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Marie McCool puts Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse in perspective

Marie McCool has scored 10 goals and won a league-leading 35 draw controls this season. (Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited)

For Athletes Unlimited midfielder Marie McCool, this summer has been a whirlwind.

In July, McCool helped Team USA to a gold medal at the World Lacrosse Championships. A few weeks later, she was back on the field in Maryland for the second season of Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse.

As she’s navigated each event, McCool has been aware of the toll the competitive games are taking on her body. It’s the most lacrosse she’s played consecutively since college, and she’s been taking steps in her recovery to ensure she remains in top shape each week.

“I kind of look at it as like a gift and an opportunity today to be able to play the sport that I love,” McCool tells Just Women’s Sports.

That mindset has resulted in some gutsy chances and highlight-reel performances.

At the world championships, McCool’s behind-the-back shot, which made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays and caught the eyes of women’s sports figures like USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly, was actually the first that she’s ever taken in a game. That the assist came from Kylie Ohlmiller, her United States teammate and friend over the years, was an added bonus.

After winning a World Championship with Team USA in 2017 as a soon-to-be college senior, McCool entered this year’s tournament as a veteran. She embraced the role and, after leading Team USA to an 11-8 win over Canada with three goals in the title game, was named to the 10-player All-World team. She finished the tournament ranked second on the team with 20 goals, first in shooting percentage at 76.9 percent and third in draw controls with 17.

Through the first three weeks of the Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse season, McCool has leaned on that worldly experience — as well as her learnings from last AU season — to help guide the many talented rookies. Though she is 36 spots off the lead entering the final week of the 2022 campaign, with 607 total points through nine games, McCool has shown flashes of the attacking brilliance that have characterized her entire career.

“I think when something’s new, it’s really important to keep confident in yourself and your abilities. But sometimes you’re put in uncomfortable positions that can be challenging, so how can we build their confidence and help them maintain it when they’re still in that adjustment period and feeling a little bit uncomfortable?” she says of the younger players she’s mentored.

“I think that’s another really important piece that a lot of us veterans and people who played in the league last year are trying to help the rookies out with.”

McCool can also provide a unique perspective on the transition from college to the pros. After a standout career at the University of North Carolina from 2015-18, McCool entered the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) and won a championship in 2019, one year after being named WPLL MVP as a member of the Baltimore Brave.

Despite enjoying immediate success, she admits it was difficult to navigate a less structured athletic schedule, and she leaned on her U.S. teammates for advice.

“That year after I graduated, that summer into that fall was probably one of the toughest periods of time in my life,” McCool says. “You go from not having time to do stuff because you’re on such a set schedule to OK, I have time on my hands, but I don’t know what to do with it.

“I’ve always been a pretty determined person, and I was working out. But I think trying to figure out what workouts worked best for me on my own was the biggest challenge.”

A unique element of Athletes Unlimited, beyond the weekly drafting structure and points system, is that former collegiate rivals can be teammates at different points of the season. McCool, a two-time finalist for the Tewaaraton Award given annually to the best women’s and men’s college lacrosse players, has grown close with players from Boston College, Maryland and other top programs.

Building those relationships within lacrosse has helped elevate her level of play, too. After appearing for Team Waters and Team Arsenault earlier in the season, she’ll suit up for Team Moreno for the final three games. Each week she’s adjusted to her new environment, scoring 10 goals and winning a league-leading 35 draw controls. She’s also tied for second in shots saved alongside Charlotte North with 21.

Getting to play with former Boston College standout Dempsey Arsenault on Team USA and during Athletes Unlimited has been a highlight for McCool, who said she was elated to be drafted by the midfielder in Week 2.

“I was like, ‘Thank goodness it’s been so long,’” she says. “As much as I hated matching up on defense to Dempsey in college, it has been so nice to be able to be on her team.”

While she’ll go up against Arsenault once again this week, McCool remains thankful for the opportunity Athletes Unlimited affords to form relationships that will last long past her days playing the sport that she loves.

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

LPGA Star Lexi Thompson Announces Retirement From Professional Golf

pro golfer lexi thompson on the course
Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Pro golfer Lexi Thompson is retiring, she announced on Tuesday. This will be her final season on the LPGA Tour.

The 29-year-old has been playing professionally for the past 15 years. The two-time Olympian and six-time Solheim Cup competitor said that she’d been contemplating retirement for a few months, coming to the conclusion that it was time to step away.

"While it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time," Thompson posted to Instagram. "At the end of 2024, I will be stepping away from a full professional golf schedule. I'm excited to enjoy the remainder of the year as there are still goals I want to accomplish.

"I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Time with family, friends, and my trusted companion Leo. I will always look for ways to contribute to the sport and inspire the next generation of golfers. And of course, I look forward to a little time for myself."

Thompson is set to play at the US Women’s Open in Pennsylvania starting Thursday. Speaking from Lancaster Country Club, Thompson told reporters that she’s currently taking it "day by day."

"I'm not going to say yes or no on how many events I'll play or if I do," she said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and see how I feel, especially going into next year, but I'm very content with this being my last full-time schedule year."

Thompson also cited mental health as a factor in her decision to retire.

"I think we all have our struggles, especially out here," she said. "Unfortunately in golf you lose more than you win, so it's an ongoing battle to continue to put yourself out there in front of the cameras and continuing to work hard and maybe not seeing the results you want and getting criticized for it. So it's hard.

"I will say, yes, I've struggled with it — I don't think there's somebody out here that hasn't. It's just a matter of how well you hide it, which is very sad."

This will be Thompson’s 18th-straight year participating in US Women’s Open. At just 12 years old, she was the youngest golfer to qualify for the 2007 tournament, later making her first cut at the major in 2009 at 14.

Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. 

The retirement came as a surprise to many, including decorated LPGA standout Nelly Korda

"She's had such an amazing career," Korda said Tuesday. "I've gotten to be on the team with her a couple times representing our country. I think she does an amazing job for the Tour. She spends so much time going to each pro-am party. She really dedicated her time to growing the game.

"It's sad to see that she's obviously leaving and not going to be out here with us anymore, but she's had an amazing career, and I wish her the best in this new chapter of her life."

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

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