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Baylor volleyball commit Averi Carlson steps into the limelight

(Courtesy of Gatorade)

Averi Carlson’s volleyball gift is that she can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Carlson makes setting look like performance art, having recorded 919 assists during her senior season at Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas. Her brilliance has earned her four All-America nods, a scholarship to Baylor and, as announced Wednesday, the Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year award. Past winners of the award include April Ross, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Megan Hodge.

Carlson, who graduated high school in December, stopped by the Lovejoy gymnasium early Tuesday morning for what she was told would be a media interview about winning Gatorade Texas State Player of the Year. Instead, coach Natalie Puckett told the 6-foot setter she had earned national recognition.

“I have no words,” Carlson said afterwards, beaming and shaking her head.

Carlson normally incites that kind of bemusement in opposing players. Ranked as the nation’s fourth-best player in the Class of 2022 by PrepVolleyball, Carlson helped the Leopards to three consecutive Texas 5A state championships, none more satisfying than the team’s 3-0 sweep of Grapevine on Nov. 20 in her final high school game.

Carlson led Lovejoy with 10 kills and 16 assists in the victory, while also recording 10 digs and two aces. It was the kind of performance that college coaches had taken notice of years before, making her recruiting process one of the most closely watched in the nation. Carlson intended to commit to Texas, the 2020-21 national runner-up, before deciding to attend a camp at Baylor at the urging of her parents.

By the end of the camp, Carlson had changed her mind, falling “in love” with the program and its guiding ethos. “Just being able to play for a program that’s so God-centered is something that’s super important to me,” she said.

The Bears, who went 22-6 in 2021 and lost to Minnesota in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, are confident Carlson can bring the same stability to their program as she did for Lovejoy and her Dallas-based club team, Skyline Juniors.

Carlson’s experience stems from a challenge she took on her sophomore year of high school. Shy by nature, Carlson realized that as her star grew, she needed to become more of a vocal leader. She stepped out of her comfort zone and into the spotlight, and never looked back. She became the player she dreamed of being when she discovered the sport as a kid watching her older cousins play.

“I was like, ‘I want to be like them,’” Carlson said. “Getting to play volleyball and wear the jerseys and the kneepads and all that stuff.”

During those years, when Carlson wasn’t in the gym, she was studying the sport. Watching YouTube videos of Team USA and former Wisconsin star Lauren Carlini, she learned what it takes to be an elite setter.

“It takes a lot of time and patience, since you have to connect with everyone and all your hitters,” Carlson said. “[It is] so technical.”

Because she graduated in December, Carlson will enroll early at Baylor and have the chance to immerse herself in the program. It will be the beginning of what she hopes is a fruitful college campaign and the launching pad for more national team experience and, eventually, a professional career. Last July, Carlson played for the United States’ Under-20 team at the World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Five months earlier, Athletes Unlimited launched a professional indoor women’s volleyball league – the only one of its kind in the U.S. – with players switching teams every week of the season and earning individual points. Athletes Unlimited’s network of fantasy sports-styled leagues also includes professional softball, lacrosse and basketball.

Carlson, though, is not looking too far ahead just yet. First on her agenda is achieving excellence at Baylor. And with the 2022 campaign set to kick off in the fall, Carlson will spend the next few months learning from her coaches and building bonds with her teammates.

The Baylor staff does not expect a steep learning curve. Carlson, after all, has a flair for the extraordinary and the ability to do something better than perhaps anyone her age: Square her body, bend her knees and push the ball skyward toward a soaring teammate moving in for the kill.

Joshua Needelman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has also contributed to The Guardian, The Washington Post and Men’s Health Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

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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