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College Softball: What Could Have Been

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – JUNE 4: The UCLA Bruins celebrate after a home run by Aaliyah Jordan #23 against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Division I Women’s Softball Championship held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium-OGE Energy Field on June 4, 2019 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The abrupt cancellation of college softball put a premature end to what looked to be an epic season. To celebrate (and lament) those players and teams whose seasons were cut short, here’s a recap of the five biggest stories we weren’t ready to have end:

 

1. The farewell tours of two shortstop greats

The 2020 season was supposed to provide us one last look at two of the best dual threat shortstops in recent memory: Sis Bates and Jessie Harper (neither of whom have given any indication that they plan to pursue a fifth year next season).

Bates, my number one player to watch this year, was the rare player whose fielding abilities made her must-watch entertainment. The reigning two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and two-time first team All-American, Bates’ spectacular defensive plays made her both a Washington legend and a national treasure. I know I speak for countless fans across the country when I say that I already miss seeing her make the plays that only she could make:

The abrupt cancellation of college softball put a premature end to what looked to be an epic season. To celebrate (and lament) those players and teams whose seasons were cut short, here’s a recap of the five biggest stories we weren’t ready to have end: 1. The farewell tours of two shortstop greats

Harper, the number two player on my pre-season watch list, was another two-time All-American who led the NCAA in home runs last year. Even with the shortened season, she led the Pac-12 in home runs with 10. This means that every year of her college career, Harper was either first or second for home runs in the conference. Talk about leaving a legacy. Her 76 career home runs are just 19 shy of the NCAA record. Against Team USA, Harper lit up arguably one of the best pitchers in the world, hitting two home runs against Cat Osterman. Though the Wildcats lost, there’s no doubt Harper caught the eye of Team USA’s coaches. Could Tokyo 2021 be next on her agenda?

2. UCLA looked ready to repeat

The Bruins began and ended 2020 ranked No. 1, racking up a decisive 25-1 record along the way. Before conference play and just before the season was cut short, the Bruins were coming off a dominant double-header, with freshman Lexi Sosa pitching UCLA’s first perfect game since 2008, followed by a 4-0 shutout win over No. 18 Minnesota. Such performances made it seem almost certain, even this early in the season, that UCLA was bound for the WCWS. Would they have repeated as champs? I think they would have.

It’s also worth noting that Rachel Garcia, UCLA’s all-world dual threat pitcher and hitter (and the 2019 WCWS MVP) took this college season off to train with Team USA for the Olympics. Now that the Olympics are postponed, it seems unlikely that Garcia will return to UCLA next season as she will now need to train for Tokyo 2021.

 

3. Conference play was just around the corner

This may be the most depressing face of the shortened season: teams were only just beginning to enter conference play. While the early season tournaments were fun to watch, they are traditionally such a steep learning curve that it’s difficult to know how exactly a team will do just based on their opening slate of games. We saw a lot of early upsets this year, including more than a few ranked teams losing to unranked opponents (UNC took down then No. 2 Alabama and Loyola Marymount upset then No. 4 LSU, among others). While these were exciting to watch, they didn’t give us a clear picture of how the rest of the year would have gone. Odds are that both the Pac-12 and the SEC would have gone down to the wire, with No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Washington, and No. 4 Arizona fighting out west while No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Florida, and No. 10 Alabma duked it out down south. Fans of the sport will spend a long time lamenting the fact that we never got to see those conference tilts.

 

4. Miranda Elish was making things happen in the circle. 

The NCAA is losing a lot (and I mean, a lot) of great pitchers this season. One of the most notable is Miranda Elish, who transferred to Texas from Oregon in 2019 after going 37-2 during her time with the Ducks. At the time, Elish was touted as the missing piece that Texas needed in order to be competitive again. The last memorable pitcher to don the burnt orange was 4-time All-American and 2-time Olympic medalist Cat Osterman, who graduated in 2006. After taking a nasty accidental throw to the face from her own catcher in last year’s postseason, Elish made a complete recovery and was back this season with a vengeance. In 84 innings, she recorded 96 strikeouts, with 11 of those coming in a season high performance against Fresno State. Her most notable game, however, was a 7-0 win over New Mexico, when Elish tossed her third career no-hitter and second perfect game.

5. Speaking of Texas…

The Longhorns were having one of the best seasons in program history under new coach Mike White. White brought along four Oregon transfers with him when he moved south in 2019, including Elish. In the short 2020 season the team finished No. 3 in the country with a 24-3 record. And with Elish pitching as well as she was, the Longhorns appeared on track to not only win the Big 12, but potentially return to the WCWS for the first time since 2013. They were the only team to beat No. 1 UCLA this year, on the same weekend that they also took down No. 2 Washington. Those kinds of wins will have Longhorns fans wondering for years to come about what could have been in 2020.

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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