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Lynn Williams Explains What Makes North Carolina so Good

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Lynn Williams is a forward for both the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL and the USWNT. With the Courage, Williams has won back-to-back NWSL Championships while becoming one of the most prolific goal scorers in the league. Below, Williams spoke with JWS about the ongoing Challenge Cup, the secret to the Courage’s success, and the NWSL’s role in supporting Black Lives Matter. 

You are a couple of games into the Challenge Cup. How are you feeling? How are you doing in Utah? 

Good. The hardest game stint has passed. We had so many games in such a small amount of time — our mode was just to survive and hope we end up on top. Now, we’re getting into the games that matter the most because it’s the knockout round. We have more time in between games, so we’re able to train a little bit more and work on things that we need to work on, versus just getting out there and performing. The NWSL has made a really safe bubble for us, which is really cool. At first, I think everyone was nervous, but everything is going really smoothly. I think the games have been exciting. And I’m just really excited to be playing soccer again safely.

How has it been getting tested for COVID so often? 

It’s good. Personally, I don’t really mind it. The swab is a little bit uncomfortable, but it just takes a second. And, if it’s going to keep everybody safe, then that’s a price we are willing to pay.

What precautions has the NWSL taken in terms of COVID-19 at the Challenge Cup? 

Basically, we go from the hotel to the stadium and the training grounds, and then back to the hotel. Honestly, I’m not that bored yet, but it is crazy to think that I’ve only seen three things this whole time. I actually feel much safer here than I do at home. We get tested all the time, we have to wear masks, we have to follow strict protocols.

If you think about what we were doing before the tournament, though, it was way worse. It was such an unknown. Every day you would try to go train and motivate yourself, thinking that there would be a season just for it to get pushed back. And then you would hear the season’s going to start up, so you would push yourself again just for it to get moved back again. It was such a rollercoaster of emotions. Now, that we’re actually doing something, I get excited to go to the field every day. I’m playing towards something. It might be unorthodox, but at least it’s something.

The Courage have been dominant for years, and are again showing up this tournament. How do you explain this sustained run of success? 

We get that question a lot. Honestly, I think that it goes back to 2015 and 2016 when we were in Western New York. There was a core group of us in 2015 in New York who weren’t having fun and who almost quit playing soccer. Then, in 2016, we had that same core group, but we started adding pieces. We added Paul and he brought the love of the game back into it.

We never talked about the championship or winning games. We were always talking about a growth mindset. And that has trickled along and become what we are today. We are never satisfied. I think we are one of the hardest working teams. We’ve taken that hardworking core and now we’re adding layers to it with Debinha and Sully [Denise O’Sullivan] and Sam [Mewis] and Crystal [Dunn]. With our core group, we’ve been together for five years now, so we understand each other on the field — we know each other’s tendencies.

On some teams, it seems like the national team players really run the club. On the Courage, there seems to be a clear philosophy: everyone gets in line, national team or not. Do you feel like that’s true? 

I can’t speak to other teams because I’m not on them. But I do think that here it is very clear and apparent that it’s not just our national team players who are driving us. Somebody is fighting for their spot every single day. You look at our bench and we’re stacked. We have all of these players and you could think, ‘Oh, it’s just the national team players, they’ll get it done.’ But, every day, I’m fighting for my spot and I think that’s something that drives us. At the same time, though, this team is so loving that you want your teammate to do well. So, it’s a culture that is loving, but at the same time so intense.

Do you think it’s hard to have that level of unity and intensity at such a high level? 

If Jess McDonald and Kristen Hamilton and McKenzie Meehan are all pushing me and being their best, it’s only going to make me better. And vice versa — if I’m being my best, it’s only going to make them better. We can’t have somebody who takes a day off because that’s a disservice to the team. That’s our driving force — we have a standard and we don’t let anybody fall below it.

Let’s go back in time for a second. You played college soccer at Pepperdine. What was that like? 

I knew I wanted to play soccer in college, but I wasn’t getting recruited. Pepperdine happened to be the only school who offered me a scholarship, so I went down to visit and I loved it. I ended up doing really well my freshman year. Up until that moment, I thought I could be good at soccer, but nobody was recruiting me. I thought I was seeing something that other people weren’t, or that I was delusional. So, when Pepperdine gave me a chance and I was Rookie of the Year, I realized, ‘You know what? I’m right. I need to believe in myself more. I can do this.’

If anybody can take anything away from my story, it’s that you have to believe in yourself. There are so many people who are going to say, ‘You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.’ But, if you believe in yourself and you have the determination and the skillset to do it, then you can do it.

You mentioned that after you were drafted to the NWSL in 2015, you were unhappy in Western New York. Why was that? 

Honestly, it was a shock to get drafted coming from a smaller school. But, like I said, I believed in myself. When I got to the professional level, the first year was awful. We were a losing team and a lot of us had just been drafted from winning teams. We were in Buffalo, New York, which was cold as hell and away from family. So many of us wanted to quit. I think we all convinced ourselves to come back the next year. And, like I said, Paul just saw something in us — something in me.

A couple of years ago, he said, “When I first saw you, you were an athlete trying to play soccer. And now you’re a soccer player who is also an athlete.” I think that’s the biggest compliment that he’s ever given me. I think I’ve been able to get where I am because, one, I started believing in myself and, two, I had somebody else who also believed in me. I owe a lot of my success to him.

What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and how the NWSL has taken a stand to show support during the Challenge Cup? 

I’m really proud that we were the first league back and that we are able to use our voices and our platform for change. We’ve been wearing the warm-up t-shirts and, while I can’t speak for everybody on why they kneel or stand during the national anthem, I know our team put out a statement saying that we are unified against police brutality and the social injustices that minorities in this country face. But it’s more than just a symbol, too. Our team has an auction going on for the National Black Justice Coalition and we are planning to start a foundation for underprivileged children and communities. I’m really happy with what our team is doing. It started with unity and a symbol, and now it’s action.

During the Challenge Cup, some players have knelt and other players have stood for the national anthem. It’s caused a lot of debate among fans. What’s your take on whether someone can still be an ally while standing for the flag? 

What I will say is that I don’t think you can be for the movement sometimes and not for it other times. I think you’re either all in or you’re all out. I do think it’s great when people say, ‘I want to help. I want to take action.’ Because, otherwise, kneeling for the flag is just performative — it’s just a publicity stunt.

I hear all the time that people stand for the flag because they have a military family or support the military. But, if you think about it, the flag doesn’t represent the military and its purpose is not to honor the military. The flag is to unite a nation under God — a nation with freedom and liberty and justice for all. If you can say that you think that everybody in this country has freedom, justice and liberty, then fine, stand. But I personally don’t believe that. I do love this country and this country has given me so much. I have been privileged in so many ways, but I can recognize that there are so many people who have not been privileged, and who don’t have the same liberties and the same freedoms as the majority.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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