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Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, Angel City bridge the gap across borders

Angel City’s Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel defends against Tigres during the friendly match Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

LOS ANGELES — “Futból Sin Fronteras, ¡Una Sola Pasión!” read a sign in the supporters’ section during Angel City FC’s match against Tigres Femenil on Wednesday night. The club’s first international friendly was a celebration of the increasing interconnectedness of the women’s soccer world. In the words of the sign, the match was “soccer without borders” in action.

ACFC forward Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel may have felt that sentiment most strongly. The 23-year-old has played competitive soccer in four countries (Spain, the United States, England and Mexico) and was facing her old team on Wednesday. Afterward, she said the best part about playing her former teammates was having the opportunity to hug them and catch up after the game.

In her first start for ACFC, Ferrer Van Ginkel was named Player of the Match despite having a beautiful assist called back after rookie Hope Breslin was ruled offside. Head coach Freya Coombe praised Ferrer Van Ginkel’s ability to “show some class on the ball in possession” throughout the game. The midfielder played the bulk of the match, which Angel City won 1-0 on Savannah McCaskill’s goal in the 79th minute.

Next year, ACFC will visit Tigres in Monterrey, Mexico to culminate the two-year home-and-home series. On Tuesday, the clubs held a festival that included a youth soccer clinic, a five-on-five tournament and player appearances. Tigres will also host events for fans ahead of next year’s game to promote women’s soccer and engage their community.

Ferrer Van Ginkel understands as well as anyone the unique way sports can connect people. She was born in Brazil and began playing soccer in middle school to make friends after moving to Spain and not yet speaking Spanish. She and her two sisters were adopted by a Spanish family after their mother could no longer take care of them. What began as a way to fit in became an obsession and ultimately a career for the young footballer.

After spending last season in Liga MX Femenil with Tigres, Ferrer Van Ginkel signed a one-year deal with Angel City on Feb. 1 through a transfer agreement between the clubs. Now months into her first NWSL season, she describes the U.S. pro league as more physical and Mexico’s as more technical. Coombe believes the pace of play is faster in the NWSL, but what made Wednesday’s game a good test is that Tigres is one of the faster teams in Liga MX Femenil.

Four players born in California started the game for Tigres, including three with Southern California ties. Defender Anika Rodriguez and forward Mia Fishel were teammates at UCLA, Ammanda Marroquin was born in San Diego, and Bianca Sierra hails from the Bay Area.

In total, nine of the 21 players on Tigres’ roster attended universities in the States, including San Diego State, Washington State, Oregon State, Auburn, Toledo and South Florida. Nigerian-born forward Uchenna Kanu scored 115 goals in 55 games with Southeastern University (Florida) before scoring 17 times in 12 appearances for Pensacola in the Women’s Premier League. Ferrer Van Ginkel became the first international player to sign with Tigres last season, and this year’s team boasts six foreign players (four Americans, a Colombian and a Nigerian).

Rodriguez, a Los Angeles native, said that the partnership between the clubs was important to her personally as a Mexican-American and to the women’s game.

“It’s challenging the boundaries of this sport and crossing borders,” Rodriguez said. “Soccer is universal and knows no boundaries. This partnership is just one step closer to that ideal.”

After signing with the Portland Thorns in 2020, Rodriguez did not make an appearance and instead went to play for a Dutch team for two seasons before joining Tigres. She said the partnership with ACFC benefits her team by expanding its viewer and fan base and reaching the Latinx community in Los Angeles.

Ferrer Van Ginkel predicted the match would also have the effect of growing soccer in L.A., since many other professional sports may steer American fans’ attention away from soccer. In Monterrey, by contrast, the community is “100 percent attentive to soccer,” she says. Ferrer Van Ginkel has found Angel City’s robust, league-leading attendance impressive given all the other choices sports fans have in L.A.

“Maybe other teams in the NWSL now are going to follow and do the same thing,” she said of her club’s partnership with Tigres. “Or maybe it’ll become even bigger and we’ll become a league like a Copa. I think it’s huge for women’s soccer, to always be growing and doing new things like this.”

Before the game started, the teams exchanged scarves and took photos together, which Tigres head coach and three-year NWSL veteran Carmelina Moscato said signified a “football friendship.”

“It’s celebrating the spirit of women’s football, how it’s growing, how two clubs are pushing boundaries, how two clubs are first movers in their respective countries,” Moscato said.

For Coombe, too, the partnership exceeds far beyond the pitch.

“It it is more about how we are able to learn from each other,” Coombe said. “How we are both looking to take the best points from each other’s clubs and implement those to grow the game in our communities.”

Both head coaches said the goal is to push women’s soccer forward and agreed that, in the absence of a Champions League in the Americas, partnerships like this are needed to elevate the game. Last month, the women’s Euro final between England and Germany easily broke the attendance record with 87,192 fans watching the Lionesses win at Wembley Stadium.

“I think (this partnership will) inspire other leagues to get moving,” Moscato said. “When you start to see the game growing and connecting in these ways, people want to be part of this. It’s unique.”

Moscato said that a few Concacaf leagues are invested in and pushing boundaries for women’s soccer. She identified the NWSL and Liga MX Femenil as leaders among this group.

“The women’s game is growing rapidly, globally and regionally, which has been happening in almost an accelerator for the past decade,” said Moscato, specifically referencing the visibility that stems from every major international tournament. “It’s the years between those international events where club football does the heavy lifting.”

Angel City and Tigres Femenil are doing the heavy lifting, and they’re doing it without being bothered by arbitrary national borders.

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @SportsCommsJosh.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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