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For San Diego’s Kelsey Turnbow, the wait to turn pro was worth it

Kelsey Turnbow (Courtesy of San Diego Wave FC)

Most of the NWSL community has been waiting for the start of the 2022 season since the Washington Spirit walked away with the 2021 trophy on Nov. 20. For San Diego Wave FC forward Kelsey Turnbow, the countdown began last January when the Chicago Red Stars selected her No. 18 overall in the 2021 college draft.

Instead of playing for the Red Stars last year, Turnbow opted to return to Santa Clara for the spring 2021 season, rescheduled from 2020, and stay with the team last fall for her final NCAA season.

Toward the very end of that season, Turnbow learned she wouldn’t suit up for the Red Stars after all. The day before her last game with the Broncos, a shootout loss to BYU in the College Cup semifinals, Chicago traded her rights to San Diego, along with those of Katie Johnson and Makenzy Doniak, in exchange for immunity in the 2022 expansion draft and allocation money.

At that point, Turnbow was ready. The 23-year-old had two goals she wanted to reach before turning pro: earn her MBA and win a national championship. By the end of her college career, she had both. And for good measure, she finished the 2021 fall season as a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, First Team All-West Region honoree, All-WCC for the fifth time and a First Team All-American.

“It just felt right for me to stay another year,” the former Broncos captain told Just Women’s Sports. “I am a goal-setter and I like to challenge myself and I felt like I hadn’t done what I came there to do yet,  that was really motivating. … I just felt like I wanted to be a part of something special for as long as I could, and that year gave me that.”

Santa Clara won the 2020 NCAA title in a shootout against No. 1 Florida State last May, thanks Turnbow’s equalizer in the final seven minutes of regulation that sent the match to overtime. The attacker also converted her penalty kick to seal the upset victory.

“To win a national championship with my best friends, I will never forget that moment and I will always cherish the friendships I’ve made with those girls,” she said. “Those are my friends for life.”

The thought of capping her college career on the high note of a national championship was tempting, but with an MBA to complete and surrounded by friends she’d become even closer to after the title-winning season, Turnbow made the natural decision to stay for the fall.

The lessons she picked up during her last year at Santa Clara have served her in well in her first NWSL training camp. With San Diego, Turnbow has focused on contributing to a strong team culture, checking in on her teammates and picking them up when they’re down.

“Literally my teammates are my family and I’ve always considered them as such,” she said. “So however I can contribute to make this environment a winning culture and a really healthy environment for people to grow, I want to do that.”

In their first month and a half as a team, the Wave have created a culture built on authenticity, transparency and vulnerability, values that resonate deeply with Turnbow.

“It’s an environment where I feel like I can be myself and I can thrive and they expect so much out of me,” she said. “I love goal-setting and I like challenging myself, and I feel like this is a place where I can do that and I can really grow and be my best self both on and off the field.”

A naturally social person, Turnbow lived in a house with 13 teammates for one year at Santa Clara. So far with the Wave, she has found her relationships to be fulfilling.

Turnbow and roommate Naomi Girma, the Wave’s first overall pick in the 2022 college draft, live in the same apartment building as other San Diego teammates. They spend much of their downtime sitting by the pool of the complex or relaxing at the beach. Turnbow has enjoyed her conversations with the coaches and veterans about both soccer and life experiences.

“I just feel like they hand-picked such a great group of people and I could not be more blessed to have this experience because the people matter,” Turnbow said. “You can be somewhere so cool in the world, but if you’re not with the right people, it’s not going to be as memorable. And I just feel so grateful that the people here are awesome. It’s really contributing to my growth here.”

The team-building efforts have made preseason pass by in a flash, as Turnbow described it, but they’ve also set the Wave up to come out strong in their Challenge Cup opener Saturday against Angel City FC.

“I’ve just been thinking about this game — like, it’s my very first professional game — for so long,” she said. “To finally be here, it’s so surreal, it’s exciting, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking in all the best ways. But I feel blessed to be in this position, to where I have the opportunity to play with so many incredible players. To just step on the pitch as a professional for the first time, it’s going to be really special day.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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