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UNC’s Rachel Jones on a College Soccer Season Unlike Any Other

Liv Stowell and Rachel Jones on filed / JWS
Liv Stowell and Rachel Jones on filed / JWS

Rachel Jones is a junior midfielder for the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team. UNC, as part of the ACC, is playing soccer this fall while much of the rest of the country waits for spring. Jones spoke with JWS about the unique situation and what it’s been like to be a student-athlete in the time of COVID-19. 

The NCAA has said that it will allow for championships in the spring, and that the games you’re playing now will count toward that. What is the team’s plan for making that work? 

We haven’t really gotten many details, but I did ask our Director of Operations the other day if we would be able to go home for winter break and he said, “100 percent.” Once the season is done in the fall, it’s just going to go back to normal. We will just come back whenever the semester starts in the spring. Even if we can play games, it wouldn’t be until February so we would still have an extended pre-season to be able to ratchet things up again.

What do you think about the ACC’s decision to go ahead with fall sports now that you are about a month into the season?

I’m really grateful for it just from a mental health sense. I think everybody was in a tough space when we were trying to figure out if we were going to have a season or if we were going to be able to play with our seniors again. Also, the protocols that they have set in place have really given us an opportunity to do what we love while staying safe. We’re getting tested three times a week, so it’s really unlikely that we’ll play and then figure out later, “Oh, we played with someone that was positive.”

Has it been difficult to stay focused on the season given everything going on in the rest of the country?

Yeah, this has definitely been the hardest season since I’ve been here at UNC. Everything going on is just draining in general and being in season is draining itself. Everybody on our team is in a tough place and we’re really having to put our arms around each other and push each other through. We’ve been in classes since the first week of August and we’ve only had one day off. Everything just adds up. I think we’ve done a really good job of hitting the field, walking across those lines, and letting everything else fade away. We enjoy being together and we let soccer be our escape from everything else.

Your team is undefeated so far and ranked No. 1 in the country, which is awesome and kind of no surprise given how historically good UNC soccer is. What has allowed you to come out with such a fast start amidst all that’s going on?

I think it’s really a testament to our core values as a team. We have 13 core values that we try to live by and one of them is that you always have control of your attitude. I think we’re really prepared for this situation because of how Anson [Dorrance] has taught us to deal with whatever comes our way. We know that we always have our team to help us. We have really good team chemistry, so nobody feels like they’re going through it on their own.

I know you said you were super excited to get the chance to play this year, but did you have any personal hesitations about playing in the beginning?

Before the ACC came out with their protocols, some people were a little sketched out. We had decided from day one that if we were going to go through with this, we were going all in. We have to be in a bubble because Anson is high risk and his family is high risk, too. We knew that we couldn’t take any chances with this. We had to decide from day one that we weren’t going to see anybody outside of our team. And if we did, we were going to have to be masked, six feet apart and outside.

At the beginning, we were scared that other teams weren’t going to take it as seriously as us. But once the ACC came out with their protocols, those feelings of nervousness went away and we were just excited to get some games in.

Anson Dorrance is a coaching legend. What has he done amidst all the external factors to keep this team calm and focused on their goals?

Throughout the summer, we had weekly team meetings with him. That was really nice because we obviously hadn’t seen each other since March and we started to feel like a team again. He kept us in the loop and he made sure that we kept our eye on the prize. He can’t control a pandemic, obviously, but he made sure that if we got to play, we were ready. He didn’t let us slack off at all. And then, with all of the racial injustice stuff, he did a really good job having conversations as a team immediately and making sure that those conversations have been sustained. With all of the outside factors, I think he did a really good job addressing them and not letting anything go unsaid.

How has dealing with all of the chaos leading up to this season given you any perspective on the rest of your playing career? 

First of all, it really made me realize that I am an upperclassmen now. I think when you normally go from sophomore to junior, you don’t really feel like anything is different. But when we had our spring season taken away from us and when we were sent home, it made me realize that I’m not always going to be here. I have to make the most of my time here and just embrace every aspect of it, and enjoy it as much as I can.

How has the team adjusted to playing without Lotte Wubben-Moy, Lois Joel, and Alessia Russo, all of whom signed with English clubs instead of coming back to the States? 

Well, that’s another way the pandemic has affected us. Players from England had to decide whether they wanted to take the chance and stay here without knowing if we would even have a season, or if they should bet on themselves and try to start their professional career early. Anson told them to bet on themselves — he really thought that they were ready to start their professional careers. And as you can see, Alessia scored her first goal in her first start. It was tough for us to lose them, for sure. But I think it shows just the depth of this program. We’re never dependent on a few players, we’re a team.

I saw that a couple freshmen players have earned starting roles at UNC. Have any of these players really surprised you?

With Alessia, Lois and Lotte leaving, it opened up opportunities for other players to earn playing time. A lot of players have come through and made the most of that opportunity, and we are really appreciative and proud of them. We have three or four freshmen who are starting and absolutely killing it right now. We love every single one of them and we’re so glad that they all came.

I know this is still a few years away, but do you have personal goals of playing professionally once you graduate or even prior to graduation?

Yes, I definitely want to try and play in the NWSL.

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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