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Three storylines to watch in the McDonald’s All-American game

South Carolina commit Ashlyn Watkins won the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest. (Courtesy of McDonald’s)

Every year, the McDonald’s All American games honors basketball’s best and brightest from around the nation. High school seniors are selected based on their on- and off-court contributions to play in the East versus West showdown.

Since the first girls’ game in 2002, over 450 players have taken the McDonald’s stage before heading off to college, including stars like Nneka Ogwumike, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore and A’ja Wilson.

After two years without in-person games due to the pandemic, this year’s all-star classes will battle it out in Chicago on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2. With 24 top recruits and rumors of a heated Sunday night scrimmage, the East and West Teams are likely to deliver a game to remember.

Here are three storylines to watch for on Tuesday night.

1. UConn-bound duo to go head-to-head

Geno Auriemma has struck gold on the recruiting trail once again. The incoming frontcourt duo of wing Ayanna Patterson (Homestead High School; Fort Wayne, Ind.) and post Isuneh “Ice” Brady (Cathedral Catholic High School; San Diego, Calif), both top-five recruits in the Class of 2022 per ESPN, play with a powerful combination of creativity and physicality. While the Huskies will benefit from this dynamic duo for the next few years, on Tuesday, Patterson and Brady will play in the same game for the first time ever. The catch? They’ll be on opposite teams.

“It’s funny,” Brady said during media day. “My [future] teammate, Ayanna Patterson, we haven’t played together yet, so I’m excited to get to play against her.”

The Huskies, who on Monday secured their 14th straight Final Four berth in a thrilling 91-87 double-overtime victory over NC State, have a track record of giving talented freshmen the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Patterson and Brady have the potential to play key roles as soon as they put their UConn jerseys on.

Indya Nivar is bound for Stanford. (Courtesy of McDonald's)

2. Stanford’s next great guard

Defending national champion Stanford has long been known for excellent guard play. Upperclassmen Lexie Hull and Haley Jones are two of the biggest names in college basketball, and coach Tara VanDerveer, the winningest coach in the sport, has developed nine AP All-American guards during her tenure.

Five-star recruit Indya Nivar (Apex Friendship; Apex, N.C. ) — who chose Stanford, in part, because it allowed her the freedom to mold her engineering major in a way that would best prepare her for medical school — has a high ceiling and an even higher basketball IQ.

“[Stanford fans] can expect a dynamic guard that does everything on the court,” Nivar said. “On both sides of the ball. And expect me to do anything I can that would allow my team to win.”

The 2022 McDAAG Girls Skills Contest participant is smooth in transition and explosive off the bounce.

3. The Candace Parker Effect

Candace Parker, one of the Games’ most notable alums, made waves in her 2004 performance. The then-17-year-old, 6-foot-4 Tennessee commit joined Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and J.R. Smith in the McDAAG Dunk Contest as the first female participate in the contest — and won. Nearly two decades later, only two other girls have claimed the prize: Stanford’s Fran Belibi in 2019 and, on Monday evening, South Carolina-bound Ashlyn Watkins (Cardinal Newman School; Columbia, S.C.).

During media day, the 24 All-Americans listed a variety of trailblazers whose style of play influenced their games. No name came up more frequently than Parker’s.

For her final dunk of the first round, which would determine whether or not she’d advance to the finals, Watkins threw on a sky-blue jersey: Candace Parker, Chicago Sky. The crowd in the Wintrust Arena, home of the 2021 WNBA Champions, went wild.

Watkins’ dunk earned high marks — enough to move onto the final round with Dillon Mitchell (Texas) and Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas). And after two more dominant slams, she wowed the judges and secured the win.

When asked if she plans on dunking in the game itself, Watkins laughed.

“Hopefully,” she said.

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also writes about college basketball for Blue Ribbon Sports and covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.

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."

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