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Interview: Rachel Hill Talks Move to Chicago

First off, how has coronavirus impacted both your life and your training? How have you dealt with all the uncertainty around the delay? 

It has put an interesting twist on preseason. I’m trying my best to have some structure throughout the days. Staying on a good eating schedule, as well as remaining active as much as possible has helped a lot. Maintaining fitness is my biggest focus right now, until we’re able to start training again. The delayed start to the season is obviously unfortunate, but it’s building up my excitement even more for when we do get to start.

Going back to the beginning: you were originally drafted by Portland, then traded to Orlando three days later. What was your mindset like knowing you were about to be playing with stars like Alex Morgan and Marta? 

It started out as a whirlwind. Like, drafted by Portland, yay. And then three days later, nope, nevermind, heading to Orlando. I was really excited to get picked up by any team, but joining a team with players like that was definitely a bit nerve wracking. And I went in late as well cause I finished school first, so everyone else was used to playing with each other and being in Orlando.

I’m pretty shy, so I didn’t really say anything for at least the first couple of days. Just kept to myself, did what I had to do, and listened. But the team was great and very welcoming, making sure I wasn’t too nervous. And as the days went on, I started to have more conversations off the field. Players like Chi [Ubogagu] and Dani [Weatherholt] took me under their wings and made sure I was comfortable with everything. It took me a couple of weeks to adapt to the speed and I definitely had to turn my brain on a bit more. I kinda just got thrown into games and just went from there.

You pretty quickly went from new kid on the block to being one of the team’s leading scorers. What allowed you to make such a big jump?  

So my first trip, I can’t remember the dates exactly, but it was only a couple of weeks after I had gotten there. I didn’t expect to travel with the team, but I did. I didn’t play at all in the first game in Seattle, but then the next couple of games, I saw a couple of minutes. And then maybe a month later, I started my first game against Boston. And that was just surreal. It was amazing to get that opportunity. As time went, I felt like I really fit in with the team and was just able to contribute and develop as a player, especially going from that first year to the next. I wasn’t a consistent starter, but when I did get in, I made the most of my minutes. Scored a few goals. And then the third year I became a consistent starter, which was one of my goals. I feel like just getting minutes and actually getting to play a lot is really what helped me.

A lot of players struggle with the transition from being a star in college to then having to restart the whole journey in some sense of first being a back-up again and then having to slowly work their way onto the field. How’d you handle that mentally? 

Like you said, going from college and being the star to not even starting or maybe not even traveling, it’s definitely tough. And I think that in the back of my mind, I was just never satisfied with the minutes I got or how I played and stuff like that. I mean, you got to the pros, but are you really where you want to be? I just tried to make the most of every minute I got. I continued to work my hardest and slowly build my confidence, even if I was only getting 20 minutes a game. I made the most of it while also never being satisfied with minutes I was given.

You were traded to Chicago in the offseason. What are your thoughts about changing teams? 

I love Orlando, love the sunshine, and I’m definitely going to miss that. The team was always great with us, treated us really well. And you know, everyone could see we had such a star-studded team on paper, but for some reason things just hadn’t really clicked with us there. After being there three years, I was pretty comfortable there and I was really happy. But I think for my personal growth, I needed a change and I needed to try something new and be put in a new environment to try and challenge myself. So in the end, I’m hoping the move will be really good for me in that I am able to grow and have new experiences with different players and a new coach.

What makes you excited about Chicago in particular as the next stop on your journey? 

Chicago’s obviously been really successful in the past, so I just hope that I can help build on that success. Before I was traded, I didn’t know all of them obviously, but just from what I had heard about the girls, it sounded like they were a really great group. Team players, really team-focused and team-driven. And that’s what I love to be a part of. It’s just a team that is really all together and you know, fights for each other and works hard for each other, but also, you know, can have a laugh and is really enjoying what they’re doing.

And then on the field, obviously they’re going to need someone to step in and fill all the goals Sam Kerr scored. Katie Johnson is still there, and then adding Kealia [Ohai] and Makenzy [Doniak] and myself, I think we have the potential to have a pretty lethal front line this year, and I want to do everything I can to be a part of that.

You’re going into your fourth year. How has the league evolved since you joined? 

I think it’s been really great just to see the development from my first year till now. Definitely a lot of steps in the right direction, including the new TV deals and the salary cap being raised. Now we have housing provided for year round. All those things make such a difference, and they really show you just how hard everyone is working in the league to make it better and to improve every step of the way.

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, but what would be your goals on the field for yourself and the team?

Team-wise is to make a run in the playoffs. I think with the success they’ve had, the ultimate goal this year is to win the league. But just game by game, we will have to grow as a new group. And my personal goal is to do everything I can to fit in with that group and get the most goals that I can and just do whatever the team needs me to do. I love to score goals, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to get some goals this year. But overall, I just want to do everything I can, work as hard as I can, to help the team be the best that we can.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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