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UCLA volleyball commit Ashley Mullen paves the way for Liberty’s offense

In 14 sets played, senior Ashley Mullen had 126 assists and 16 aces with 93.8 percent service, leading Liberty (Mo.) to seven straight wins. (Photo by AJ Hildreth)

It’s not often that a visit to Disney World is overshadowed by something else, but that’s exactly what happened last weekend when Ashley Mullen and the Liberty (Mo.) volleyball team traveled to Orlando, Fla.

The Blue Jays competed in the KSA Events Fall Classic Volleyball Tournament, and that’s where the real magic took place. Mullen earned MVP honors as Liberty went 7-0 and didn’t drop a single set on their way to securing first place at the showcase.

In 14 sets played, the 5-foot-10 senior setter had 126 assists, 16 aces with a 93.8 percent service, 14 digs, three blocks and three kills, adding another accolade in the aftermath — JWS Next Player of the Week.

“There was a lot of team bonding throughout that entire experience. It was also really tiring,” Mullen said. “You’re walking around for five to seven hours after you’ve just played however many matches of volleyball where you’re running and jumping, so it was definitely a physical challenge as well. But it was a really fun experience.”

The Blue Jays returned home and stuck to their winning ways on Tuesday, sweeping Lee’s Summit in a 3-0 decision. The UCLA commit, ranked No. 12 in the nation in JWS’ high school player rankings, didn’t slow down a bit, amassing 31 assists to go along with six digs and two blocks.

Mullen is one of two co-captains who have led the way for Liberty, now 11-0 on the season after knocking off Park Hill 3-2 on Thursday evening.

“As the setter and what we call the quarterback of the team, she’s got a big responsibility,” Blue Jays coach April Fleming said. “She touches the ball just about every single time it comes across the net, so for her to play consistent volleyball, that just makes our team better and helps our team go.”

Mullen, one of six seniors on this year’s Liberty squad, is coming off a 2021 campaign in which she recorded 1,094 assists. She verbally committed to the Bruins program in early September, choosing UCLA over NC State in the end. Mullen said she was drawn to the two programs because both head coaches were setter coaches and had experience with USA Volleyball.

“The experience and consistency that she brings to our team is huge,” Fleming said about Mullen. “A lot of our success is because we have a girl that can run and spread out our offense.”

In June, Mullen was selected to compete at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando in December along with 23 other standout high school players. She will be joined by Team Dynasty club volleyball teammate Calissa Minatee, a Minnesota commit who’s currently a senior at North Kansas City (Mo.).

“I think that once I was selected and heard my name, it was a little bit of a relief, but it was really exciting,” Mullen said. “To know that I’m going to get to play with some of the best players in the country, it’s pretty cool.”

For now, Mullen is focused on embracing the moment and enjoying her final varsity season at Liberty, including the opportunity to play one final season with her sister, Abigail, a sophomore opposite hitter who helped lead Team USA to a gold-medal finish at the Pan American Cup in July.

“It means a lot. My parents have been watching us play on separate teams for years, and we both know that we’re really good athletes,” Ashley said. “Just knowing that we’re able to play with each other and that we’re also family is pretty cool.”

Mullen has individual goals in mind — she wants to be named Gatorade Missouri Volleyball Player of the Year and win the Evelyn Gates Award, awarded to the top female volleyball player in the Kansas City area — but it all starts with her team’s success.

And there’s no shortage of ambition there, either. She wants to go out a state champion.

“Not every team gets to have a fairytale ending,” Mullen said. “I feel like this team has been through thick and thin. We can totally strive for that state championship. We’ve got to take it one day at a time.

“So far, we’ve had a really good season, and I really think that we can get all the way there.”

Trent Singer is the High School Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @trentsinger.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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