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Sam Apuzzo draws on experience in dominant AU lacrosse season

Sam Apuzzo drives against defender Meg Douty in her team’s win on Sunday. (Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited)

Sam Apuzzo’s goal for the Athletes Unlimited lacrosse season is to make sure that her team keeps winning.

After playing in AU’s inaugural season in 2021, Apuzzo has taken a different approach to the four-week campaign in Maryland this year, focusing more on results than on individual points.

“I think the biggest thing for what I learned from last year to this year is the importance of actually having a lot of wins,” the attacker told Just Women’s Sports. “So I’m just focused on winning this year with my team and every team that may be on, getting that team going because that’s what matters the most.”

Apuzzo finished last season third in the league standings, 258 points behind inaugural champion Taylor Cummings. It took three weeks for one of Apuzzo’s teams to win a game, as she and the other players acclimated to AU’s unique rules and points system.

So far this year, Apuzzo has yet to lose a game.

“She’s just a born winner,” Charlotte North, current league leader in goals, said after Team Apuzzo’s 8-5 win over Team Arsenault on Sunday.

Apuzzo’s focus on the team has led to payoffs individually as well: She currently sits second on the leaderboard with 965 points, 31 behind rookie goalie Taylor Moreno, and will serve as a captain for the third week in a row.

After missing out on the captain’s role last season, Apuzzo is learning that there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to naming a roster and making tactical decisions. On Sunday, despite not scoring in a game for the first time in her Athletes Unlimited career, Apuzzo watched as the team she selected got the job done.

“What I’m learning, being a captain, is that everyone is so smart around you,” she said.

She’s also leaned on her teammates’ ideas and knowledge of their opponents as they’ve attempted to work “from the inside out.”

The experience will help her as she heads back to Boston College in the fall, where she’ll begin her second season as a full-time assistant coach after a decorated playing career. Apuzzo graduated in 2019 as the Eagles’ all-time leading goal scorer with 283 goals.

“’I’m learning when playing with so many different people who went to different schools, people who have been coached by different people, or people who are coaches,” said Apuzzo. “You learn a lot just by being around and hearing different things.”

She’s also learning about the sport from a higher level as a member of the Player Executive Committee this season.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership in general. The idea of bringing a lot of opinions in and making executive decisions off of that,” said Apuzzo, who wants to see the sport eventually make the Olympic roster in 2028.

As AU lacrosse continues to build momentum, Apuzzo would like to see the sport grow on the international stage, too. After winning the World Lacrosse Championship with Team USA in June, Apuzzo believes that women’s lacrosse is “really close” to becoming a part of the Summer Olympics, maybe as soon as 2028 in Los Angeles.

“Based on the crowd we had in every single game, I think it shows that lacrosse is going in the right direction,” Apuzzo said of the tournament. “We’re knocking on the door of the Olympics. I think we definitely made a case for ourselves, so hopefully we can keep moving forward.”

Apuzzo played a big role in the United States’ run to the first World Championship on home soil and their ninth title overall. She had three goals and two assists in the final against Canada, which she called “the most competitive kind of game” she’s ever played in.

“It was honestly for me a dream come true,” Apuzzo said. “Ever since I picked up a stick and really ran with myself playing lacrosse, the national team and playing for Team USA was the big goal that I had.

“It’s kind of surreal to say it. Like, who can really say that they’ve accomplished their dreams, which is something that I’ll hold forever and be able to look back on?”

With two more weeks to try to ascend to the top of the AU leaderboard behind team wins and individual points, Apuzzo has the second annual title in her reach. And by this time next year, odds are she’ll be dreaming even bigger.

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

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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