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Kelley O’Hara brings NWSL trophy home in first season with Spirit

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – NOVEMBER 20: Kelley O’Hara #5 of Washington Spirit celebrates after scoring during extra time against Chicago Red Stars during the NWSL Championship held at Lynn Family Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Chicago fans everywhere were hoping for a two-trophy summer after the city’s WNBA team won their first-ever championship earlier in October. With the Red Stars battling in the NWSL championship less than a month later, it was looking like the Windy City might become the temporary center of the women’s sports world.

But the Washington Spirit had other plans. After Candace Parker went home to Chicago to lead the Sky to the title, it was Washington’s Kelley O’Hara who did the same thing Saturday, bringing a title to her adopted hometown of D.C. in her first season with the Spirit.

Not only that, she even scored the winning goal, heading home the game-winner in extra time to propel the Spirit to a 2-1 win.

O’Hara, who grew up in Georgia and attended Stanford University, moved to Washington, D.C. while playing for the Utah Royals (now the Kansas City Current) in order to be with her partner. The nation’s capital has since become the city she calls “home.”

“Since moving here, I’ve loved every second of it,” O’Hara said in December. “I love the city. Love the energy it brings. Love what it has to offer.”

If the 33-year-old didn’t appreciate the city as much as she did, she says she never would made the move from the Royals to the Spirit — a trade that happened in December 2020 in which Utah received $75,000 in allocation money and a first-round draft pick if O’Hara played in half the Spirit’s games in 2021 (she played 17 of 24 during the regular season).

Almost a year later, after a season in which her leadership played a major role in her young team’s success, O’Hara’s headed home the golden goal in the 97th minute to win Washington their first-ever NWSL title.

The perfectly placed assist came from Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman, who created numerous scoring chances for Washington throughout the second half of the game.

The 19-year-old would normally be dribbling further towards the goal, but the Red Stars had covered behind in those 1-v-1 situations. Instead, she looked for the cross.

“I saw runners near post were marked and I saw Kelly popping off the back, so she got her head on it. That recognition was amazing and her getting there was insane,” Rodman said after the game.

Sitting beside her at the podium, O’Hara laughed. Scoring goals isn’t something the right fullback does very often. This one, in fact, was her first of the season.

Usually, the script is flipped, with O’Hara sending the ball into the box and Rodman getting the final touch on it. But it’s hardly a surprise that O’Hara buried the difficult goal. At Stanford, she won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the best player in the country while playing forward — scoring 26 goals with 13 assists her senior year. Professionally and for the USWNT, she spends a large chunk of her time contributing to the attack by making deep runs up the wing.

Outside of her play, O’Hara’s unmatched energy has brought a winning mentality that the young Spirit team needed this year, especially after they forfeited two games late in the season due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

“That fired up Kelley O’Hara in a way that I’ve not seen before,” acting Spirit coach Kris Ward said after the team’s semifinal win over OL Reign. “Her entire mentality from that point was like, ‘All right’ — how do I phrase this politely? ‘Forget you guys. We’re going and we’re going to win anyways.’”

Through O’Hara’s first season with Washington, Ward has repeatedly praised her leadership with the team, her competitiveness on the field and her ability to motivate teammates to persevere through the off-field turmoil, which included former coach Richie Burke being dismissed for verbal abuse, the aforemention COVID outbreak, and an ongoing ownership struggle between Steve Baldwin and Michele Kang.

The Spirit had the NWSL’s youngest team this year, making O’Hara’s veteran leadership crucial. Despite the club’s behind-the-scenes mayhem, the Spirit went undefeated since mid-August outside their two forfeits.

Much of the credit for that went to O’Hara’s infectious “never-say-die” mentality, even if she deflects credit elsewhere.

“I don’t think it was just me. I think it was the whole group,” she said after the championship. “I think it was our ability to persevere, to be like, ‘This is what’s happened.’ We can’t change what the league chose to do, how [the outbreak] was handled, which a lot of it seems suspect in some areas, but there’s nothing we can do. You can’t control that…

“We’ve been in playoff mode since the end the September and we controlled what we could control and that was winning. And here we are.”

As a two-time FIFA World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist with the USWNT, O’Hara provided championship experience to a group of young players who have the potential to follow in her footsteps, with Rodman in particular seeming like a lock to be a future USWNT star.

“We do have a very young team, which is awesome. And they’re really good and really excited by the win and put on amazing performances,” said O’Hara. “I think it’s just the beginning for this club.”

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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