All Scores

Liz Cambage, Sparks keep it light entering season with high expectations

(Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

TORRANCE, Calif. — With a mischievous grin on her face, new Los Angeles Sparks point guard Chennedy Carter pulled up a chair among the media and prepared to mess with her teammates Te’a Cooper and Arella Guirantes.

Called on to ask a question, Carter got down to business.

“How you doin’? My name is Hollywood, Hollywood Carter,” Carter introduced herself with the straightest face she could muster. “What are you guys looking most forward to about this season?”

The question was a softball, but it wasn’t meant to be hard-hitting. Carter was having fun, and her lightheartedness was contagious, eliciting laughter from Cooper and Guirantes. And when Carter took her place at the podium in the following Q&A session, Cooper razzed her back.

Coming off a disappointing 12-20 season, in which they missed the playoffs for just the third time in the past 22 seasons and the first time since 2011, the Sparks could understandably feel extra pressure. The expectations are even higher this season after the team landed superstar Liz Cambage from the Las Vegas Aces in free agency and added Carter, Katie Lou Samuelson and Jordin Canada to the mix. Four of the team’s players — Nneka Ogwumike, Cambage, Kristie Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike — have combined for 15 WNBA All-Star Game selections. The roster has won a total of six WNBA championships and features two first overall draft picks, two second overall selections and seven players taken in the top four spots of their respective drafts. The Sparks, too, boast six combined career All-Defensive First Team selections.

And yet, despite all the talent and accompanying expectations, the vibe among players and head coach/general manager Derek Fisher at media day on Wednesday was light. The Sparks know what’s at stake this summer, but they’re taking a levelheaded approach.

“It’s time for us to show more so than talk and tell,” Fisher said. “We hear noise from the outside, we’ll continue to hear more of it, but we’re really just going to focus on who we are and becoming the best version of ourselves. We believe that with this group, if we can get anywhere close to the potential that the group holds, the results will take care of themselves.”

Fisher emphasized patience when it comes to reacting to the results of a team dependent on several newcomers.

“It’s not easy to just put 12 players together and just go out there and win every night at the professional level or at any level,” said Fisher, who played 18 seasons in the NBA before moving into coaching and taking over the Sparks job in 2019.

“We have to be realistic about some of the time that it will take to find the rhythm and the timing for how we can create success with this version of our team. With all that said, we expect a lot from ourselves. We have to be open to being so fully present in each moment that we’re not holding ourselves to some arbitrary expectation. It’s really about what we’re doing right now to get better … If it takes us a little bit more time, so be it.”

Through the first two weeks of training camp, the Sparks have tried to keep things loose, influenced in part by two new goofballs on the team, Carter and Cambage. Cooper, a third-year guard, has known Carter since their days rooming together at Team USA trials.

“She just played the whole time,” Cooper said. “We just laughed all night long. She’s still the same jokester.”

“Chennedy’s a kid,” Nneka Ogwumike added. “She’s a kid, and she brings that energy. Sometimes it’s great to have that type of energy, especially when you have certain returners that were holding really big minutes last year through the challenges that we experienced. … Her nickname is ‘Hollywood,’ which is so funny because everyone’s asking me if she’s from here and I’m like ‘No, she’s not.’ That’s just the lightness that she brings.”

Four-time WNBA All-Star and 2018 scoring champion Cambage also displayed her proclivity for play during media day. She joked that Brittney Sykes should focus on dunking in a game (the defensive specialist regularly blocks the 6-foot-8 Cambage’s shot in practice), superstitiously refused to disclose any of her pinky promises that have yet to materialize and dropped the occasional curse word before apologizing each time.

Another key figure keeping everyone light is the team’s head coach, whom Sykes described as “a funny dude on the low.”

“If you get him to yourself on the side, he’s got some jokes,” the 2021 WNBA All-Defensive First Teamer said of Fisher. “He’s actually got some jokes in his back pocket.”

Jokes aside, Cambage, like her coach, preached patience.

“The most important thing, at the start of this season, is that we’re focusing on our chemistry and getting it together,” she said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re not going to be the team tomorrow. It’s going to take time. Just as long as we got the chemistry right and we’re vibing at the end of the season, that’s all that’s important.”

Despite a realistic attitude, Cambage herself expects huge success from her new team this season.

“Crowd’s gonna be lit. Building’s gonna be lit. Women’s basketball is going to be lit. It’s going to be the most wild summer the WNBA’s ever seen. That’s how I think this summer’s going to go,” the 30-year-old center declared. “And we’re going to have a ring at the end of it.”

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.

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."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.