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Interview: Haylie Mccleney

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 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).

Team USA qualified for the Olympics by reaching the gold medal game of the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in 2018. What was it like to try and play for a championship after hearing the news? 

We only knew about an hour before warmups that we had qualified due to Japan beating Canada. It was crazy. Individually, we were dealing with all kinds of emotions, like, Oh my God, each of us now has a real shot at playing in the Olympics because we’re on this roster already. The only spot that had been secured was for Team USA as a whole, but each of us has to try out every year to earn a place on the team. So naturally when the team qualified, everyone is thinking about what they have to do to keep their spot. But then we had to immediately lock in and say, let’s go win a gold medal. We ended up doing it. We walked off in Japan, against Japan, in extra innings, which is pretty insane.

Do you remember what was going through your head when you found out you’d made the Olympic roster? 

I just realized how worth it the journey had been. I started playing for Team USA when I was a sophomore in college, and honestly, I just saw it then as more of an opportunity to play some extra games. At the time, college softball was everything. It was all anyone watched, and no one was really concerned with the national team because softball wasn’t in the Olympics. And then in 2016, which was my senior year in college, it was voted back into the Olympics. Suddenly people started paying attention. The team started to evolve. And having the opportunity, personally, to evolve with the team has been really special. To go from playing for nothing other than the opportunity to wear USA across your chest, to now having the opportunity to compete for a medal, to potentially end up on a podium with a gold medal around your neck, listening to the national anthem… It’s amazing. And it was only when the final roster was announced that I felt the full shock of like, I’m actually going to the Olympics.

What are you most looking forward to at the Olympics?

You know, most Olympic athletes know well ahead of time that their sport is going to be in the games, so they know they have a shot at competing. We had no idea until 2016. And we still don’t really know what our careers look like after 2020, because it’s not guaranteed that softball will still be in the subsequent summer games. Not a lot of teams have had the journey we’ve had, so we’re just doing everything possible to make this year count, because we don’t know if this opportunity is ever going to come again.

What does your current training schedule look like at the moment?

We’re traveling all across the country on our Olympic tour, playing in different cities against colleges and other teams. Honestly, my life has been a whirlwind since October, and it’s going to continue to be that way until late July when we head to Tokyo. And I’m totally okay with that. I’m living my best life right now. I’m playing softball for a living, I don’t have to have another job, which is unlike anything I’ve experienced in the past. I’ve always either had school or had another full time job. This is the first time in my life where I actually feel like a professional athlete, which is super cool.

What’s the team dynamic been like given the range of ages? 

I think the age difference between the oldest and the youngest is honestly really beneficial for us. We have so many different perspectives, which are great to have, especially in high pressure games. We’re playing NCAA teams on this tour, and there’s pressure to do really well as the Olympic team. There’s 78 games, and we’re supposed to win all of them. That’s a lot of stress to carry with you day after day, which is why I think having the perspective of older players, like Cat [Osterman] and Monica [Abbott], comes into play. They’ve been through this before and they know when we need to step back and remember that this is about the process and the big picture.

At the same time, sometimes you have a tense situation where, instead of panicking, everyone just needs to play free and loose like little kids again. And that’s where the younger players’ perspectives, like Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles, come in — they’re always smiling and just happy to be there. Honestly, they probably had no clue a few years ago that they would be on the Olympic roster, so they’re full of gratitude and just genuinely happy. That helps our dynamic a lot.

How would you describe the international competition? 

The closest thing I would compare it to is like the Women’s College World Series on steroids. These women are on a whole different level. I mean, they’re in their late twenties, early thirties, in the peak of their athletic prime. And the way they approach the game mentally is just on a completely different level than what you see in college. We only have six teams in our Olympic bracket, so we don’t have to worry about preparing for every single country. But these six teams have really good athletes, so we aren’t taking the competition lightly. Australia is historically a very good international program. Italy has really good pitching and they’re really scrappy at the plate. Canada is always a team that we compete with. Japan is very disciplined and they’re going to be playing in their home country. It’s going to be a battle, but we’re going to be ready for it, and I like our odds.

Transitioning to your life off the field, I know your fiance also plays softball. What’s it like being able to share that with her? 

