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Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara embody Spirit’s ‘never-say-die mentality’

Emily Sonnett slides to tackle OL Reign’s Dzsenifer Marozsán during the Washington Spirit’s win on Sunday. (Stephen Brashear/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

In a 2-1 semifinal win over OL Reign on Sunday, defender Emily Sonnett put her body on the line for the Washington Spirit. Literally.

“Sonnett was part center back, part hockey goalie tonight with how many shots she was blocking,” interim head coach Kris Ward said after the game. “She’s just a warrior. I fail for words sometimes with her performances.”

OL Reign’s star forwards put the Spirit’s backline under heavy pressure from the opening whistle, with Eugénie Le Sommer finding the back of the net in the third minute to set a new NWSL playoff record for fastest goal. From there, the Spirit’s defense didn’t relent. OL Reign tallied 23 shots to the Spirit’s 13 in the game, but only three of them ended up on frame as the Washington backline blocked 12.

“I think we were caught in a vulnerable spot and they capitalized, but I don’t think there was any panic amongst the group,” Sonnett said. “We still felt very comfortable through the first half.”

Sonnett’s ability to stay calm in the heat of the moment is one of her defining characteristics. Even playing on some of the biggest international stages with the U.S. women’s national team, she always seems to find a way to lighten the mood.

“Sonnett is hilarious,” Ward said. “I love her to death because she’s really quite funny. It’s funny to see that play out during the game, and like at the most intense moment, she’ll drop a one-liner on you that you just were not prepared for at all.”

After starting her NWSL career with the Portland Thorns, Sonnett joined the Spirit heading into the 2021 season along with USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara, who had been with the Utah Royals (now known as the Kansas City Current).

Sonnett, 27, and O’Hara, 33, have been the anchors of Washington’s improved defense this season. In their last eight matches, including the quarterfinal and semifinal wins, the Spirit have conceded just three goals and recorded five shutouts.

“[Emily] and Kelley have been a big part of that just in terms of the organization of the team as well in this never-say-die mentality,” Ward said.

That mindset clicked in early September, after the team was forced to forfeit two matches for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols that had resulted in four positive cases.

“That fired up Kelley O’Hara in a way that I’ve not seen before,” Ward said. “Her entire mentality from that point was like, ‘All right’ — how do I phrase this politely? ‘Forget you guys. We’re going and we’re going to win anyways.’ And she was steadfast in that and everyone jumped on board. …

“As difficult and as hectic and crazy as that moment in time was, it really, really was a galvanizing effect for us. Kelley and Sonnett were a big part of that because that was just how they reacted to that situation.”

On Sunday, Sonnett and O’Hara led a backline with Sam Staab and Tegan McGrady. When they weren’t blocking shots from Le Sommer, Megan Rapinoe, Dzsenifer Marozsán and Rose Lavelle, they were getting involved in the attack. O’Hara, in particular, made several runs down the flank and served in crosses across the Reign’s goal line.

After OL Reign’s opening goal, Staab helped Washington answer less than 10 minutes later, placing a perfect long ball from the Spirit’s half into Reign’s box and right onto Trinity Rodman’s foot. Rodman let it take one bounce before slotting it past Reign goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

“Sam Staab has upped her game and has been very, very good,” Ward said.

Selected fourth overall by the Spirit in 2019, Staab became just the second NWSL rookie to play every minute of her first season. Rodman, last year’s No. 2 pick, was named Rookie of the Year by JWS and looks like a lock to win the same award from the NWSL.

Ward likes changing the team’s formation to give opponents different looks. That often means adding a fourth player across the back, such as Julia Roddar or Tegan McGrady.

“They’re both very sound defensively and they both have great qualities going forward,” he said. “So we’ve got a lot of really great pieces there.”

Ward feels comfortable slotting in new — and often younger — players because Sonnett and O’Hara provide a steadying presence. As the Spirit head into the final next Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars, just one win away from the franchise’s first NWSL championship, they will rely on their veterans once more.

“Credit to them,” Ward said. “They come good on their word more often than not, so here we are getting ready to head to Louisville.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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