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‘Can’t Retire From This’ DMV basketball documentary a labor of love

Melanie Page, once a star high school basketball player in the DMV area, created a film about it. (Courtesy of @clutchvisualss)

Basketball had betrayed Melanie Page, and so Page moved on: She graduated college, moved to California and embarked on a career in film.

Then, in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic brought the world to a halt, Page came home to Laurel, Md., and volunteered as an assistant coach with her mother’s AAU team. That’s when it hit her: She was not ready to say goodbye.

Page had been a star player at Elizabeth Seton High School (Bladensburg, Md.), only to have her college dreams cut short when she suffered a concussion during a game in front of recruiters. She told everyone who would listen that she was done with the game forever. But as she worked with her mother’s players, a group of 16-year-old girls who’d gone wild when they learned she’d won a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title as a player, Page realized the impact basketball had on her life — and the lives of players throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area.

The filmmaker hopes to capture that essence in “Can’t Retire From This,” an upcoming four-part documentary series highlighting women’s basketball in the DMV, and the role the game plays in uplifting local youth. The project is now in post-production, and Page is searching for a distribution home.

“Being re-accepted in this community and finding my lane in the sport that I loved so much and immersed myself in so much, it’s like becoming a child again,” Page said. “And rewriting the story.”

The 2020 Showtime documentary “Basketball County: In the Water,” produced by Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures (disclaimer: Thirty Five Ventures is an investor in Just Women’s Sports), shone a spotlight on the history of youth basketball in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

That film mostly focused on the boys’ game, though, and Page saw an opportunity for a project focused on girls and women in the area. Her first interview for the project was with Hank Lloyd, a former assistant at local independent power Riverdale Baptist under Diane Richardson, now the head coach at Temple, on June 1, 2020.

Lisa Bodine, a longtime DMV coach and talent evaluator who now runs the non-profit Godmother Sports Foundation, was also among the early interviewees.

“It’s a story that needs to be told,” Bodine said. “(In the 2000s) you could look down an ACC roster and every team would have a DMV player on their roster.”

Page at one point thought she might be the next in line. Her love for the game began in the late 1990s when the Washington Mystics, one of the WNBA’s first expansion franchises, showed Page women who looked like her could be basketball stars. She caught on as a ball girl for the Maryland women’s basketball team, with her final season coming in 2006 when the Terps won the national championship.

She made her own name as a player in the DMV, brushing elbows with a lot of the women she would later interview for the documentary, including Kenia Cole.

Cole grew up in Silver Spring, Md., about 30 minutes from Page in Laurel, and played with and against Page when they were kids. She then played college ball at Hampton, an HBCU in the southwest corner of Virginia not considered to be part of the DMV (the area cuts off in Northern Virginia), where she now works as an assistant coach. When Page, who founded her Major Motives production company as a North Carolina A&T freshman (she graduated in 2015), approached Cole about sharing her story in the documentary, Cole was hesitant.

“I didn’t think anyone would want to hear my story,” Cole said. “Most of the time, when young girls hear about women’s basketball, they want to hear about the professionals. … I didn’t do that. I also didn’t get a lot of offers. I worked for everything I got through basketball.”

Part of what Page wants to highlight in the documentary is the off-court opportunities basketball can provide, especially for those who don’t make it to the top level. The DMV regularly ranks among the top areas in the country for sending players to Division I schools, Page said.

“Knowing myself as a Black woman, and seeing how many educated Black women have come from the area because of basketball, is astounding,” Page said.

The project will examine some of the bigger names to come out of the area, too, like Penny Toler, the D.C. native who scored the first basket in WNBA history for the Los Angeles Sparks and later led the franchise to the 2001 WNBA championship as general manger. Page also took a particular interest in Rebekkah Brunson, the former Minnesota Lynx forward who’s won the most WNBA championships (five) of any player.

Brunson, now an assistant coach for the Lynx, was born in Washington, D.C. and attended Oxon Hill High School (Md.), a public school. As Page dug deeper into the local basketball scene, she learned about the disparity in resources facing players at public and private schools.

At Elizabeth Seton, Page had no problem building relationships with college coaches. But Brunson had to rely on her hard work.

“She did what she had to do to become what she’s become,” Page said. “I want girls, going back to my mom’s basketball team, (to know) if they don’t go to private schools in the area, they can still become successful in the sport and because of the sport.”

Page, Cole and so many others are examples of the latter point.

Cole often commutes three-plus hours from Hampton, a university in the southwest corner of Virginia, to recruit in the DMV area. When she meets with prospects, she sees younger versions of herself and Page, girls who love the game and are eager to excel as adults.

They have the same dreams as the players on Page’s mother’s AAU team, who inspired a lapsed basketball lover to dive back into the game. Fifty-eight interviews later, Page feels like she’s wound back the clock.

“Every person I’m talking to,” Page said, “I feel like I’m 10 years old again.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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