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Team USA’s Maddie Rookey talks about hockey’s near future

Meldoie Daoust and Maddie Rooney playing Ice Hockey / JWS
Meldoie Daoust taking on USA’s Maddie Rooney during the shootout at the 2018 Olympics. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Maddie Rooney is a goaltender for both the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team and the PWHPA. The starting goaltender for the U.S.’s gold medal run at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, Rooney has also won two world championships with the team, and was the named 2018 Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year while playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 

The National Team just had a camp in October. What did that look like and how did you feel getting back on the ice?  

That was my first time being back with the national team since, I believe, December. So that was a long time coming, due to the cancellation of the World Championships. And then we couldn’t have an August camp like we usually do. So it was just great to be back in that elite environment, see everyone, even though it’s socially distanced, with masks on. It definitely wasn’t a normal camp. But on the ice, it was just so good to be back. And the level of competition was high. It was just a very intense camp, but it was also really fun. And it’s always the best when we’re all with each other. And fortunately enough, here in the Minnesota region, there are about seven of us who were on the National and Olympic Team together. So I’ve been practicing regularly with them since early September, and we did some stuff in the summer as well. So once I got back into the National Team, I was already used to the pace of the game, and the speed of the shots. It was like riding a bike in that sense.

I read that the team invited about 53 players to camp. Is that a normal roster size for this type of camp?

Yeah, usually our biggest camp is in August. And since we weren’t able to have that August camp with the big number of players, I think it was shifted into that October camp.

Were there any new faces at camp that you were excited to compete with and against? 

Yeah, it was definitely a younger camp, I would say, due to some of the veterans and all the girls that weren’t able to attend due to travel restrictions or certain personal reasons regarding COVID. But I was really impressed. The younger girls definitely kept the pace up, and I know, just as a core group, they impressed a lot of the older girls too. It’s definitely exciting for the future of the program. And I’m excited to see how they progress and who will get their shot.

How was managing the COVID protocols? 

It was very seamless. I thought the doctors and training staff and National Team staff as a whole really laid out the protocols well. And we had multiple calls about it before going into camp, so we all knew what to expect. We knew the rules. And everyone obviously followed the rules. And we got tested right when we got there, tested before we left the camp. And then you were able to get tested if you felt funny or anything like that. But it all went very well. I was actually very impressed. And yeah, because of all the protocols, everyone came out testing negative.

The national team is supposed to participate in a Rivalry Series in February against Canada. Do you know what the status of that series is? 

I’ve been told it’s still to be determined. But we’re hopeful because it isn’t canceled yet.

Like you mentioned, the World Championship was canceled in 2020, and it’s been moved to 2021. Your team has won the past five championships. What do you think is the secret to the team’s success at the World Championships?

I think just overall, our record in the World’s gives us a ton of confidence. And then I think we’re really focused on preparing every time we are together the whole year. So we really take advantage of our camps. I mean, whether it’s video, intra-squad scrimmages, and obviously the games, like the Rivalry Series, we really just take advantage of the time when we’re together. And I think all of that, building up to the World Championships, we really always come prepared, and we know what we need to get done.

What do you think needs to happen from now until April, when the 2021 World Championships are supposed to happen, for your team to repeat?

I mean, all the teams are in the same boat here, not having camps together. So I think everyone’s probably going to have a similar game plan, just to, when we are together, really take advantage of it, really bear down, know the system’s effort level, know what we need to do and be prepared for those World Championships. And we just need to build off our current system and what we’ve been doing in the past, and just gain overall confidence.

You were obviously an integral part of Team USA in the 2018 Olympics, where your team finally took home Gold against Canada and you made some epic saves in the shootout. From that year forward did you feel a lot of pressure to continue to perform and make big plays like you did that year?

Yeah. I went back to college for another two years. Right after the Olympics, I went back for my junior year. And I definitely had a ton of pressure on myself. But also there were high expectations from the outside as well. And it was tough. That junior year was tough for me. But coming out of that, I definitely feel mentally stronger, and I had a great senior year. The pressure was tough, but I bounced out of it.

Some big named players decide to leave college early to pursue a professional career. What went into your decision to go back to school, especially after your epic 2018 Olympic performance?

Honestly, I really loved college hockey. I loved the routine of it all. And if it wasn’t for Duluth, I don’t think I would have made that Olympic team. And I also just wanted to get my degree. I majored in business marketing, and I definitely want to pursue something in that field once I decide to hang up the skates. It was definitely about just going back and finishing what I started at UMD, and then also for my degree.

Once you graduated from school you decided to join the PWPHA. What went into that decision?

Being around my actual teammates, and they had already been in the PWHPA for a year, since it started. I was always around the conversations, and it was just really familiar to me. And I also really appreciated what the league stands for, and the initiatives that they have taken outside of the rink as well, and just their overall motivation for growing the game. I think just the familiarity and what the league stands for was the main driving factors in my decision. And here in Minnesota, I would have a great setup. I live very close to a training facility for the PWHPA. So it just worked out very well.

Overall, heading into the new year, do you have any specific goals for yourself with both the national team and the PWHPA?

Yeah, within the PWHPA, I mean, it’s such an elite atmosphere. It’s the top players coming from both Canada’s national team and the US national team. And then just a lot of standout college players as well. I think it’s just overall a great league. So being a goaltender, I just want to take everything in and challenge myself every day, whether it’s in the games or the practice, and just continue to grow in that sense. And hopefully this year the PWHPA will prepare me for that world stage next year and any opportunities I can get with the national team. So I just want to continue to grow and take in all these opportunities.

Although you have had awesome experiences with the national team, you are still a young player. Is there anyone in particular that you look up to, both in your position and outside of your position?

For my position, when I was younger, I always looked up to the national team goalies, whether it was Jessie Vetter, and then from the men’s side, I mean, my idol has always been Marc-André Fleury. I just love the fun he has with the game. And I’ve always tried to model my game after his as well. And then within the team, when I was named to my first national team, which was the 2017 World’s, I’ve always looked up to Meghan Duggan as a leader, and I just admire her drive to grow the game, and the leadership she displayed on the national team.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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