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Kelley O’Hara Talks Olympic Prep and Coming Back From Injury

BRAD SMITH / ISI PHOTOS

Kelley O’Hara plays for both Utah Royals FC and the US women’s national team. A two-time World Cup winner, O’Hara is a graduate of Stanford University, where she won the 2009 Hermann Trophy as the best player in the country. Just Women’s Sports caught up with O’Hara to talk about Olympics prep, coming back from injury, and her ill-fated attempt to see if she could walk away from soccer.

The Tokyo Olympics are only months away. How would you describe the team’s mindset?  

I don’t know if the casual fan realizes that the World Cup and the Olympics are always back-to-back summers for women. And no team has ever won a World Cup and then gone on to win an Olympic Gold Medal. In 2015, we won the World Cup, and in 2016 we lost in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in Rio, which is the worst we’ve ever done in a major tournament. So right now the question we’re asking ourselves is, can we do this thing that no one has done before? We want to prove to ourselves that we can.

Given how successful the USWNT has been, do you need that extra bit of motivation in terms of trying to make history? 

We always want to win, no matter the circumstances. This is just the next thing. It’s the next hurdle we want to get over, and it’s a pretty big hurdle. There’s a reason no one has done it before. You have to go from the high of winning a World Cup to starting all over again, knowing you have to make all the mental and physical and social sacrifices a second time. Before this, we wanted to prove that we could win back-to-back World Cups. And we did that, and it was incredible. But now we have to see if we can lock in and accomplish this next goal.

You especially looked sharped in the last World Cup. 

Thank you.

It must be such a confidence thing, right? 

It for sure is, and I knew that going in. In tournaments past, I haven’t been confident, but I knew that it was going to be such a mental battle. I knew that I couldn’t necessarily control all the physical factors, but I could control my mental game. Even when I was rehabbing and conservatively coming back from having a stress reaction, I could still focus on the mental piece. I was like, I can’t be on the field right now, but I’m going to visualize playing in a game. And I did that leading up to the World Cup more than I’ve ever done before. And I think that was a big reason why I was able to feel comfortable and confident, even though my lead-up to the World Cup was the complete opposite of what I had thought it would be.

Can you talk about your experiences coming back from injury? What have they taught you? 

The thing is that I didn’t really have to deal with any serious injuries during my amateur career. I tore my meniscus my senior year of high school, which was the first time I had to get surgery, but I was back on the field in four weeks. Even though it was minor, I completely lost it mentality when I was told I needed surgery. I immediately went to a party in order not to think about it. And then in my professional career I had to have surgery in 2013. This was coming off of graduating in 2010, going to the 2011 World Cup and losing in the final, and then going to the 2012 Olympics and playing every minute of every game and winning a gold model. And then a year to the day after we won, I walked out of the doctor’s office having been told that I needed full ankle reconstruction.

What had you done to your ankle? 

I just had rolled it so many times. And I rolled it really bad at the beginning of that season, and it just got to the point that I was rolling it every single game. It was so unstable, and on top of that, I had loose bodies in there. So every time I would go to kick, or pass, or plant, or cut — each time my ankle had pressure on it, there was something inside my ankle that was just rubbing it the wrong way. And it was through-the-roof painful. Actually getting through that injury ended up being one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

How long was that recovery?

Surgery was in August, and I probably didn’t feel 100% until the next August, but I was back on the field by January of the next year. It was a lot. I had never had to go through something like that. It’s something that’s stuck with me, because now every time I do get injured, I have this hindsight to fall back on. I know I can’t come back too soon, that I have to take my time and do things the right way. I’ve had to deal with a handful of injuries since then, and it’s never easy. It’s a total mental and emotional hurdle.

What made that recovery especially difficult? 

It’s the questions you ask yourself. It’s like, am I going to be back to where I was before? Am I going to be good enough? And it made me question if I even really wanted to continue to play soccer. It made me re-evaluate how I looked at my career, how I looked at myself as a person. I was like, you know, I could just be a normal person, work out on the weekends.

You were going to work out just on the weekends? 

Well, I mean, you know. Whenever I could. [Laughs.] After they told me I needed surgery, I went for a jog in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I wanted to prove to myself that I could just work out leisurely, and that wasn’t the case. I had to do a little soul-searching and ask myself what I wanted to get out of this whole journey. And I realized I wasn’t done, and that I still had aspirations I wanted to chase.

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BRAD SMITH/ISI PHOTOS

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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