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Interview: Sophia Smith

JOSE ARGUETA/ISI PHOTOS

Sophia Smith made history when she was selected No. 1 in the 2020 NWSL Draft by Portland Thorns FC. She is the first teenager to be ever be selected in the NWSL Draft. Smith left Stanford University with two years of eligibility remaining after leading the Cardinal to the 2019 NCAA Championship, where she was named the College Cup’s Most Outstanding Player.

FIRST OFF, CONGRATULATIONS. WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN YOUR NAME WAS CALLED ON DRAFT DAY?

There were a lot of emotions going through my head. It was kind of surreal, and I was both excited and nervous. It was an amazing moment, and to have my parents there was awesome. Honestly, what I was thinking about most was that I was just nervous about the speech I had to give. After that, everything kind of hit me.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER LEAVING SCHOOL EARLY FOR THE DRAFT?

It’s something I’ve thought about for a while. It’s been an option since I got to Stanford, and it just became more realistic toward the end of this season.

WHAT MADE THIS MOMENT THE RIGHT TIME FOR YOU TO TRANSITION TO THE PRO GAME? DID WINNING A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HELP SEAL THAT DECISION?

It obviously helped coming off the season that we had. But in terms of timing, I just felt like I was ready. Not just physically, not just in terms of my skills with the game, but also emotionally and socially. I had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities, which made me believe that I could fit into a professional environment now. It’s a decision I thought a lot about, and I had a lot of conversations with my parents and the people close to me. It’s going to be a very different lifestyle than here at school, and I’ll miss my friends, but I feel like I’m ready. I know it’ll be hard, but I’m really excited for it. It’s ultimately about getting better and doing anything I can to be the best soccer player that I can be, and I think being around older, more experienced women playing soccer will be very beneficial. Being in a professional environment and being integrated with professional players will help me get a lot better a lot quicker.

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(BRAD SMITH/ISI PHOTOS)
HOW MUCH DID PORTLAND HAVING THE NUMBER ONE PICK PLAY INTO YOUR DECISION? DID YOU TALK TO MANY TEAMS BEFORE THE DRAFT?

There were discussions here and there with numerous different people, but it was ultimately me just following my heart. I don’t think it was as much about what team I was going to. Obviously, it’s awesome that it happened to be Portland, and I’m really excited to be a part of that organization. But I think regardless of the team, it was still the best decision for me. How it all comes together, and how it’s determined who gets what pick, is beyond me. I didn’t have a say in any of that, so I’m just really excited and feel lucky that it happened to be Portland. But regardless of the team, it was just something I was ready to do.

LAST YEAR, YOU BROKE YOUR LEG EARLY IN THE SEASON. THIS YEAR, YOU SCORE A HAT TRICK IN THE SEMIFINAL, WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, AND GET DRAFTED NO. 1. CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT THAT JOURNEY HAS BEEN LIKE?

Breaking my leg was obviously not ideal. That was the first major injury that I’ve had, and, emotionally, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It didn’t help that I was a freshman, and it was my first year at college. But I had a lot of people close to me who helped me get through it. And the resources here at Stanford in terms of rehab, and the doctors, and the people who did my surgery — the recovery really couldn’t have gone any better than it did. The biggest thing was just trying to stay positive through it, rather than letting it defeat me. It wasn’t an easy path back, and there were a lot of days when I was in pain, but I did a good job of staying positive and doing what I needed to do to get back. The biggest motivation was that I missed playing so much, and going to every practice and watching my teammates play just made me want to get back as soon as possible.

But then this season started, and I was a little bit frustrated, because I didn’t feel like I was 100% myself. I had thought that once my ankle and my leg felt good everything else would just fall into place. But that’s not how it goes. And it took a lot of games to get everything back together and feel normal again. Honestly, I don’t think I felt completely like myself until the Final Four. I didn’t expect it would take that long. It was hard, but I learned a lot from it about not taking things for granted.

I IMAGINE IT WAS FRUSTRATING TO NOT FEEL LIKE YOURSELF UNTIL THE END OF THE SEASON. HOW DID YOU REMAIN SO POSITIVE?

The biggest thing was just knowing what I was capable of. I know that a lot of times you can come back from an injury and just not be able to do the same things that you could do before. But I believed in myself. One thing that my dad always says is don’t let anyone take your confidence away. After a game where you don’t play well, it’s easy to lose confidence. Even the people around you might lose confidence in you. But the biggest thing for me was just to remain confident in myself and my abilities. I had to keep that with me, regardless of what happened on any given day.

WHAT’S YOUR MINDSET HEADING TO PORTLAND?

I’m really excited. I’ve had a lot of good conversations with Mark [Parsons, Thorns Coach] about the team and about where he sees me fitting in. I’m really excited for his plans, and I think the team has a lot of potential to be even better than they have been in the past. There’s a lot of really good players on that team who I look up to, and I’m really excited to play and train with them everyday. I think it’s going to be really good.

ANYONE IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU’RE REALLY PUMPED TO PLAY WITH?

Oh yeah. Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair. But I also think there’s a lot of good players on that team who don’t get as much attention because of those big name players, and I’m really looking forward to playing with all of them.

YOU PLAYED AGAINST MORGAN WEAVER WHEN SHE WAS AT WASHINGTON STATE. NOW SHE’S HEADING TO PORTLAND AS WELL AFTER BEING DRAFTED NO. 2. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT PLAYING WITH HER?

I know her a little bit from a few camps, but I’m really excited to play with her. She’s a really good player. She works really hard and has a good understanding of the game. I like her a lot. She also seems like a really nice, fun person and friend, so I’m excited that we’re both going to be in Portland together.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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