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Top setter Bergen Reilly sets new standard with poise and resolve

Team USA’s Reilly sets the ball during a quarterfinal match against Turkey at the 2021 U18 World Championship. (Courtesy of Volleyball World)

Elite players at any level of sport possess a competitive nature unrivaled by the majority of their peers, but staying composed when the game is on the line can often be a more difficult balance to strike.

What happens when the pressure of the moment becomes unbearable? Who will keep their teammates together when adversity arrives? And which players achieve greatness by their ability to rise above the moment and deliver for their team?

That self-possessed demeanor has always been second nature for Bergen Reilly.

Ever since she first touched the court for O’Gorman High School (S.D.) as an eighth grader, the top-ranked volleyball setter in the nation has helped set the standard for a program that enters the 2022 fall season in search of a historic third-straight Class AA state title.

Reilly’s passion for volleyball has taken her far beyond her community in Sioux Falls, S.D. She’s traveled internationally to represent USA Volleyball at the youth level, putting her on the radar of top-level scouts and coaches. While her relentless work ethic has been the driving force behind her success, Reilly sets the standard at O’Gorman with her infectious personality.

For Reilly, there’s no moment too difficult to handle.

“She’s competitive, don’t get me wrong. She’s very competitive,” says O’Gorman’s second-year coach, Cale Hecht. “But she has this kind of calm demeanor that I think sets the tone in our gym. You have Bergen Reilly, who has this calm, cool and collected demeanor and doesn’t really get frazzled in high-pressure situations. I think that’s something that’s come as she’s grown and played on bigger stages, but she has this calming persona that kind of feeds off in the rest of the gym, especially the girls on the varsity team she’s always playing with.

“It’s a pretty solid team in that it takes a lot to get them frazzled. I think that all starts with Bergen.”

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Reilly leads O'Gorman into the 2022 fall season in pursuit of a historic third-straight state title. (Argus Leader via USA Today Network)

In July 2021, Reilly committed to the University of Nebraska, and everything else seemed to fall into place. Two months later, she helped guide Team USA to a bronze-medal finish at the U18 World Championship in Mexico before returning to O’Gorman and leading the Knights to a second-straight Class AA crown. Then over the summer, Reilly was named MVP at the Pan American Cup when the U19 team took home gold in Tulsa, Okla.

Reilly has won back-to-back honors as Gatorade South Dakota Volleyball Player of the Year and is coming off a junior year in which she amassed 393 assists, 191 kills, 174 digs, 43 aces and 29 blocks. As both a setter and an outside hitter, Reilly relies on her versatility, recording a hitting percentage of .341 and a kill percentage of .434 last season.

“It feels kind of mind-blowing how crazy and easy some of that stuff is for her, but it is because she’s spent hours in the gym and always wants to learn and takes feedback and all that stuff,” Hecht says. “It makes things very easy for me because she’s so versatile and has a great attitude about it. She loves playing somewhere else, and I think it’s just because she loves the game.”

An early bloomer

Reilly first began playing volleyball when she was 7 years old and was drawn to the sport by her older sister, Raegan.

The two sisters are separated by just two years, and their connection on the court has brought them closer together over the years. When COVID-19 brought the sports world to a halt in 2020, Bergen and Raegan turned to each other to stay on top of their game.

“The biggest part was during quarantine when no one really had anyone to play with, we could just play with each other, get a ball, get some reps in,” Bergen says. “We could always kind of hold each other accountable for what we were doing, so I think that’s been huge for both of us.”

By the time Bergen reached eighth grade, she was starting for O’Gorman, and she immediately began to realize her potential. It’s uncommon for any eighth grader to compete against high schoolers, but in South Dakota’s most competitive classification (Class AA), it’s an anomaly.

During that first varsity season, the Knights ran a 6-2 system that allowed Bergen to play exclusively as a setter on the back row, and she was used heavily, playing in 108 sets and finishing the year with 549 assists, both single-season highs in her varsity career.

Bergen admits the early years were a little nerve-wracking, but Raegen’s presence on the court helped alleviate those concerns.

“Having her there just made the transition seamless,” Bergen says. “My first couple of games I was a little nervous, but once I got the hang of it, everyone was so welcoming and so good to me that I really had nothing to be nervous about.”

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As an eighth grader, Reilly posted some of the highest marks of any single season in her varsity career. (Argus Leader via USA Today Network)

Perhaps the most memorable moment of her high school career came when the Knights finished the 2020 season with a state title. Bergen was a sophomore for O’Gorman that year, while Raegan was one of seven seniors who guided the Knights to a perfect 26-0 record and the first undefeated Class AA state championship season since 1991.

Bergen played both setter and right-side hitter, racking up 400 kills, 260 digs, 131 assists, 62 blocks and 36 aces, with a kill percentage of .448 and a hitting percentage of .304.

“It was so special,” Bergen says. “There were seven seniors on that team, and they all became some of my best friends. One of them was my sister. Just winning a state championship and especially having it be an undefeated season, which hasn’t happened since the ‘90s, we knew there was something special there, so we wanted to go after it.

“That team was just unwilling to lose, and I think that was just such a crazy year and such a special team.”

Raegan wrapped up her prep career with three all-state selections and played Division I volleyball for North Dakota State last season before transferring to South Dakota State in January.

Meanwhile, the Knights went on to win back-to-back state championships, despite Bergin missing time in late September of the 2021 season to compete for Team USA at the U18 World Championship.

