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UConn commit Ayanna Patterson soars above social media trolls

Ayanna Patterson, a UConn commit, will play for the East team. (Courtesy of Leslie Palmer)

While Ayanna Patterson has not yet successfully dunked in a sanctioned basketball game, the high school senior has proved she has the talent. A few jaw-dropping videos from warm-ups and personal workouts have captured her slams, drawing thousands of views on Twitter.

The 6-foot-3 Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.) forward is quick to laugh off her one in-game dunk attempt — spoiler: she missed — but she’s still grappling with her quick rise to internet stardom after one of those dunking videos went viral on social media. Fewer than 30 dunks have been recorded in WNBA history, and it’s even rarer at the women’s college and high school levels.

“​​I got a lot of following for that — with following, there’s a lot of positive and negative,” Patterson said in a recent interview with Just Women Sports.

The aftermath has been a balancing act. It’s been fun, Patterson said, to hear praise from younger girls and basketball players — one even asked Patterson to be the special guest at her ninth birthday party — but there have also been comments and messages from social media trolls, picking apart her play and her appearance.

“I am able to be like, ‘OK, this is a hate comment, just brush it off,’” Patterson said. “Whatever you’re looking at, you just have to know yourself at the end of the day.”

But with her reach expected to grow as she joins UConn this fall, the 5-star recruit and No. 4-ranked player in the Class of 2022 knows the unsolicited judgment and ugly comments could only intensify.

“As a dad, obviously, you don’t like it; it hurts. People can say mean things,” her father, Andre Patterson said, noting that people have left negative social media comments about her hair, her height and her strength. “She lifts weights and she likes doing that. What’s wrong with that? She’s just in shape, she’s passionate about her sport and she wants to be the best at it.”

A role model

Patterson, a McDonald’s All-American, said she has never been big into social media, but more recently she’s made sure not to check her accounts every day nor direct messages from people she doesn’t know.

“I get the, ‘Oh, she’s not even a girl,’ ‘This isn’t even fair,’” she said. “You always have the freedom to say what you want to say, but sometimes words hurt.

“I always knew that I was going to play basketball. I have the hair — it’s not straight down like every other girl — I’m tall, I’m 6-3. … You always have to remain confident.”

She said she’s grown to love her height and her natural curls, wearing her hair in a mini Afro or puff ball since middle school, but she also knows that there’s still pressure for a lot of girls to straighten their hair or conform to more Eurocentric beauty standards.

“Growing up, I straightened my hair all the time and I honestly hated it just because of how active I was. It was just hard to maintain,” Patterson said. “But being able to keep true to myself and true to my culture by not straightening my hair and keeping my natural curls, and also show girls you don’t have to have straight hair every game. It’s OK to wear your natural curls and embrace them.”

She said since she started rocking her natural hair, a few younger players in Fort Wayne and in her AAU program have followed suit. But she also knows that women’s basketball and most elite sports still have a long way to go, noting that light-skinned players or girls with certain hair styles, usually straight, have secured a disproportionate number of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals.

“Hopefully it changes very fast … and they base it on your playing ability,” Patterson said.

Andre Patterson knows his daughter understands the downfalls of women’s sports, especially at such a high level, but he is proud of how she’s handled the pressure.

“I like the fact she’s comfortable with her Afro and she’s comfortable with herself in her skin,” he said. “They stereotype these young ladies so much, the game is really suffering. But it’s not just her. It’s many girls of color, or many girls. You can be a woman and be a great athlete. Part of what’s wrong with the game is the sexism. I try to explain to ’Yanna, don’t fall into that [thinking].”

Ayanna and her brother Andre Patterson Jr. (Courtesy of Andre Patterson Sr.)

‘A great person’

Despite the negative comments, Patterson turned herself into one of the nation’s most coveted prospects, earning a scholarship offer from legendary UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

“Coming from Indiana, choosing Connecticut felt similar to home,” Patterson said. “You go to an Indiana men’s game and it’s packed stands. It’s the same thing when you go to Connecticut [women’s games]. I felt like I wanted to have that same atmosphere, that same fan base that the men got, and UConn is that equivalent.”

Patterson has lofty goals for her time with the Huskies, including winning four national championships, becoming national player of the year and of course, dunking in a game. But she also admits she’s a bit nervous about keeping up with school work during the season (she hopes to study graphic design), and being away from her family.

Her dad is hardly worried.

“I’ve never had to get on ’Yanna,” Andre Patterson said. “I’ve never had to ask about homework. She’s always been committed and dedicated, more so about school than anything.”

While she’s been a standout player for years — receiving her first Division 1 scholarship offer in eighth grade — her dad has said he’s probably most proud of her admittance into the national honor society, which requires a qualifying GPA as well as community service and demonstrated leadership.

Patterson also wants to be recognized as more than a star basketball player. This summer, she is hoping to plan a 3v3 tournament in Fort Wayne to benefit a local Autism organization, a cause that’s close to her heart because one of her nephews has Autism. In moments like these, when she is working to better her community, the trolls on social media couldn’t be further from her mind.

“I never want to be remembered as just this great basketball player,” Patterson said. “I want to be remembered throughout my community as a great person, great individual. A person who was always willing to give back, always gave 100 percent to what I’m doing, whether it’s basketball, or not.”

Grace Toohey is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously reported for the Orlando Sentinel and The Advocate (Baton Rouge), and has written pieces for The Marshall Project and other news outlets. Follow her on Twitter @Grace_2e.

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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