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Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse: Three breakout players to watch this weekend

Marie McCool dodges against Taylor Cummings (Athletes Unlimited)

The first weekend of Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural lacrosse season is officially in the books.

The newly minted professional league is the third under the Athletes Unlimited’s umbrella, after they previously debuted similar leagues for softball and volleyball.

Now, it’s lacrosse’s turn.

For five weeks, the world’s best lacrosse players are all in the Metro DC area at Maureen Hendricks Field competing to be the first Athletes Unlimited champion.

After the first weekend of action, here are three players to keep an eye on heading into week two:

Kayla Wood, Defender

“Kayla Wood is my new favorite person,” team captain Kylie Ohlmiller said over the weekend. “And you can quote me on that.”

Wood had a monster weekend, putting up a league-leading 501 points, 90 of which came from being named game MVP in two of her three competitions.

A crafty defender fresh off of North Carolina’s Final Four run, Wood has reaped the benefits of AU’s custom points system. Built to reward defenders appropriately, the system allows players to earn individual points which go beyond just goals and assists.

Wood racked up her points on caused turnovers (36) and draw control (20), while also earning 335 points for both periods won and games won.

As a team captain this week, Wood had the opportunity to draft her own team. For her to stay atop the leaderboard, she’ll need to keep winning both periods and games, meaning her team-selection abilities as well as her defensive skills will be put to the test this weekend.

Marie McCool, Midfielder

Asked who she would draft if given the choice, lacrosse legend Taylor Cummings said Marie McCool. After the first weekend, it’s easy to see why.

Like Wood, McCool also racked up MVP points (60), with one first place and one third place MVP finish. At home in the midfield, she wasted no time raking in the goals, scoring six to go along with two assists. Included was the first two-point goal in the history of Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse, which earned the midfielder an additional 16 points.

Through the first weekend of action, McCool is tied with Halle Majorana for third in goals scored, one behind Taylor Cummings and four behind Kayla Treanor.

Sitting 17th on the leaderboard with 315 points, expect McCool to climb the rankings with another strong performance this weekend.

Kenzie Kent, Attack

A two-sport athlete in ice hockey and lacrosse at Boston College, Kent had a decorated college career on both the field and the ice. She played in five Final Fours — including two in lacrosse — and was named the ACC Athlete of the Year during the 2016-17 season. She was drafted fourth overall by the Boston Pride in the 2017 NWHL Draft but opted to return to lacrosse after a year away.

Now, she’s with AU and already making a splash.

Kent had a particularly great second game, wracking up 139 total points, including scoring two goals for 24 points.

She has the power to continue to be a factor on offense. During her time at Boston College she wracked up 131 goals, including 52 in her final season — despite having taken a year off to pursue hockey. Additionally, Kent is just as prolific an assister as she is a scorer, having tallied 133 assists during her college years.

Tune in: Team Wood, featuring Kenzie Kent, will begin the second weekend of play against Team Treanor on Friday, July 30 at 5 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

Editor’s note: Athletes Unlimited is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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