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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.

Athing Mu Falls at Trials, Will Not Defend 800-Meter Olympic Title

Athing Mu competes in the women's 800 meter final on Day Four of the 2024 US Olympic Team Track & Field Trials
Mu won the 800-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Reigning Olympic Track & Field champion Athing Mu will not have the opportunity to defend her 800-meter title in Paris after falling during the event's US Track & Field Trials final on Monday. 

About 200 meters into the race, Mu uncharacteristically got tangled up in the middle of the track and lost her footing. Coming to her defense, her coach Bobby Kersee said that she had been spiked, suffered track burns, and hurt her ankle. The 22-year-old filed an appeal that saw USA Track and Field officials sorting through replays, but it was later denied. 

As a result, Mu did not qualify to run the 800-meter at the 2024 Summer Games, as the US has a standing rule that only the top three Trials finishers make the official Olympic-bound roster. 

At her first-ever Olympics in 2021, Mu took home the gold at the 800-meter final, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record.

"I’ve coached it, I’ve preached it, I’ve watched it," Kersee told The Associated Press after Mu's appeal was rejected. "And here’s another indication that regardless of how good we are, we can leave some better athletes home than other countries have. It’s part of our American way."

Mu finished more than 22 seconds behind eventual winner Nia Akins, but could still make the Olympic team as part of the US relay pool. Mu was a key part of the Team USA's 4x400-meter gold medal win three years ago in Tokyo.

Dearica Hamby Tapped to Replace Cameron Brink on 3×3 Olympic Team

Dearica Hamby playing for Team USA in 2023
Dearica Hamby is no stranger to Team USA's 3×3 lineup. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Dearica Hamby has been named to USA Basketball's official 3×3 Olympic roster, replacing an injured Cameron Brink.

The Los Angeles Sparks forward has extensive experience with the 3×3 team, including taking home both a gold medal and MVP honors at the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup

Brink originally made the roster in early June, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Los Angeles’s June 18th loss to Connecticut. 

"It is an honor to announce Dearica Hamby's addition to the USA 3×3 women's national team and we look forward to getting to work as a squad very soon," USA Basketball 3×3 national team director Jay Demings said in a statement. "USA Basketball continues to keep Cameron Brink in our thoughts as she focuses on her recovery."

Hamby will join 2023 FIBA 3×3 World Cup champions Hailey Van Lith (TCU), CIerra Burdick, and Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream) in Paris.

San Diego Wave Parts Ways With Head Coach Casey Stoney

ex-wave fc head coach casey stoney in 2023
Casey Stoney joined Wave FC in 2022 from the WSL's Manchester United. (Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

San Diego Wave FC announced on Monday that the organization has parted ways with head coach Casey Stoney. 

The announcement comes amid a seven-game winless streak for the Wave. Stoney joined San Diego from WSL side Manchester United a few months before their inaugural season, winning the 2022 NWSL Coach of the Year Award that same year. She went on to lead the expansion team to two trophies in three years. 

Just this past January, the club agreed to a multi-year contract extension that kept Stoney with the club through 2027, with a mutual option for 2028. 

Despite their prior success, San Diego currently sits ninth in the NWSL standings, one point out of playoff contention. Their last win came on May 8th, having most recently played to a scoreless draw against Houston over the weekend to cap off a three-game road trip. 

"We are immensely grateful to Casey for her commitment to our club and the positive impact she has had both on and off the pitch,” Wave president and former USWNT manager Jill Ellis said in an official team statement. "Over the past seasons, Casey has guided us to significant milestones, and her contributions have been instrumental in laying a strong foundation on which to build.

"The decision to part ways was very hard and not made in haste, but given the ambition of this club, and where we are in our season, we felt a change was necessary at this time."

The staffing change comes a little less than two weeks after the Wave brought on former Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton. Ashton resigned from her position with Kansas City in May of this year.

On Tuesday, Ellis commented that Stoney is "self aware" and called her a "complete professional."

"I don’t think you have to have a conversation when it comes to know where they are, she knew,” she said. “I think Casey knew results matter. Casey’s ambitious. And was she happy with where we were? Of course not.

"I think a coach also understands that sometimes this is the nature of the beast of coaching. It’s tough and hard at times."

Kansas City, Orlando Raise the NWSL Bar With Weekend Wins

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda in action during a NWSL match against Seattle Reign
Banda registered a brace on Sunday, bringing her NWSL total to 10 goals in just 10 games. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Pride star Barbra Banda continued on her historic NWSL trajectory this weekend, scoring twice in Orlando’s 6-0 win over Utah on Friday. 

She’s the first NWSL player to register 10 goals in their first 10 league appearances. It was also her fourth brace this season, and marked her first goals in two games after her first multi-game scoring drought.

"For me when I have an opportunity and a chance, I have to take it wisely," Banda said in her postgame remarks. "When I get a chance, I have to put the ball in the back of the net. If any game I didn’t score, I just have to go to my drawing board and work hard so that in the next game so I can find a goal."

Meanwhile, Kansas City also kept up their winning ways, beating Portland 4-1 behind a brace from midfielder Lo'eau Labonta on Sunday.

Later that day, the Washington Spirit, who sit just a point behind KC in third place, topped fourth-place Gotham FC in a decisive 2-0 victory.

And after drawing with Seattle, eighth-place Louisville has 16 points on the season — representing a growing gap between the league’s top and bottom teams. Bringing up the bottom of the ladder, both Seattle and Utah have yet to surpass 10 points this year.

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