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Interview: Rachel Garcia

CHIBA, JAPAN – AUGUST 03: Rachel Garcia #21 of United States pitches against Mexico during the Preliminary Round match at Akitsu Stadium on day two of the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship on August 3, 2018 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Rachel Garcia is a pitcher and infielder for Team USA. In 2019, playing for UCLA, Garcia was named the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, NFCA National Pitcher of the Year, and was both the Pac-12 Player and Pitcher of the Year. A First Team All-American, she led the Bruins to a College World Series championship, where she was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player after going 5-0 in the circle with a 1.75 ERA (and hitting a walk-off, three-run homer to send the Bruins to the Championship Series). After being named to Team USA, Garcia decided to redshirt this season in order to focus on preparing for the Olympics. 

I wanted to start with last year’s national championship, UCLA’s first in nine years. How was that team’s mentality different than in years before?  

The fall started out really rough for us. It’s always a struggle trying to find who you are as a team and identifying your core values. You have to get the freshman acclimated to the program. And we had lost Kylee Perez to graduation. She was our glue, our leader, our veteran, and we needed someone to step into that role. Things didn’t really begin to click till the season started, and it really took a group effort. We also started seeing a sports psychiatrist as a team, which really helped us. He was just super instrumental in guiding us through the process, and though we talked with him as a team, we could also individually see him off to the side if we wanted. Eventually, we were able to come together with a unified mindset, and we started playing for something that was bigger than ourselves. It was special, and you could definitely feel the “BruWin Magic.”

You hit a walk-off, extra-inning home run against Washington to put your team into the finals. Do you remember what was going through your mind then? 

You know, I honestly thought I was going to do it at the bat before. But when I did hit the walk-off, and I was running around the bases, all I could think about was my grandpa. I had lost him at the beginning of the season. I felt his presence there with me as I rounded the bases.

I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I can imagine that was quite a powerful moment against Washington. What’s it been like watching UCLA from afar this season? 

It’s exciting. And then also sometimes I miss it. But I am able to cheer them on. I recently went to watch the team play against Texas, and I was amazed at how the younger girls have stepped up to take on bigger roles since me and Bubba left. And I think it’s just going to be an exciting season for the Bruins. They have such a loaded hitting lineup, it’s going to be tough for other teams.

What were your thoughts when you heard that you made the Olympic roster?

The first person I actually contacted was Bubba Nickles, my former UCLA teammate, as she also made the team. That process was very emotional, because it’s something that you dream of when you’re a little girl, and then to think that softball was taken out of the Olympics for so long, there’s a missing generation that never got to experience this journey. So I just feel very honored and very humbled to be a part of it all.

Once you made the Olympic roster, did you already know you were going to take time off from UCLA? 

I didn’t know I would take time off. I tried to keep an open mind, and I weighed the pros and cons of sitting out a year. But when I made the initial roster, I was already enrolled in about three classes, and I had already missed the first two weeks of school. So I was so behind on everything. I decided to drop two classes and just be a part-time student for the fall. And then I just was like, you know, this is too much. I was playing too much catch up. So that was when I decided to defer this year of eligibility in order to focus on training with Team USA.

Is your plan to return to UCLA and the team next year after the Olympics? 

The plan is to definitely go back and finish school, but for now my plan is to focus on what’s in front of me. And the priority is to represent my country and win the gold medal.

Team USA just played in a couple of tournaments in preparation for the Olympics. How did that go?

It was fun. It was definitely a grind in the beginning, but once they kinda got going, things kind of slowed down a little bit and kind of got into the rhythm. And I got to play against some of my old teammates. But it’s been a journey.

What has the dynamic been like on the team given the mix of older players, younger players, players still in college? 

I think the best part about our team is that that age doesn’t really matter. I mean, you’re getting the opportunity to play at that next level so everyone is all in. It’s a great opportunity for the younger girls getting to experience it for the first time and for the older girls getting the opportunity to experience this again. Sharing that all together is pretty cool for everyone.

How would you define your personal role on the team? 

For me, it’s about being prepared to go in at any moment. It’s a lot different than in college, where things are a little bit more planned out. But with this team, it’s just a different mentality. The pace is a lot quicker.

Okay, last question, and it’s a big one: what does softball mean to you and how has it inspired your life? 

Softball has provided so much for me in my life. I mean, I never thought I’d be getting a full ride to UCLA. When I was younger, it was always a dream school for me, since they were the first collegiate softball game I ever saw. So the sport has provided me with a scholarship and an incredible college degree. It’s allowed me to play internationally and represent my country. And now it’s giving me the opportunity to play at the Olympics.

So I feel very fortunate, and I know it’s now time for me to start giving back to the sport. Whenever I get an opportunity, I go out to the local fields in my hometown to watch games or give lessons or help out with practice. Anything I can do to give back, especially since I come from such a small town, where it’s very rare to see athletes come out and be successful.

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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