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Jaelin Howell aims to ‘let loose’ with Racing Louisville

Jaelin Howell signed a contract extension with Racing Louisville. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

Every game day morning, Jaelin Howell walks into the Racing Louisville facilities with a cup of coffee. She oscillates between plain black coffee, espresso or a latte with almond milk, but she never uses any flavoring.

“I like to taste the beans,” she tells Just Women’s Sports.

Then, she takes time to journal, putting on her headphones to help her visualize the kind of game she wants to have. She follows her moment of zen with a prayer. And then she heads off to get hyped in the locker room with her teammates.

That series of events provides the perfect combination for Howell: She gets dialed in, then lets loose and has fun. In her first season in the NWSL, which included some growing pains, Howell discovered the importance of a game-day routine. She’s not superstitious. She just knows what works.

And now, after a rookie campaign in which Howell started all 22 of her team’s matches, she will have a chance to perfect her routine off the field and her play on it. The 23-year-old midfielder signed a contract extension Tuesday, adding another year to her original deal and keeping her with Racing Louisville through 2025.

“Racing has treated me super well, and they’ve always invested in me,” she said. “I see a lot of great things in the future of the club.

“I felt really comfortable my first year, and I felt like the staff and the players really embraced me, and I felt like it was a good environment for me to be in for the next couple of years.”

Howell was the second overall pick in the 2022 NWSL draft following a successful college career at Florida State, where she won back-to-back Hermann Trophies and led her squad to two NCAA titles.

In college, Howell became accustomed to success — her Florida State teams went a combined 72-14-12 — but Racing Louisville didn’t see the same kind of results during her rookie season. The club went 5-8-9 on the year and missed out on the playoffs.

Still, Howell believes the team has the right combination of youth and experience, as well as the resources and facilities, to take the next step in 2023.

“Our team got closer throughout the season, and I think we are going to make the right adjustments to come out and have a different season, and get the results we want,” she said.

Racing Louisville has a young roster, and adjusting to life in the NWSL takes time, Howell said. The college season is much shorter and less of a grind.

So Howell learned to prioritize recovery, listening to what her body needed throughout the grueling season. She also had to work on the mental aspects of the game.

“I didn’t realize the expectations I had put on myself, coming off of a national championship and a MAC Hermann,” she said. “I just really wanted to prove myself in the league, and I think, honestly, put a little too much pressure on myself.”

Howell started seeing a sports psychologist. By the middle of the season, she felt more confident on the field. Howell has always been a perfectionist, and seeing a psychologist helped her get out of her own head.

“I want to control everything, and I would get in my head about stuff,” she said. “So a lot of it for me was just letting go, letting loose and just playing. I found myself playing a lot better, a lot more free, and it helped me tremendously.”

With her rejuvenated mental state and the young talent around her, Howell believes good things are coming for both her and her team.

Individually, one of those things could be a more permanent spot on the U.S. women’s national team. Howell has made five appearances for the USWNT since 2020, including three in 2022, but she wasn’t named to the most recent roster for the squad’s two friendly matches in New Zealand.

“Hopefully, we continue to get more and more talent (at Racing), and we can commit and push each other in training environments,” she said. “I think our performance last year didn’t really show the capabilities that we have. I’m excited to see our potential, and I think that, combined with our fantastic facilities and training environment, is going to help me grow.”

Howell is growing and changing, and so is the league. Both for the better, Howell thinks.

The rookie joined the NWSL during a tumultuous time. The Sally Yates report and the NWSL and NWSLPA joint report, both published during Howell’s first year as a pro, uncovered patterns of abuse and misconduct in the league. Racing Louisville was cited in both reports, with former coach Christy Holly at the center of the allegations, though the club was far from the only one implicated.

Howell is glad the issues have come to light, and she is optimistic for a better Racing Louisville and a better NWSL going forward.

“I’m looking forward to the changes being implemented and the future in 2023,” she said. “I think the league and the club are heading in the right direction. I’m excited.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Portland Thorns reassign head coach after winless NWSL start

Head coach Mike Norris of Portland Thorns FC watches practice before a 2023 match against Orlando Pride
Mike Norris' tenure as Thorns head coach has come to an end. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

The Portland Thorns are looking for a new head coach after a winless start to the NWSL season. 

The organization has reassigned head coach Mike Norris to a newly created technical director position. Assistant coach Rob Gale is set to take over as interim head coach while the club conducts a "global search" for its next head coach. 

Norris began his time at the club as an assistant coach before taking the reigns after former head coach Rhian Wilkinson abruptly resigned in 2022. Under Norris, the Thorns finished second in 2023's regular season standings, but suffered three losses in their last five games in a spell that saw them knocked out of the running for the NWSL Shield. They went on to lose their first playoff game in postseason play. 

At the start of the 2024 season, the Thorns went winless through four games for the first time in club history. 

"The results have not gone our way, and in a head coach position, the results do matter," Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc told The Athletic's Meg Linehan shortly after the Tuesday afternoon announcement. “But the results that we have, you can’t just pinpoint it on one position.”

Norris' reassignment marks the first major personnel decision made under the club’s new ownership. RAJ Sports' Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, who also own the NBA's Sacramento Kings, bought the club in January from Merritt Paulson, who sold the Thorns amidst the fallout stemming from reports of misconduct within the NWSL.

Both the Bhathal family and the Thorns front office have been looking to make changes, and establishing a technical director topped the list. According to LeBlanc, Norris has what it takes to assume the position. 

"Where can we grow? Where are the gaps? How do we move forward with being the standard that people are used to with the Thorns?" LeBlanc continued. "One of [Norris’] strengths is to analyze and process, then come down to communicate what needs to happen."

Despite the dismal start, a quick turnaround could certainly be in the cards for Portland. The club currently leads the league in shots and shots on goal, as does star forward and USWNT standout Sophia Smith

"These changes will help us maximize our strengths as we continuously pursue championship-level success," LeBlanc said, voicing full support for the staffing shakeup.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

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