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Iowa, LSU set for national title game rematch

LSU's Angel Reese points at her ring finger behind Iowa's Caitlin Clark in celebration of the Tigers' NCAA championship win. (Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

It's the game we've all been waiting for: a rematch of last year’s national championship game between Caitlin Clark and Iowa vs Angel Reese and LSU.

The Elite Eight match-up between the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds in the Albany region could be the most-watched non-Final Four game of all time. According to LSU coach Kim Mulkey, it'd be better if it was happening later in the tournament.

“We talk about growing the game,” Mulkey said. “Didn’t that national championship game have the highest ratings ever in women’s basketball? You’re probably going to anticipate this one will, too, but it needs to be at the Final Four.”

Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese is just one of the major storylines.

“You’ve got two very talented players that have brought a lot of attention to our sport,” Mulkey said. “They both trash talk. They both make their teammates better. They both have their teammates’ back. They have both elevated our game to where we have people watching that never watched women’s basketball before.”

Despite the fierce competition, there’s plenty of respect on both sides. 

“I want to compete at the highest level, and right now Caitlin is the highest level,” LSU sophomore Flau’Jae Johnson said of the Iowa star. “So if I can defend her, try to contain her and get the win, we’ll be fine.”

During last year's championship game, much was made of a late-game gesture when Reese taunted Clark on the way to LSU's win. The on-court rivalry resumes tonight, even as both Clark and Reese have insisted that off the court, it's all respect between the two. They’ve known each other since AAU, when Clark played for Iowa Attack and Reese for Team Takeover. They also faced off in the Big Ten when Reese played at Maryland.

“I don't think people realize it's not personal,” Reese said. “Me and Caitlin Clark don't hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It's just a super competitive game.”

“Me and Angel have always been great competitors,” Clark said for her part. “[But] It's not just us in women's basketball."

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder called both “dynamic players.”

“They're both emotional. They're both passionate about the game,” Bluder said. “They're highly competitive. They're both excellent at their craft. I think it's just naturally going to happen that you talk about the two of them a lot.”

Of course, there’s others that will need to step up in order for one team to have an edge over the other. Players like Iowa’s Hannah Stuelke and LSU’s Aneesah Morrow will need to factor heavily. 

“I really like Hannah’s game,” Reese said of Stuelke. “She’s a strong post player. She’s more versatile than [former Iowa player Monika] Czinano, so I know I’m going to have to guard her much higher than I had to guard Czinano last year.”

“I just think they shoot the 3-ball; they rebound so well,” Bluder said of LSU. “You’ve got five people averaging in double figures. That’s really hard to guard when you have that kind of balance.”

The two teams face off tonight at 7:15pm ET on ESPN.

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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