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My Job Is to Play

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From the time I first started playing volleyball, it was all I wanted to do. I loved the physicality, the competition, and being part of a team. Every moment I was on the court, I felt like a child on a playground. I even loved practice.

This passion guided me through high school and college and into my professional career. But soon, another obsession began to take hold of me: I wanted to become an Olympian. This quickly became my only focus. I was certain that if I could call myself an Olympian, my life would be complete. After that, there wouldn’t be anything else to prove. I would have reached the pinnacle of my sport. I could sit back, take a moment to relax, and appreciate my accomplishments.

But then there I was, alone, empty, and fatigued by the very thought of picking up a volleyball, just months after representing my country at the 2016 games in Rio.

I was supposed to be happy. Things were supposed to be perfect. I had set myself an ambitious goal and then I had accomplished it. But instead of feeling proud or content, I just felt lost and confused. The little girl inside of me who used to love playing for the sake of playing seemed like a total stranger, or a ghost.

I looked for ways to rekindle my passion. I set new goals.

 I initially thought a season playing for Imoco Volleyball would do the trick, as my boyfriend (and now fiancé) would also be playing in Italy. But two weeks in, he walked away from his contract to return home to California. Just like that, the person I was counting on to share my downtime with — one of the primary reasons I was even in Italy — was gone.

 Long story short, I got through it because I had to. As my dad often reminded me, I was a professional.

 Don’t get me wrong — I truly loved the city of Conegliano, as well as my teammates, my coaches, and the league — everything, really, except the actual volleyball. It felt like I was just going through the motions on the court.

I finished the season and headed home to California to train with Team USA, lifting every day and touching a volleyball 5 days a week. I still felt lost, but I didn’t have time to step away. Being a professional volleyball player means playing eight months of the year with your club team and the other four with the national team. You only get one week off the entire year.

But as I waited for my passion to come back, I used my time in California to reconnect with those aspects of my life outside of my sport that I had been neglecting. I grew my relationship with my fiancé and built a strong foundation with my group of friends at home. I made myself available to those closest to me, and by the end of summer, I was finally starting to feel like myself again.

So much so that I decided to sign with Vakifbank Spor Club in Istanbul.

Though I hadn’t fully regained my passion, I was confident I could deal with the various nuances of playing professionally abroad. On top of that, Vakifbank was indisputably one of the best teams in the world. It felt like an opportunity I’d be stupid to miss.

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Yet as the 2017 season began, my confidence was immediately put to the test. I was sitting behind a veteran Turkish player in her final year, and while I appreciated the intensity of my training, it was tough to stay motivated when I barely saw the court. And though my fiancé had come with me to Turkey, he was now battling a potentially career-ending injury and had to return to California for surgery, leaving me alone and struggling… again.

When the season finally ended, I went home, physically stronger than ever before, but mentally drained. Volleyball and I just weren’t meshing. It had become a job, and everything felt 10x harder than it probably was. I found myself clinging to my days at home and just trying to make it through my days on the court. All I wanted was to spend time with my family, my fiancé, and my friends. I wanted a normal life.

I couldn’t feel the passion, and I didn’t understand why. I was stuck in the past, trying and failing to remember how I had fallen in love with volleyball in the first place. Instead of passion, I felt a profound resentment for the sport that was supposed to be the greatest constant in my life.

But here’s the thing: sometimes when you’re in the trenches of doubt and self-inquiry, the answers you need just can’t find you.

It was only when I allowed myself the space to reflect on why I was spinning that I started to get a grasp on my situation. Stepping back, I realized that dedicating myself to some specific end goal or perfect situation was a recipe for unhappiness. I had set myself up for failure by thinking that becoming an Olympian would be the answer to everything, and when it wasn’t, thinking that I just had to have one good club season somewhere in order to right the ship.

What I realized was that goals are only a small part of the picture. They may help motivate you in the beginning, but you can’t expect them to be an enduring source of purpose. I knew I had to channel the little girl I used to be, the one who loved every part of the process, not just the end results.

 Now what fulfills me are the hard days, those days when it’s hour 6 of training and I can barely move, but my teammates are still making incredible plays, despite there being no trophy to earn. It’s those practices when we are scratching and clawing for points, when I’m so exhausted that all I can do is lean on the other 5 girls and know that they are doing the same. Loving those days is loving the process.

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CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Don’t get me wrong: winning championships and gold medals will always be the greatest high — but it’s those long, exhausting days in between the big moments where I find my purpose.

If I’m able to call myself an Olympian again, I know that it’ll feel 100x bigger than my first time around, because I’m no longer focused on the wrong things. I’ve stopped obsessing over the end results, and I’m no longer always looking ahead to what’s next. I know now that my job isn’t to win this or that trophy, or make this or that team.

My job is only to play.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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