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The five biggest surprises of the 2022 NWSL College Draft

UCLA forward Mia Fishel fell to fifth in Saturday’s college draft. (Andy Bao/Getty Images)

The 2022 NWSL College Draft had plenty of surprises, including the selection of Naomi Girma over Jaelin Howell at No. 1 overall

To see a list of every pick in the draft, click here. Meanwhile, here’s Just Women’s Sports five biggest surprises from an eventful college draft.

1. San Diego picks Girma, still needs midfielders

After selecting no midfielders in the expansion draft, many thought that San Diego would opt to go with Jaelin Howell to help bolster the midfield. Instead, they went with Naomi Girma, two-time Pac-12 Defender of the Year. While Girma will nonetheless add value to San Diego’s defense, which will also feature Abby Dahlkemper, the pick leaves the Wave still looking to fill out their midfield.

San Diego could use Girma as a defensive midfielder, where she has been used before. She even scored eight goals during her career at Stanford, including the rocket below.

In the second round, San Diego did select Sydney Pulver out of Washington State to fill one of the midfield spots, but the team could use a few more to round out the roster.

2. Mia Fishel falls to Orlando

The Orlando Pride may have gotten the steal of the draft with UCLA’s Mia Fishel falling all the way to fifth. Fishel will fill some holes for Orlando, who dealt Alex Morgan to San Diego FC following the expansion draft. In 59 games, she scored 32 goals and added 14 assists to etch her name into the Bruins’ top 10 all-time goal scorers in just three seasons.

With the ability to step in at striker, she could provide some needed help for Sydney Leroux, who has carried much of the Pride’s scoring burden over the past few seasons. She will also be reuniting with her college head coach Amanda Cromwell, who was recently named head coach of the Orlando Pride. Look for Fishel to continue to thrive under Cromwell and potentially become one of the Pride’s leading scorers in her rookie year.

3. Sydny Nasello falls to the second round

This one was a big surprise, as Just Women’s Sports had projected Nasello as going fifth to the Orlando Pride. A wide attacker who can play along the flank, Nasello could have provided any team with some depth across the forward line. While the selection of Fishel to Orlando made sense, that Nasello fell out of the first round came as a relative shocker — and could be a huge boon for the Thorns, who picked her at 13th. 

The forward should fit in well in Portland, with the ability to further develop her game alongside Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith. 

4. Louisville goes young after trading for McDonald

With six of last year’s expansion draft players up for selection in this year’s expansion draft, Louisville appears to be looking to start over. That sentiment didn’t change with Saturday’s college draft, as they selected Savannah DeMelo and Jaelin Howell to help bolster an attack that will now be led by Jessica McDonald. The club first traded away Savannah McCaskill to Angel City FC in exchange for the No. 6 pick in the draft, which they used on DeMelo. 

The club finished the 2021 season at the bottom of the league, just one spot ahead of Kansas City, after going 5-7-12. While Kansas City has added some veteran depth in Sam Mewis, Louisville appears to be going young, hoping to build around breakout star Ebony Salmon. The 33-year-old McDonald may seem like a curious pick up given the youth movement, but the two-time NWSL champion and World Cup winner should provide a steady veteran presence. 

5. Small schools make a splash

Multiple NWSL teams elected to pick up small-school superstars later on in the first round. At eighth, OL Reign selected Zsanett Kajan from St. John’s University. At ninth, San Diego selected Marleen Schimmer out of Grand Canyon. Then, at 12th, Kaitlin Fregulia out of Long Beach State was selected by North Carolina. 

It’s always fun to see how sleeper picks do in the league. One to keep an eye on would be Kajan. While at St. John’s, Kajan was an offensive powerhouse, scoring 16 goals in 18 games during the 2021 season. She’ll get to learn under some of the league’s best in Megan Rapinoe, Bethany Balcer and Tziarra King. The same can be said for Fregulia, who will get to play alongside Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett, while Schimmer will get to develop alongside Alex Morgan in San Diego.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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