I wouldn’t have met Kylee if it wasn’t for softball. We played on the same travel ball team when we met. I was 17. And we talked to each other for about a year and got really close, and then we started dating my freshman year of college. So we’ve been together for a little over six years now. And we are planning on getting married after the Olympics. But it’s not just my relationship with Kylee that I have to thank softball for. Almost all of the relationships I have in my life center either around the game of softball or sports in general. The coolest part about softball is not only all the cool places I have been able to travel to, but also all the cool people I’ve been able to meet. What is crazy about it is that at the root of the game, it’s a sport of failure. If I’m batting .400, that means I’m failing six out of ten times. But you can still be an All-American with that number.

Last question: is there a particular moment in your life where you were able to get over a hump because of the lessons you’ve learned as an athlete? 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from playing this game for so long is to just keep moving forward. Two years ago, I was hired for my first full time job at Florida A&M as a strength and conditioning coach, and I was immediately thrown into the fire. I was in charge of running all the strength and conditioning programs for eight teams at FAMU with only four weight racks. But even though I was in way over my head, I was able to react to the pressure and chaos because of what I’d learned playing softball. I wouldn’t have nearly as much perseverance, grit, or selflessness if it wasn’t for the sport. Every day at FAMU, I woke up at four am to get to work at six, and then woke up the next day to do it all over again. And I did that for almost two years. Now, when I look back, I know that it was the best situation I could have been in after graduating, because it helped me grow as a coach and a person. It was another reminder that I’m not sure who I would be without the sport of softball. It means everything to me, and I want to play as long as I can and as long as my body will let me. I can’t let it go.

Seattle Reign Stars Barnes, Fishlock Back New USL W League Team

usl w league ballard vice president tiffany mallick holding an official usl w ball
Joining May 2025, Seattle’s USL W team will be the sixth in the league’s Northwest division. (Ballard FC/YouTube)

On Tuesday, 25 Seattle-based sports and business professionals announced their investment in a new USL W League team operated by popular semi-pro USL League Two men’s side Ballard FC.

Headlined by Lauren Barnes (Seattle Reign), Jess Fishlock (Seattle Reign), Olivia Van der Jagt (Seattle Reign), and Sam Hiatt (Gotham FC), alongside Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Glider and Jen Barnes, owner of the women's sports-focused Rough & Tumble Pub, the yet-to-be-named Ballard squad will enter the pre-professional league next May.

Current Ballard FC president Sam Zisette will oversee both the men’s and women’s clubs, while vice president and seasoned athletic trainer Tiffany Mallick will shift her focus on the women's team.

"Our goal is to create better opportunities for young women to develop their skills on and off the field," said Reign captain Lauren Barnes in a team press release. "The path to professional soccer didn’t exist on the same scale while I was growing up, and I’m thrilled to be part of changing that for future players."

"Introducing a USL W League team to Ballard is a monumental step in advancing our organization and soccer community," added Zisette. "Ballard is a special place with an immense sense of pride, passionate spirit, and love for soccer. We can’t wait to see the community embrace this new team!"

Tampa Bay United Soccer Club
Launched in 2022, the USL W League now fields 80 teams across four conferences. (USL W League)

What is the USL?

The United Soccer League (USL), which organizes multiple US leagues across all divisions, has recently upped its commitment to the women's game.

In addition to the developmental USL W League — which started in 2022 and now fields 80 teams across four conferences plus three 2025 expansion teams, including Ballard — USL is set to launch the fully professional USL Super League next month.

With eight inaugural clubs (and plans to expand to 20 teams by 2026), the USL Super League will join the NWSL as the only other Division 1 women’s league in the country. But unlike the NWSL, the USL Super League will mirror the European schedule, operating from fall through spring with its official kickoff slated for August 17th.

As with USL W Ballard, the Super League also has some star power behind it. In May, WNBA All-Star rookie Angel Reese joined the ownership group of Washington's forthcoming DC Power FC.

USL W League finalists South Georgia Tormenta FC v Minnesota Aurora FC
The 2024 USL W League's semifinals kick off on Saturday, July 13th. (Jeremy Olson/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

USL W League gears up for postseason action

But before the USL Super League takes the pitch, their pre-professional counterparts will finish up their 2024 postseason run.

