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Six players to watch in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament

Baylor Outside Hitter Yossiana Pressley (Photo courtesy of @BaylorVBall)

The NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament kicked off Wednesday with first-round matchups. Undefeated No. 1 seed Wisconsin is projected to win it all, with Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas rounding out the top four.

As the event gets underway, we’ve compiled a list of six players we think will lead their teams deep in the tournament and help them contend for the national title.

1. Dana Rettke, Middle Blocker, Wisconsin

Bio: 6-foot-8 senior from Riverside, Ill. 2017 2018, 2019 AVCA First Team All-American. 2017 AVCA Freshman of the Year. 2019-2020 Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year.

2020-21 stats
Total kills: 138
Hitting percentage: .456
Total blocks: 70

This season, Rettke has proven once again that she is a force to be reckoned with at the net. With 263 kill attempts, 138 kills and only 18 errors, she is an incredibly efficient offensive weapon. Defensively, she’s recorded 70 blocks since the start of the season, a product of her 6-8 stature and lateral speed at the net.

2. Stephanie Samedy, Opposite Hitter, Minnesota

Bio: 6-2 senior from Clermont, Fla. 2020 Big-10 Player of the Year. 2017, 2018 AVCA First Team All-American. First Minnesota freshman ever to receive First Team All-American honors.

2020-21 stats
Total kills: 259
Hitting percentage: .278
Total blocks: 47
Total digs: 158

Samedy is unbelievably fun to watch. The newly crowned Big 10 Player of the Year can jump out of the gym and has a wicked cross-swing (which is very hard to do as a right-handed opposite hitter). A go-to player for the Gophers, Samedy has taken 668 total offensive attempts and has capitalized on 259 of them while committing just 73 hitting errors. If she’s having a bad day on offense, she’s able to make up for it on defense with strong blocks and the ability to dig balls in the backcourt.

3. Yossiana Pressley, Outside Hitter, Baylor

Bio: 6-0 senior from Cypress, Texas. 2019 AVCA National Player of the Year. 2019 ESPNW National Player of the Year. 2019 AVCA First Team All-American.

2020-21 stats
Total kills: 447
Hitting percentage: .247
Total blocks: 55
Total digs: 193

If you find yourself playing volleyball against Pressley, you should be scared. She’s only 6-feet tall, but she makes up for it by jumping higher, hanging for longer and hitting the ball harder (and faster) than most other college players. She’s a dual threat who can kill the ball from the front and back row and is just as impressive on defense.

4. Logan Eggleston, Outside Hitter, Texas

Bio: 6-0 junior from Brentwood, Tenn. 2019 AVCA Second Team All-American. 2018 Big 12 Freshman of the Year. 2020 three-time Big-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week.

2020-21 stats
Total kills: 379
Hitting percentage: .333
Total blocks: 42
Total digs: 205
Service aces: 41

Eggleston is a key player for four-seed Texas. The two-time All-American took 873 swings this season, racking up 379 kills for the Longhorns. She’s aggressive behind the service line, as evidenced by her 40 aces, and dug over 200 balls on defense. Eggleston has the tools to lead a balanced Longhorn team deep into the tournament.

5. Lauren Stivrins, Middle Blocker, Nebraska

Bio: 6-4 senior from Scottsdale, Ariz. 2018 AVCA First Team All-American. 2019 AVCA Second Team All-American. Ranked third in the Big Ten in 2019 with a .412 hitting percentage during conference play.

2020-21 stats
Total kills: 181
Hitting percentage: .471
Total blocks: 61

Stivrins is one of the best middle blockers in the country and critical to the success of five-seed Nebraska. She’s quick on offense and has a good “volleyball IQ,” meaning she’s able to see the court and anticipate the next play before it happens. With 181 kills, and only 33 errors on 315 kill attempts this season, Stivrins is incredibly efficient at the net, opening up opportunities for the Huskers’ outside and opposite hitters to score.

6. Madison Lilley, Setter, Kentucky

Bio: 5-11 senior from Overland Park, Kent. 2017, 2018, 2019 AVCA Second Team All-American. 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year. Named Gatorade Player of the Year in high school.

2020-21 stats
Assists: 791
Total digs: 153
Total blocks: 47
Total kills: 47

Recently named the 2021 SEC Player of the Year, Lilley was integral to the Wildcats winning the conference championship and securing the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With 791 assists on the season, Lilley has excellent court vision and the ability to spread the Wildcats’ offense across the net. If Kentucky is going to advance to its first Final Four in program history, the three-time All-American will play a huge role in getting them there.

Tune in: Tournament matches will be streamed on ESPN3, with the Final Four airing on ESPN2.

  • First round: April 14, ESPN3
  • Second round: April 15, ESPN3
  • Regional Semifinals: April 18, ESPN3/U
  • Regional Finals: April 19, ESPN3/U
  • Semis: April 22, ESPN2
  • National Championship: April 24, ESPN2

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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