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JWS Player of the Year: Julia Blyashov, the ultimate champion

Julia Blyashov led Cathedral Catholic to a 42-0 record, a state title and the No. 1 national ranking. (Photo by Peter Dunsford)

When Cathedral Catholic’s Julia Blyashov steps onto the court, she turns heads. At 6-foot-3, it’s hard to miss her. But during the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division State Championship against Saint Francis on Nov. 19, she wasn’t on the court.

The senior outside hitter and future Stanford freshman suffered an ankle injury in Cathedral Catholic’s semifinal win, forcing her to miss the biggest game of the season. But if Blayshov was feeling cheated or frustrated by the situation, she didn’t show it.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything about that night,” she says.

Blyashov stayed active on the sidelines, offering guidance from her new vantage point as the team rolled to a straight-set victory and handed Saint Francis its first loss of the season.

“Even though I was out, I was still trying to contribute. I was cheering everyone on,” she says. “When I say all these girls are my best friends, they are. Being able to be there, and just being in that environment was awesome. I was so excited during, and especially after.”

Though she didn’t step foot on the court during the state title game, Blyashov made an indelible mark on the team during the season. Cathedral Catholic dropped one set all year on their way to a 42-0 record and the final No. 1 ranking in JWS’ season-long poll. Blayshov led the way from beginning to end, earning 2022 JWS Volleyball Player of the Year honors as a result.

“We got where we were because of Julia … she’d be the one terminating a lot of the plays,” Dons head coach Juliana Conn says. “We need a point, set — Julia.”

Blyashov led the team in kills this year and is often lauded for her powerful swings, but Conn is most impressed with Blyashov’s passing.

“Passing is the hardest skill in volleyball. Throughout the year, her ball control has increased tremendously,” Conn says. “People are going to give the most credit to the kids who are terminating plays. But Julia is more than that. She’s always been more than that.”

Cathedral Catholic had 10 seniors on the team this year, and each of them took on a different role. Blyashov, Conn says, is an approachable leader. Not known for being loud or seeking attention, Blyashov instead instilled confidence in her teammates through her calm demeanor and measured approach to the game.

Blyashov started playing volleyball around the age of 7, after a stint as a rhythmic gymnast. Even when she was young, Blyashov’s height set her apart.

“I realized I was a foot taller than everyone,” Blyashov says. “My parents were like, ‘I think it’s time to find another sport.’”

So they took her — against her wishes — to a volleyball camp. And while she wasn’t excited at first, the moment she felt her hands hit the ball, she knew volleyball was the sport for her.

In the decade since that first camp, Blyashov has amassed a laundry list of accomplishments. In addition to starring on Cathedral Catholic’s indoor and beach volleyball teams and WAVE, a premier club team in California, Blyashov has represented USA Volleyball at the highest youth levels.

In 2021, she won a bronze medal with the U.S. U18 team at the Federation Internationale De Volleyball (FIVB). This year, she went a step further, winning gold at the U19 Pan American Cup and tying for the most kills in the championship match with eight. With the victory, Team USA qualified for the world championships next year in the Netherlands.

“It’s such an honor to be on the team and represent the USA and red, white and blue,” Blyashov says.

With the Dons season over, she’ll turn her attention to WAVE, where Conn is also a coach. The two have known each other for six years now. When that season ends and Blyashov packs her bags to head to Stanford next fall, she jokes that she wouldn’t be surprised if Conn follows behind.

“I’m grateful for everything she’s taught me. She’s tough, but I like tough coaches,” Blyashov says. “I’m expecting her to be there. I love her, not only as a coach but as a person.”

Stanford has always been Blyashov’s dream school. For as long as she can remember, she’s been going to the campus to watch her brother’s water polo tournaments, and she has fond memories of watching two-time National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer win three national championships with the Cardinal.

“I was in love with the campus,” she says. “I just have chills talking about it right now.”

She says she’s looking forward to being challenged by the best teams in the country. With so many of her childhood dreams coming true, Blyashov has her sights set on new ones — a national championship and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’m definitely excited for baby Julia,” Blyashov says.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

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 Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a 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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