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Gotham FC’s Lynn Williams, Rose Lavelle out for Challenge Cup opener

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 11: Lynn Williams #10 of NJ/NY Gotham FC handles the ball in the first half against the OL Reign during the 2023 NWSL Championship game at Snapdragon Stadium on November 11, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The 2024 NWSL season kicks off on Friday with the Challenge Cup between reigning Shield winners San Diego and and reigning Champions Gotham FC. 

Gotham will be without two of its star players, as both Lynn Williams and Rose Lavelle have injuries that will keep them out of the game. Williams reportedly has a thigh injury, while Lavelle is nursing a lower-leg injury. 

San Diego, meanwhile, doesn’t have any significant injuries heading into their matchup, though they do have a number of players returning from the USWNT's Gold Cup run, who may be on a load restriction.

San Diego has won all four of the team's previous matchups.

Makenzy Doniak will be one to watch for the Wave, having scored against Gotham in each of their last two matchups. Alex Morgan, meanwhile, has a club-record 10 goals scored against Gotham. 

The reigning NWSL champions reloaded in the off-season, having added Crystal Dunn, Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson, as well as Lavelle.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Hailey Van Lith reportedly headed to TCU

LSU Tiger Hailey Van Lith shoots against the UCLA Bruins at the 2024 NCAA Sweet 16
After just one season as a Tiger, Van Lith has reportedly set her sights on Fort Worth. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Hailey Van Lith is reportedly on her way to TCU, says Talia Goodman of The Next Hoops.

The former Louisville star joined LSU for the 2023-24 season, but a disappointing run in Baton Rouge saw her enter the transfer portal once again at the season’s end. Van Lith opted to use her fifth year of eligibility versus declaring for the WNBA draft.

Van Lith was admittedly less effective as a Tiger. Her field goal percentage decreased from .411 in 2022-23 with Louisville to .388 at LSU. She also went from averaging 19.7 points per game to just 11.6, due in part to a change of position from shooting guard to more of a point guard role.

At an end-of-season banquet last week, LSU coach Kim Mulkey used her speech to wish Van Lith well, calling her "one of the hardest working players that I’ve ever coached."

"Her aspirations were to get drafted this year," Mulkey said, according to NOLA.com. "And she realized, 'I need another year, and I need to go back to a place where I can relax and get back to my normal position.'

"And what do you do? You hug her, and you wish her well."

The decision to commit to TCU may come as a surprise after Van Lith paid a visit to Mississippi State last weekend. The Horned Frogs finished out the 2023-24 season 21-12 overall, coming in 9th in the Big 12 and scoring an average of 69.5 points per game. The program also made headlines in January when they held mid-season open tryouts in response to an onslaught of sidelining injuries.

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.

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