During bracket play at the World Championship, Team USA won five-set thrillers in consecutive nights over Argentina and Turkey before getting swept by Italy in the semifinals. They bounced back on the final night, however, to defeat Serbia and claim the bronze medal.

“That was just an unreal experience for me,” Bergen says. “Being my first time playing international volleyball, it’s insane. The speed of the game is just a whole different level, and the competition you’re playing against night in and night out is just something I’d never experienced before. It was so cool because everyone pushed us. There wasn’t a single easy game.”

Her exploits with USA Volleyball didn’t end there.

In July, Bergen guided Team USA to a gold-medal finish at the U19 Pan Am Cup in Tulsa. Despite a target on their backs as the team to beat in the tournament, the Americans didn’t drop a single set during the competition and finished things off by avenging a scrimmage loss against Brazil in the final.

“We kind of were like, ‘OK, now we know what they do and how they run things,’” says Bergen, who earned MVP honors and was named Best Setter. “When we played them again in the gold-medal match, we just kind of took them out of their systems. That was super cool, too, because we kind of had a gauge for how much we grew.

“We lost to them before the tournament started and then came back and swept them. That was really rewarding to see the team and how we all came together in those five days.”

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Reilly accepts the MVP trophy after Team USA beat Brazil in the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup. (Photo courtesy of NORCECA)

Becoming a Husker

Bergen’s recruiting process began in eighth grade, but on May 1, 2019, a new NCAA recruiting rule went into effect that was intended to slow down the trend of coaches offering scholarships to athletes as young as seventh and eighth grade. The new rules prevent any communication between a student-athlete or parent/guardian and a Division I coach before June 15 after sophomore year.

“It was a little weird,” Bergen says. “I had phone calls with coaches, and then the next week, I would send them emails, but they couldn’t respond. It’s tough because you don’t really know. Are they interested? Are they not? They could be super interested, but they can’t respond.

“So I think I had to kind of work through that, but I just kept in contact with all the schools I was interested in.”

Bergen said she never planned to commit as fast as she did. She had intended to take her official visits to Kentucky, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but after a trip to Lincoln, Neb., to attend a volleyball camp on campus, Bergen committed to the Cornhuskers on July 15, 2021, choosing the reigning NCAA Tournament runners-up over offers from Creighton, Purdue and Texas.

“I just fell in love with it,” Bergen says. “I knew that I wasn’t going to find anywhere else that I liked more, so I kind of still wanted to take my officials. But then my parents were like, ‘That’s kind of pointless if you already know,’ so I committed that night after the camp.”

Bergen will be joined by the No. 1 recruit in her class, Harper Murray of Michigan. Bergen met Murray during the U18 World Championship last fall, where they became close friends, and their bond grew even more at this year’s Pan Am Cup.

Murray, who was named Best Spiker at the Pan Am Cup, roomed with Bergen during their first weekend in Tulsa, and they both played alongside fellow Nebraska recruit Andi Jackson.

“Our relationship really grew there,” Bergen says. “I think we’ve always had a pretty good connection on the court. I think it’s just kind of a natural connection there. I can’t wait to see where that all goes at Nebraska.”

Bergen played at the club level with Kairos Volleyball, leading Kairos 16 Adidas to the Premier Division title at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando last year. She earned MVP honors for her contributions to the title run, which was the program’s first at the Premier Division, the second-highest level.

“Kairos has been huge for me, too. I’ve pretty much always played up,” Bergen says. “There’s only been one year that I played with my age group, so I think that was really good for me just to kind of let me be around people that were going to challenge me and push me and play the game at a different speed than I would in my age group. I think that just forced me to grow faster and got me to where I am.”

Bergen credits Kairos Volleyball Club Director Mitch Lunning, who coaches the setters, as one of her key mentors, along with Hecht and former O’Gorman coach Emily McCourt.

“He taught me everything I know about setting,” Bergen says about Lunning. “I definitely think those three have all been huge for me.”

Bergen has always been fascinated by former Wisconsin star Sydney Hilley, whose calm personality mirrors her own. But since she committed to the Huskers, she’s focused on how Nebraska senior setter/defensive specialist Nicklin Hames runs the offense.

“She started her freshman year, and I think that’s the goal,” Bergen says. “Just seeing what she does right and how I can learn from that and hopefully transfer that over to my play, too.”

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(Argus Leader via USA Today Network)

Bergen has also played for the Knights’ girls basketball team, which won a state title last season, but she won’t be a part of the team this season as she plans to finish up high school in December to begin her college career a semester early.

For now, she’s focused on leading O’Gorman to a third-consecutive state championship, a feat that’s never never been achieved in South Dakota’s Class AA. Hecht believes Bergen is ready to become the team’s go-to attacker in 2022 and take on a bigger role as an outside hitter, but he knows teams will be keying in on her.

With versatility and experience on her side, Bergen is poised to rise to the occasion.

“She’ll be a huge weapon,” Hecht says. “I think that’ll be somewhere she’s going to learn as she goes, and I think she’ll hit the ground running pretty quickly. But she’ll bring that intensity, and it’s good for her and our gym for everyone to see that willingness of like, ‘Yeah, I want to play somewhere else because I want to do what we can to win.’

“I think that shows a lot about who she is. She wants to win, and she’ll do whatever it takes.”

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

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.

One former player 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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