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Megan Rapinoe’s final bow: JWS Newsletter 9.25.23

Megan Rapinoe strikes a pose during the second half of her retirement match Sunday against South Africa. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Sometimes it feels like the celebration of a career might take just a little bit longer than 90 minutes.

Saying goodbye — Claire Watkins

01/

Megan Rapinoe’s final bow

Megan Rapinoe took her final bow on the international stage on Sunday, playing her last match for the USWNT in a 2-0 win over South Africa.

  • “It has been such an honor to be able to wear this shirt, to play with all these amazing players and to live out my childhood dream,” she said after the game.

End of an era: Rapinoe leaves the U.S. as a two-time World Cup champion and an Olympic gold and bronze medalist.

  • She also led the charge in the USWNT’s fight for equal pay and stood up for a number of social causes throughout her career.

“We have fought so hard off the field to continue to create more space for ourselves to be who we are, but hopefully I’m turning it into more space for you guys to be who you are,” she said on Sunday.


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(Candice Ward/Getty Images)

02/

A’ja Wilson leads Vegas to semifinal win

The No. 1 seed Aces are off to a strong start, taking down No. 4 Dallas 97-83 in Game 1 of their WNBA semifinal series on Sunday.

  • Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson scored 34 points to lead all scorers, followed by 25 points by teammate Kelsey Plum.

Controlling the game: “I like offense. I like to get on offense, so the only way I can do that is getting the basketball on defense,” Wilson said after the third quarter.

  • Wilson had four total blocks and outscored the Wings by herself in the third quarter, with 14 of the Aces’ 26 points to extend the lead.

The Wings’ chances hinged on points in the paint, an area the Aces focused on limiting in the second half.


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(David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

03/

Liberty play ‘worst game of season’ in loss

The WNBA’s other semifinal matchup resulted in an upset, as No. 3 Connecticut took Game 1 off the No. 2 Liberty in New York 78-63.

  • DeWanna Bonner led all scorers in the low-scoring affair with 20 points.

Battling through: Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello called it the “worst game of the season” for her team, which shot just 34% from the field.

  • WNBA MVP candidate Breanna Stewart was 7-for-25 from the field and 0-for-8 from the 3-point line.

The Sun have now guaranteed themselves two semifinal games at home in Games 3 and 4.

  • On the other side, Sun head coach Stephanie White called the performance “probably the most consistent 40 minutes that we’ve played all year.”
  • Next up on Tuesday: CON vs. NYL, 8 pm ET / DAL vs. LVA, 10 pm ET (ESPN)

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(Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

04/

Mia Fishel’s long-awaited USWNT debut

The USWNT both closed a chapter and had an exciting debut this weekend.

  • New Chelsea signing Mia Fishel made her first appearance with the senior team, subbing into the 2-0 win in the 65th minute.

Long time coming: Fishel was a standout with Tigres in Liga MX Femenil, but was not called into pre-World Cup camps by then-USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski.

  • “It was all positive vibes,” Fishel said. “Twila [Kilgore] was amazing. I feel like this new group has new energy after the World Cup and we’re ready to go.”

The 22-year-old forward replaced Alex Morgan against South Africa on Sunday, slotting into a central attacking role.


05/

Europe’s furious Solheim Cup comeback

Team Europe retained their Solheim Cup crown on Sunday, roaring back from a deficit to tie Team USA 14-14 and earn enough points to hold onto their title.

  • The tie was the first in the history of the biennial event, held 18 times.

The event came to an awkward ending after Team Europe reached the 14-point threshold before the final pairing finished, prompting early celebrations.


06/

U.S. Soccer ‘happy’ with USWNT coach search

U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker gave an update on the USWNT’s coaching search this weekend.

  • “I am really happy with where we are with search,” he told select media in Chicago before Megan Rapinoe’s final USWNT match.

They plan to have the new coach in place by the team’s December friendlies.

  • “There was definitely a sense of — this is no disrespect to the history — but the players want, going forward, a coach that can build, develop, and source outstanding relationships,” he said of player feedback.

07/

WNBA players push back on awards voting

The release of the 2023 WNBA All-Defensive Teams selection set off a chain reaction of comments from players and coaches this week.

  • “Yeah they should let players and coaches vote on these awards,” Courtney Williams wrote on social media. “It’s just different having to scout and play against it night in and night out.”

“Stats are how people largely vote on/explain these awards, and that means steals, blocks, and rebounds. Two of those three immediately skew towards bigs,” wrote Mystics coach Eric Thibault.

  • “Voting for this league is a joke,” Natasha Cloud wrote in a now-deleted post.

08/

Debinha joins the Golden Boot race

The Kansas City Current are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Debinha is quietly making an NWSL Golden Boot case.

  • The Brazilian midfielder has seven goals on the season, tied with Morgan Weaver and Lynn Williams for third.

When NWSL games resume next week, time will tell if anyone can catch Sophia Smith’s tally of 11 goals.

  • The fewest goals needed to win the Golden Boot in NWSL history is 10, by Ashley Hatch in 2021.

09/

Number of the Day

8 — A’ja Wilson is the eighth player in history to win WNBA Defensive Player of the Year more than once, after earning the honor for the second straight year this week.


10/

Quote of the Day

“That’s why I have such peace about moving on, is I look at players like Soph Smith, Naomi, Trin. The squad is in very, very good hands if those are the ones that are holding it moving forward.”

— Megan Rapinoe on the future of the USWNT

Follow Claire Watkins on Twitter and read more of her work for Just Women’s Sports.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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