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NWSL 2022 mock college draft: Projecting every first-round pick

(Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

With the Division I NCAA Tournament done and dusted — capped by Florida State winning a third national championship — focus in women’s soccer shifts to the 2022 NWSL Draft.

There is plenty of uncertainty hovering over the college draft, set to take place in 10 days. For starters, players granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA have the chance to return, potentially depleting the talent pool of available players. Along with that, several college stars who just finished the season (think Mikayla Colohan, for example) were selected in the 2021 NWSL Draft, and those teams still hold their rights.

With those factors in mind, putting together a mock draft has an even greater degree of difficulty. Here’s a look at how things may shake out in the first round on Dec. 18 as NWSL rosters continue to come together and players decide whether or not to return to school.

1. San Diego Wave FC

Jaelin Howell, M, Florida State

At the end of an impressive collegiate career at Florida State, Howell’s reputation and quality give her the edge as the top candidate for the expansion side. She’s a defensive midfielder who can connect play, throw herself into challenges and compete for minutes right away. Adding a two-time national champion is a great opportunity for the first-year NWSL team.

2. Racing Louisville FC

Naomi Girma, D, Stanford

Another decorated youth international with the United States, Girma bounced back from a serious knee injury to excel as a center back for Stanford. She’s a ball-playing defender who will need to adjust to the demands of slowing down higher-level attackers in the NWSL. Her background with U.S. youth squads is sure to help — not to mention, her role in winning a national championship with Stanford in 2019 — and Louisville will take as many NWSL-ready players as they can get for their second season.

3. North Carolina Courage

Penelope Hocking, F, Southern California

The California native piled on the goals in her decorated four-year career at USC. In 72 games, she’s managed 54 goals and 22 assists. That record is not necessarily a guarantee of success in the NWSL, but the 5-foot-5 striker has the skills and ability to slot in as an option right away for new head coach Sean Nahas.

4. Racing Louisville FC

Emily Madril, CB, Florida State

Emerging as one of Florida State’s key players over the past couple of seasons, Madril is a ball-playing central defender who excelled this fall, in particular. Her versatility and skill with the ball add to her value in the draft since she has the potential to play as a holding midfielder, too. One of the nation’s best center backs in the fall 2021 season, Madril would give Louisville needed depth.

UCLA's Mia Fishel should be a coveted prospect on draft day. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

5. Orlando Pride

Mia Fishel, F, UCLA

A junior who’s declared early for the draft, Fishel finished a strong career at UCLA with back-to-back All-American honors from United Soccer Coaches. In 59 games, she scored 32 goals and added 14 assists. The longtime U.S. youth international could be set for a reunion with Amanda Cromwell, who was named head coach of the Pride on Tuesday after nine seasons at UCLA. One underlying factor is that Fishel is a native of San Diego, so one of the new California teams could make a push for her on draft day.

6. Houston Dash

Diana Ordoñez, F, Virginia

Another player who left school early, Ordoñez recently finished her third season at Virginia with 45 goals in 62 games. On the surface, her goal-scoring record is matched by few during her time at school. She’s a classic penalty-box striker who needs teams to get her the ball in the box to score. The Dash have had success with drafting UVA products in the past, and Ordoñez brings the added connection of being a Texas native.

7. North Carolina Courage

Alia Martin, CB, Michigan

The depth pool at center back is going to be more certain once all the declared players are sorted after next Monday’s deadline. Regardless, Martin looks to be one of the top prospects for the spot. She played almost every minute of the season for the Wolverines and was a key part of their run to the Elite Eight. A handful of Michigan seniors could get picked in the draft, including Sarah Stratigakis and Nicki Hernandez, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Martin goes off the board first with the pick the Courage received as part of the Sam Mewis trade.

8. Orlando Pride

Sydney Cummings, CB, Georgetown

Projecting Cummings as a first-round pick might be a reach, but she is talented, tough and a decorated central defender. After playing three seasons (2017-19) at Brown, she took her grad year at Georgetown this fall and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. She reads the game well defensively, is sound with the ball at her feet and could be a good building block for Cromwell. The Pride added this pick as part of the deal that sent Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger to Gotham FC.

9. San Diego Wave FC

Sydny Nasello, F, South Florida

The expansion team can go in any number of directions here. Nasello has officially declared for the draft and has the talent to be a late first-round or early second-round pick, depending on who declares and how the draft unfolds. She’s a tricky dribbler and a wide attacker who enjoyed a career year this fall with 11 goals. She’s also a candidate to shift to an attacking outside back role, though she should stick as a depth forward at the very least.

10. OL Reign

Summer Yates, M, Washington

Attacking midfielder is perhaps the position most difficult to project for players making the jump from college soccer to the pro ranks. Yates played underneath the striker and up front at UW, enjoying a very solid career in the Pacific Northwest that included 20 goals and 17 assists in 74 games across four years. A team like OL Reign is sure to have a lengthy scouting profile on her, and if she can play a bit deeper and dig in defensively, her attacking abilities could really shine.

11. Chicago Red Stars

Frankie Tagliaferri, M/F, Rutgers

There are a lot of similarities between Tagliaferri and Yates, both attacking midfielders who are looking to stick in the NWSL. Tagliaferri transferred to Rutgers for her fifth season after four years at Penn State, enjoying a stellar fall season. Finishing the campaign with 13 goals and nine assists, Tagliaferri earned Big Ten Midfielder of the Year honors and boosted her draft stock. The Red Stars need players at a number of positions after making several high-profile trades, and Tagliaferri makes plenty of sense here.

12. Kansas City Current

Cameron Tucker, F, BYU

The speedster from Utah was a huge part of BYU’s success over the past few seasons. She knows how to find he back of the net, scoring 43 goals and added 29 assists in 97 games for the 2021 NCAA runners-up. A back-shoulder runner who could feature anywhere across a front three, her combination play with Colohan indicates that she can also drop in and combine. With a big roster at the moment, Kansas City can go with the best player available here, and Tucker is arguably the strongest forward left at this point.

Travis Clark is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering college soccer and the NWSL Draft. He is also the Director of Content at Top Drawer Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @travismclark.

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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