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Sue Phillips, Morgan Cheli bring varsity connection to U17 national team

Team USA’s Morgan Cheli is one of 12 players who will take the court for the U17 national team Saturday in Debrecen, Hungary. (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

Coach Sue Phillips first remembers meeting Morgan Cheli at a USA Basketball skills academy when the guard was only in elementary school.

She’s also had her in math class and coached her at Archbishop Mitty High School in California.

This past season, the sophomore Cheli led the Monarchs in all categories during a powerful 30-2 season. Now, just over a month after the end of the school year, Phillips and Cheli will pick up right where they left off, but this time for the USA Basketball U17 Women’s National Team, which begins play at the FIBA U17 World Cup on Saturday in Debrecen, Hungary.

“It was a great year,” Cheli said. “You know, I wish we would’ve ended it a little stronger, but that’s our call to get back to where we were. I’m looking forward to next season.”

Team USA coach Sue Phillips has amassed more than 760 wins at Archbishop Mitty High School and has sent 50 players to the next level. (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

Cheli and eleven others among the top players from the classes of 2023 and 2024 will attempt to bring home the gold medal. For Phillips, it’s the fifth coaching assignment with USA Basketball. Last summer, she guided the U16 national team to an undefeated record and a gold medal in Mexico.

Returning from that U16 national team are 2023’s Madison Booker, Breya Cunningham, Jadyn Donovan, Juju Watkins and Jada Williams, as well as 2024’s Jaloni Cambridge. The team also boasts names such as Hannah Hidalgo and Mikaylah Williams, the unanimous No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023 who recently committed to LSU. Sunaja Agara, MacKenly Randolph and Kennedy Umeh round out the roster.

“It’s an incredibly talented group this year,” Phillips said. “A versatile combination of young women who can score at all three levels. They can wreak havoc defensively as well. It’s a really fun group to coach, and I think we’ll play an exciting brand of basketball.”

Though Phillips has garnered much success with Team USA, she carries nearly 30 years of experience coaching and teaching math at Archbishop Mitty. She herself is an alumna of the school and basketball program.

“[Teaching math is] what pays the mortgage, let’s be clear!” Phillips said with a laugh.

It’s also greatly impacted her coaching style.

“Empathy and teaching are such integral parts of your interactions,” Phillips said. “Watching film and starting with mistakes is like me handing back your quiz in our math class. You missed Nos. 7 and 15. We have the opportunity to walk through this, so that when we have our test — or playing on the world stage — we have the chance to remedy that error.”

Having the ability to draw parallels between teaching and coaching allows Phillips to diffuse difficult situations. While it may be embarrassing or disheartening to make a mistake, Phillips finds that approaching it with a growth mindset can make all the difference.

“The only way you are gonna get better is if we address those setbacks, those oversights, whatever you want to call them,” Phillips said. “It’s a great way to approach learning, especially during the lowlights. During the highlights, everyone’s having fun with it. But we shouldn’t shy away from opportunities to learn.”

At Archbishop Mitty, she has amassed more than 760 wins and sent 50 players to the next level. This past season, Phillips, Cheli and the rest of the Monarchs team won four championships and finished as state runners-up to champion Sierra Canyon, where Watkins and Randolph attend high school.

Phillips also runs her own non-profit, the San Jose Cagers, a girls AAU club program in the South Bay. It began in 2007 when a former student, Danielle Robinson (now of the Indiana Fever), and her mother spoke to Phillips about the lack of an AAU team in the area. The Cagers have teams for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade teams, as well as three high school teams.

“It’s another way to provide a program that is intended for skill development and a platform for college recruitment,” Phillips said. “It’s about growing the game at the youngest of levels.”

It was in seventh grade when Cheli played for the Cagers that she first started to connect with Phillips.

“I got to know her through Cagers,” Cheli said. “We started building our relationship then. I got to learn more about Mitty and her program. One of the deciding factors was that I would get to play for her. She would help develop me to get me to where I wanted to go.”

With the choice to attend Archbishop Mitty, Cheli paved her own path.

