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Shea Groom: “It Would Mean Everything” for Houston to Go Home Challenge Cup Champs

BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS

Shea Groom is a forward for the Houston Dash of the NWSL. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the team’s semifinal victory over the Portland Thorns, and what they’ll need to do against Chicago in order to take home the Challenge Cup trophy this Sunday. 

The team came up huge against Portland. Can you walk me through your thoughts on the game? 

Portland’s an incredible team and they have shown that throughout their history in the league. Anytime you go against them, you’re going to expect good soccer and that you have to bring your best game. Walking into the game, we knew we had to be prepared, and that’s something that we’ve taken pride and responsibility in throughout this tournament. We were not doubting each other in our locker room at all. I felt like we came into that game fully believing that we were going to win it, and I don’t think we ever stopped believing. And then once we were able to get the goal, we just said, anything to win, defend for your life, and let’s get to the finals because that’s why we’re here. It was a fun win. And I’m really glad that I could do it alongside these players and for this club and organization

You won in the quarterfinals on PKs after a scoreless draw. For a while, it looked like the semis might also go to penalties. What did it mean to finally get that goal in regular time? 

I think we’ve had a weird tournament to begin with. I don’t think if you would have told anyone that we were going to come out and score three goals in the first game that they would have believed you. James [Clarkson, head coach] has given some crazy stats to us, like last year the team had zero or maybe a couple two goal games, but never a three-goal game. They didn’t score off the set piece once last year. So we are definitely a different team and a different look, and obviously it came with a little bit of pressure once we got later into the third and fourth game. But going into penalties, I think you never want to really leave it to that and get in that situation. Against Portland, I felt like we were on the front foot and we had enough chances in that game to have earned at least one goal. We were ready to push until the end to get a goal, and we kept our foot on the gas pedal.

We spoke with Rachel Daly earlier in the tournament and she defined the team’s mentality as “do or die.” What are your thoughts about that and your perspective on the team’s mentality up to this point?

For sure. It’s been fun to be a part of a side that has a clear identity and not something that was forced upon us. I think it happened organically. And someone said to me, I think it might’ve been Katie Naughton, she called us “the band of misfits,” just because I feel that a lot of us come from similar journeys or backgrounds, being tossed around teams or been on teams that weren’t necessarily competitive in the past or that found success. And we all came here and it kind of works. I think we have that “taking it personal” mentality. It reminds me a lot of what Michael Jordan said in The Last Dance. He always took things personally, even when people didn’t mean it that way.

And I know a lot of media and articles have come out saying we’ve finally earned our respect, and it’s funny because I think that no one’s thought that for a second. Even making it to the finals and rewriting a lot of the stigma that’s around the Dash, we still feel like there’s so much to do and that there’s always going to be people that think we just got here by happenstance. And it’s definitely been fun to be a part of that identity and to enter into every game like we have something big to prove. And I think for me personally, I relate to that so much, and feeling like I have a big chip on my shoulder, and wanting that respect, but also not needing it in the same breath. And I think James has done an incredible job creating that culture and bringing players in that fit, not just on the soccer field but off the field as well. It’s definitely been fun, and definitely I think something that will continue to be a part of this culture long past the Challenge Cup.

What does your preparation look like ahead of Sunday’s final? 

We’ve played a lot of games, so recovery is absolutely the most important thing. If we can get as many players as possible to go into the final game feeling good and healthy and well-rested, then I think we’ll have the best chance. There’ll be a lot of that, and then a lot of preparation. And while we’ll be preparing for Chicago and the weapons that they have, I think it’s also fine just tuning up what we have going on and making sure that it’s all ready to go and that we’re able to bring our best on Sunday. Hopefully we’re bringing home a championship.

Has there been any talk about a specific focus or game plan for Red Stars? 

Not yet but there will be. I definitely think that we really look into how other teams play and where we can exploit other teams with what we have. Obviously they’re an incredibly talented team and have a lot of players either with the national team or on the cusp of the national team, but I think we’ll match up well. And it’s been interesting being on the other side of it. Just the past couple of days, some of the girls have thought, “Oh, Portland and Chicago, we haven’t done well against these teams in the past.” And I’m over here like, “I’ve only been on teams that beat Portland or Chicago so why are you guys scared?” So it’s been fun to sort of mess with players like that and just saying this is a new team, and there’s nothing to be afraid of, and we have a good side. And I think as long as we believe that and we come out and compete, then we can take any team in this league.

What do you think it would mean for the team to win the Challenge Cup?

It would mean everything. People don’t even know the half of it. This team has been through everything. And I think a lot of people from the outside think, “Oh the bubble’s hard,” and everything. But we’ve had players lose their dad right before the tournament started. We had a player lose their grandfather a couple of days ago. Obviously some internal things going on with the team as well. And it seems like every other day we’re battling something hard off the field, and then we have to go play 90 minutes. And then watching our city suffer and be in the middle of some of the worst parts of this pandemic, it’s been really hard and dark sometimes, and we feel like we’ve been able to bring a little bit of light and a little bit of hope, and a little bit of healing through what we do, and hopefully that includes bringing a championship home. I think it would be incredible for our club and our city, and incredible for the players and all that we’ve dealt with. I want it so bad just for them.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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