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Sydney Colson, Natasha Cloud view Athletes Unlimited as ‘perfect match’ for WNBA

Sydney Colson is one of three players signed on for AU’s inaugural basketball season. (Courtesy of Athletes Unlimted)

Since its inception in 2020, Athletes Unlimited has been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in women’s sports.

First there was softball, which gave many of the best players in the world a platform to compete and elevate their sport. Volleyball and lacrosse seasons followed. But, for a league founded on the principle of growing women’s sports, running three sports seasons in eight months wasn’t enough.

Enter basketball.

“We think we’re filling an important need in the landscape,” Athletes Unlimited Co-Founder Jonathan Soros said during a recent press conference introducing AU Basketball, set to debut in January 2022 as a five-week season featuring 44 players.

“There’s plenty of opportunity to grow the sport of basketball and create more opportunities for the athletes who are well-served by the WNBA but often don’t have enough opportunity.”

When Soros and co-founder Jon Patricof were discussing the idea of making basketball AU’s next sport, they considered a wide range of factors. The sport’s deep talent pool and growing fan base were key, but the most convincing response was the resounding yes they got from players when the prospect of AU Basketball was floated to them.

One of those players was Sydney Colson, a seven-year WNBA veteran and the first person to sign on for the inaugural season.

“Without being too dramatic, it’s almost like I’m the Sheryl Swoopes of AU,” Colson quipped. “They’ve built something that’s super innovative for the fans and the players. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

In the spirit of providing more opportunities for top women’s basketball talent, Athletes Unlimited also hopes to fill another need by giving players the option to stay home in the offseason.

Roughly two-thirds of the WNBA’s players head overseas when their season comes to an end. The international leagues give them a chance to supplement their WNBA salaries (the league’s minimum salary in 2021 was $58,710 for players with zero to two years of experience) and improve their game before WNBA training camps reopen.

“With going overseas, women are playing year-round,” Washington Mystics guard and AU player Natasha Cloud said. “That’s wear and tear on your body. That’s wear and tear on the longevity of your career as well.”

“It’s going to provide people with one more option,” Colson told Just Women’s Sports. “It’s a good chance to do something different.

“There’s been nothing but positive feedback. I think women’s basketball players understand the need for a league like this and the need for more opportunities in professional women’s basketball.”

There’s also the matter of the WNBA’s new CBA, which is phasing out late reporting to camp. Beginning in 2023, players will be penalized for not joining their teams on time for preseason. With overseas seasons typically running from late fall to early summer, players could run into contractual conflicts with the two leagues.

Athletes Unlimited’s plan for a five-week season running from late January through early February gives players another option without the scheduling challenges.

“I think it’s a perfect match for the W,” Cloud said. “To be able to keep players home, to make sure that they’re getting adequate care and treatment, that they’re still working out and playing at a high level against competition.”

“What AU prides itself on is having top-notch athletes take part in all of its sports,” Colson added. “We don’t plan to be any different.”

Colson last played for the Chicago Sky in the bubble in 2020. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The AU season will also give players the opportunity to prove themselves to WNBA coaches. With only 144 roster spots available in the 12-team league, a plethora of talent (and especially young talent) gets left out in the cold. For example, of the 36 players drafted in 2021, only 17 made it on to rosters as active players. Shyla Heal and Stephanie Watts, two first-round draft picks, were waived early in the season, before they had much of a chance to prove themselves.

As calls for WNBA expansion become more urgent, Athletes Unlimited hopes to fill the void right now. AU Basketball will have 44 roster spots for the 2022 season and, as it does with its other sports leagues, will tap the four top players every week to draft new teams, giving players the ability to showcase their individual talents.

“Sometimes people just need an opportunity to show that they’re capable,” said Colson, who has bounced in and out of the WNBA herself and is currently a free agent.

“People are talking about that now with Shey Peddy being in the league for Phoenix. From several teams, people will be surprised sometimes if players pop out of obscurity in their mind. But really, people have been around — they just haven’t been given an opportunity.”

Emma Hruby is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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