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Haylie Mccleney Talks Olympics Delay and Softball’s Future

CHIBA, JAPAN – AUGUST 12: Haylie Ann McCleney #8 of United States reacts against Japan during their World Championship Final match at ZOZO Marine Stadium on day eleven of the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship on August 12, 2018 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Haylie McCleney has been a member of Team USA Softball since 2013. She was a four-time All-American at Alabama, where she ended her career as the program’s all-time leader in batting average (.447), on base percentage (.569), walks (199), and triples (16). She spoke to Just Women’s Sports about how she’s handling the Olympics’ postponement and what it means for the future of her sport.

Softball gets put back into the Olympics for the first time in years. And then Tokyo 2020 is pushed back. Walk me through that. 

It was definitely better that it was postponed instead of canceled. Those two terms carry very different weights. I do think that we have a lot of really smart people in this world that are going to make health a priority at the Olympics, not only for the athletes, but for the fans and families that hopefully get to attend. I would have been a little bit nervous if we would have continued to go on tour and continue to compete and try to make the Olympics happen in a time where we’re under a global pandemic. So there’s a little bit of gratitude there.

Obviously from a completely selfish standpoint, there was an initial period of disappointment because your entire life is built around this week in July. I mean, I was supposed to get married after the Olympics, and now I have no idea when that is going to happen. Other players were going to move or buy houses or maybe retire and pursue a career outside of softball. All those plans have come to a halt.

But I think the more we just accepted the fact that it was going to be delayed, there were a lot of really cool opportunities and stories that came out of it. Most other Olympic athletes are waiting four years in between Olympic games. For softball, it’s a little bit different. We’ve been waiting 12 years and now we’re going to wait 13. So I don’t think patience is lost on us at all as a sport. We’ve had to deal with the adversity of not knowing if or when we’re ever going to be in the Olympics.

There has been some talk that the sport will be included in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, but there’s no guarantee. Does that make this time even more important for the team?

For us, it’s this Olympics or nothing because we don’t know what the future holds. Some of us still could be playing in 2028, but that’s if softball even gets back in. For us, it is critical that, for the survival of our sport, it needs to be in the Olympics. It needs to be talked about, it needs to be discussed. International softball needs to be covered not only in our country, but countries across the world. That’s why I think that we are so scared of the Olympics being canceled. Our one and only shot could be taken away from us. And obviously we understand that the priority is people’s health and safety and well-being. We do understand that. That doesn’t make it any less difficult to think that the Olympics could still be cancelled if things do not get better. We’re in a tough spot. For us, we might not be back, with or without next summer’s games. We don’t know.

Your team was one of the first to name its entire Olympic roster prior to the cancelation. And it has since been determined that the 2020 roster will remain intact for 2021. How do you feel about that decision?

We’re very happy with it. Very pleased with it. We had formed a bond as the Olympic roster, and softball is very culture driven and team driven. It’s not necessarily always about talent, but it’s about how a group of 18 can work together. And we were just starting to figure out that process when our tour was suspended. So I think it was the right decision by USA Softball. I think it was the right decision by the United States Olympic Committee to allow us to keep that same roster because we all earned the title of being an Olympian.

We’re meeting every week and talking with each other and continuing to build some of those relationships. Before the postponement it was six months to prepare for six games and I really liked our chances. Now you’re giving us 18 months as a unit saying, “Hey, this is our roster. This is what we’re sticking with. It’s up to you. Let’s get better. Let’s find a way to become closer. When we’re given our opportunity, let’s not waste it, let’s make the most of it and go for a gold medal.” I really like our chances.

There are a few players on the Olympic roster, including Bubba Nickles and Rachel Garcia, who will return to UCLA in 2021 to play out their final college season. Do you think that having some teammates miss training leading up to next summer will affect the team?

They took 2020 off already so I think you don’t want to take away from their college experience for two entire years. And I think having them play highly competitive college softball is going to help them and us in the long run. I don’t think it’s going to hurt them. They’re still going to be involved in our team meetings. They are just going to basically be training at a different location is how I’m looking at it. What’s good is that we did get to know them quite a bit. I mean Rachel has been on the team before. Dejah was on the team in ’19 and we have gotten to know Bubba while we were on tour and training so much together.

So I don’t think it’s going to be an issue whatsoever. We’re still trying to figure out as an organization what our tour even looks like. For us to be uncertain, it wasn’t really fair for them to sacrifice another year of missing out on a college softball season when we weren’t even sure what our training camps and schedule for training as a team is even going to be.

What happens now. Any talk about what training will be like leading up to 2021?

I’m still training completely on my own. So I’m at home. I’m not going to the gym. I’m not going to a park or anything like that. I’m trying my best to stay at home and still follow all of the guidelines. And I think the majority of the team is that way also. Some people are starting to get back into their facilities. I personally am not. I’m also in between houses right now. So it’s a little bit more complicated I think for me. But yeah, I mean, we’re used to this. We always train on our own. We’re usually on our own for nine months out of the year and then go compete for three months out of the year. So it’s not something that we are not used to. We are having team meetings every week, which I really, really enjoy. Just because it allows me to get to know my teammates a little bit more. We’re actually doing mini TED talk Tuesdays where one person on the team presents for 10 to 15 minutes on something that they’re passionate about outside of softball. It’s been cool to hear what people are interested in. But as things start to open back up, I think you’re going to start to see us kind of get back into that normalcy of what we’ve been used to for the past five, six, seven years of you’re on your own training, do what you need to do, be ready when your report date is. And I have all the confidence in the world that everyone on the team is doing their best to stay ready to compete at a high level still.

You are playing for the Scrap Yard Dawgs this summer. Can you talk to me a little bit about the league you are playing in and can you give updates on what the summer games look like given the pandemic? 

So with Scrap Yard and the Pride, we are basically going on a tour around two different travel ball events and we’re going to be competing against each other. The Scrap Yard and Pride are not a part of National Pro FastPitch. Scrap Yard and Pride are independent professional organizations. So that’s why they decided to come together and form the tour as all of these travel tournaments and things are starting to open back up. That’s the avenue that we took to be able to compete. And we’ve been assured that there are going to be plenty of safety measures in place, testing and sanitation, disinfecting, all of that fun stuff will be a priority when we play.

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 unveiled its 2023 NWSL championship rings earlier this week.

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. 

And 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,” he 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 him to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.” Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers enters

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. 

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. But conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew that conference realignment could 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."

“You have to understand that there’s something about you that makes you special” Haley Jones on her WNBA journey.

COLLEGE PARK, GEORGIA - JUNE 23: Haley Jones #13 of the Atlanta Dream dribbles against the New York Liberty during the first half at Gateway Center Arena on June 23, 2023 in College Park, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she tells Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players still competing for Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that a player can find the balance beyond imposter syndrome and a busy schedule to get into a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows players to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford. "Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing." She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

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