All Scores

Interview: WPLL CEO Michele Dejuliis

JESSE PETERS / BACKLIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

The WPLL is the first and only women’s professional lacrosse league. Founded in 2018, the league is presently made up of four teams. Beyond growing the game and providing professional opportunities for players who have graduated from college, the WPLL also hopes to provide legitimacy for the sport as it pushes to be included in future Olympics. 

Michele DeJuliis is the CEO and founder of the league. A US National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, DeJuliis was a four-time All-American at Penn State who went on to help the US women’s national lacrosse team win gold at the 2009 Lacrosse World Cup. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the challenges of sustaining a young league, the impact of coronavirus, and how the WPLL’s developmental program is training and mentoring the next generation of national team players. 

Could you first walk us through your own professional background and how you got involved in lacrosse?

I’m from Baltimore, which is a hotbed for lacrosse. I played at Penn State, and after I graduated I was teaching for a year in Baltimore. But then my life took a little bit of a turn, and I ended up working for the Baltimore City police department. I did SWAT team work and some undercover drug work. During that time, I was still playing on the US lacrosse team and was still very connected to the sport. I even started a club team while I was doing police work. Then a position at Princeton opened up, and I went there and coached for eight years. I left in 2012 because my wife and I decided to have kids, but I continued to run my lacrosse club, and then I started an events business with my current business partner, Becky Wells. And then three years ago I started the WPLL. So now I’m running all of those things, which keeps me busy, and I have young kids who keep me active.

What have been the biggest hurdles in creating and sustaining the WPLL?

Right now, it’s just not high dollars, so that makes it difficult. We had to do some restructuring this year that, at the leadership level of the organization, we felt was necessary to sustain a successful league. But at the end of the day, we need sponsors and investors to step up and be consistent. One way that we have managed to be somewhat self sustainable is through the “futures” side of our league.

Can you talk about what that is?

We select and invite the top players from 12 regions of the country to a three day summit and clinic coached by our pros. At the summit, we incorporate both leadership and competence training, and we get these young women connected to the WPLL program and our athletes. It’s a mentoring opportunity. The young fans love lacrosse and they want to get to the next level. They now get the opportunity to be in front of the pros that they look up to. I think it’s really important to make that connection.

Is athlete mentorship a big part of the overall mission of the WPLL? 

It is a major part of the mission, there’s no doubt about that. That is something that I am really passionate about, and I think that we have been successful in that mission so far. This is also the second year of our partnership with US Lacrosse. For younger athletes to get on the US track, you have to come through the WPLL Futures program, which, like I said, focuses on both on-field performance and leadership development. We evaluate and recommend players to the US coaches, and that is how most of the kids get invited to the US training camps in August.

You mentioned the recent restructuring. The Fire have been dropped as a team, and travel rosters have been cut. What was the thought process behind these specific changes?

Preliminary sports are tough in general, and I think for our sport, we wanted to make sure that we could maintain a league that stays competitive and increases visibility. We’re trying to grow the game and create an opportunity to get this sport to the Olympic level. Doing all that costs a lot of money, and we knew we had to make some changes to make sure our players were happy and that we could still follow through on our mission. Dropping a team automatically saves money just because of the fact that you’re not playing the extra games. And then we also adjusted the travel roster from 19 to 15. Over the past two season, we found that when there were 19 women on a roster, not all of them were playing, and we wanted to make sure that our GMs and our coaches were being really thoughtful about who they selected for their travel roster on any given weekend.

Are ticket sales a selling point for investors and sponsors? 

One of the reasons why I wanted to create the Futures program as a way to make money is because I didn’t think we were going to make it as a league just selling tickets. Is the game growing at a fast pace? For sure. I mean, it was unbelievable how many people came to the Final Four this past year. But that type of event happens once a year. And so, on average, unless you have 20,000 people at a game, you’re not going to get the credit that we would love to get on a daily basis. It’s just not going to happen right now, at least until this sport becomes even more visible.

In terms of sponsors, there’s not a ton of money being invested in women’s lacrosse. The ones that are out there usually just dump money into the men’s game, and on the women’s side, it seems like kind of an afterthought now. I think there are some companies that don’t want to admit that, but I’ve seen it. Until somebody steps up and says, no, we care about this sport and making sure that we have equal opportunities, it just doesn’t seem like a priority for a lot of companies to budget money for the women’s game. I think we struggle there, because even when we are having conversations with potential sponsors, the typical answer is that they just don’t have that money, or, yes, we can support you but can we do it with a quit date? We’ve had a lot of conversations, but not cash, and cash is what we need to help us grow.

If you don’t mind me asking, who is the main investor in the WPLL? Did you go through rounds of funding, how did that work?

I’ve been the main investor, but we do have one investor that is on the league side. We’ve also had some generous donations to our foundation and have had decent support from sponsportships, like ESPN. It’s getting better this year.

Do the WPLL players get paid?

Yes, they do. They get paid per game. And their travel expenses are covered. But they’re definitely not playing for the money. Probably 45% of our women are college coaches. Some of them are on the US national team or another international team. They play because they just love the sport and they’re not ready to hang it up just yet. And they’re talented enough to be in the league. So they’re definitely doing it for the passion and to pave the way for the younger generation. And that’s what our mission is all about. It is easier to get them to buy in when they know what we’re trying to do.

Have there been any talks of collaboration with the PLL, which has had tremendous success after just one season? 

I have had a lot of conversations with Paul and Mike Rabil, the PLL co-founders, and they are highly interested in us remaining partners. And we do feel like at some point we’ll probably all come together. I think that they’ve done a tremendous job. They also have a social media team of close to 20 people, and we have about 2, so there’s just a big difference in where we are at compared to them. They’ve got media play, and they’re doing what they need to do. They’re getting the brand out there, and people are recognizing that they have a lot of followers. We’re trying to build that same base with fewer resources. And I think we’ve been able to do a lot with a little. But in terms of collaborating and partnering with their league in some capacity, that is something we want to continue to do and plan to do for the 2020 season.

At the end of the day, it’s just nice to know that there are other people in the sport of lacrosse that are trying to do what we are doing at the startup level. We’ve got a lot of the same goals, but on our end, we need to show more growth before we can make more serious partnership moves with the PLL.

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.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.