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NCAA Athletes Respond to Eligibility Decision

(ANDREW VILLA/ISI PHOTOS)

The NCAA announced last week that it was providing eligibility relief to all spring-sport student athletes whose seasons were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. And while the NCAA will allow universities to temporarily exceed their scholarship limit to account for returning players and incoming freshmen, it’s been left to the individual universities to decide how much financial aid they give out to players who come back. Just Women’s Sports spoke with three senior athletes who now have to decide if they’ll return for a final year do-over. 

What are your thoughts on the NCAA approving an extra year of eligibility?

“I think it’s great that the NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility because athletes had put a lot of hard work into their 2020 seasons, and it was heartbreaking for them to not be able to compete. I think many people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into a full season of training. We have been training every day (and sometimes twice a day) since September, preparing for the moment when we get to step on the field in the spring and compete for a conference and NCAA championship. I am glad that spring-sport athletes get another chance to finish what they started.” — Genesis Lucero, Stanford Lacrosse

“I had kind of expected the NCAA to grant us another year before the decision was officially made. I mean, we were so early into our season when everything was canceled that it almost felt necessary for spring-sport athletes to get that year back. Ultimately, I’m very grateful the NCAA felt that same way and has decided to do what’s best for student athletes.” — Hope Anhut, USC Lacrosse 

“It was definitely a hard decision for the NCAA to make, but at the end of the day, I think it’s what’s best for the students. Not being able to end your career the way you had always hoped, especially after years in the making, was really hard for seniors to grapple with in the midst of an already horrific pandemic. So just allowing athletes another year to play the sport that they love, at least for me, has given me hope and something to work towards in this horrible time. It is a silver lining, if you will.” — Kyra Pelton, Stanford Lacrosse

Do you plan to take advantage of the extra year?

“I do plan to come back to Stanford to play my final season while pursuing a master’s degree. It was an easy decision for me, especially since I feel like I have some unfinished business on the field.” — Genesis Lucero

“I would absolutely love to return to USC for another year, but I have a job lined up for after graduation. I’m hoping that my company will be flexible and grant me the ability to join them a year late, but if not I’ll have to weigh both options and decide which is best for my future.” — Hope Anhut

“For me, I was already planning on staying in school for a master’s program in mechanical engineering with a product design concentration. I already applied to grad schools and was accepted at Stanford and a few other schools. I definitely want to remain at Stanford to complete my fifth year, but it will all come down to scholarship details. I hope it works out. I would love one last go around to show what Stanford lacrosse is really made of.” — Kyra Pelton

What are you hearing from your teammates in terms of their plans?

“In talking through the next steps with my teammates, the biggest concern is whether or not Stanford will honor our scholarships for a fifth-year. The NCAA has provided eligibility, which is half the battle. The other half is decided by the individual schools. For my teammates hoping to come back and play this next season, their decisions could be based on the financial aid that Stanford is willing to provide since the NCAA stated that the schools do not have to match the scholarships for these athletes coming back to play. I truly hope that Stanford will make the right decision for their spring programs.” — Genesis Lucero

“The thoughts of my teammates have been varied. I think there’s this mentality for your entire senior year that this is the last go around and you grow accustomed to that reality — some girls might be fine with that regardless of how the season went and want to move on. Others might want to take the year to explore a new school, and we obviously fully support them in that as well. And finally there are some of us that are sure about returning to USC or who are definitely considering it. We’re all just kind of waiting for more information to be available regarding academics, scholarships, and how next year will go. Until then, we won’t be able to make definitive choices.” — Hope Anhut

“About 50% of our senior class is committed to the idea of returning to Stanford next season. That being said, nothing is definitive yet. We are all waiting to hear what Stanford has to say about scholarships, as the discretion of individual scholarships is up to them. The financial side of things is still up in the air for a lot of players. Because unlike fall sports, where a fifth-year means only paying for one semester or quarter of school, playing out another season for a spring sport means committing to another full year of tuition. And Stanford is one of the most expensive schools in the country. So at the end of the day, everyone’s individual decision will probably come down to the kind of scholarship options we get.” — Kyra Pelton

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.

