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Bethany Balcer: From Open Tryout to Roty

Balcer took issue with the officiating in OL Reign’s match against Racing Louisville. (Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Bethany Balcer plays as a forward for OL Reign of the NWSL. Balcer played collegiately for Spring Arbor University, winning two NAIA national championships and and three NAIA National Player of the Year Awards. After being invited into training camp prior to last season, Balcer became the first NAIA player to ever sign a contract with an NWSL club. She went on to be named the 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year. Balcer spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her unorthodox path to the NWSL, the impact of coronavirus on the upcoming season, and how she’s managed to keep a consistent mindset throughout her meteoric rise. 

Can you walk me through what your mindset was like when you went in to try out for Reign? 

We had meetings the day before our first day of training, and I remember just walking into the room, not even saying hi to anybody, and just slipping into the back. I was just so nervous not knowing anybody. There were other girls in the same position, but they’d all played each other in college, so I definitely felt pretty isolated. On the field, though, I had a good mindset. I wasn’t letting nerves get the best of me. I was just like, if this is meant to be, then it’ll happen. I tried to not see it as being as big of a mountain as it actually was, and that allowed me to play freely.

It’s a big mental battle because you don’t really know where you stand or what the coach thinks of you. But I just took it day by day, and over time I got more comfortable. And once I got the hang of the pace and the physicality, it just became really fun.

I think confidence is still really undervalued in terms of how it affects performance. Would you say it was a big part of your own success at that trial? 

I think what gave me confidence is that I knew I had nothing to lose. Like, if I made a mistake, it wasn’t a big deal, because they all were probably expecting me to. I mean, they were literally expecting nothing out of me, so everything I did was a surprise. They’d seen a lot of the other girls play before, but I was just a shot in the dark. And I think that helped a lot. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and that’s what it was.

That seems like a really healthy mindset. How do you keep that perspective in a competitive professional environment? 

For me, my identity has never been in soccer. I’m a go with the flow type of person, and even when I’ve had season-ending injuries, I feel like I haven’t been completely shocked. It’s kind of like, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. And I know soccer is temporary. I’m not going to play for forever. I just want to play for as long as I can, and when it’s time to hang the boots up, I’ll hang them up.

So you go into tryouts with nothing to lose. You make the team, you become a regular start. You start scoring goals. You’re named rookie of the year. You’re getting called up to the national team. You’re seeing this amazing progression in a short amount of time. Have you been able to keep that relaxed attitude as the stakes have gotten bigger? 

I’ve definitely been trying to because that’s what got me here. And I still think in baby steps. I’m like, okay, now that I’m on the team, how I can I start getting minutes? Now I’m getting minutes, how can I start being impactful? After that, it’s how do I become a starter? Even now, when I’ve “made it” in a sense and am getting national team call ups, I’m still thinking about the details of my game that I can work on that will help me stand out at the next level. I think I’ve done a good job proving I belong in this league and can compete at this level, and now it’s about honing my skills and figuring out the little things.

What was the biggest jump from college to the professional league?

It sounds so basic, but the speed of play. I remember the first week of training when I was here, I was sprinting all the time, going as fast as I could, and still falling behind. But that’s what’s required of every play, every minute. It takes a whole other level of energy and physical capacity. I mean, I feel sick after games now because I’m exerting so much to keep up. That’s not something I was used to. I’m way more fit now than I’ve ever been. And the fact that I was on cloud nine all last season, just from being on a team, meant I could go, go, go without ever thinking about how tired I was.

What was it like to win rookie of the year? 

That was crazy. I’m still super humbled by the fact I won that. I mean, there were people telling me throughout the year that I was going to get in, but I still wasn’t thinking about it. I was just focused on trying to win a championship. I just wanted to play the best for my team. But it was definitely special to have something to show for all the hard work over the last few years, both on and off the field. Like I said, I hope it proves to people that the draft isn’t the end-all, be-all, and that there are just so many different paths to get here.

I know there’s some uncertainty surrounding this season, but what are some goals for your second year in the league? 

I want to be a more clinical attacker. Definitely in college, I had so much freedom to just shoot whenever and kind of do my own thing. You don’t get as many opportunities in a game at this level, so now it’s back making the most of when I do get in front of the goal. Instead of just blasting it as hard as I can, I want to work on getting that finessed shot down. I got away with a lot in college just because of the level I was playing at, but now I have to watch for mistakes. So I’m working on cleaning up my touch on the ball and making sure my passes are precise. Little technical things like that. Ultimately, I really want to prove that I can be consistent, and that last season wasn’t a one-year thing.

How has coronavirus impacted your training going into the season?

Obviously corona has shifted our normal day of living. My heart breaks for those who are dealing with the illness. I still train individually, but we have ceased getting together as a whole team for obvious reasons.

How has the delay impacted your mindset?

Offseason is just a little longer this year. That’s my approach to it. The things we do now and the upcoming weeks can determine if we will be great or not. I think a lot of us players are looking at it as an opportunity to work a little extra and push ourselves even further. I hope everyone is taking proper precautions and limiting their interactions with others, because the sooner we can grasp just how serious this is, the better off we’ll be.

Even though the team isn’t training together, have you talked about what your collective goals are? 

As a team, we’re just trying to get our feet under us, because last year with so many injuries, players were coming in and out. We were signing new people like every week. It seemed like our locker room was never the same. Our starting lineup was never the same. And so I think this year Rob is hoping to not have any injuries so we can form a good team cohesion and learn how to take advantage of everyone’s strength.

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."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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