On Saturday, the USL W's four conference champions will square off in the league semifinals on Saturday, July 13th, with NC Courage U23 hosting Tennessee SC and the Colorado Storm facing Detroit City FC in Michigan. Winners from those two matches will then battle it out at the USL W League final on July 20th.

All USL W postseason action can be streamed live on SportsEngine Play.

Wilson, Clark Put Up Record-Breaking Numbers in Midweek WNBA Action

WNBA Las Vegas Aces A'ja Wilson blocks Nneka Ogwumike of the Seattle Storm
Las Vegas's A'ja Wilson added to her lengthy stat sheet on Wednesday. (Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images)

Around the WNBA, big-name players A'ja Wilson, Kahleah Copper, Caitlin Clark, and Angel Reese made good use of Wednesday's jam-packed five-game schedule, kicking off a pre-All-Star Weekend campaign that promises not to disappoint.

Aces' A'ja Wilson racks up a perfect 20/20

Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson was the star of the show yesterday, throwing down epic numbers in one of her most successful performances so far this season

Wilson registered a 24-point, 20-rebound double-double in the Aces’ 84-79 win over Seattle, marking the six-time All-Star's first-ever 20/20 game.

Storm guard Jewell Loyd’s 28 points led the game, but between Wilson’s numbers and fellow Ace Jackie Young’s 27 points, Vegas managed to leapfrog fifth-place Seattle to secure a fourth-place spot in the WNBA standings.

WNBA star Kahleah Copper of the Phoenix Mercury drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings
With 32 points, Mercury standout Kahleah Copper led the WNBA in scoring Wednesday. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Top-ranked WNBA teams keep scoring

At the top of the table, the Liberty beat the Sun 71-68 to oust Connecticut from the pair's previous tie for first in the standings. 

2024 WNBA All-Star DeWanna Bonner’s 22 points led the Sun, while Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu sank 21 points alongside Breanna Stewart’s 18-point, 14-rebound double-double to extend New York's record to 18-4 on the season.

And in Phoenix, the Mercury dominated the last-place Wings 100-84 behind Kahleah Copper’s 32 points — the most drained by any player that day. Yet despite double-doubles from both Teaira McCowan and Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas fell to 5-18 on the season with the loss.

WNBA Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark shoots in a game against the Washington Mystics
WNBA rookie phenom Caitlin Clark dropped 29 points for Indiana on Wednesday. (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rookies Clark, Reese, and Cardoso put up numbers

Fever star Caitlin Clark owned Indiana's stat sheet yesterday with 29 points and 13 assists, becoming the first player in WNBA or NBA history to drop 25+ points, five rebounds, 10+ assists, five steals, and three blocks in a single game.

Clark's effort wasn't enough to hold off the otherwise struggling Mystics, however, who stunned the Fever 89-84 behind a monster 26 points from Ariel Atkins

Chicago's rookies joined forces to lift the Sky over the Dream 78-69, as Kamilla Cardoso added her own double-double to teammate Angel Reese’s record-extending 14th

This season, Reese and Cardoso have combined to average just under 20 rebounds per game so far this season. If that metric holds, they’ll make WNBA history with the highest average for any duo in a single season.

A 2024 WNBA All-Star banner hangs outside the Footprint Center
Only 15 regular season games remain before WNBA All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What happens next for WNBA teams

With All-Star Weekend tipping off one week from today, only 15 regular season games remain before the WNBA's scheduled Olympic break.

Whether they currently sit in first or last place, all 12 teams will want to hit the ground running when play resumes on August 15th.

NBA 2K25 to Feature WNBA All-Star A’ja Wilson on Cover

NBA 2K25 WNBA Edition Cover starring A'ja Wilson
Five-time WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson will feature on both the NBA 2K25 WNBA and the dual-league NBA 2K25 All-Star Edition covers. (NBA 2K25)

Today, NBA 2K25 announced back-to-back WNBA Champion, two-time WNBA MVP, and six-time WNBA All-Star A’ja Wilson as its latest cover athlete.

Las Vegas's newly minted all-time leading scorer, Wilson will grace the cover of the GameStop exclusive NBA 2K25 WNBA Edition. She will also be featured on the dual-league All-Star Edition alongside 2024 NBA Champion Jayson Tatum.

