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Reflection: Dani Weatherholt Looks Back on the NWSL Challenge Cup

After a week or so away from the NWSL Challenge Cup bubble, I have had some time to sit back and reflect on the experience. Firstly, thank you to the NWSL and all the selfless volunteers and staff that worked day-in and day-out to provide all the teams with the appropriate measures to ensure everyone’s safety. I was so happy to see you all honored before the final match, and hope that you were thanked each and every day. Also congratulations to the Houston Dash, as well as all the teams for their hard work and the sacrifices they made to attend this tournament.

 


When I look back at this tournament, I am met with gratitude and fullness. Although the tournament ultimately did not end the way our squad had envisioned, this experience provided for me in ways I never could have expected.

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With this being my first year on OL Reign, I was instantly impressed by the team’s closeness, individual strength, acceptance of differences, and leadership. This team truly has some inspiring women on it and I can genuinely say I learned something from every girl on the roster.

One person in particular who stuck out to me was captain Lu Barnes – who by the way had an unbelievable tournament! Let’s appreciate that for a second. Lu has the world’s biggest heart. She also makes the best vegan pancakes, which we had every gameday morning. She leads with love in all that she does and as a member for all 8 years, she is a big reason why this team has been so successful.

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While in the Bubble, Lu, Rosie White and I noticed there was an absurd amount of waste. So together, we worked with some amazing companies to provide the team with reusable water bottles courtesy of Crazy Cap, reusable cutlery courtesy of Albatross Cutlery, and reusable plates courtesy of Eco Lunch Box. This cut back our use of single-use plastic immensely, and it was empowering to see the whole team buy into reducing their waste.

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Although it was always an exciting day when we were able to leave the hotel, I do not particularly miss the invasive biweekly COVID testing. You would walk down the long halls of the academy and step into what appeared to be a doctor’s office in a makeshift classroom. You would sit patiently trying to distract yourself before kindly being asked which nostril you prefer. Left side strong side, every time for me. Apparently, I also have a small naval cavity… you learn something new every day.

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Rosie graciously volunteered as a tribute to give you a visual of how long these swabs were.


When it came to hotel living, I enjoyed learning about my teammates and playing card games. I’m already missing our little bundles of joy and bright lights: Steph Cox’s two beautiful daughters.

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I have nothing but admiration and respect for Steph, who was a fearless leader within our squad, and for her two little girls. From watching ballet recitals, basketball shootouts, pool excursions, and so much more… Steph chased her children around the hotel while putting in 90-minute shifts. Hearing their laughter fill the hallway broke up our monotonous routine and served as a constant reminder to choose joy throughout the journey.

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For us, the success of this tournament was about our team’s ability to come together. No amount of PKs will ever disprove that. And if you ask me, we achieved that and so much more.

I left this tournament a better person, and that is all I could have asked for. I gained friendships I will have for a lifetime. I confirmed what a profound impact we can have on one another through our own personal stories.  I learned what it meant to voice your opinion, ask questions, and engage in tough conversations. I learned that the only way to grow is to be brave enough to put yourself out there. And in doing so, more often than not, you enable the people around you to grow as well.

I couldn’t be more grateful to have been surrounded by such an intelligent group of powerful women passionate about making a difference in the lives of many. We left the tournament inspired and committed to making a difference in our local Tacoma community and to putting all of our incredible conversations into action. I will be forever grateful for this unique experience that brought us all together during such a pivotal time in society.

And thank you JWS for giving me the platform to share some of my thoughts!

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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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