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How Kentucky Won Their First-Ever Volleyball Championship

@KentuckyVB

Kentucky Volleyball won their first-ever National Championship Saturday, bringing to conclusion a season unlike any other. While they say history isn’t made easily, the Wildcats certainly made it look like that at key moments Saturday night, as they beat the Texas Longhorns 3-1 in Omaha.

Here’s how the action unfolded.

No. 2 Kentucky battled in the first set, but No. 4 Texas jumped out to an early lead. At the highest level of the sport, the serve and pass battle is what matters most, and Texas was passing dimes. The combination of Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields proved lethal for the Longhorns, and when Jhenna Gabriel had the ball in her hands close to the net, Kentucky had to respect the efficiency of each hitter on the floor.

The Wildcats had their opportunities. Kentucky setter Madison Lilley, the AVCA National Player of the Year, often had the ball in her hands, but Kentucky couldn’t find the floor. Texas continued to ride their early momentum to a 14-10 before eventually taking the first set 25-20. Kentucky seemed to be playing with some nerves, as they only hit .216 in the opening set with seven errors — their worst numbers of the season.

This game was always going to be played on the pins. Eggleston (the Big 12 Player of the Year) and Alli Stumler (First Team All American and Kentucky’s kill leader) were going to carry a huge load for their respective teams in this match. And whichever team could hold the other player in check was going to have a good chance of winning the championship. 

Kentucky came out swinging fearlessly in set two. The dynamic pin play of Stumler and the Skinner sisters proved to be too much for the Texas defense, as Kentucky found a new level from the service line and forced Texas to play one-option volleyball. This helped Azanhi Tealer, as she got an early read on the block and could disrupt Eggleston and Fields. Kentucky dominated the set from start to finish, with an ace from Stumler sealing it, 25-18.

In set three, I expected both teams to find their go-to pin players. Lilley has said in interviews that she’s not afraid to ride the hot hand of her team as the match goes in waves. That player has been Stumler all year, and she continued to deliver on Saturday.

Tied at 13-13, this set was closer than the previous two until Kentucky made a run. Texas brought it within one at 22-23 but missed a crucial serve to give Kentucky game point. Kentucky won the set on yet another Madi Skinner kill.

Set four, and with a national championship on the line, Texas came out firing. Off to a 6-1 lead, past sets would have indicated a strong start would lead to a set win. Kentucky was facing the largest deficit they had seen all tournament, but the Wildcats clawed their way to a 14-13 lead, their first advantage of the set. 

The teams swapped sideout points and Kentucky battled to keep Eggleston in check. A crucial Avery Skinner kill put Kentucky at 21-19, and the Wildcats rolled from there. A service ace gave Kentucky room to breathe, and in the most fitting ending, Ali Stumler’s 26th kill of the match sealed Kentucky’s fate and won the NCAA championship, both the program’s and the SEC’s first.

Congratulations immediately began flowing in from various Kentucky luminaries: 

While students burned couches in the streets of Lexington: 

In the end, it only seemed fitting that a year like no other should end with history being made in the championship game.

Congrats, Wildcats!

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 


She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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