympic appearances, the awe still hasn’t worn off, with Ross calling the tournament both the pinnacle and an honor.

Ross made her second Olympic appearance as Walsh-Jennings’ partner, with the team ultimately capturing bronze in Rio de Janeiro.

“My second one, I was like, ‘OK, this is amazing. Playing with Kerri. We’re going to win gold,’” admits Ross. After falling short of her goal in 2016, Ross says she “didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Regrouping, Ross linked up with a relative beach volleyball newcomer in Klineman at the end of 2017. The unexpected grouping paid off, with the Americans dominating the competition in Tokyo. Ross and Klineman only dropped one set throughout the seven-match 2021 Olympic competition, defeating Australia in the final to clinch gold.

The feat was made even more impressive given the atmosphere surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, with no spectators permitted on the premise amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The no fans was a little bit weird, visually. Just the fact that we would be in the stadium and the stands were empty,” says Ross. “I think had they put banners up so that you couldn’t see the empty seats or something it wouldn’t be so weird, but literally seeing the empty seats was strange.”

As the competition went on, Ross remembers more media and people from the delegation being allowed into the stands, culminating in a final she describes as “pretty loud” with “a lot of chanting.”

The moment was understandably significant for Ross, who says having one more chance at gold was “so big” for her.

“In the moment, I felt pretty calm, pretty prepared,” recalls Ross. “I had a lot of nerves. But I just wanted it really badly.”

The A-Team origin story

Given Ross and Klineman’s dominance, it’s hard to believe that Tokyo marked the duo’s first major tournament together and that Klineman was only a few years into her beach volleyball career. The 32-year-old only left her indoor volleyball career in 2017 to pursue a run on the sand with Ross. Teaming with Klineman was a decision the veteran Ross did not make lightly.

“For me, playing with Jen Kessy and playing with Kerri Walsh- Jennings, it was kind of a no-brainer,” said Ross. “Playing with Alix Klineman, she was new to the beach. She was very physical, but she had zero experience.

“Obviously it turned out great,” Ross says, “but I was just basing it on intangibles. Her mentality is so strong. Her attitude is so good and her work ethic is awesome.”

The team claimed their first AVP Pro Volleyball Tour win in 2018, kicking off a run of victories leading to the 2020 Summer Games.

Still, it wasn’t all easy. In a sport that is so dependent on communication and trust both on and off the court, Klineman and Ross had to quickly develop their chemistry as partners.

“That’s why it was a little bit risky to pick Alix, because I didn’t know how much time I was going to have with her, to build up those instincts and to know what she’s thinking when she’s on the court. How she’s going to move, how she’s going to react to different plays, so that I can play around her and we can play together as a team.”

Though Ross was aware of the gamble she was making, she could also see Klineman’s incredible potential and raw talent.

“I wanted to pick somebody I thought I could win a gold medal with, and it panned out.”

Growing the game

Ross’ success, along with the careers of Team USA stars May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, has boosted beach volleyball’s popularity in America and globally.

“People love watching volleyball,” says Ross. “It’s my favorite sport to watch as well as play.”

Along with a growing fanbase, beach volleyball is also enjoying a steady progression in global competition.

“The level keeps getting better, in international beach volleyball for sure,” she says. “People keep putting money into their federations. And so, I think the level has gone up a ton.”

According to AVP, the NCAA saw a 400 percent increase in beach volleyball participation from 2011 to 2019. With excitement around beach volleyball growing, Ross has seen different avenues opening for fan engagement, including sports memorabilia.

“I collect stuff from my journey and the people that I’ve been with. I have autographed stuff of me and Jen and me and Kerri and me and Alix and yeah, I think it’s really cool and the community around women’s sports is growing,” says Ross. “There’s such a market for it, and I think there’s a lot of momentum behind it.”

Partnering with the Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, a platform connecting fans directly to items from their favorite sports icons, Ross sees an additional opportunity to engage with supporters. The Olympian has posted for sale, among other valuables, her signed closing ceremony and media jacket.

The burgeoning market for women’s sports memorabilia is something Ross hopes will progress the sport and inspire the next generation of athletes.

“It just creates more inspiration for them to want to reach that level,” says Ross of young athletes, “to pursue their goals and see these female athletes put in a position and a level that’s looked up to as much as some of the top male players.”

While Ross is unsure of what her future holds off the sand, she is committed to developing the game, saying, “I do want to stay in sports and help young people going forward.”

(Editor’s note: The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.)

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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