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Ashley Hoffman Talks Team USA’s Olympic Failure

LANCASTER, PA – JUNE 22: Ashley Hoffman #13 of the United States controls the ball against Anne Schroder #8 of Germany during the Women’s FIH Field Hockey Pro League match between the United States and Germany on June 22, 2019 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Germany defeated the United States 3-2. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images for FIH)

Ashley Hoffman plays as a midfielder for Team USA Field Hockey. A graduate of North Carolina, she helped lead the team to a national championship and won the Honda Sports Award as the nation’s best player in 2018. Below, she talks with Just Women’s Sports about Team USA’s failure to qualify for the upcoming Olympics, what comes next for the program, and the personal goals that keep her motivated. 

Can you first walk us through how teams qualify for the Olympics? 

Two years ago, the FIH (the International Hockey Federation) started an international pro league in order to get field hockey on the map and make it more accessible to both viewers and players. Nine of the world’s best teams compete in a round-robin style tournament with games from January to June.

During the last Olympic cycle, a team could qualify for the games just by winning certain summer tournaments, world leagues and continental games. But they changed the process completely, so that this time around it was very dependent on your pro league results, because those determined your qualifying draw. So results from the 2019 pro league determined both your world ranking and who you had to play in your Olympic qualifying matches. Higher ranked teams played lower rank teams, which is obviously a huge advantage. We ended up coming in last place, which really hurt our rankings, and when they announced the qualifying matches, we drew India.

What happened in your Olympic qualifying series against India?

Well first of all, India hosted the series since they were the higher ranked team. And we had to play two games, back-to-back. Whichever team had the highest aggregate score after the two games won the series. India ended up scoring more goals across the two games and clinched the aggregate 6-5 victory. Despite coming back to win the second game 4-1, we fell short in goals scored, lost the series and did not qualify for the Olympics. It was heartbreaking.

Were you confident heading into the series?  

Going into both games, we had a clear plan in place based on how we knew India played. We’d played them before, and felt like we knew them in and out. When we actually got to India, I think their home crowd was a huge distraction. There were so many people there, all cheering for India of course. In the first game, we fell apart and went down five goals, so coming into the second game, we knew we had a huge mountain to climb. We had to make up a lot of ground in order to win the series and clinch our Olympic spot. I was proud of how we fought in that second game because we made a comeback, but unfortunately still fell short by two goals.

What was the makeup of Team USA ahead of the series? Were there a lot of veteran players on the roster?

No, actually. We only had two Olympians from the 2016 games on our roster. And then if you looked at the average cap number for India compared to our team, there was a significant difference. India was very experienced. However, I think the ability to hold her own against India and almost come back just shows the potential we have for the next Olympics and even the World Cup, which is in two years.

Why was the roster so young? Did a lot of players retire?

Players usually retire around the age of 30 or even before, but I know we had some girls that probably could have kept playing that didn’t. We’re one of the only full time programs in the world, so our players are limited in the jobs they can have outside of the team, because our training is like a nine to five job, even though it doesn’t really pay like one. A lot of girls coach for extra money because our income is very tight. We’re definitely not living a glamorous lifestyle by any means. Then again, it’s all of our dreams, so we’re willing to sacrifice. But by the time players are 30, there’s a lot of factors to consider, and it’s common for players to then want to move on with their lives. Having kids is obviously a huge factor, as it’s hard to come back from that.

Where does the team go from here after not qualifying for the Olympics? Are you just focused on the World Cup in a few years? 

We’re focused on the Pan American games and the World Cup, both of which will happen in about two years.  After we did not qualify for the Olympics, which was the first time since 2004 for Team USA, our head coach was removed. We changed training facilities, moving out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and temporarily to Chula Vista, California. There have been a lot of different organizational changes, and as a team, right now I think we’re all focused on finding a place to train and get better.

What does your off season normally look like (pre-coronavirus)?

It’s actually kind of crazy with the pro league, which now goes from January to June. I’m typically only home for about five weeks of those six months. We’re training so often that my teammates and I always joke that our house is just a storage unit because we’re never actually home. Thankfully, I grew up about 40 minutes from Lancaster, which is where we used to train full time, so I didn’t have that extra rent burden that many of my teammates had.

What do you think Team USA will look like once training resumes?

It’s stressful, but we’re in a rebuilding phase again. We have a new coach and we will hopefully have a home training facility soon, so right now we are just trying to define our culture and goals moving forward. How we come out of losing the qualifier and the chaos of this pandemic will really determine the future of our program. We want to build a program that makes players want to stay involved until they’re in their mid to late thirties and that allows players to have a baby and still come back to play or have another job and still play. I think all of the hardships that we went through this past year, and all the hardship that the world is going through right now, gives us an opportunity to change the narrative and alter our future course.

What is your individual goal as a field hockey player on Team USA moving forward?

My goal is to become one of the best players in the world. I want to aim high because it keeps me motivated. I find that when I ask the younger girls who I coach what their goals are, it is usually something like making the national team or going to the Olympics. But for me, I want to think bigger than that. I want to win an Olympic gold. I want to be the best in the world, not just the best in the country. That’s what motivates me to put in the work.

I’m not sure I thought about my goals in the same way in college as I do now. I’m the type of player who plays best when they’re making the players around them better — I’m definitely more of a distributor than I am a fancy goal scorer. It was in college that I really solidified that identity and found out what my strengths were. And then when I made the national team, I started dreaming bigger.

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.'"

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