“Cheli’s older siblings attended another local private school in the area,” Phillips said. “But Morgan played club for us, and she and her folks really connected with my staff and I. And we had a player at Mitty, Haley Jones, who Morgan would watch. I think when you watch a player like that thrive and flourish, you say, ‘Geez, I would love to be in that kind of situation.’”

At 6-foot-1, Cheli is versatile. She’s an elite shooter and has the ability to play everything between point guard and power forward depending on what’s needed of her. She has the ability to fill several roles while on the court in Hungary.

But in order to uphold the integrity of the tryout process, Phillips did not speak on Cheli to anybody on the selection committee.

It was important to Phillips that Cheli was treated like everybody else. She was an applicant; not necessarily a name thrown around at the highest level until this spring. However, once she received her tryout invitation, she stepped up. At one point during camp, Cheli led the group in assists and finished with double-digit rebounds.

“It was nice to have that familiar face there as a comfort that going in, I knew somebody,” Cheli said.

Team USA's Morgan Cheli was in seventh grade when she first played for coach Sue Phillips' San Jose Cagers AAU team. (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

“We kept our distance.” Phillips said. “All of a sudden, we moved to the finalist stage, and I realized she had a real shot. I have no say on the selection process. She earned it. She’s put the time in. She’s continued to make personal sacrifices to make basketball a priority, and over the course of two years, she’s emerged as one of the top players in her class.”

Just as she does on the Archbishop Mitty roster during the school year, Cheli will add to a team packed with talent when Team USA takes the court in Hungary.

“I’m so fortunate to have made the team,” Cheli said, “and it’s really incredible to have my high school coach as my coach here as well. It’s pretty special.”

Expectations are high for Team USA, which opens play against Mali, but Phillips believes in the process and path to reach gold.

“On paper, we are arguably one of the contenders to win gold,” Phillips said. “To be clear, until we take the floor to compete, it still remains to be seen. We are certainly striving to make our mark at the World Cup, but we have to demonstrate our abilities to be the best team on the floor for a particular day.”

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.

Portland Thorns reassign head coach after winless NWSL start

Head coach Mike Norris of Portland Thorns FC watches practice before a 2023 match against Orlando Pride
Mike Norris' tenure as Thorns head coach has come to an end. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

The Portland Thorns are looking for a new head coach after a winless start to the NWSL season. 

The organization has reassigned head coach Mike Norris to a newly created technical director position. Assistant coach Rob Gale is set to take over as interim head coach while the club conducts a "global search" for its next head coach. 

Norris began his time at the club as an assistant coach before taking the reigns after former head coach Rhian Wilkinson abruptly resigned in 2022. Under Norris, the Thorns finished second in 2023's regular season standings, but suffered three losses in their last five games in a spell that saw them knocked out of the running for the NWSL Shield. They went on to lose their first playoff game in postseason play. 

At the start of the 2024 season, the Thorns went winless through four games for the first time in club history. 

"The results have not gone our way, and in a head coach position, the results do matter," Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc told The Athletic's Meg Linehan shortly after the Tuesday afternoon announcement. “But the results that we have, you can’t just pinpoint it on one position.”

Norris' reassignment marks the first major personnel decision made under the club’s new ownership. RAJ Sports' Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, who also own the NBA's Sacramento Kings, bought the club in January from Merritt Paulson, who sold the Thorns amidst the fallout stemming from reports of misconduct within the NWSL.

Both the Bhathal family and the Thorns front office have been looking to make changes, and establishing a technical director topped the list. According to LeBlanc, Norris has what it takes to assume the position. 

"Where can we grow? Where are the gaps? How do we move forward with being the standard that people are used to with the Thorns?" LeBlanc continued. "One of [Norris’] strengths is to analyze and process, then come down to communicate what needs to happen."

Despite the dismal start, a quick turnaround could certainly be in the cards for Portland. The club currently leads the league in shots and shots on goal, as does star forward and USWNT standout Sophia Smith

"These changes will help us maximize our strengths as we continuously pursue championship-level success," LeBlanc said, voicing full support for the staffing shakeup.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

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