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Washington Spirit rookie Tinaya Alexander carries late father with her

(Courtesy of the Washington Spirit)

Washington Spirit attacker Tinaya Alexander has no plans of changing what she stands for as she embarks on her first season in the NWSL.

Before she went 14th overall to the Spirit in December’s NWSL Draft, Alexander played her fifth and final year at Louisiana State. After each of the nine goals she scored during the season, she lifted her jersey to reveal a white shirt underneath. The shirt read “Stop police brutality” as a tribute to her father, who was killed by a police officer when Alexander was 11 years old.

After consulting with Spirit head coach Kris Ward, Alexander will continue the routine in the NWSL.

“I don’t think I should change who I am as a person for anyone else,” she said. “I think that if you’re going to support me, and I’m scoring goals, then you support me as a person.”

Soccer carries much more meaning for Alexander than scoring goals and winning games. Her father introduced her to the sport after she tried ballet and tap dance and hated them both.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be here, I wouldn’t be playing,” she said. “[The shirt] just takes me back to those moments where I’d look over and he’d be on the sideline when I scored.”

Alexander’s mother did her best to maintain a sense of normalcy for her children after their loss, balancing a job while raising two kids with busy sports schedules in Reading, England.

The memories from those years were still fresh when Alexander had the shirt made in 2020. She didn’t wear it until the 2021 season so people wouldn’t confuse it for a political statement following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in May 2020.

Around the same time, over a Zoom call, the 22-year-old shared her father’s story with her LSU team for the first time.

“It was such a powerful moment for the team,” said head coach Sian Hudson, who had supported the group’s contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

A year later, Alexander started displaying the shirt during her goal celebrations. She faced some immediate backlash, including from people who threatened to stop coming to games in protest.

Hudson encouraged Alexander to use her voice, and the school defended her with posts and a video on social media. Feeling like she shouldn’t have to explain herself, Alexander was hesitant at first to talk in the video, but she knew it was important for people to understand the backstory.

“I’m not saying it for Black people, I’m not saying it for white people — I’m literally saying it for everyone,” she said, adding that it was a Black officer who killed her father.

“This past year I just saw a lot of maturity, in terms of the way she grew as a person,” Hudson said. “And I think as a result of that, she was able to really express herself as a player on the field.”

The 2021 season was Alexander’s best yet. After earning All-SEC First Team honors and finishing her LSU career ranked second all-time with 22 assists, she decided to enter the NWSL Draft in December. Only one other LSU player, Alex Arlitt, had ever been drafted into the league, so Alexander wasn’t getting her hopes up.

To her surprise, the reigning NWSL champions selected her with the second pick of the second round.

During physicals on her first day with her new team, Alexander ran into Gaby Vincent, who was traded to Washington from Kansas City days after the draft. Alexander offered a handshake. The cameras were close, but not on them, so they laughed and said, “Let’s do it again!” Their reenactment turned into the photo the Spirit used for team materials.

“It’s just funny because we look back and we’re like, ‘That’s when we first met and we were already making jokes,’” said Vincent, who finds humor in Alexander’s mannerisms and the way her voice changes when she’s surprised.

Alexander went about preseason focused and calm, and her teammates usually saw her with her headphones on. So Vincent started poking her in the locker room.

“‘Hey, what are you listening to?’” she said she asked Alexander. “Which is probably super annoying, but I knew, like, hey, we’re going to be friends. We don’t need to do this awkward phase. We’re going to be cool. Let’s just get past that part.”

Now they sit in bean bag chairs for hours during their time off from training, watching “British Bake Off” and playing “Call of Duty.”

On the field, Alexander turns into an entertainer. Being a part of the league’s youngest team, measured by average age, has been one of the best sources of motivation. When Alexander sees one of her similarly aged teammates do something impressive, she wants to match it.

A dynamic player who’s very measured in how she sets up defenders, Alexander brings a different style to the field than the Spirit’s other strikers, notably Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez. She loves to drive at people on the dribble and deliver passes in behind the opposing defense.

“It was huge for her when she scored her first goal in training, and everyone was celebrating with her, for her, so we’re just trying to continue to push that forward and keep growing her confidence,” said Ward.

The seven U.S. women’s national team players on the Spirit’s roster demonstrate the value of quick reaction time and decision-making. When Alexander has the ball on the counter attack, she can hear them breathing after they’ve lost it.

It’s not easy to chase down an explosive player like Alexander, after all.

Vincent laughs thinking about the time her teammates admonished her in practice after Alexander danced right past her and two others.

“I told her after practice, ‘Girl, you got me in trouble! But good job,’” Vincent said.

The only 2022 draftee signed by the Spirit, Alexander has already seen lots of playing time in Washington’s first two matches of the Challenge Cup, including her first professional start on Friday against Gotham FC.

Ward plans to rotate her through the lineup as much as possible during the preseason tournament. From there, Alexander will look to make an impact as the Spirit contend for back-to-back NWSL championships — and, if all goes according to plan, to score a goal so she can honor her father and share his story with the world.

“I have no doubt she’ll pursue an unbelievable professional career,” Hudson said. “She wants to be the very best.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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