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Interview: Jenavee Peres

Jenavee Peres plays catcher and utility for UCLA. An All-American at San Diego State, Peres transferred to UCLA after taking 18 months off from softball to give birth to her son, Levi. Below, she discusses being a new mother while smashing home runs for the No. 1 team in the country.

Tell us a little about your son. I’ve seen pictures, and he’s absolutely adorable. 

My son’s name is Levi and he is 19 months old. He’s just starting to talk. He said his first two-syllable word a week or two ago when he was watching one of our games while I was in Florida. He was with my mom and my family, and I guess the announcers were talking about me on TV as I went up to bat, and they said “she looks so happy,” so Levi said “happy.”

That’s amazing. Ok, I wanted to start out by asking you a little bit about your career at San Diego State, where you both broke a lot of records and were an All-American. What stands out about your time there? 

I feel like it was just kind of like any regular experience in college. I made a lot of friends and connections, and was just trying to enjoy each day because I knew that eventually it would come to an end like all athletic careers do. Of course, I didn’t expect it to end the way it initially did, but I’ve come to terms with that. I loved my teammates, and we still keep in touch. My coaches were just amazing, especially after I told them I was pregnant. They tried everything to see if I could come back for my fifth year before we ended up deciding that it was just a little too far away from home. But it was really cool to be a part of the foundation there and help build the program up. Even though we only made it to regionals once, I feel like that program is on its way to competing in the College World Series. Unfortunately, I won’t be a part of that, but I’ll always know that I helped lay the foundation. They’re still an up and coming team, and I don’t think anybody should sleep on them.

What were your initial thoughts when you found out you were pregnant? 

Initially I was just terrified. It took my boyfriend and I completely by surprise. I had gotten pretty sick but I just thought it was stress. And then I went to the doctors one day because it just felt like I was on my deathbed, I felt terrible. They had me do a urine test and they took some blood samples. And then they came back and said, “you’re pregnant.” This was in 2017, when I was a senior at SDSU. I was three months pregnant when I found out, which I just couldn’t believe.

You finished school and graduated while you were still pregnant. After Levi was born, when did you start thinking about returning to school and playing softball? 

While I was still pregnant I was actually thinking about going to Long beach State for grad school and then playing my last year there just because it was a lot closer to home in LA. It’s maybe a 20 minute drive from my house, which I knew would make raising Levi a lot easier. But eventually I decided, you know what, I just don’t think I can fully dedicate myself to being both a softball player and a grad student and a mom. Just being a mom felt overwhelming at the time, so I talked to the Long Beach coach and said, thank you so much for the offer, but I don’t think I can do this, which she totally understood. And at that point, I just kind of just came to terms with feeling like that part of my life was over. I was ready to just focus on being a mom. I’d come to terms with the fact that my transition to adulthood had been a lot quicker than most other student athletes.

What changed between that time and when you got the call from UCLA? 

Well, I got my first adult job, which I actually still work when I have a few hours to spare. My boss is totally accepting of my schedule and is really inspired by my story. I’m a security dispatcher at the Irvine Spectrum. And before UCLA reached out, I had just gotten into my routine. I felt like I was really living my big girl life. I was like, it’s time to step away from softball and just get my career set up. I was still giving lessons at the time, so softball was fresh in my mind. I hadn’t given it up entirely, but it was definitely just a hobby at that point.

So then you got the call from UCLA to join the team. How did that happen, and what was your reaction? 

I remember seeing a call from a random number, and I usually don’t answer random numbers, but for some reason I just felt like I should answer this call. And then she’s like, hi, it’s Lisa Fernandez. And my heart just about fell out of my rear end. It was insane.

So you recognized the name right away?

Every softball player knows the name. I definitely fangirled for a second, and then I was like, wow, she’s calling me — wait, why is Lisa Fernandez calling me? And she’s just like, here’s the low down. We need a catcher and someone who can hit… are you interested? Initially, I was just like, how the heck am I going to make this work? First, I had to get into the school. Then I would have to figure out babysitting and commuting. There were so many things that had to fall into place, and fortunately they did. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if it wasn’t for my support system at home, my family, my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s family. I’m beyond grateful for all of them.

 

How have your teammates and coaches at UCLA supported you through the entire process? 

They’ve just supported me in every single way they can. Our program’s mantra is family, school, softball. As far as priority wise, my teammates and coaches just constantly remind me that if there’s something that I need to do with Levi or just something that’s going on at home that I need to focus on, then I am more than welcome to handle it because my family is my main priority. And my teammates just always ask me like, Hey, how are you doing? They’re constantly checking in on me, making sure I’m okay, because they are very aware that I have a lot on my plate. They also just love Levi, but he’s very picky with who he likes to talk to. My teammates are funny, they all still try to get on his good side.

What did it mean to have your son in the stands during your first home series? 

It was just surreal. I remember going to the bookstore to buy him UCLA gear beforehand thinking that he would need to look pretty fly, because we were for sure going to be taking a lot of pictures that day. It meant way more than the world to me to have him there for my first home game as a Bruin, seeing him wave at me from right above the dugout. I know he’s too young to remember it when he’s older, but that’s a memory that will be in my brain for the rest of my life. I can’t describe how full it made my heart feel. He kept waving at me, and even started crying because he wanted to come see me out in the field.

We’ve now seen a few amazing athletes, like yourself, like Serena, return to their sport after giving birth. There’s a stigma surrounding new mothers as athletes, as people always wonder whether they’ll be able to return to form. How have you handled that, personally? 

There’s definitely a stigma around being an athlete and having a baby, and everything just going downhill from there. I think we need to break that stigma and show that having a baby is not the end of your life, your athletic career, or you as a person. I want to be an advocate to show other moms, or really anybody facing adversity, that if you change your mindset anything is possible. It’s definitely hard, and there are moments when being a mother and an athlete kicks your butt. But just being more confident has made me happier as a person at home. It gives me energy, which helps me take better care of myself. And ultimately, being the best version of myself makes me a better mother.

I know you’re still working as a dispatcher, but has this year given you any new ideas about your future? 

Honestly, I’m just trying to live in the moment now because I know what it feels like for a career to come to an end. It’s so rare for anybody to come out of retirement and play for the best team in the country with the best players, the best coaches, the best facilities, the best public school, the best everything. So I’m just trying to make sure that I appreciate every single minute of it because I know what it feels like to be without it.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

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 has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

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. 

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,” Manning 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 Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

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 coming out of high school. 

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.

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

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