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NCAA Freshman of the Year: FSU star headlines top 6 candidates

Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson is the frontrunner for Freshman of the Year as the regular season nears the end. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The postseason is less than one month away, and with it comes a slew of awards, including Freshman of the Year.

DePaul forward Aneesah Morrow won the award last year after a breakout season. In 2020-21, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark of Iowa and UConn’s Paige Bueckers were co-recipients. This year’s recipient will join some elite recent company.

Just Women’s Sports breaks down the top six candidates for 2023 Freshman of the Year.

Ta’Niya Latson, Florida State

There have been some great freshman performances so far this season, but it’s hard for many of them to truly compare with Florida State’s 5-foot-8 guard. Not only is Latson leading the freshman class in scoring, she’s also No. 8 among all players in the country with 21.9 points per game. She also contributes 4.5 rebounds and three assists per game, while shooting 46 percent from the field. She’s led Florida State to a No. 19 ranking and wins over ranked ACC teams Duke, NC State and North Carolina.

Latson is a prolific scorer, but her best attribute this season has been consistency. The guard has scored fewer than 10 points just once this season, while also hitting the 30-point mark six times in 27 games. Highlights include 31 points in an overtime victory over NC State and 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in Florida State’s upset of UNC.

Several players have cases for Freshman of the Year, but none mean as much to their team as Latson does to Florida State. With less than a month left in the regular season, she is the frontrunner for the award.

Kiki Rice, UCLA

The No. 2 recruit in the country came to UCLA with a lot of hype and has handled it with poise. Rice knows she isn’t the main option for the Bruins (that mantle belongs to senior guard Charisma Osborne), but she plays her secondary role in a positive way, doing a bit of everything for her team. Rice is averaging 11.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a team-high 1.3 steals.

Rice has been a starter for UCLA since Game 1 this season, and she adjusted to the college game seamlessly. On Nov. 20, against a long, athletic Tennessee squad, Rice responded with 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals to help her team secure an upset win. The guard also held her own in a close contest with South Carolina, recording 16 points and five rebounds.

Cotie McMahon, Ohio State

Despite coming in as a highly-touted recruit, McMahon likely wasn’t expecting to play such a big role this season on a stacked Ohio State team. But injuries to Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene meant the Buckeyes didn’t have time to ease McMahon into a bigger role. She had to take it right away, and the forward has delivered. In 26.4 minutes per game, McMahon is averaging 14 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

The forward has done everything Ohio State has asked of her while adding a new element to their offense. She brings physicality to the court and is able to drive and create, serving as a good complement to shooters like Taylor Mikesell and post players like Rebeka Mikulasikova. Even in games where Ohio State has struggled, McMahon has often been a bright spot. She held her own in losses to top opponents, Iowa and Indiana, recording 21 points in each contest.

Grace VanSlooten, Oregon

Oregon has had a steep decline in recent weeks, dropping 10 of their last 14 games after starting the season 10-1 and climbing into the Top 25. But while the Ducks have had trouble in a difficult Pac-12 conference, Vanslooten has not. She’s second on the team in scoring with 14.5 points and second in rebounds with 6.2 per contest. The 6-3 forward has produced those numbers in a league with experienced post players defending her.

VanSlooten doesn’t shy away from top competition, recording a career-high 29 points on Dec. 21 in a loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State, while also grabbing nine rebounds for a near-double-double. Other highlights include 17 points and 11 boards against UNC, and 17 points and eight rebounds against UCLA.

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Flau'jae Johnson has been key to LSU's 23-1 run this season. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports)

Flau’jae Johnson, LSU

When LSU plays, eyes are on the duo of Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, but Johnson has developed into a reliable third option for the Tigers. She’s averaging 12.5 points per game and is second on the team in rebounding with 6.3 per game, despite being just 5-10. She’s also blocking one shot per game, which speaks to the energy, effort and athleticism she brings to the court. Johnson even has three double-doubles this season on points and rebounds.

Johnson showed her variety of skills in a win over UAB on Nov. 26, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals. The guard was then crucial in a close 79-76 victory over Arkansas on Jan. 19, when she contributed 19 points and six rebounds. (Unrelated to the award debate: Johnson also has world-class talent off the court.)

Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, Baylor

Like VanSlooten of Oregon, Littlepage-Buggs will have a tough time winning this award because of her team’s struggles. But also like Vanslooten, Littlepage-Buggs has been a consistent bright spot for her team. The 6-1 forward is averaging a near-double-double with 9.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. She’s also efficient in her attempts, shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Littlepage-Buggs has clearly impressed coach Nicki Collen, who has called on the talented freshman to start in 19 of her team’s 24 games. Even when she doesn’t start, Littlepage-Buggs is a fixture on the court for the Bears, playing 24.8 minutes per contest. In a recent win over a tough Kansas squad, she played 30 minutes off the bench and finished with 12 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

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

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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