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Stanford’s Naomi Girma is staying focused on present

Two football players on field/ JWS
Two football players on field/ JWS

The captain of the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team, Naomi Girma was recently voted the 2020 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. Girma also plays for Stanford University, with whom she won the NCAA Championship in 2019 as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  

Congrats on the big award. Can you talk about what it meant to you to be named the 2020 Young Player of the Year?

It was an honor, and I think it was just a really cool way to end this year and award all the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes. We talked before camp, and I feel like I’ve just been working and trying to find the time to compete. Sadly, we didn’t get to play in the fall, but hopefully the team gets a season in the spring. But I was just really thankful and humbled to get the award, especially with Trinity [Rodman] and Mia [Fishel] having great years as well.

Coming out of national team camp in October, what do you think were your biggest learnings from playing with the USWNT?

It was an amazing experience, and I think I learned a lot from watching the older players and watching the more experienced defenders. Just seeing the little movements, and the way they communicate, and how everything is done with intention—I learned a lot just from watching them, which was really cool.

And from the coaches, we went through a lot of defensive shapes and the things we focus on when we’re defending in the box, and I think it was cool to be exposed to the language that they use and the specifics behind everything. Because although it’s a similar style throughout these national teams, the details are really emphasized there. I think learning those was really, really beneficial for me.

What kind of feedback did the coaches give you coming out of camp?

I think just being a younger player, a lot of times the things that separate us are the details. We talked a lot about that and just obviously being comfortable in that environment and just feeling like you belong and using your voice there, which I think I did a decent job of, for my first camp, but obviously that’s something that improves with experience.

15 former Young Player of the Year Award winners have gone on to play in a World Cup for the US. Does that bring pressure or excitement?

Oh wow, I did not know that. I think it brings excitement. Obviously, they didn’t win it and then just make the World Cup team. A lot of work went in behind it. And I think this is a cool step to take along the way, but this isn’t ultimately the end of where I want to get. So I think it motivates me to keep working and especially after going to that camp. Keep seeing or focusing on the little details I can work on.

How’s everything going? Are you on break still from school?

We just reported to campus a few weeks ago. But I tore my ACL, so I’ve kept it pretty low key so far.

Oh man. So are you on the path of recovery now? Did you have surgery and everything?

Yeah. It happened after camp. Sometimes you have to wait a while for your ACL to get the surgery, but luckily I wasn’t super swollen, so I got it the next week after I found out.

What does the timeline look like for you now?

I’m definitely out for winter or spring, whatever happens, but I can play in the fall, which I’m happy about. We are supposed to have a spring season, but it is still unclear. We’re currently having to deal with Santa Clara County restrictions, so we’re very limited in what we can do. I’m not sure if you’ve seen, but women’s basketball and men’s basketball are just continually on the road, because they can’t come back to Santa Clara County. So for now, we’re waiting for the county to lift those mandates, and then we’ll see.

Obviously everything is up in the air, but individually, what are your goals for the next year? 

Going into 2021, I just want to attack everything. That’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout rehab. After such a high of getting invited to camp, it was such a disappointment, but I’ve just been focusing on how I approach PT and my treatment and rehab and things like that.

As I start progressing, I want to do every little thing at each step of the way to make sure I can come back fully fit. And then I’m really looking forward to my senior season in the fall. I just want to be fully ready to compete and play with my teammates and lead the team.

You’re a year out from graduating, but have you given any thoughts to what your plans are afterwards? You could easily be the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick in the NWSL draft in 2022. 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely thought about it, but I think for now, I’ve just been focusing on my rehab instead of thinking too far ahead past my senior season. Especially being injured, I feel like it gets overwhelming to think about that too much.

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention about the award and the excitement around that? 

I would just like to say how thankful I am to the Ethiopian community in my area. I grew up playing with them, and I’m just happy they’ve been with me along the way. I know this was really exciting for them too, because it’s a product of everyone’s hard work. So I’m just really grateful. And being given the award was just a huge blessing amongst a lot of other things happening.

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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