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Ashley Sturzoiu’s decisive point lifts Buford volleyball to three-peat

Buford’s Ashley Sturzoiu had 22 kills, 11 digs and three aces in Georgia’s 7A state title match to earn JWS Player of the Week honors. (Photo courtesy of Lily McGregor Photography)

On the way home from Georgia’s Class 7A volleyball state championship, the Buford Wolves were silent. They had just become three-time state champions, yet a quiet reflective spirit enveloped the bus.

In five sets, Buford defeated Lambert 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-15, 23-25, 19-17), and it was no easy feat. They dropped the first and fourth set, setting up a dramatic final set.

Even as pressure mounted, senior outside hitter Ashley Sturzoiu kept her composure, scoring the match-winning point from the back row. While leading the Wolves to victory, she recorded 22 kills, 11 digs and three aces, earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“It was 18-17 for us, and that one point was a great representation of the entire game,” Sturzoiu said. “We really fought for it, and I had the opportunity to get the game-winning point, gave it my all and scored.”

This season, the 6-foot senior led the team in six categories: kills (487), kills per set (4.4), digs (302), digs per set (2.7), receptions (374) and aces (71).

“She’s very confident in her ability,” coach Christina Lecoeuvre said. “Just watching her, I’m thinking of her being able to rally her teammates and give them constructive criticism. She’s not afraid to help critique little things in the middle of the game that has helped us win. It’s not necessarily the physical things, but the intangible stuff.”

Volleyball caught Sturzoiu’s eye at a young age. She remembers watching her parents play in a park nearby. At age 9, she begged them to let her play, and she was persistent.

“Eventually, my dad was like ‘OK, you wanna play so bad. I’ll teach you,’” she said.

So they signed her up for volleyball lessons at a local recreation center. And from there, her love for volleyball exploded. Even as a young player, those around her knew she was destined for greatness. The center’s director told Sturzoiu’s mother to “call him back when her daughter makes it big.”

“My mom was like, ‘You just want my money, but thank you,’” Sturzoiu said with a laugh.

At age 13, Sturzoiu discovered her secret weapon on the court — goggles. After breaking her glasses in a tournament, she went into an optical store where she found Oakley sunglasses.They were for outdoor sports, which gave Sturzoiu an idea. Instead of using the traditional tint, she asked to make them with clear lenses. They didn’t just help her eyes on the court. They helped shape her persona as a volleyball player, and now she’s known as “Goggles.”

“A lot of it is part of her swag,” Lecoeuvre said. “She’s a standout player in general, and I think at a young age, she said, ‘I’m just going to ride these goggles out. I’m going to embrace it.’”

On Wednesday, in front of the school, Sturzoiu made her college decision official when she signed her National Letter of Intent to play for Mississippi State, and in January, she will begin her career as a Bulldog. She’s graduating early in part to acclimate to life as a Division I student-athlete.

“I think going early gives you a buffer zone to take your time to, A, get prepared and, B, just living in college, getting used to being there and learning how to manage your time,” Sturzoiu said.

In the meantime, she’s soaking up the little time she has left with her classmates and teammates. She’ll leave behind quite the legacy at Buford. She recorded 1,027 career digs and 1,368 kills and is a three-time state champion and a four-time all-state, all-region and all-county player.

“It’s obviously an end. It’s sad. I’m going to have to make new friends, but in terms of volleyball, this is just kickstarting the rest of my career.” Sturzoiu said.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

Smith and Swanson shine in action-packed NWSL weekend

sophia smith celebrates after a goal for the portland thorns
Sophia Smith's 27th-minute goal paved the way for Portland's first win of the season. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

USWNT regulars Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson furthered their cases for Olympic inclusion with their respective club victories on Saturday and Sunday.

After a roller coaster of a week that saw former Thorns head coach Mike Norris reassigned and a flurry of last-minute roster reshufflings as Friday's trade window closure loomed, the NWSL sprung to life over the weekend with standout performances from ninth-place Portland and third-place Chicago, among others.

After her blocked attempt at goal set up a volleying sixth-minute opener from veteran Christine Sinclair — now the only player in history to record a goal in all 11 NWSL seasons — Smith swiftly netted her own in the 27th minute off a breakaway run that eluded Houston's backline. The goal represented Smith's third of the season as well as her 35th for the Thorns, ultimately leading to the home side's first win of the season in a 4-1 routing of the Dash.

But that wasn't Smith's only stat of the evening. The star forward also lapped former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr to become the youngest player to reach 50 NWSL goal contributions across all games, chalking up 40 goals and 10 assists at the age of 23 years and 254 days.

"Obviously it feels good to get a win," said Smith in a post-match press conference. "But this is the standard the Thorns have always had. So a win is great, but a win is the expectation — we're hungrier than ever after the way we started."

170 miles up the road, Lumen Field similarly showcased some promising Olympic prospect footwork on Sunday. In Chicago's 2-1 victory over the lagging 13th-place Seattle Reign, striker Mallory Swanson racked up an impressive counterattack assist on fellow forward Ally Schlegel's fourth-minute goal. Swanson went on to find the back of the net herself before halftime, lacing an explosive ball into the top corner in the 31st minute, her second of the season after returning from a lengthy sidelining injury.

Speaking of injuries, fellow USWNT favorites Alex Morgan and Tierna Davidson were not as fortunate as their national squad teammates this weekend. Each exited their club matches early, Morgan with an ankle knock in San Diego's loss to Orlando and Davidson with an apparent hamstring incident early on in Washington's win over Gotham.

LSU takes first-ever NCAA gymnastics title

Kiya Johnson of the LSU Tigers reacts after winning the national championship during the Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships
Gymnast Kiya Johnson celebrates LSU's win at the NCAA Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

LSU came out on top at the 2024 NCAA women's gymnastics championship in Fort Worth on Saturday, besting Cal, Utah, and Florida to capture their first-ever title.

The Tigers' win was far from a landslide. LSU took the first rotation handily thanks to 2024 All-Around winner Haleigh Bryant's team-leading 9.9375 backed by four additional 9.9+ scores from her teammates. But Utah then responded with three strong beam performances of their own, causing the Red Rocks to slide confidently into second place by the end of the second rotation.

By the halfway point, all four teams fell within .288 points of one another before Utah overtook the pack with a dominant floor showing after three rotations. LSU then went on to ace the beam event with Konnor McClain's meet-leading 9.9625 score, coming away with the highest collective score ever awarded to the event in NCAA championship history. The achievement propelled the Tigers to victory, ensuring them the title after the final rotation.

"This team is full of individuals that have incredible character and integrity and love for each other and all the things you hear from coaches when they sit at a podium like this in a moment of victory, but I promise you it's a real thing," said LSU coach Jay Clark in a post-meet press conference. "I'm just so happy for them."

Contributing to Saturday's atmosphere of excitement was the absence of last year's champion and this year's heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners. Hot off earning the highest team score in NCAA history just last month, the top-ranked Norman squad suffered a shocking loss in the semifinals, where five major mistakes contributed to a third-place finish and a season-low team score of 196.6625.

With Oklahoma out, it was truly anyone's game.

"Every team was out there fighting for their lives — all four teams, it could have gone any of four ways out there," Clark told reporters. "As much as I feel for what happened to Oklahoma in the semifinals, I think it made for a championship that became so packed with emotion because every team out there believed they could do it. It was just tremendous."

LSU is now the eighth program in the sport's history to earn an NCAA women's gymnastic championship.
They share the honor with Georgia, Utah, UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

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