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NCAA Coach of the Year: Top 5 candidates at midseason

Kara Lawson has led Duke to a 15-1 record and a No. 16 ranking halfway through the season. (Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With teams now halfway through conference play, the 2023 college basketball landscape is starting to take shape. That means we have a better idea of which teams could make a run in March, which players have the best cases for the Player of the Year award and who the frontrunners are to take home Coach of the Year honors.

Here are Just Women’s Sports’ top five candidates for Coach of the Year at this point in the season.

Shauna Green, Illinois

If the Coach of the Year race ended today, Green would be the clear frontrunner. And unless something goes terribly wrong for her team in the next couple of months, I don’t see that changing. In her first season at the helm, Green has taken Illinois from just seven wins in 2021-22 to a 14-3 record so far in 2022-23, including an upset win over No. 12 Iowa on New Year’s Day. Illinois has also worked its way into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2000, settling in at No. 24 in week 10.

Green has done an excellent job of working in transfers like Makira Cook from Dayton and Genesis Bryant from NC State with players who were already on the team when she took over, such as Adalia McKenzie and Jada Peebles. Meanwhile, junior forward Kendall Bostic is thriving in her second season after transferring from Michigan State, averaging 10.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Green clearly knows how to get the best out of her team, and she’s a coach they want to play for. If Illinois’ turnaround wasn’t evidence enough, Cook and Brynn Shoup-Hill both transferred from Dayton when Green got the Illinois job in order to join her new team.

Kevin McGuff, Ohio State

This college basketball season has been defined by injuries, and Ohio State hasn’t escaped the unfortunate trend. Against South Florida, Madison Greene endured a season-ending knee injury for the second year in a row, and the Buckeyes have been playing without senior guard Jacy Sheldon since the fifth game of the season. She’s currently in a walking boot with a week-to-week return status. Despite what they are missing, McGuff has his team at No. 3 in the country with an undefeated record. South Carolina and LSU are the only other undefeated teams at this point in the season.

The Buckeyes have also won in a variety of ways, from a 84-67 blowout win over No. 16 Oregon to a 17-point come-from-behind win over Illinois on Sunday. I don’t anticipate Ohio State maintaining its undefeated record through a difficult Big Ten slate, but they have a good chance to win the conference and be a force in March. Until then, McGuff deserves serious props for what he’s done so far.

Kara Lawson, Duke

Duke started last season strong with an upset over Iowa that turned heads, but the season ended in uneventful fashion, with a 17-13 record and a 10th-place finish in the ACC. The Blue Devils had a lot of talent last season after Lawson signed eight transfers and two freshmen in 2021, but they couldn’t put it together consistently over the course of the year. This season, Duke is doing what the team anticipated when Lawson took the helm. The Blue Devils are 15-1 with a No. 16 ranking, and their lone loss came at the hands of No. 3 UConn before Azzi Fudd went down with an injury.

Lawson has made the best of the transfer market, finding players that fit her system and complement each other. Duke’s top three scorers — led by Celeste Taylor, who joined the team from Texas in 2021 — are all transfers.

Utah is having a historic season under coach Lynne Roberts. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Lynne Roberts, Utah

Utah finished last season with a 21-12 record and a late season-surge that included a second-place finish in the Pac-12 tournament and a first-round March Madness win over Arkansas. This season, the Utes have picked up where they left off, and Roberts has them reaching new heights. Utah is 14-1, with an impressive 124-78 win over then-No. 16 Oklahoma in November. The team also reached No. 8 in the AP Poll for the first time in program history.

Roberts secured Alissa Pili, one of the most impactful transfers in the country, prior to the season, and the former USC player is delivering with 19.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. In her eighth year at the helm, Roberts has also guided one of the best offenses in the country. The Utes’ 87.3 points per game rank fourth in the nation and their 19.5 assists per game rank sixth.

Teri Moren, Indiana

After losing Ali Patberg, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Aleksa Gulbe to graduation, it was hard to imagine Indiana not having a drop-off from last season. Then, when Grace Berger was injured against Auburn in late November, things looked even less promising for the Hoosiers. Despite those obstacles, Moren has led Indiana to a top-10 ranking and a 15-1 record.

She added two key players in the offseason, including Israeli phenom Yarden Garzon and Oregon transfer Sydney Parrish, who is from Indiana. Against all odds, the Hoosiers have managed to maintain their excellence from last season, and somehow might be even better this year.

Honorable mentions

Dawn Staley's Gamecocks have held onto the No. 1 ranking since preseason. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

Dawn Staley, South Carolina

Staley’s team is too similar to last season for her to be seriously considered for the award, but she still deserves a mention. Maintaining excellence is a challenge, and having the country’s top team two years in a row isn’t just dumb luck. Staley is making it happen with the reigning national champions.

Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey, UConn

No team has struggled with injuries and adversity quite like the Huskies have this season. Yet, they’ve managed to stay at the level we are accustomed to seeing, with a No. 4 ranking and a 13-2 record. Auriemma and Dailey have split coaching duties, so unless there is a way for them to win the award together, the Coach of the Year award will likely go to another candidate.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

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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