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The key to Stefanie Dolson’s multi-championship season

(Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Stefanie Dolson had a banner 2021, winning Olympic gold with Team USA’s 3×3 squad in Tokyo and a WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky. At 29 years old, Dolson is hitting her stride after playing eight years in the WNBA and competing with USA Basketball since her U18 days.

The Sky center made history alongside Allisha Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young when they clinched the first-ever 3×3 basketball gold medal at the 2020 Olympics, a run that Dolson said re-energized her.

“It was just such a nice break from 5-on-5. I think if I went and played 5-on 5 basketball, it would’ve been a little bit harder maybe, or easier to feel burnt out,” Dolson tells Just Women’s Sports. “So I think it helped that I played 3-on-3. It kind of gave me that break from the season of the W.”

Riding the momentum from her Tokyo win, Dolson came back from the break ready to close out the second half of the WNBA season with her Sky teammates, who were some of her biggest supporters during the Olympics.

“Winning kind of brought me back on a high. My team was amazing, they were so sweet when I got back,” she says. “They had, like, these shirts made. It was really cute. I hate the attention, but I appreciate the statement, so they were really nice.”

The team chemistry Dolson attests to was on full display when the Sky went from the sixth seed in the playoffs to WNBA champions, securing the first title in franchise history.

Dolson’s landmark season, however, didn’t come without its challenges. The 29-year-old revealed in early 2020 and that she and her entire family tested positive for COVID-19 and her mom was hospitalized with the virus. Dolson experienced symptoms herself and didn’t return to the court for five months. During the 2020 season in the WNBA bubble, she played a career-low 18.2 minutes per game.

So, going into the 2021 offseason, Dolson decided to fully commit to her overall health, including changing her approach to nutrition. In an Instagram post celebrating the Sky’s championship, Dolson opened up about the hard work she put in during the winter months.

“I worked my ass off this offseason to lose weight, get quicker and be my best version of myself to help my team and I did just that!” she wrote.

“For me, this was probably my biggest year when it comes to my body and stuff. I lost weight in the offseason, I decided not to go overseas,” Dolson says. “I lost 30 pounds.”

Nutrition and conditioning have been paramount for Dolson since she was a college athlete at UConn and learned she had to go the extra mile to refuel her body.

“Even at the end of last year, I wasn’t able to run the floor very hard,” Dolson told the Hartford Courant during her senior season in 2014. “I think that has improved immensely. I know how hard to work now. I have the instinct now to know how I have to work.”

That mentality helped Dolson overcome a foot injury, isolation and underperformance in 2020.

“I feel like my injury was from the weight that I gained from quarantine and from being home,” she says. “So I had to lose it. I got more fit, and then that’s when I started using this product called UCAN.”

The all-natural, zero-sugar energy product has become essential to Dolson’s training regimen in 2021, helping her overcome a grueling schedule to reach new heights. With UCAN, Dolson said that she doesn’t “crash because of the sugar,” something she has become hyper-aware of over the course of her basketball career.

“Just using products like UCAN, watching my carbs, my sugar, like all that stuff, it’s just helped me kind of be the best player that I can be,” she says.

UCAN’s wide range of products, including protein bars and energy powders, helped Dolson “maintain my weight throughout the season and still stay energized.”

“What the nutritional quality translates to for women is the ability to have a fuller capacity of their fuel source for training,” says Dr. Cathy Yeckel, an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale School of Medicine and a nutritional consultant for UCAN. “It’s a healthier choice and it can translate to a bigger fuel repertoire when they come to the line to train.”

As for Dolson’s favorite flavor? “Cookies and cream, of course!”

After an eventful year, Dolson enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. She joins Sky teammates Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper on the market.

While the future of the Chicago squad — and the possibility of a WNBA title defense — is uncertain, Dolson has found a recipe for success mentally and physically.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @clare_brennan2.

(Editor’s note: UCAN is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports)

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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