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Hilary Knight embraces Team USA’s golden opportunity in Beijing

Hilary Knight hasn’t given much thought to whether the Beijing Games will be her last. The only player on Team USA making her fourth Olympic appearance, Knight, 32, takes the ice with the same childlike excitement as she did 12 years ago, for her first Olympics in Vancouver.

Only when she feels like she’s no longer making an impact on the team will she hang up the skates, Knight explained in a phone conversation the night before departing for Beijing. And based on the way she has been playing so far, that point seems far away.

Through four games at the 2022 Olympics, Knight is tied for second on the team with five points. She contributed three goals and two assists as the U.S. went 3-1 in group play to enter the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed. The Americans will face Czechia on Friday (Thursday, 11:10 p.m. ET) for a spot in the semifinals and their fourth straight gold-medal game, likely setting up a chance for redemption against rival Canada, who beat them 4-2 on Tuesday.

For Knight, who was a part of the U.S. team that took down Canada in PyeongChang four years ago, the opportunity is golden.

Knight spoke with Just Women’s Sports ahead of the Olympics about preparations for Beijing, the rising parity in women’s hockey and what’s next in her illustrious hockey career.

Since the last three games of the Rivalry Series were canceled, you spent over a month practicing instead of getting final tune-ups in. What was that like?

Oh boy, the ups-and-downs of the COVID world. I think what people don’t necessarily understand and what sort of strikes the fear in athletes is if you catch COVID, you essentially can’t compete in the Olympic Games. It’s been really hard to try and keep safe, especially in a normal population that doesn’t necessarily understand what you’re going through and you don’t have enough time to explain it to a stranger while you’re wearing a mask outside. But outside of that, it’s been unique and interesting and a lot of fun at the same time. I think what’s exciting about our group is our uncanny ability to address and adapt all the time. I think it’s really become a strength of ours.

What did that look like, trying to weather the COVID precautions while practicing and staying ready?

Getting creative for training. With scrimmages, we sort of had to trail off doing those just because of the potential risk of contracting COVID. What’s so great about our team sport is you go through these challenges with one another, and I have 22 other family members to navigate it with. But at the same time, if one of those family members goes down for the count, it affects us tremendously as we look to compete in probably the most competitive Olympics for hockey yet.

These are your fourth Olympics. Thinking back on those first three, do you feel like you have a different perspective of these Games?

Not necessarily. I think what’s cool for me is I have experience. That’s obviously special and I don’t want to minimize that in any way, because to make it to four is extremely hard and remarkable in its own right. And yes, it’s my success, but there are others who equally share in that with all the sacrifices they’ve made, and all my partners who helped get me here. So I understand that, but at the same time, each Olympic Games is so different and that’s what’s exciting. In many ways, you still feel like it’s your first time and I think you have to have that childlike mentality of being excited because it’s so unique and so special and so extraordinary. That’s what I feel, the beauty in being able to experience that not once, not twice, not three, but four times now.

I don’t think you could have asked for a more extraordinary Olympic experience than the last one in 2018. When you came back from PyeongChang as gold medalists, I’m sure it was a whirlwind. How long did you let yourself celebrate before refocusing on the next thing and looking ahead to Beijing?

I think at least a few months. Like, I stopped skating for a little bit just to give my hips a break. But it was interesting. For me, that Olympic residency period leading up to the actual Olympics was extremely challenging and taxing, mentally and emotionally. So I needed to kind of recharge those batteries. But it’s such a special group, so it’s hard not to get up and to get ready for this group. I didn’t really want to miss a beat or take too much time off because I definitely wanted to join the squad and earn a spot again.

You finally got over the hump in 2018, winning Team USA’s first gold since 1998. Is there anything you learned from that experience that you’re applying to these Olympics?

Not really. It’s funny because I get a lot of questions about defending a gold. It’s like, that was four years ago. It feels like a lifetime. And that was a different team and this is a different team now, and we still have to go through a tournament. We don’t get a pass until the final. I think people kind of forget about that. It’s like, well this is a completely new squad and we have a great squad. I’m really excited to put ourselves in a position and have an opportunity to compete in that final.

You lost some mainstays from 2018, like the Lamoureux twins and Meghan Duggan, but you returned 15 Olympians and then you have some new newcomers. How would you describe this group overall?

We’ve always had a really great mixture of players. I think what’s important for us and part of our culture is realizing it doesn’t matter if it’s your 99th Olympics or your first — when that opportunity comes, you just be you and do your thing. Like, you’re here for a reason. Embracing that and making sure everybody feels empowered to go out there and perform at her best is something that we stress and something that we hold in high importance.

You mentioned that this is probably going to be the most competitive Olympics yet, and to repeat as gold medalists, you’ll likely have to go through Canada, your biggest rivals. How are you viewing that team in 2022?

It’s one of those rivalries where it’s just so beautiful. It’s one of the most competitive rivalries in sports, and we could play 365 days of the year, and it would still be that special. I think it’s a tribute to the level of respect we have for one another, whether we like to admit it or not. We’re going to bring our best game. I think that’s what makes those games so Disney-like in a way. You get these crazy momentum shifts in a game and all of these talented players just gutting it out, and it really makes for some great hockey that always goes down — I feel like — in the history books.

Do you feel like this Canada team has changed since 2018? Obviously they have some different players.

Yeah, they have different players, like we have different players. They’re a good team. But it’s funny, I don’t even really need to look at their roster. I just know that they’re going to be good, and they feel similarly about us. It’s just one of those things that we’re both going to be really strong, and what’s really unique and cool about the sport right now is that it’s so competitive and the level of skill and talent that’s coming up in the next generation is incredible. What’s really exciting to see are those young women showcasing their abilities and taking their game to the next level.

What other teams have you had your eye on in the years in between the PyeongChang and Beijing Games?

You can tell who’s been putting money and resources into their program. It’s by no mistake that Finland was in a world championship final in 2019. They’re a great team. Russia’s another great team. The Swiss are good. You really can’t underestimate any team. Japan’s great, too. We want to win, but when you take a step back, it’s encouraging to see hockey at this level.

Entering such a competitive Games, do you have any advice for the first-timers on the team about how to approach it and the right mindset to have?

Honestly, it’s just have fun. I think the moment sometimes can really eat people up because it’s the Olympics and here’s all this extra pressure, there’s media, there’s all this stuff. You feel like the entire world’s watching, which they are, but you can never lose sight of why you signed up and what makes you great. Just trying to emphasize that as we go through the tournament.

I know you’re focusing on the present, but have you given any thought to whether this might be your last Olympics?

Not really. I’ve been fortunate enough to just have two feet in this experience and really embrace that in the day to day. But my brothers were joking around — they’re like, “Well, we can’t go to Beijing, so can you do another four?” I’m like, “Yeah, hold on, let me just sign up for another four.”

I mean, I think my biggest thing is, one, I have to love it. And I know that sounds silly because obviously there’s hard work that’s involved, but you can’t do this for this long if you don’t love it. It’s not easy. And then, two is to be able to contribute to this team. I’m never fond of seeing players kind of hold on just to hold on. I really want to have an impact on this team. And if I can check enough boxes, then yeah, I’m still game. I’m still going.

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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