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Sydney, Sierra Romero are rediscovering love of softball with AU

Sydney (right) and Sierra Romero have teamed up with Athletes Unlimited Softball. (Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Sydney and Sierra Romero have enjoyed getting to play on the same field again through Athletes Unlimited Softball.

After growing up in an athletic family — younger sister Sophia is an outfielder at Vista Murrieta High School and brother Mikey was a first-round draft choice of the Boston Red Sox this year — the sisters separated in college. Sierra, 28, went off to the University of Michigan, where she became the first player in NCAA history to record 300 runs, 300 hits and 300 RBIs and left as the NCAA’s all-time leader in career grand slams (11) and runs (302). Sydney, 25, starred at Oklahoma, winning two NCAA championships in 2016 and ‘17 and finishing as the Sooners’ all-time leader in at-bats (853) and second in hits (320).

The two reunited on the USSSA Pride in 2019, but Sierra was injured while Sydney earned All-NPF honors during the Pride’s run to a championship. Now, a year after Sydney joined Athletes Unlimited for her first season, she and Sierra are finally back on the softball diamond together with two weeks left in the 2022 AU campaign.

“I feel like AU has provided just such a professional background when it comes to being a professional athlete,” Sydney says. “I think it’s really important just for the future of softball, specifically because they’re hearing us out and they’re applying it to the next year.”

Sierra is grateful to be back playing after spending over a year rehabbing ACL and meniscus injuries. Used to having Michigan’s athletic resources at her fingertips in college, Sierra sought out treatment on her own and ended up having three different surgeries to repair her knee.

“I was kind of going in blind,” she says. “I had to do it all by myself. That was definitely the hardest part just because I didn’t know what I was looking for.”

She put the knee to the test earlier this summer during AUX, Athletes Unlimited’s shortened softball season in San Diego, just over an hour’s drive from the Romero family’s hometown of Murrieta, Calif.

“We just so happened to get drafted to the same team for the first weekend at AUX, which was just luck,” Sierra says. “I feel like it’s a full-circle moment, just being able to come back, play with her and be around her 24/7.”

Sierra and Sydney, after enjoying remarkably successful college careers, have leaned on each other through the challenges of the often unreliable and unsustainable professional and international softball landscape. As dual Mexican-American citizens, they both tried out for the Mexican national softball team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, with Sydney representing the team during its run to fourth place.

For Sierra, in her seventh year as a pro, Athletes Unlimited has reignited her love of the game. Having briefly contemplated retirement before the season, she no longer plans to do so this year.

“I feel like I’ve seen it at a lot of different levels and stages. After joining AU this year for the first time, I definitely think that we’re on the right path,” Sierra says.

Still, professional softball salaries don’t typically allow for year-round dedication to the sport. In the fall, Sydney will start as an assistant softball coach at Duke University after spending two seasons as a student assistant at her alma mater.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to honestly start out, going out there and meeting Coach [Marissa] Young and meeting the girls,” she says. “Taking this route, I think, is not only helping me as a coach, but helping me as an athlete myself. Being able to continue to play softball and play Athletes Unlimited for the five weeks in the summer, and then going into my coaching job it works out perfectly. I feel like it’s a dream job. I’m living in the best of both worlds.”

Before that, she and Sierra will finish out the Athletes Unlimited regular season. Sydney currently ranks 29th with 704 points, while Sierra sits in 42nd with 618 points. Sydney is also tied for third with nine runs on the season, two behind league leader Haylie McCleney. Sierra has four runs off six hits so far and, in the infield, has recorded 15 assists, 15 putouts and three double plays.

Both admit they are very competitive, especially in the batter’s box. But that doesn’t mean they’ve taken the same approach to AU’s unique points system.

“I don’t know the point system because I don’t look at it. I couldn’t tell you where anybody’s at on the leaderboard ever,” Sierra says. “My focus is just winning. And I feel like if I keep that mindset, then everything will fall into place.”

Sydney, meanwhile, has learned how not to let the leaderboard affect her mindset. Instead, she views each week as a different challenge.

“It makes you appreciate the little things a little bit more in the game, and really put the game into perspective,” she says, heading into Week 4 of the five-week season. “Because all of these things mean something like, a walk means something, a hit by pitch. Those little things that we kind of take for granted, in a game they all matter.”

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

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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