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Under new coach, UCLA soccer finally makes good on star talent

Margueritte Aozasa is the first coach to win an NCAA women’s soccer title in their debut season. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

UCLA won their second national championship on Monday night, but the takeaways from the match rightfully focused on the firsts.

Margueritte Aozasa became the first coach in women’s college soccer history to win an NCAA title in their first year on the job, as UCLA became the first team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in a championship victory, 3-2 over North Carolina in extra time.

The game itself was tightly contested, until Avery Patterson — UNC’s leading scorer — opened the floodgates with a brace after halftime to put the Tar Heels on the verge of their 23rd title. The result appeared all but settled with 10 minutes left in regulation, when UCLA’s Lexi Wright scored off a rebound to put her team back in it. With momentum behind them, the Bruins equalized off a controversial set piece that sent multiple players and the ball into the goal with only 17 seconds left in regulation.

By the second period of overtime, UCLA had made the comeback not only in scoring but also in belief, as a game that seemed destined for penalty kicks was saved from a tiebreaker by Maricarmen Reyes’ championship-winning goal.

The contest served up all the championship-level drama fans could want, and for UCLA, it also served as a breath of fresh air. The Bruins are known as a breeding ground for professional-ready talent, but before Monday night, they had only put all the pieces together for an NCAA championship once in 2013.

Jill Ellis recruited star players like Sydney Leroux and Lauren Holiday to UCLA during her tenure as head coach from 1999-2010 but never won a championship. She ultimately passed the program on to Amanda Cromwell to join the U.S. youth national teams, before eventually taking the reins of the U.S. women’s national team in 2014 and leading them to two World Cup titles.

The 2013 squad that went all the way to a title featured a host of World Cup champions and NWSL standouts alike. USWNT defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielder Sam Mewis headlined the group, but the roster also contained Gotham’s Taylor Smith, Houston’s Caprice Dydasco, Chicago’s Sarah Woldmoe, Orlando’s Megan Montefusco and Darian Jenkins, North Carolina’s Katelyn Rowland, and New Zealand international Rosie White.

That the Bruins could only turn what would now be considered a very competitive professional team into one national championship always proved puzzling, as did the team’s continued drought despite more years of quality talent. Former Bruins like Mallory Pugh (albeit for only one year), Ashley Sanchez, Hailie Mace, Jessie Fleming and Teagan Micah have all gone on to represent their national teams. Mia Fishel, who successfully made the early leap to the pro’s with UANL Tigres, might not be far behind.

Those teams from 2015-19 came up against a Stanford juggernaut with professional-level talent of its own and Aozasa on the sideline as a Cardinal assistant coach. She took over for Cromwell at UCLA in 2022 after Cromwell left the university for the head coaching position of the NWSL’s Orlando Pride and brought assistant coach Sam Greene with her. Cromwell’s tenure ended prematurely after an NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation substantiated allegations of retaliation by her coaching staff (which Cromwell denies.)

Under Aozasa, UCLA immediately flourished. Senior Sunshine Fontes, a highly touted recruit who played limited minutes in 2021, emerged this season as the Bruins’ leading scorer and notched a key assist Monday night to get UCLA back in the game. And this time, when a UCLA team full of rising talent faced adversity in the biggest moment, the stars of tomorrow stepped up.

Reilyn Turner scored in UCLA's semifinal and championship victories. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Junior Reilyn Turner, who trains with Angel City FC in the offseason and became Nike’s first-ever NIL signing last December, scored the equalizer to send UCLA into extra time. Reyes, a graduate student and Mexican national, bridges the gap between the Bruins’ underclassmen and those highly talented UCLA classes who couldn’t quite get the ball over the line. In a fitting ending, she scored the game-winner to officially close the chapter on that Bruins era and push the new one wide open.

“With this new staff, we’re just able to play freely,” Fontes told the Daily Bruin in October. “It’s taken a lot of work behind the scenes, but this new staff has kind of just come in and changed the whole dynamic of this team.”

In college soccer, star talent goes a long way, but sometimes collective belief goes just a little bit further. Down two goals with less than 15 minutes left in a championship game, UCLA didn’t always play the prettiest soccer, but by all means necessary, they finally lifted the program’s second championship trophy. For Aozasa, it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s the first of many.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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