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Women’s College World Series: One key player for each team

(C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The Women’s College World Series is here, with eight teams all in the hunt for the national championship.

While there are plenty of great players on every team, Just Women’s Sports highlights one player to watch from each.

Oklahoma: Jordy Bahl

While Jocelyn Alo certainly has been the biggest name out of Oklahoma softball this year, freshman Jordy Bahl also has been a name to know.

The pitcher was named NFCA Freshman of the Year this week after a dominant rookie campaign. She hasn’t pitched since Oklahoma’s regular season finale due to an injury, but according to head coach Patti Gasso, Bahl will make her return to the circle this week.

“You’re going to see her pitch this week,” Gasso said during a press conference Wednesday. “How much? We’re still working.”

Bahl could be an issue for any opponent whenever she returns to the circle. The second-best pitcher on OU’s staff behind Hope Trautwein, she posted a 0.95 ERA during the regular season.

UCLA: Maya Brady

UCLA sophomore Maya Brady struggled a bit this season, hitting just .274 during Pac-12 play and hitting just five for 35 in the 12 games before her current streak.

But she’s turned the wheels on during the postseason, hitting .438. She arrives in Oklahoma City with a hit in 10 of her last 11 games. That includes a 3-for-3, two-RBI performance in UCLA’s win over Duke last week to clinch the super regional.

Oklahoma State: Kelly Maxwell

An All-American first teamer, Kelly Maxwell pitched a 1.16 ERA on the season en route to a 19-4 record. The Big 12 conference strikeout leader, she’s pitched 279 strikes heading into the WCWS.

Included in that number is her 13-strikeout, two-hit performance against Clemson in the team’s Super Regional en route to a 2-0 series win over the Tigers.

“When you have somebody like Kelly, you feel good going into any game that she’s gonna throw,” said Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski.

Northwestern: Danielle Williams

Northwestern pitcher Danielle Williams has been a stalwart of the Wildcats’ defense this season, pitching her way to NFCA first team All-American honors alongside teammate Rachel Lewis.

Heading into the Women’s College World Series, she’s the only pitcher to have pitched in all of her team’s postseason games. Through six starts, she’s thrown 681 pitches.

Over three games against Arizona State in the Super Regionals, she threw 430 pitches in 23 ⅓ innings. That includes a 179-pitch, 11 inning performance in the series opener to lift the Cats 4-3 over the Sun Devils.

And don’t count out catcher Jordyn Rudd, either. Rudd just won the inaugural Golden Glove award given to the season’s best catcher. She also has the best batting average on the team, making her a dual threat.

Florida: Skylar Wallace

With a .407 batting average, Skylar Wallace has helped propel No. 14 Florida to its 11th WCWS in 15 seasons. But while Wallace is a major piece of the Gators’ team, coach Tim Walton has pointed to the team’s ability to work together as a major reason why they’re back in Oklahoma City.

“The chemistry on the field,” Walton said. “The chemistry in our work ethic and just the constant ability to communicate with each other the right way.”

Wallace, as part of a duo with Kendra Falby, has combined to contribute 87 stolen bases out of the Gators’ 131. An Alabama transfer, she’s been unstoppable for Florida this season.

“Skylar had probably one of the best seasons in Division I softball history,” Walton said.

Texas: Janae Jefferson

The all-time hits leader at Texas and the Big 12 career hits and batting average leader, Janae Jefferson has been a stalwart this season for Texas, showing up in big moments — for example, when she scored the decisive run in the Longhorn’s 3-0 win over Arkansas to propel her team to its first WCWS since 2013.

Jefferson has a .431 batting average this season, the second-best amongst the teams in the WCWS. Only Oklahoma’s Alo has a better batting average this season.

On Wednesday, she joined Cat Osterman as the only other Longhorn to be a four-time All-American.

Oregon State: Mariah Mazon

Mariah Mazon is one half of the “Bash Sisters,” alongside Frankie Hammoude. The duo hit 27 combined home runs on the year.

A threat in the circle and the batters’ box, Mazon was named a first team All-American by the NFCA. She has a team-record 861 strikeouts in her career, and she’s notched 220 of them this season. On top of her 2.18 ERA on the season, she’s also hitting .366.

Arizona: Allie Skaggs

Hard-nosed hitter Allie Skaggs enters the WCWS having tied for the most home runs in the Pac-12 to end the regular season. Currently at 24 on the season, she could break the tie with one swing during the World Series.

Her 24 home runs ties her for fourth in the country. She’s also batted in 58 runs, which ranks 19th in Division I, and has a .818 slugging percentage. Recently named a second team NFCA All-American, she’ll lead the unseeded Wildcats into Oklahoma City.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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