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For Hall of Famer Michele DeJuliis, Athletes Unlimited lacrosse is key to sport’s Olympic future

When it comes to women’s lacrosse, Michele DeJuliis has seen it all. 

An All-American at Penn State, she helped the US women’s national lacrosse team win gold at the 2009 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup, having been a part of the program since 1994. A 2013 inductee to the US National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, she served as the commissioner of the United Women’s Lacrosse League before founding and guiding the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, which had just signed a major sponsorship deal with Nike before it was forced to fold in 2020 due to COVID-19. 

After decades of fighting for the future of her sport, watching the WPLL fold was hard and emotional for DeJuliis. But after talking with Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros, the Co-Founders of Athletes Unlimited, DeJuliis felt confident in the direction of professional women’s lacrosse. 

As one door closed, another opened, with DeJuliis immediately pivoting to partner with the upstart league. 

“As emotional as it was for me, it was the right decision for the women that play our game,” she says. “Knowing that Jon and Jonathan have a serious passion for giving women’s sports the opportunity to be in the spotlight.

“They don’t leave a stone unturned.”

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DeJuliis’ drive to grow the game of lacrosse is bone-deep. It’s what first inspired her to start Ultimate Goal Lacrosse 20 years ago. It’s what allowed her to persevere through the ups and downs and arrive at her current role as Senior Director at Athletes Unlimited. And it’s what helps her to know that Athletes Unlimited has the power to grow the sport.

Having led Ultimate Goal Lacrosse for so long, she knows not only the value of developing kids early, but also for those kids to see their sport on TV.

“It’s all the opportunities that we would have wanted in the WPLL and [Patricof and Soros] having the resources to do it,” she says. “To have our sport, as long as the major impact people in our sport have been trying for years, especially at the collegiate level to get our sport on TV. And to have that now?”

DeJuliis knows that visibility matters. And with Athletes Unlimited games airing on CBS Sports Network and FS1, as well as being streamed on Facebook and YouTube, the sport of women’s lacrosse has never had so much concentrated exposure. 

“What I love about it is that we’re able to be in so many homes across the U.S. Hopefully those people are sports freaks, or just love to watch whatever sport they can on TV, and they’re catching our games.”

DeJuliis credits the people within the organization for having the vision and teamwork needed to bring lacrosse to the next level. 

“It takes a team and everybody within the AU community is all in, nobody has egos,” she says. “This is about getting a job done. Everybody is working so hard to make sure that these women have a great experience.”

Part of creating that experience has meant making the game faster. 

The Athletes Unlimited shot clock is 60 seconds, compared to the NCAA’s 90. The field is shorter and skinnier, only 95 yards by 60 yards as compared to the NCAA’s 120 yards by 75 yards. The rosters are also smaller, something that Athletes Unlimited says attracts “complete athletes” who are capable of playing both ends of the field.

These changes weren’t just made to speed the game up. The smaller rosters are also part of a larger campaign to make lacrosse more accessible and increase the chances of the sport’s inclusion at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

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Angie Benson makes a save on Cortney Fortunato (Athletes Unlimited)

The sport’s Olympic goal took a monumental step forward on July 20, when the International Olympic Committee voted to grant World Lacrosse, the international federation for lacrosse, full recognition.

The decision was exciting, if not surprising for DeJuliis. 

“I think it will happen,” she says. “It’s just a matter of time. You just have to remain hopeful and do whatever you can to support the Olympic dream.”

While Athletes Unlimited’s first priority is developing a sustainable professional league, those within the organization understand that they’re fighting for the future of the sport as a whole, and that Olympic inclusion would be downright game-changing. 

For DeJuliis, the best thing AU can do is showcase the sport at its best. 

“I hope that the Olympics, anybody that’s involved in that committee, can see what we’ve got displayed here and say, ‘this is something that we gotta have’,” she continued.

Adjusting the field and roster sizes may have been difficult for athletes and organizers, but it, too, will help in getting lacrosse to LA.

In order for a sport to be included in the Olympics, it needs to have international participation from at least 40 countries on three different continents. Having smaller roster sizes makes it easier to get more countries on board. The fewer people per team, the more affordable it is for countries to sponsor and train.

“There’s so much opportunity,” DeJuliis says. “Anybody that can now dedicate time and money, the sizing of this it’s just more manageable.

“I can only imagine that countries that start picking it up, we’ll see a huge jump in their growth… [and] their ability to actually perform and be competitive in World Lacrosse.”

At the last Women’s Lacrosse World Championships in 2019, 22 countries participated. Nine of them were new to the tournament. But even during a COVID year, World Lacrosse has only continued to grow, as was made evident by the IOC’s recognition. 

“I think [World Lacrosse] has made tremendous progress from where we were two years ago to now, having that recognition is unbelievable,” she says.

Even with all of the Olympics discussion, the scheduling of the Athletes Unlimited to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics was purely coincidence. Ultimately, it was what worked for some of the players to be able to compete while also focusing on the World Cup or coaching collegiately. 

At the same time, as people are plugged into a summer of sports, Athletes Unlimited gives fans a reason to keep the TV on, during and even after the Olympics conclude. 

“I think that with all that goes on in our world, especially with all of the things everybody’s been through, this is something that people need,” she says. “It’s just another opportunity to see another cool sport that is being showcased.

“Hopefully they flip on a channel and they watch for 10 seconds and they’re like, ‘I gotta keep watching’.”

Watch now, watch next year, and there’s a good chance you’ll be watching in 2028 as well.

Editor’s note: Athletes Unlimited is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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