"Being featured on the NBA 2K25 cover is a big moment for me and a testament to the ever-growing fandom of the WNBA," said A’ja Wilson in Wednesday's press release. "Seeing more and more WNBA athletes scanned into NBA 2K25 to best capture the style and confidence of the league has been empowering, and I can't wait for fans to experience it in-game."

Wilson has had a standout season so far. The back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year not only topped the Aces' all-time scoring list, but also leads the league in points per game with an average of 27 and sits second in average rebounds per game with 10.9. In May, she announced a signature shoe deal with Nike, and later this month, she'll be heading to Paris as a part of Team USA's 12-player Olympic 5×5 roster. It will be the 27-year-old's second time competing in the Summer Games.

"In a year that showcases competition at the highest level — and in a play style that is uniquely one’s own, we’re thrilled to share Jayson, A’ja, and Vince as the NBA 2K25 cover athletes" said Greg Thomas, president at 2K studio Visual Concepts. "The development team has delivered another innovative experience for basketball lovers, setting up NBA 2K25 to be the next icon in this long-standing dynasty."

nba 2k25 wnba cover star a'ja wilson
"Seeing more and more WNBA athletes scanned into NBA 2K25 to best capture the style and confidence of the league has been empowering," said Wilson. (NBA 2K25)

The New-Gen version of the video game is available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Powered by enhanced ProPLAYTM technology, the release delivers the franchise’s most true-to-life basketball experience yet, offering players the ultimate control in how they dominate the competition in modes such as MyNBA, The W, and in The City.

According to the press release, the WNBA Edition will be available for $69.99 while the All-Star Edition will run $99.99. NBA 2K25 will be available on September 6th on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

NWSL Awards Race Heats Up Ahead of Olympic Break

Temwa Chawinga of the Kansas City Current runs with the ball in an NWSL game with the Portland Thorns
With 12 goals, Kansas City's Temwa Chawinga tops this year's NWSL Golden Boot race. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

As the NWSL heads into the Olympic break, it's time to take stock of the players currently in contention for individual accolades by season's end.

Only 10 regular season games remain after the league's August 23rd return, despite this season being four games longer than last year's campaign.

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda in action during a NWSL match against Seattle Reign
Orlando's Barbra Banda is a strong NWSL Golden Boot award contender. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL Golden Boot award comes down to two

The league's Golden Boot frontrunners are well known, with Orlando's Barbra Banda and KC's Temwa Chawinga leading the pack.

At the moment, Chawinga has a slight edge on Banda even though both forwards are tied at 12 goals apiece: Chawinga has registered six assists to Banda's five, giving her the award's first tiebreaker. Banda, however, has racked up her goals in just 12 games, while Chawinga's tally has come over 16 games.

With 10 matches to go, Banda and Chawinga could be on pace to break former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr's 18-goal single-season record.

NWSL Washington Spirit's Croix Bethune celebrates her stoppage-time equalizer against San Diego Wave FC
Washington's Croix Bethune is in the running for both the Rookie of the Year and NWSL MVP awards (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL MVP award is still anyone's game

While Banda and Chawinga are certainly shoo-ins for this year's MVP conversation, a few other players also deserve some attention.

Rookie of the Year favorite Coix Bethune leads the league in assists with a staggering nine while sitting tied for seventh in goals scored with five. 

USWNT stars Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith should also be considered, as Rodman's passing and finishing continue to stand out while Smith's performance has resulted in 10 goals and six assists on the season.

NWSL goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger of NJ/NY Gotham FC stops the ball during a game against Bay FC
Late Gotham addition Ann-Katrin Berger might just snag the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award. (Karen Hickey/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Plenty of NWSL competition for defensive awards

Orlando and Gotham have the stoutest defenses in the league this year, with both Defender and Goalkeeper of the Year candidates in the mix.

Orlando defender Emily Sams has proven her versatility, playing outside back after entering the league as a center-back while also being called into her first USWNT camp.

Recently signed Gotham goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger might be behind in games played, but she's been statistically solid ever since joining the 2023 NWSL champions.

And don't count out two-time reigning Defender of the Year Naomi Girma, who has been consistently excellent even as San Diego's season has wavered.

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