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Love for running sends Elise Cranny on journey to national stardom

Elise Cranny of Team United States looks on after competing in the Women’s 5,000-meter race in Round 1 on day seven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Elise Cranny loved that cross country practice involved running to Dairy Queen. As a middle schooler, she’d grab an ice cream cone with her teammates and jog back to practice.

There was no pressure or high stakes. No worries about hitting times to impress university coaches.

“Running is pretty cool!” she thought to herself at the time.

One year later, Cranny entered her freshman year at Niwot High School, just outside of Boulder, Colo., having never experienced a state championship meet nor won a cross country or track race.

She was just passionate about being on a team.

Even though running looks like an individual sport, cross country uses the placing of a school’s top-five runners to create an overall team score. First place scores one point, second place two, and so on. The team’s combined scores are then added together, and the one with the lowest tally wins.

In the fall of 2010, Cranny had no individual expectations for her first major meet, the 4A Region 2 Cross Country Championships. She just wanted to be a part of a team — all dressed in their emerald green singlets with the letter “N” on the front — that qualified for state.

When the starting gun went off, the sound of nearly 100 runners thundering down a field echoed throughout the small town of Lyons, Colo.

Cranny settled into a comfortable rhythm. She clicked off the kilometers and moved further and further up the pack.

Until, suddenly, with the five-kilometer race coming to a close, she found herself in the lead. Sprinting down the grass field, nine seconds ahead of her next closest competitor, she crossed the line with a mixture of shock and awe.

Combined with her victory, her teammates finished seventh, ninth, 10th and 16th, giving Niwot the regional title and a spot at state.

The race was a whirlwind of emotions. It all came so fast. Success came so fast.

One year earlier, Cranny was spending cross country practice running to Dairy Queen. After the meet, she was a regional champion.

It was the first time Cranny experienced that intoxicating feeling of success.

Elise Cranny, pictured here in 2014, won two cross country state championships at Niwot High School. (Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images)

Cranny loves to spend time with people.

It’s obvious early in our Zoom call, on a late May afternoon, that Cranny is a people person. Two months before the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore., the Nike athlete is in Park City for a training camp with her Bowerman Track Club teammates.

“We live together in groups up here, so it’s fun to live with your teammates,” Cranny says

The team runs together, works out together and socializes together. Aside from getting fit for the upcoming outdoor season, the camp is a bonding experience for a team filled with professional runners from across the world.

“We do team meals, and then maybe we’ll watch a show, play a game — that’s a pretty standard altitude camp,” she says.

Since she graduated from Niwot in 2014, Cranny has developed into one of the most promising American middle distance runners in the country.

She won two cross country state individual titles, and gold in the 800m, 1,600m, and 3,200m track events as a junior and senior in high school. At Stanford University from 2014-18, she was a 12-time All-American, two-time academic All-American and two-time Pac-12 champion.

Last summer, Cranny won the U.S. Olympic trials in the 5,000m and finished 13th in that event at the Olympics in Tokyo.

With half a lap to go in the trials, under record-breaking heat in Oregon, Cranny trailed her Bowerman teammate, Karissa Schweizer, by just a few steps for the lead. Rounding the final corner, Cranny moved up so she was in lockstep with her teammate.

Her arms pumped back and forth like pistons. Her face twisted in pain.

After crossing the line first, Cranny immediately turned back for Schweizer and grabbed her in a hug — realizing that they would both be going to the Olympics. The feeling wasn’t too different from when she won her first regional meet in Colorado all those years ago, and the team was moving on to state.

“After the trials, again, I don’t know, it was kind of just like I was awed and very excited about a dream from a very young age coming true. It was very surreal,” she says.

Her momentum didn’t slow down after the Olympics.

Cranny started the 2022 track season at a blistering pace. She set an American record by running 14:33 in an indoor 5k in February, and one month later, she ran the second-fastest American 10k of all time. This past weekend at the USA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., where Cranny opted out of the 10,000m trials, she ran a 4:25 final mile to hold off teammate Karissa Schweizer and win her second straight U.S. title in the 5,000m with a time of 15:49.15. She’ll try to back that up with another first-place finish at the World Championships beginning July 15, also in Eugene.

Cranny, 26, credits the breakthroughs to getting a taste of being on the sport’s biggest stage, and the solidification of becoming one of the best runners in the world.

“Tokyo was a very eye-opening experience,” Cranny says. “After racing in the final and seeing what it was taking to medal and be top 10, it reignited a whole new passion for me in the sport of like, ‘OK, this is what it takes to be at this level.’”

Early in Cranny’s life, she overlooked the process that gave her so much success.

When success came, she took herself too seriously. She failed to treasure the small moments — such as collecting Silly Bandz with teammates on the bus to meets — in her young track and field career that she now looks back on fondly.

“In high school, I was just super rigid, and I thought you had to do everything super seriously,” she says. “It’s very type A, and I think there’s this balance between being serious, working really hard and having fun with it.”

At the beginning of her freshman year at Stanford, Cranny got stuck in an injury cycle for about two and a half years. She suffered four different bone injuries, and amid that cycle, wondered whether she would be able to continue running.

“Every time you feel like you’re getting back to where you were, that’s when the next [injury] would come,” Cranny says.

“I still wanted to run professionally, but some of that time in the middle was testing, like, ‘OK, can my body handle this?’”

Focusing on the love of the sport, specifically stringing together workouts and socializing with teammates outside of practice, helped Cranny get into a healthy mental state.

“When I had some upperclassmen that were helping me, it’s like, wow. It makes you feel so connected to them,” Cranny says.

In the past couple of years, Cranny has been open about her own struggle with mental health and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), a condition where athletes don’t get enough calories to support the demand of their sport. RED-S can lead to bone injuries, low energy availability and amenorrhea.

She has also partnered with Voice in Sport, an online platform that connects girls and women in sport, to become a mentor for the next generation of athletes.

“I want to be able to hopefully help the people that are coming in learn lessons quicker,” she says.

As she’s gotten older, Cranny has become more observant. She’s gone through a lot for a 26-year-old: a cycle of expectations, success and injuries. It’s hard as a pro athlete, when your life is on display and your job is to run world-class times, to find consistency.

But now, more than ever, Cranny has achieved balance. Rather than putting too much pressure on herself ahead of a race, she’s patient and introspective — eager to learn about other people and lend a helping hand.

It may seem counterintuitive to tell someone — whose job is to run fast — to slow down. But since the Olympics, Cranny has strengthened that aspect of her life with the help of a sports psychologist.

“Something that he says is, ‘Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously,’” she explains.

She got a taste of being on the international stage last summer at Tokyo and is hungry to improve on her world ranking. Her long-term goals include winning a World Championship or an Olympic medal.

“That’s where I want to be, competing for those podium spots at global championships,” she says.

Right before we log off of our Zoom call, we exchange pleasantries, and she remembers that I mentioned that I’m in Alabama for a national track and field meet.

“Good luck this … er, not this weekend…Wednesday, you said?,” she says, catching herself and thinking back to the beginning of our conversation.

The specificity epitomizes who Cranny is.

She’s a regular person, who happens to be faster than most people in the world, and she wants to get it right. She listens and remembers the smallest details — like a date — that others may easily forget. Yes, she has her own practices and races to think about, but Cranny is genuinely interested in the lives of other people.

Josh Kozelj is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports based in Vancouver, B.C. He has written for The New York Times, Globe, Mail, CBC and various other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @joshkozelj27.

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 Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a 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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