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The Grind: NWSL Challenge Cup

Sky Warrick is a sports videographer who covered and captured content during the entire NWSL Challenge Cup. Below, she shared her thoughts and photos from the NWSL’s historic tournament in Utah.


Everything about this tournament was a grind. Covering the NWSL usually is, but when you take the work of an eight month season and compress it into a month, everything feels like it’s the highest priority.

This type of work is nothing new to me, except I’m used to being tied to a specific team. This Challenge Cup presented both opportunities and challenges I’d never had before: juggling 8 teams’ schedules, with back-to-back double-header days (such a long 48 hours), all while balancing equal coverage for everyone. I was excited to cover teams and players I’ve never worked with and tell stories I may have never had a chance to otherwise.

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As games progressed to the knockout rounds, the intensity increased to the highest levels. The play was passionate, and the skill was entertaining. Amidst the organized chaos of tackles, battles, and diving saves, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the competition playing out 5 feet from my seat on the sidelines.

You have to admire the tenacity the players brought to the pitch. To have seven of eight teams in the quarterfinals with clean sheets forcing PK shootouts with everything on the line was just insane. And each time a game went to penalties, I would sit back and think, “Yeah, I love sports.” I couldn’t help but feel giddy being in the position to cover those moments which contain both the best and worst of sports: the joys of winning and the despair of loss.

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Under the bright stadium lights of Rio Tinto Stadium, the grind continued through the semi-finals and the final, with strength and endurance on full display in every match. As much as it was a grind, it was also an absolute joy. I loved being around the sport I had missed so much. It felt incredible to work with players I thought I’d never see again, and I met so many new professionals who share similar passions. Ultimately, the Challenge Cup afforded me the privilege to continue a career I thought could be a thing of the past given the times.

It was an absolute blast to be in the post-game celebrations. Covering a championship celebration was an experience I had never had the opportunity to shoot. I wanted to soak it all in. How often do you get a chance to cover such pure happiness and excitement like that? The long days, the hours spent going through footage and photos, the early mornings, all came down to that beer-slinging celebration. I made sure not to take it for granted.

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As someone who has been around the NWSL for several years, there was so much to celebrate coming out of this tournament. The grind it took to pull it all off. The health and safety of the athletes, staff and workers, not one of whom tested positive throughout the Cup.

The teams and players should celebrate the thrilling product they put on the field that attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of viewers. Everyone behind the scenes that made every moment of this tournament possible should celebrate being the first pro-sports league to successfully return. I think we could all relate to the fact we were happy getting back to doing what we love. If I’ve learned anything from working within women’s soccer, it’s that there will always be a push to be better, to be successful, to bring about change. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this latest push and to have once again been able to take up the grind.

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Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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