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The athletes inspiring us on National Girls & Women in Sports Day

Jordan Thompson (Courtesy of Under Armour)

Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day, dedicated to acknowledging and championing the accomplishments of women in sports. It is also a reminder that the fight for equality in athletics is far from over.

Flo Hyman understood that fight intimately. The Olympic volleyball player was a leading advocate for Title IX, and National Girls and Women in Sports Day was created in her honor.

Great progress has been made in the world of sport since Hyman’s work and the passing of Title IX, but there’s still much to be done. Today, only two in five girls participate in sports, deterred by reasons like cost, access to facilities, safety and more. It’s an equity issue our friends at Under Armour are placing front-and-center this year with a commitment to breaking down barriers that keep millions of youth from playing. “Everyone deserves the right to experience the power of sport,” says CEO, Patrik Frisk.

Today, we’re joining Under Armour to celebrate four incredible female athletes whose early involvement in sports launched their successful careers and who continue to inspire us every day.

Kelley O'Hara (Courtesy of Under Armour)

Kelley O’Hara

The two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medal winner is one of the most influential players in American soccer. O’Hara also hosts the Just Women’s Sports podcast. Now a star defender for the reigning NWSL champion Washington Spirit, O’Hara played forward all her life before switching to left back during the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament.

O’Hara rose up the ranks as a soccer player in Fayette County, Ga., where she played four years of varsity at Starr’s Mill High School and led the team to a 5A state title as a senior in 2006 with 20 goals and 16 assists. The standout season earned her Gatorade Georgia State Player of the Year honors and a leading role at Stanford as a freshman. In 2009, she won the Hermann Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best player.

Jordan Thompson

The 6-foot-4 Thompson was a key cog on the United States’ 2020 Tokyo Olympics team, scoring 34 points to help eliminate defending champion China in pool play. Despite losing Thompson to injury, the U.S. went on to win its first-ever gold medal.

Thompson starred at Edina High School (Minn.), playing four years of varsity and leading the team in blocks and kills as a senior. She earned her first college scholarship after just two years of club volleyball, and at Cincinnati, where she helped run an athlete bible study in her spare time, she was a three-time unanimous American Athletic Conference player of the year.

Odicci Alexander

The reigning Softball America Pitcher of the Year recently wrapped up one of the most decorated college careers of all time. As James Madison’s starting pitcher for four seasons, Alexander led the Dukes to their first-ever College World Series in 2021. Alexander went 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings as James Madison became the first unranked team to advance to the semifinals.

Alexander was raised by her grandparents in Boydton, Va., and taught herself how to pitch by spray-painting targets on her grandparents’ water well. She flew under the radar at small-town Park View High School, and was discovered by a James Madison coach who was in the area to scout the opposing team’s pitcher.

Alexander now pitches for the USSSA Pride after playing in Athletes Unlimited’s second softball season last year.

Kaila Charles (Courtesy of Under Armour)

Kaila Charles

One of the WNBA’s top rising prospects, Charles was selected No. 23 overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2020 draft. Charles helped Maryland win the Big Ten Tournament her freshman and senior seasons and averaged 13.8 points per game over her career, tied for 12th in program history.

Charles starred for three years at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Greenbelt, Md.) before transferring to nearby Riverdale Baptist School, where she led the team to the national championship game and earned McDonald’s All-American honors. Charles is of Trinidadian and Antiguan heritage, as represented on her custom Under Armour sneakers.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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