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USWNT 2022 player grades: Emily Fox makes case at outside back

Emily Fox made a case to start at left back for the USWNT in 2023, but she’ll have to compete with Crystal Dunn. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.

Again, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.

Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury. In this installment, that includes Crystal Dunn, who missed most of the year after giving birth to her son, returning to appear in three games at the very end.

So far, we’ve graded the goalkeepers. Today, let’s take a look at the outside backs.

Emily Fox – B+

Fox quickly became one of the cornerstones of the USWNT’s new young core, tallying almost 1,000 minutes in 2022 despite dealing with a bout of COVID-19 and a number of injuries. Fox is naturally suited for the way Vlatko Andonovski likes his outside backs to play. She can confidently cut inside to overlap with the attacker in front of her when the team is progressing the ball, and she has the recovery speed to get back in transition.

Fox’s impressive 2022 actually makes for an interesting conflict on the left side of the pitch between the 24-year-old and left-back mainstay Crystal Dunn, whose minutes progressed in the last few international matches. Fox has starting capabilities, and clearly so does Dunn (though she could be used elsewhere). If they’re both healthy, the U.S. has a choice to make on whether to rotate between them or give one player the reins.

Sofia Huerta – B

Huerta’s performances can be broken down into two different evaluations: attacking and defending. In the attack, Huerta suits the USWNT formation perfectly, with a cross-first attitude that paid major dividends throughout the year. When the U.S. has to unlock a stout defense, Huerta’s ability to find her teammates can be an essential asset.

But she’s not a natural defender, and teams that are confident in transition have begun to overload her side of the pitch. Against Canada in the Concacaf W Championship, Huerta experienced trial by fire, bending but not breaking in 1v1 defending situations. Later in the year, the winger in front of her (often Sophia Smith) had to compensate at times for her spacing. Huerta has an intriguingly high ceiling if she can continue to raise her defensive floor.

(Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

Kelley O’Hara – B

O’Hara didn’t play for the USWNT again in 2022 after the Concacaf W group stage in July, but she still made it into the top half of minutes played for the USWNT in the calendar year. Her consistency in the first half of 2022 and absence later encapsulates the O’Hara paradox: The 34-year-old is reliable, experienced and strong on both sides of the ball when she is healthy. And she is possibly still the first-choice option on the right, even with Huerta carrying heavy minutes in the same position.

But O’Hara followed up one of her best years in 2021 with a less consistently healthy 2022. Her durability is the main question hanging over her potential in 2023.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Hailie Mace – B-

Mace came into the team under difficult circumstances, as further roster attrition caused her last-minute call-up for the USWNT’s European road trip in October. She then was thrown onto the pitch against England when Emily Fox exited early with a concussion. While adjusting to her quick substitution, Mace gave up a crucial penalty that ended up being the deciding goal in a 2-1 loss.

When she’s given time to compete, Mace’s versatility is an obvious asset. She played on both the left and right flank against England and Spain, and her willingness to impose herself physically on a match showed the basis of how she can help the U.S. in the future. That versatility, however, can be a detriment, when high-level specificity at the international level might actually be what helps her solidify a roster spot.

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Carson Pickett – Incomplete

Pickett played only slightly fewer minutes than Mace but in three fewer games — the Courage left-back got just two looks for the USWNT in 2022. Her first start came in a 2-0 win over Colombia right before the USWNT left for the Concacaf W Championship, and the 29-year-old did not look out of place in her role.

Pickett’s second game came against Spain, with a heavily depleted U.S. playing against a similarly depleted Spanish side. No U.S. player wrapped themselves in glory in that 2-0 loss, but Pickett wasn’t set up to succeed either. She’s a classic outside back with a good sense for goal that should be considered if Fox or Dunn is unavailable.

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

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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