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JWS’ WNBA June Team of the Month: Chicago Sky earn two nods

Emma Meesseman has not signed with a WNBA team for the 2023 season. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

June is in the WNBA rearview mirror, and with it came highlights aplenty. From triple-double records to 35-point games to overtime battles, the stars of the league showed out.

Each month through the end of the regular season, Just Women’s Sports will select five starters and five reserves making up the team of the month.

As teams fight for playoff position, records become extra important. When making my selections for June’s lineup, team success was a key component in the evaluation process. There will always be outliers who can’t be ignored, but overall if a player is putting up big numbers but not necessarily propelling their team to victory, they have a lower chance of making the team of the month.

Here’s who made the cut for June.

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Courtney Vandersloot led the Sky to a 9-2 record in June. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

Courtney Vandersloot, G, Chicago Sky

Though she’s a four-time All-Star, the Chicago Sky guard often performs in the background for her team. Vandersloot is elite at running the show and setting up her teammates, which is always her focus as a traditional point guard. Her numbers reflect that, with Vandersloot averaging 11 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds a game this season.

But the veteran player is also a skilled scorer when she wants to be. In June, Vandersloot led the Sky in scoring in three straight games, with 25, 15 and then 18 points. She also recorded a 20-point, 10-assist double-double to help the Sky close out an 88-86 win over the Liberty on June 12. The Sky were 9-2 in June, with Vandersloot leading the team in assists in six of those contests.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, New York Liberty

May was a month to forget for the Liberty, as the team went 1-7 to open the season. The New York squad greatly improved in June, going 7-4 and inching closer to a winning record. A big part of the successful month was Ionescu, who averaged 20.3 points per game in June and led the Liberty in scoring in six of their 11 contests.

Ionescu’s triple-double on June 12 was a highlight, but it was also indicative of the well-rounded play she brought all month. She led the Liberty in at least one category in all 11 games, led in two categories in four games and led in three categories twice.

Emma Meesseman, F, Chicago Sky

The Sky were the best team in the WNBA in June, recording just two losses, so it makes sense to have two players on this list. Joining Vandersloot is fellow All-Star Meesseman, who has been a key contributor to the reigning champions in her first season in Chicago. Meesseman averaged 14.4 points per game in June and had her biggest performances in close contests.

After leading the Sky with 20 points and 11 boards in an 88-86 win over the Liberty on June 12, she added 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 106-100 overtime victory over the Dream five days later. Meesseman was also efficient with her opportunities, shooting 57 percent from the field over the nine games.

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Connecticut's Jonquel Jones recorded five double-doubles in June. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jonquel Jones, F, Connecticut Sun

The reigning WNBA MVP is having another stellar season, averaging 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for Connecticut. Jones was particularly strong in June, recording five double-doubles in 11 contests. She led the Sun in points seven times and in rebounding seven times, and there were four games in which she led in both categories.

Jones got her team off to a hot start in June, recording 20, 24, 25 and 16 points in the Sun’s first four games (all wins). Her efforts have helped Connecticut stay in fourth place in the league standings, just two games behind the first-place Sky.

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Nneka Ogwumike averaged 18.6 points for the Sparks in June. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Nneka Ogwumike, F, Los Angeles Sparks

I promised the occasional outlier in choosing the WNBA Team of the Month, and here it is. The Sparks went 2-5 in June, but Ogwumike was a noticeable bright spot. She led her team in scoring in every contest, averaging 18.6 points, while also recording two double-doubles. Ogwumike has been the most consistent piece on a rocky Sparks squad, and her play in June was particularly indicative of the seven-time All-Star’s individual dominance this season.

Reserves

Skylar Diggins-Smith, G, Phoenix Mercury

The 10-15 Mercury are struggling, but Diggins-Smith is not. The guard leads the league in minutes played and is third in points. She had 25 points or more in four games in June.

Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

Plum could easily be a part of this month’s starting five. The All-Star Game MVP is in the midst of a breakout season and averaged 23 points per game in the month of June.

A’ja Wilson, F, Las Vegas Aces

Wilson, averaging 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season, had five double-doubles in June alone. Her month included a 35-point performance in an 89-72 win over the Sparks, tying her career-high.

Breanna Stewart, F, Seattle Storm

Stewart averaged 22 points a game in June, leading the Storm in scoring six times. Stewart was also efficient with the ball, turning it over just nine times all month as she helped the 16-8 Storm hold onto third place in the standings.

Alyssa Thomas, F, Connecticut Sun

While Jones continues to put up huge numbers for the Sun, Thomas has had a hand in every victory, contributing in multiple ways. She led her team in rebounding four times and in assists 10 times. The highlight of her month was a double-double in a win over the Storm, with 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

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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