Smith and Swanson shine in action-packed NWSL weekend

sophia smith celebrates after a goal for the portland thorns
Sophia Smith's 27th-minute goal paved the way for Portland's first win of the season. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

USWNT regulars Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson furthered their cases for Olympic inclusion with their respective club victories on Saturday and Sunday.

After a roller coaster of a week that saw former Thorns head coach Mike Norris reassigned and a flurry of last-minute roster reshufflings as Friday's trade window closure loomed, the NWSL sprung to life over the weekend with standout performances from ninth-place Portland and third-place Chicago, among others.

After her blocked attempt at goal set up a volleying sixth-minute opener from veteran Christine Sinclair — now the only player in history to record a goal in all 11 NWSL seasons — Smith swiftly netted her own in the 27th minute off a breakaway run that eluded Houston's backline. The goal represented Smith's third of the season as well as her 35th for the Thorns, ultimately leading to the home side's first win of the season in a 4-1 routing of the Dash.

But that wasn't Smith's only stat of the evening. The star forward also lapped former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr to become the youngest player to reach 50 NWSL goal contributions across all games, chalking up 40 goals and 10 assists at the age of 23 years and 254 days.

"Obviously it feels good to get a win," said Smith in a post-match press conference. "But this is the standard the Thorns have always had. So a win is great, but a win is the expectation — we're hungrier than ever after the way we started."

170 miles up the road, Lumen Field similarly showcased some promising Olympic prospect footwork on Sunday. In Chicago's 2-1 victory over the lagging 13th-place Seattle Reign, striker Mallory Swanson racked up an impressive counterattack assist on fellow forward Ally Schlegel's fourth-minute goal. Swanson went on to find the back of the net herself before halftime, lacing an explosive ball into the top corner in the 31st minute, her second of the season after returning from a lengthy sidelining injury.

Speaking of injuries, fellow USWNT favorites Alex Morgan and Tierna Davidson were not as fortunate as their national squad teammates this weekend. Each exited their club matches early, Morgan with an ankle knock in San Diego's loss to Orlando and Davidson with an apparent hamstring incident early on in Washington's win over Gotham.

LSU takes first-ever NCAA gymnastics title

Kiya Johnson of the LSU Tigers reacts after winning the national championship during the Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships
Gymnast Kiya Johnson celebrates LSU's win at the NCAA Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

LSU came out on top at the 2024 NCAA women's gymnastics championship in Fort Worth on Saturday, besting Cal, Utah, and Florida to capture their first-ever title.

The Tigers' win was far from a landslide. LSU took the first rotation handily thanks to 2024 All-Around winner Haleigh Bryant's team-leading 9.9375 backed by four additional 9.9+ scores from her teammates. But Utah then responded with three strong beam performances of their own, causing the Red Rocks to slide confidently into second place by the end of the second rotation.

By the halfway point, all four teams fell within .288 points of one another before Utah overtook the pack with a dominant floor showing after three rotations. LSU then went on to ace the beam event with Konnor McClain's meet-leading 9.9625 score, coming away with the highest collective score ever awarded to the event in NCAA championship history. The achievement propelled the Tigers to victory, ensuring them the title after the final rotation.

"This team is full of individuals that have incredible character and integrity and love for each other and all the things you hear from coaches when they sit at a podium like this in a moment of victory, but I promise you it's a real thing," said LSU coach Jay Clark in a post-meet press conference. "I'm just so happy for them."

Contributing to Saturday's atmosphere of excitement was the absence of last year's champion and this year's heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners. Hot off earning the highest team score in NCAA history just last month, the top-ranked Norman squad suffered a shocking loss in the semifinals, where five major mistakes contributed to a third-place finish and a season-low team score of 196.6625.

With Oklahoma out, it was truly anyone's game.

"Every team was out there fighting for their lives — all four teams, it could have gone any of four ways out there," Clark told reporters. "As much as I feel for what happened to Oklahoma in the semifinals, I think it made for a championship that became so packed with emotion because every team out there believed they could do it. It was just tremendous."

LSU is now the eighth program in the sport's history to earn an NCAA women's gymnastic championship.
They share the honor with Georgia, Utah, UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

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