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Stanford’s Naomi Girma on National Team Camp and Using Her Platform

Football player taking a shot/ JWS
Football player taking a shot/ JWS

Naomi Girma is a defender for the Stanford University Cardinal, with whom she won the 2019 NCAA College Cup. 

How do you feel about being called into USWNT training camp?

I’m really excited. It just feels like a bright spot in what has been a tough year with obviously our season getting canceled and all these things. So yeah, I’m super excited to go.

How’d you find out about the call-in? And how excited were you to see some current and past teammates on the roster? 

I got an email. Sophie Smith, who went pro last year, is also going and we were kind of talking about it and it was just like, “Yeah.” It was really exciting. My parents were super excited. And I think it’s great to see familiar faces there and a new environment for me. And yeah, I think it’s just cool that Stanford has that many people representing them there.

How have you been training this fall given that the Pac 12 isn’t playing? 

I’m happy I stayed on campus. We’ve been getting good training with our coaches and then also playing by ourselves and just focusing on finer details that we don’t usually focus on during the season. It’s just been great to have a steady training environment compared to the rest of this year when we were at home.

At this point, do you count on there being a spring season?

Well, I’m preparing for a spring season. That’s kind of been my outlook the whole year. If there’s a season, I want to be ready for it. I think it’s looking a lot better because of how Stanford is pushing for basketball and football to get the testing to be able to fully practice and then also be able to play in the game. So I think depending on how this fall season goes for them, that’ll kind of determine what happens with us. But I’m hopeful for a spring season and I mean, it’s really cool. We have the opportunity to play for a national championship in spring. And then also in the fall to play for 2021. That’d be pretty cool.

What have the last 6 months been like for you in terms of Covid, the season being cancelled, and the protests against social injustice? What’s changed in your perspective both as a person and as an athlete? 

It’s definitely changed. I would say I feel more empowered to use my platform as an athlete and to use my voice in ways that I didn’t feel like I could before. I think seeing the impact athletes can have on these issues has definitely inspired me and has caused me to start speaking out more. And I think it’s also great that our team is super open and willing to have those conversations, which has helped me feel more supported in speaking out and stuff.

You’ve talked before about the importance of having Black role models when you were younger in a sport that’s historically white. Your own platform is growing as we speak. How has your sense of yourself as a role model changed over the last few months? 

I think I just realized how special this opportunity that I have is, because obviously I know playing for Stanford soccer and getting to be in this environment is such a privilege. And I’m obviously grateful for it every day, but I think I realized the impact that it can have on other people who are younger than me. And I didn’t necessarily think about that before, that as a first generation American, I can have an impact by showing younger kids that you can do anything you set out for. And I think I realized the people that I looked up to inspired me and I can be that for younger kids as well.

What would “success” mean for you in camp?

Honestly, I think growing and learning as much as I can and going into that environment with an open mind and just being exposed to the faster pace, their style of play, and just retaining as much as I can. That is my goal going into this. And obviously, I want to perform and play my best as well.

What are your goals for the next 12 months? I mean, you’ll have camp, you’ll have more training, you’ll potentially have a spring season. What does all of that kind of look like on your radar? 

I think the coming months are really exciting, especially compared to what’s been happening. I think right now I’m continuing to build my base, making sure I’m ready for a spring season, and then hopefully in that spring season, competing for a national championship. And then I want to continue to perform in camps, whether it be at the senior level or at the U20 level if those happen. After all the work that’s been put in this year during this prolonged offseason, we should finally have a chance to perform and show out. I think it’s time for the fun part.

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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