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Cathedral Catholic volleyball opens season atop team rankings

Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.) celebrates its state semifinal victory over Hudsonville on Nov. 18, 2021. Marian begins the season at No. 3 in the JWS volleyball high school team rankings. (Observer & Eccentric via USA TODAY NETWORK)

How do you top an undefeated season, achieved against some of the toughest competition in the country? Add in the loss of several key stars, and that is the problem confronting Marymount (Calif.) volleyball this season.

The Sailors passed their first test with flying colors in a 3-0 win in their season opener Monday. They don’t lack talent, with seniors Torrey Stafford (320 kills last season) and Dior Charles (123 kills) leading the way. Stafford, a University of Pittsburgh commit, is the 18th-ranked recruit heading into the season in the Just Women’s Sports volleyball high school player rankings.

But Marymount must replace five players who are now competing at the Division I level, including Elia Rubin, the MaxPreps National Player of the Year and an Under Armour All-American. That’s not an easy task, and playing in a volleyball hotbed like southern California doesn’t provide much room for error.

While the Sailors are off to a good start, they have simply lost too much talent to earn the No. 1 spot in the first JWS volleyball team rankings of the season. That honor instead belongs to Cathedral Catholic, another southern California school.

Check out the complete rankings below.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 0-0

Cathedral Catholic didn’t win it all last year, but the program returns four seniors who each had more than 100 kills. That group is led by Stanford commit Julia Blyashov, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the U19 Pan American Cup in July.

2. Marymount (Calif.), 1-0

Not only did the Sailors lose Rubin from last year’s 35-0 squad, setter Kelly Belardi joined her at Stanford, Kerry Keefe is at Duke, middle blocker Rhiann Sheffie landed at Long Beach State and Megan Verbiest is the newest libero at USC.

3. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 7-0

The Mustangs are coming off a 53-1 season that ended with a state championship, and they return setter Ava Sarafa, who racked up 1,443 assists last season and is committed to Kentucky.

4. Papillion-LaVista South (Neb.), 0-0

Coming off a 40-0 season, the Titans return senior Stella Adeyemi, who finished with 387 kills and 108 digs last season.

5. Wayzata (Minn.), 0-0

Not only did the Trojans go undefeated last season, they haven’t lost since 2019, winning 54 games in the process. Minnesota commit Stella Swenson is back at setter after racking up 936 assists last year.

6. Tompkins (Texas), 13-1

The Falcons have already beaten reigning Class 6A state champion Brandeis and have dropped just seven sets in 14 matches.

7. McCutcheon (Ind.), 4-0

The Mavericks enter 2022 hoping to defend their state title, and they return star hitter Chloe Chicoine, who had 440 kills and 189 digs last year. The Purdue commit is joined by setter Allie Shondell, who already has 126 assists through four games this season.

8. The Woodlands (Texas), 17-3

The Highlanders have beaten last year’s Class 6A finalist, Keller, and another semifinalist in Bridgeland. Claire Dewine leads the way with 266 assists and is second with 198 digs.

9. Dike-New Hartford (Iowa), 0-0

The Wolverines finished 54-1 last season and return their top five hitters, including the Petersen twins, Payton (583 kills) and Jadyn (402 kills). Madelyn Norton and her 1,209 assists are also back for the reigning state champions.

10. Mater Dei (Calif.), 2-0

The Monarchs’ 2021 season ended with a loss to Cathedral Catholic. They return three of their top four hitters, all of whom had 200 kills or more, from the 36-6 squad.

11. Byron Nelson (Texas), 15-1

Another Texas team that has gotten off to a fast start, the Bobcats are led by freshman Kylie Kleckner and her 182 kills.

12. Blue Valley North (Kan.), 0-0

The Mustangs lost plenty of production from last year’s state championship team that finished 40-2, but they return the team leaders in kills (Logan Parks, 324), digs (Nora Carlsen, 291) and assists (Janelle Green, 527).

13. Ponte Verda (Fla.), 1-0

The Sharks, looking to bounce back after falling in the Class 6A state championship game, return Cincinnati commit Zeta Washington (274 kills) and Jessica Shattles (896 kills, 199 kills).

14. Skyview (Idaho), 0-0

The Hawks are coming off a 36-2 season in which they won a state championship and will get back Oregon commit Alex Acevedo and Alex Bower, who had over 1,000 assists and 100 kills last season.

15. Sante Fe (Fla.), 1-0

The reigning Class 4A state champions bring back Florida’s Miss Volleyball in Jalyn Stout, who notched 392 kills last season.

16. Cardinal Mooney (Fla.), 1-0

Texas-bound Jordyn Byrd will make the Cougars a force to be reckoned with as she looks to build upon last season’s totals of 551 kills, 258 digs and 56 blocks.

17. Sequoyah (Ga.), 12-1

Sequoyah has unfinished business after a 50-4 season ended with a loss in the 6A state championship. The Chiefs return offensive firepower in seniors Sara Siefert, who has over 1,000 career kills, and Taylor Pecht, who will eclipse 4,000 career assists this season.

18. Mira Costa (Calif.), 8-2

Mira Costa opened the season by claiming a tournament title in Hawaii before being brought back down to earth in a four-set loss to Mater Dei.

19. Jackson Academy (Miss.), 15-0

Coming off a state championship last year, the Raiders keep winning. Auburn commit Lakin Laurendine already has 179 kills with a .454 hitting percentage.

20. Alpharetta (Ga.), 13-3

Another Georgia team that lost in the state championship last season, Alpharetta is looking to capture the state crown this year.

21. Laramie (Wyo.), 0-0

The Plainsmen have won consecutive 4A state titles, and Madeline Stuckey is back to pursue another after recording 736 assists and 172 kills last fall.

22. Buford (Ga.), 10-1

The Wolves knocked off Sequoyah to win the state crown last season. They return their kills leader, digs leader and assists leader.

23. Fayetteville (Ark.), 1-0

The Bulldogs are aiming for a three-peat and will be relying on Stanford beach volleyball commit Brooke Rockwell, who had 503 kills and 274 digs last year, and Florida State commit Kennedy Phelan, who finished with 1,123 assists in 2021.

24. Bishop Gorman (Nev.), 1-0

The Gaels have won the last three state titles contested in the state of Nevada and bring back star hitter Leilia Toailoa, who notched 491 kills last year.

25. Olathe Northwest (Kan.), 0-0

The Ravens have one of the top junior players in the country in Nebraska commit Skyler Pierce, who racked up 425 kills and 345 digs last year.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

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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