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Gatorade Athlete of the Year Kiki Rice sets sights on next mission at UCLA

Kiki Rice poses with her trophy after being named the 2022 Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year on Tuesday, July 19, in Los Angeles. (Photo provided by Gatorade)

LOS ANGELES — Kiki Rice has racked up enough individual awards this year to cover the hardwood from baseline to free-throw line.

The incoming UCLA freshman added to her collection Tuesday night when she was named the 2022 Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year, an honor she described as the most meaningful of all her accolades thus far.

Clutching the shiny metal “G” trophy, Rice said she did not expect to win and thanked her parents and coaches. She also thanked Gatorade for an “incredible experience,” during which she and her fellow athletes were treated “like stars” over the past few days.

“Winning Gatorade Athlete of the Year, amongst all the other incredible athletes, it’s an awesome honor,” Rice said. “It’s a testament to the hard work I’ve put in and the forces around me.”

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The Gatorade Athlete of the Year ceremony on Tuesday in Los Angeles. (Photo provided by Gatorade)

The two-sport star made her biggest mark on the court, averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game her senior season for Sidwell Friends School (D.C.) and leading her team to a 30-0 record and a national championship. In March, she was named Just Women’s Sports’ inaugural high school basketball Player of the Year.

Rice was also the D.C. Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year. She credits playing soccer with helping her footwork in basketball and keeping her in shape. Rice said she’s in peak condition by the time basketball season comes around because soccer season is right before, and that requires a lot of running.

“For a few months of the year, focusing a little less on basketball and having some time to be with a new group of people, play under different coaches and enjoy a different sport is really valuable,” Rice said. “I definitely encourage athletes to continue to play multiple sports as long as you can. It shows you don’t need to specialize at such a young age. There are still opportunities there.”

Rice, who moved into her Westwood dorm less than two weeks ago and signed with Wasserman for NIL representation, is interested in sports business but has not yet decided on a major. She’s received plenty of buzz throughout her prep career, gaining more than 35,000 followers on Instagram before even playing a college game.

Off the court, she sees college as “an opportunity to grow in different areas, take interesting classes, meet new people and dabble.” Rice has found the basketball adjustment from high school to be a challenge, adding that she loves to compete.

“What’s not to love about L.A.?” Rice said of her first couple of weeks living in Southern California. “And the campus is super nice.”

As a high school star, Rice had no shortage of college suitors, including Stanford, UConn, Duke and Arizona.

Ultimately, the 18-year-old chose UCLA because she felt the school’s coaches would best be able to help her develop into the professional basketball player she hopes to become. She also cited the strong connections she built with players and coaches on her official visit to Westwood last year.

Rice will now be coached by UCLA’s Cori Close, a former standout point guard herself who averaged 15.4 points and 8.3 assists per game her senior season at UC Santa Barbara.

“Coach Cori does a great job of motivating me, and she holds me accountable,” Rice said. “I’m going to grow a ton under her, so I’m really excited about the next four years.”

When asked about the Bruins’ stacked 2022 recruiting class, before the question was finished, Rice excitedly pointed out that UCLA boasts the No. 1 class in the nation. The group includes two guards, Gabriela Jaquez and Londynn Jones, with whom Rice has already won. She and Jaquez shared co-MVP honors at the 2022 McDonald’s All-American Game, while Rice and Jones won gold for Team USA this summer at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. Rice took home MVP honors, while Jones contributed 15 points. The Bruins have three incoming freshmen ranked by ESPN in the top 25, and post player Christeen Iwuala from Texas gives them four slotted inside the top 50.

According to Rice, the McDonald’s game foreshadowed what lies ahead in Westwood this coming season.

“We have a ton of talent, and the fact that we were both able to shine in a game like that shows there really is a bright future at UCLA,” she said. “Gabs is an incredible player who has a high basketball IQ.”

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(Photo provided by Gatorade)

Rice is pleased with the entire incoming freshman group so far and is most impressed by everyone’s willingness to learn and accept constructive criticism.

“We’re all coming from being the best players on our high school and AAU teams,” she said. “To come in a new environment and still have a ton to learn can be difficult at times, but we’ve done a great job so far. I’m excited for this group because we’re going to be really good.”

Before Rice has played a single game at the collegiate level, her talent is no secret. Stanford star Haley Jones, who met Rice on her official visit to Palo Alto last year, described the incoming freshman as an “amazing player and person.”

“There’s a reason she won the National Player of the Year Award — she does it all,” Jones said with a smile. “I’ll see her in the Pac this year, so that’ll be exciting.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu Wins Meijer LPGA Classic After Injury Return

lpga golfer Lilia Vu
Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament appearance since March. 

The World No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance last weekend. She began the final day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, before surviving a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

"I think this is the most meaningful win," Vu told reporters. "Because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain."

This was Vu's first Meijer LPGA Classic win, and a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. A two-time major champion, she's now two for three in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the "breaking point" in her season.

"Not being able to compete there really killed me," she said. "I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

"And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today."

Vu walked away with $450,000 in prize money from the $3 million overall purse.

Jabeur, Sabalenka Pull Out of Olympics Citing Health Concerns

tennis player Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka will not play in this year's Summer Olympics. (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and World No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

Similarly, Jabeur referenced the health risks that come with a change in playing surfaces. The World No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff

"Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health… It’s too much with the scheduling," Sabalenka told reporters. "It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health."

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played on clay at Roland-Garros. 

"After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season," Jabeur tweeted on Monday. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice."

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu — who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 — said the change in surface was "not worth the risk."

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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