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JWS’ 2022 NWSL awards: Our picks for MVP, Rookie of the Year and more

NWSL rookie Naomi Girma was nominated for three different award categories in 2022. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Now that the NWSL playoffs are underway — with Kansas City and San Diego winning Sunday’s quarterfinals to move onto semifinal matchups with OL Reign and the Portland Thorns, respectively — Just Women’s Sports is handing out 2022 end-of-season awards.

Based on the list of award nominees individual performances from the end of April to the beginning of October, here are our picks for the NWSL’s Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Drum roll, please …

(Daniel Bartel/USA TODAY Sports)


Mallory Pugh, Chicago Red Stars

Mallory Pugh can do it all. Finishing the regular season just four goals behind Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan, she was the league’s fifth-top scorer with 11 goals, tied for the lead in assists with six, and in the upper ranks with an 80 percent tackle success rate. The chemistry she built with her Red Stars teammates was integral to their success, as they claimed the last playoff spot on the final day of the regular season and went toe-to-toe with the San Diego Wave in the quarterfinals.

In addition to setting up her teammates, Pugh showed that she could single-handedly carry the ball through walls of defenders and create scoring chances for herself when she needed to. Nominated for NWSL MVP last year as well, Pugh is continuing to play the best soccer of her career.

(Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Defensive Player of the Year

Carson Pickett, North Carolina Courage

Named to four NWSL Teams of the Month this season, Carson Pickett has been the best fullback in the league. She finished the year tied for first in with six assists and in first with 52 chances created. Defensively, Pickett had a tackle success rate of 71 percent and registered 36 interceptions, six blocks and 32 clearances. She also scored a goal and helped the Courage emerge as one the most improved teams this season, rising to seventh place and one spot from a playoff berth after spending the first half of the year at the bottom of the standings.

(Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports)

Goalkeeper of the Year

AD Franch, Kansas City Current

AD Franch has been on her A game through all 1,800 minutes of the 20 matches she’s played this year. The highest-ranked goalkeeper in career playoff saves with 66, she recorded a league second-best five shutouts and a 72.5 percent save percentage in the regular season. Her ability to come up big in important moments, including penalty saves, helped Kansas City go on a 13-game unbeaten streak and reach the playoffs for the first time. After another dazzling performance in the quarterfinals on Sunday, Franch and the Current head to Seattle to play OL Reign in the semifinals.

(Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie of the Year

Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave FC

The talent in the 2022 rookie pool runs deep, but leading the pack is Naomi Girma, one of the most consistent and reliable defenders in the league. Starting all 19 games for the Wave this season, she won 71 percent of her duels and registered 14 blocks and 24 interceptions. Her 95 clearances contributed to San Diego ranking second in the league in clearances per match. In possession, the No. 1 draft pick had an 83 percent passing accuracy and a 41 percent long-ball success rate, in addition to six key passes. She was named to four NWSL Teams of the Month and honored as Rookie of the Month twice, in May and September.

(Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Coach of the Year

Laura Harvey, OL Reign

There’s not a lot the OL Reign haven’t accomplished this year under Laura Harvey, most notably coming from behind to win their third NWSL Shield and tie the North Carolina Courage for the most in the league. Their defense recorded the most clean sheets in the league (nine) and the fewest number of goals against (19). On the attack, the Reign ranked second in shots (265) and shots on goal (129), and third in big chances created (38). Not only has Harvey created a successful product on the field, but she has also fostered a team culture in which players of all ages and levels can thrive.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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