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Houston Dash search for midfield answers in place of Kristie Mewis

María Sánchez (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Houston Dash head coach James Clarkson was surprised when midfielder Gabby Kessler (formerly Seiler) announced her retirement on Monday.

In a media call Tuesday, as teams opened preseason across the NWSL, Clarkson described the situation as “out of the blue.”

“My head is still spinning to be honest,” he said. “Shocked but can only wish her the best. I hope she’s happy and has a really successful life past soccer.”

The loss of Kessler, who joined the Dash in a trade from the Portland Thorns before the 2021 season, adds to the stinging absence of U.S. women’s national team center midfielder Kristie Mewis. The 30-year-old was selected by San Diego Wave FC in the 2022 expansion draft in December and then immediately traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Evidently, the Dash need to rebuild their midfield, and Clarkson has his hopes set on recent signings María Sánchez and Marisa Viggiano filling that role.

“Bringing in some of the players that we have brought in ideally gives us a different feel, a different look,” he said.

Having previously spent a month with Houston on loan in June 2021, Sánchez signed a two-year deal with the Dash earlier in January. She arrived from UANL Tigres in Liga MX Femenil, where she scored five goals in three games as Tigres reached the Liga MX final in late December.

Sánchez, who’s also scored five goals in 29 appearances with the Mexican national team, will be an important piece on the left side for Houston.

“That is a major signing for us,” said Clarkson. “I think that is going to continue to help us create goals, score goals and give us a real opportunity of winning.”

“I mean, hopefully I can just do my part,” Sánchez said. “Obviously, I was brought in, looked at for a reason. So hopefully I can just do my part offensively. I know defensively as well, but hopefully be able to get some assists and goals in and participate offensively in what the team needs me to do.” 

On Friday, the Dash announced they had acquired Viggiano from the Orlando Pride in exchange for defender Megan Montefusco (formerly Oyster), $30,000 in allocation money and their natural third-round pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft.

Entering her fourth season in the NWSL, Viggiano is coming off 21 appearances and 14 starts with the Pride in 2021.

“We would have been really light at midfield, so getting Viggiano has been massive for us,” said Clarkson.

Finishing in seventh place with a record of 9-10-5, Houston missed out on the playoffs in 2021, a year after they won the 2020 Challenge Cup and placed second in the Fall Series.  The Dash will need to figure out a plan for their defense if they want to return to the playoffs. Last year, the team let in as many goals as they scored — which is a lot considering Houston was among the top-three scoring teams with 31 goals.

Clarkson said the key to reaching success this season is for players to develop individually, and then collectively, to put “a winning, exciting team on the field.”

It also helps to have a core of three 2020 Olympic gold medalists in Canadians Allysha Chapman (defense), Sophie Schmidt (midfield) and Nichelle Prince (forward). England national team star Rachel Daly was third in the league in scoring last year with nine goals, but did not report to the first day of preseason on Tuesday.

Joining Prince and Daly in the attacking third will be Paulina Gramaglia, on loan from UAI Urquiza for the 2022 season.

“She’s got huge potential,” Clarkson said of the 18-year-old. “We saw some moments of some real quality today. She had a fantastic assist and had a great little run where there was a nutmeg and smashed one off the crossbar. So there’s some good stuff there, and hopefully we can continue to evolve it, push it. Hopefully we can see some big things from this year.”

The Dash are relying heavily on transfers this season. The team is in the process of bringing in two more — one who won’t arrive until the summer and another who will ideally be ready to play before that.

Houston aims to have 22 players on the main roster and four development players. 

“We’ve got the vast majority of the roster sorted,” Clarkson said. “We’ve still got some spaces that we plan to fill over the next couple of weeks.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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