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Star-studded FBC United, WV Thunder lead way at UA championships

The West Virginia Thunder take on Mavs Elite in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women’s Sports)

MANHEIM, Pa. — For the top clubs in this year’s Girls Under Armour Association circuit, all roads lead to the Spooky Nook Sports Complex.

Championship play began Saturday morning, with a bracket of thirty-two 17U teams vying for the title, but only eight of those teams had the chance to fight it out Sunday in hopes of reaching Monday’s championship game.

Top-seeded FBC United features four highly-rated recruits in the Class of 2023 — point guard Jaloni Cambridge, center Essence Cody, point guard Reniya Kelly and shooting guard Courtney Ogden — so it’s no surprise they entered the weekend 10-0.

The No. 1 team drew the 10th-seeded Germantown Lady Panthers in the quarterfinals and secured a spot in the semifinals with a 57-45 win.

“It was a team win,” Ogden said. “We focused on playing as a team. We weren’t really hitting our shots like we normally do, but we still got it done together. We’re ready to go on and win this thing.”

That core four, alongside class of 2024 point guard Zamareya Jones and 2024 power forward Joyce Edwards, played with energy and grit. Even when the shots weren’t falling, FBC United took advantage of every possession.

That team victory moved FBC United into the quarterfinals against the No. 3 Northwest Blazers, who defeated No. 7 Nebraska Attack 67-51.

But unfortunately for the Blazers, there was no stopping FBC United. College coaches from all over, including Baylor’s Nicki Collen, Iowa’s Lisa Bluder, Kentucky’s Kyra Elzy and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, bore witness to another balanced effort, as FBC United claimed a commanding 58-35 victory to secure a spot in Monday’s championship.

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The West Virginia Thunder take on FBC The Family Supreme Team in a semifinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

FBC United and No. 2 FBC The Family Supreme Team both entered the weekend with undefeated GUAA seasons. They, along with fellow quarterfinalist FBC Legacy, hail from the Atlanta area’s Finest Basketball Club, an organization that has consistently produced Division I talent.

Naturally, a program that has graduated many McDonald’s All Americans is no stranger to the champions bracket, which is precisely why spectators found themselves watching a quarterfinal matchup between FBC The Family Supreme Team and FBC Legacy in one of Sunday afternoon’s first games.

As a parent from another quarterfinalist club put it: “Of course they’re playing each other. They’re always here.”

Ultimately, it was FBC The Family Supreme Team who reached the semifinals after a 47-35 victory.

The second overall seed awaited the winner of No. 4 West Virginia Thunder and Arkansas-based Mavs Elite, both of whom boast elite talent. Point guard Kymora Johnson, a top-25 recruit in the class of 2023, led the charge for the Thunder, while Mavs Elite’s Mikaylah Williams, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, seemed to be on everyone’s must-see list.

“She literally floats,” said an admiring 15U onlooker, after on of Williams’ many impressive buckets.

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Mavs Elite's Mikaylah Williams puts up a shot against the West Virginia Thunder in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

While Williams, who recently committed to LSU, looked every bit the unanimous top recruit in her class, the Thunder utilized balance and depth to grind out an 83-67 win. It was always within the Thunder’s control, and class of 2025 forward Zakiyah Johnson was a big part of that.

“I knew I was guarding her,” Zakiyah Johnson said about Williams. “I knew I couldn’t lay off, but I’m also at that elite level, too. I knew I could handle that pressure, and slowing her down slowed her team down. It helped my team bring it up.”

Zakiyah Johnson is one of two members of the class of 2025 on the Thunder’s U17 squad. She and power forward Darriana Alexander are not only two of the team’s tallest members, but also two of the toughest.

“I thought the girls played hard from the start to the finish,” Thunder Coach Scott Johnson said. “Mavs Elite’s a really good team. I thought we did a great job collectively as a defensive group. We geared up for this game, and we were locked in. We want to go to the championship. We know it’s one step at a time. And this was the first step right here.”

The second step, a 68-65 win over FBC The Family Supreme Team in the semifinals, was hard fought. After a Thunder scoring drought in the third quarter that turned a double-digit lead into a two-possession game, the possibility of another FBC matchup — this time in Monday’s championship — began to lurk.

“We had to make something,” Alexander said about the final minutes of the game. “We had to do something. Rebounding was key for us.”

Best Moment

The score was tied at 65 as the clock inched toward zero, and the crowd was electric. Everyone had something to say, and in more than a few cases, they were yelling it.

Emotions were high, and understandably so, with a spot in the final on the line.

Kymora Johnson had found her offensive rhythm in the quarterfinal matchup against Mavs Elite, and not even the four hours between the two games could slow her down.

“I knew it was going to be close,” she said. “Every game of the tournament keeps getting closer and closer. They never let up, so we had to keep our foot on the gas.”

Johnson did just that, hitting a smooth game-winner from beyond the arc with just 14.8 seconds left, and once more, the Thunder took care of business, securing a 68-65 victory.

Most Valuable Player

Basketball has long been compared to jazz — if even one member of your group is out of sync with the others, the lack of cohesion can throw everyone off.

And just as a misstep may ruin the tempo, a shining moment may elevate it.

Kymora Johnson spent all of Sunday shining, and because of that, everyone around her did, too.

“She’s a bright-lights player,” said Kymora Johnson’s mother, Jessica. “I can’t say I’m surprised. She is very unselfish. She doesn’t mind sharing the light. And her birthday is tomorrow, she turns 17. So she’ll play the last game of her AAU career on her birthday, and she’s been determined to make that the championship.”

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The West Virginia Thunder's Kymora Johnson puts up a shot against Mavs Elite in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

Rising Star

In FBC United’s dominant win over the Blazers, Edwards handled her opposition with ease in the paint, finishing with 20 points, and on a team with so many big names, she managed to be the difference.

“I just go in the game thinking about what the team needs me to do — rebounding, putbacks, all the dirty things, all the effort plays — and show my passion for the game,” Edwards said after the semifinal win.

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also writes about college basketball for Blue Ribbon Sports and covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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