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Interview: Kristen Hamilton

JEREMY REPER/ISI PHOTOS

Kristen Hamilton plays as a forward for both the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL and the Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia’s W-League. Prior to helping the Courage win their second NWSL title in a row last season, Hamilton was called into the USWNT, where she recorded her first national team cap against Portugal in September.

The NWSL is entering it’s 8th season. You’ve been in the league for five years. What’s changed since you joined? 

The league has made leaps and bounds since I’ve been involved. I tore my ACL right out of college, so 2015 was technically my first full year in the league, and oh my gosh, the minimum salary was like $6,000, which is absolutely insane. The minimum this year is up to $20,000, so even just in terms of money, it’s gotten much better. We now have year-round housing. We have better medical training staff. Just all around, it’s a more professional organization. This is actually something that people can do for a living now. Before, it was almost like you had to pay to be a professional athlete.

Your own career has been on an incredible upward trajectory. Can you talk about what it was like mentally to grind for so long without seeing much of the field?  

Mentally, it was exhausting. In this league, you’re always fighting to earn your spot, because everybody’s the best of the best. If it’s not something you’re passionate about, if it’s not something you love and you’re truly willing to fight for, I don’t think it’s for you. This was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around when I first got into the league. I realized I just had to fight and be patient. I had to learn to be a different type of role player on the team. If I’m not scoring all the goals, I have to find another way to help us win. No matter the number of minutes I’m playing, I need to be the best teammate I can possibly be. I tell rookies this all the time, but you have to understand that everyone in this league was the best player on their college team. That’s why they’re here. They probably played every minute of their college career. Not everyone is going to get to do that at the next level, at least not right away.

Did you ever think about walking away? 

There were definitely times I wanted to quit. And there was a time when I wanted Paul to trade me, because, to be fair, our team is stacked. Our forwards are unbelievable. And Jessica and Lynn we’re playing so well together, I knew that it was going to be hard to take them off the field. They were just that good. It’s hard when you have coaches telling you that you could get more minutes on another team, and you’re like, do I really want to leave this environment? Because Paul and all of us really have built something special in North Carolina. I feel like I’m still getting better every day, whether I’m playing 90 minutes or zero. And I think that’s very, very rare and very unique. The fact that people still want to stay on the same team, even though they’re not playing, is a testament to Paul and a testament to all the girls on the team just making everyone feel welcome. But yeah, I wanted to be traded, and now I’m very happy that I wasn’t.

I’m playing in Australia for the first time right now, and I love it, but I definitely miss the environment in North Carolina. I’m playing every minute here, but that on its own hasn’t made me necessarily happier. It’s been a good wake up call for me, because it’s helped me realize how important the people are and the culture is. There’s so much more that goes into it than just playing a 90 minute game. I’ve been blessed to come down here and have a great time and also have this learning experience. It’s a hard gig, but I’m grateful to be playing.

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JEREMY OLSON/ISI PHOTOS
You were called into the national team after this last season. What was that experience like? 

Honestly, I kind of thought that opportunity had passed. I thought that was just something that was never going to come to fruition. In my head I was just kinda like, Oh well, I’m going to continue to play because I love it, and I’ll play as long as I can because who wants to go sit at a desk and work a job when you could be out on the field doing this? But then I got an opportunity to join the team for the World Cup victory tour, and it was amazing. I had zero international experience. I was never with the youth national team. My route was very unconventional, but it worked out. It made me realize the dream isn’t dead. And it’s something that, once you get a little taste of it, it just kind of makes you want more.

Your partner, Abby Erceg, is also on the Courage. What’s it like to compete day in and day out with someone that you’re also in a relationship with?  

To be honest, it’s really good that we play different positions. Because even though we go against each other, it’s not a competitive thing where, if she started then I wouldn’t. It isn’t a positional battle, which would suck. We’re always having fun on the field, but we’re super competitive with each other. There’s a lot of banter, especially if I score on her. And if she beats me in a sprint, it’s because I wasn’t warm. Obviously, she’s starting every game because she’s a badass — I’m not biased or anything. And it’s so cool just go see somebody you love, somebody you care about, go out on the field and just be so successful. And there’s something very real about being in this together, about getting to see somebody on a daily basis live out their passions. Most people don’t get to see their partners at work. But we each get to see each other at our most authentic moments, doing what we love.

Is it hard to turn it on and off, in terms of stepping onto the field and being teammates, and then stepping off and being in a relationship?  

We’re pretty good about that stuff. It’s easy to stay focused on the field because your mind is so preoccupied. It’s not like I’m sitting there as we’re competing, thinking, you know, I’m in a relationship with her. She’s just another teammate in those moments. It’s very professional. It’s very much, when we’re at work, it’s work. We understand that and everyone else on the team knows that. And then after work, you go home and things are normal. Things might get heated at training, but you learn to leave it on the field.

The NWSL season is just around the corner. What’s your mindset like right now as you and the Courage get ready to defend your title? 

Personally, I’m just looking forward to another year of challenges and continuing to grow. I think that’s something that Pau has done really well, is instill in us that you’ve never reached your peak potential. You can always grow, you can always improve. Last season was definitely my best as a pro, so I just want to build on that. I think everyone on the team is excited to get back into the environment we’ve built. It feels like a home. It feels like family. I can’t wait to get back in that locker room and see everyone. I don’t mind missing a bit of the pre-season right now though. Paul usually kicks our ass.

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.

Other former players 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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