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Riley Jackson surprised with Gatorade National Girls Soccer POY honors

Riley Jackson holds the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year trophy on Thursday, June 30, in Roswell, Ga. (Photo provided by Gatorade)

It all began as just another day for Riley Jackson, but it quickly evolved into one she’ll never forget.

Aware that she’d been named her state’s Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year a week prior, Jackson and her father headed to her high school Thursday in Roswell, Ga., to take part in what she thought were the ceremonial photos for being the recipient of that award, but when she approached the doors of the school’s library, something much more prestigious was waiting on the other side.

To Jackson’s surprise, the room was filled with friends, family, teammates and a coordinated media team who were all on hand to watch her receive the trophy for Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year, an award in which the sophomore standout bested nearly half a million student-athletes from across the country.

“My mouth was hanging wide open. I was probably about to cry,” Jackson said. “Seeing all my friends and family there to support me was huge. The huge camera crew, I honestly didn’t really know what to do in the moment because I was just so overwhelmed with excitement.

“Honestly, at first, it was confusion because I thought that I was just going to take a couple pictures, and it turned into a big ceremony to have this award presented to me.”

To top it off, Chicago Red Stars and U.S. Women’s National Team star Mallory Pugh was on hand via Zoom to surprise Jackson with the award, which has only had three sophomore winners in its 37 years of existence. But make no mistake about her age — Jackson is already well-decorated.

And this is only the beginning.

“I’m super grateful to have the opportunity,” Jackson said about receiving the national honor. “I think, for me, it’s a motivator to keep working hard, to keep wanting to achieve what I’ve trained for my entire life and keep working toward those goals and wanting to get better every single day.”

The 5-foot-8 midfielder wrapped up her sophomore year at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School with 14 goals and 18 assists despite missing the postseason due to obligations with the U.S. Soccer U17 Women’s National Team. The Titans finished 19-2-1 on the year and were ousted in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament, however, Jackson was making a name for herself on a much grander stage.

The U17 national team defeated Mexico 2-1 in the championship, and Jackson was the Golden Ball winner, awarded to the tournament’s best player.

“It’s always been my dream to represent my country and play outside of the country because that was actually my first international trip,” said Jackson, who captained the Americans in the final. “Having that opportunity and being a part of that team meant a lot to me. Even putting on the crest means a lot to me every single day there.

“I always say, ‘When I put on the crest, I feel like I can fly,’ so having the opportunity to play and represent my country meant a lot. And to win the tournament and win the Golden Ball, I don’t think I could’ve done all the things I did without the support of my friends and family back home but also my coaches and teammates while I was there because we had such a close relationship.”

Riley Jackson poses with friends and teammates while holding the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year trophy on Thursday, June 30, in Roswell, Ga. (Photo provided by Gatorade)

In addition to her on-the-field accomplishments, Jackson has also demonstrated excellence in the classroom, where she’s maintained a weighted 4.26 GPA, and she volunteers locally as a youth soccer instructor and camp coach.

“It means a lot to me to be a role model for the little girls in my community also because I do live in a tight-knit community,” said Jackson, who’s also a USSF certified, paid referee, “so having the opportunity and the support to be an inspiration for those little girls means a lot to me, too.”

Pugh’s rise to national stardom at such a young age is an inspiration to Jackson, but she also tries to model her game after several others on the USWNT, including Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan.

“Riley Jackson can change the game with one touch of the ball,” said Jason Page, head coach of Walton High School in Georgia. “She can out-work any player on the field, her vision is national-elite level and she has precision passing with amazing touch.”

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes 51 recipients from each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, and it includes one national recipient from each sport. The student-athletes are selected by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which leverages experts including coaches, scouts, media and others as sources to help determine the state winners in each sport.

The award recognizes not only outstanding athletic performance but also high standards of academic achievement and exceptional character demonstrated both on and off the field. The program was established in 1985, and its recipients have won hundreds of professional and college championships. Previous winners across all sports include a distinguished list of athletes, including Pugh, Aly Wagner, Heather O’Reilly, Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach, Elena Delle Donne and many other sports icons.

Through Gatorade’s “Play it Forward” platform, Jackson has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national organization of her choosing, designed to help young athletes realize the benefits of playing sports. Jackson is also eligible to submit a short video explaining why the organization she chose is deserving of one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants, which will be announced throughout the year.

“Riley Jackson is now a part of an elite alumni group of past Gatorade Players of the Year, including athletic icons such as Peyton Manning and Abby Wambach,” said Gatorade Senior Vice President and General Manager Brett O’Brien. “She has proven why her name belongs on the trophy and we have no doubt Riley will go on to accomplish great things in and out of sport like so many POY winners before her.”

Only nine sophomores across all sports have been bestowed the honor of being named Gatorade National Player of the Year, including last year’s girls soccer recipient in Alyssa Thomason.

Jackson is the ninth, and Thursday’s surprise only reinforces the goals for which she continues to strive.

“Obviously it’s important for me to be a good all-around person, whether it’s academically or on the field,” Jackson said. “As of right now, it’s just about kind of figuring out what I want to do with college, just deciding what school would be a good fit for me to help me reach my future goals of playing internationally and playing professionally and being on the women’s national team.”

Trent Singer is the High School Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @trentsinger.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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