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WNBA Power Rankings: As Storm retake top spot, it’s about to get interesting

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The WNBA is back, which means it’s time to dust off the JWS Power Rankings as we head into the final stretch of the 2021 regular season.

We were without live WNBA games during the Olympics, but there still was plenty of activity to monitor that could affect the standings in the second half. Which teams might have benefitted from the break, and which teams might have suffered setbacks during it?

Let the power rankings light the way.

12. Indiana Fever (4-16) —

The Fever won three straight games before the Olympic break for their first victories since May. There’s no guarantee that the momentum has carried over from the month away, but it’s a start. One key learning Indiana should have taken away from the win streak? Teaira McCowan, averaging a near double-double this season, deserves to be in the starting lineup.

11. Atlanta Dream (6-13) -1

The Dream have the most questions to address in the second half. Mike Petersen stepped down as interim head coach on July 24, leaving Atlanta with yet another person in charge. Candice Dupree brings much-needed veteran leadership after signing with the Dream on July 26, and Petersen’s replacement, Darius Taylor, has called the next month a “restart” for the team. With Chennedy Carter’s suspension still hanging over them, the Dream will take whatever positive boost they can get.

10. Los Angeles Sparks (6-13) +1

It was a disappointing first half for the Sparks, who were voted as the team most affected by injuries and absences in our anonymous survey about the first half of the season. Los Angeles is banking on the returns of Kristi Toliver, Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike (who should be extra motivated after an eventful Olympic break) as the keys to getting back into the playoff race.

9. Washington Mystics (8-10) -1

If the Sparks were the team most affected by missing players, the Mystics weren’t too far behind. Elena Delle Donne is practicing with the team again, but whether she returns this season from a serious back injury is anyone’s guess. It also doesn’t appear likely that Emma Meesseman will return after competing with Belgium in the Olympics.

8. Dallas Wings (9-12) -2

The Wings dropped four of their last five games before the Olympic break, including a 16-point loss to the Aces on July 11. Arike Ogunbowale leads Dallas into the second half after an epic MVP performance in the All-Star Game. The Wings continue to be the best upset candidate in the WNBA, but will their overall inexperience trouble them down the stretch?

7. New York Liberty (10-11) —

The Liberty looked like a shell of their early-season self in July. When their 3-point shots weren’t falling, they struggled to get anything going on offense beyond Betnijah Laney’s isolation game. Natasha Howard is back at practice after missing all but two games with a knee injury, while Sabrina Ionescu had a month to rest her ailing ankle. Those are all good signs for the Liberty, so long as they can capitalize on them.

6. Phoenix Mercury (9-10) +3

The Mercury severely underwhelmed during the first half of the season, so moving them up three spots from the last power rankings might come as a surprise. But the Mercury have been in this position before, winning seven of their final games in 2020 and just missing out on a semifinal appearance. Diana Taurasi’s health remains a question, but Brittney Griner’s dominance at the Olympics bodes well for Phoenix coming out of the break.

5. Chicago Sky (10-10) -2

For as talented a roster as the Sky have, their streakiness in the first half of the season makes them a wild-card entering this stretch. Their ball control has improved since their seven-game losing streak early in the season, but they still turn the ball over 15.8 times per game, which is the second-most in the league. The chemistry they’ve built since Candace Parker returned from injury will be the key to a deep playoff run.

4. Minnesota Lynx (12-7) +1

The Lynx head into the final month with the most momentum, having won their last seven games before the break. Cheryl Reeve has put together one of the most efficient offenses in the league, built on good ball movement and strong finishing at the rim. As part of Team USA’s undefeated run to the gold medal, Reeve, Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier haven’t lost a game since June 19. That’s what we call a winning mentality.

3. Connecticut Sun (14-6) +1

The Sun looked like they hadn’t played in a month Thursday night, dropping the Commissioner’s Cup championship game 79-57 to the Storm. Jonquel Jones had an off night and still recorded a double-double, which is all you need to know about her dominance this season. The Sun’s 20 turnovers Thursday were very uncharacteristic for a Curt Miller-led team and shouldn’t persist.

2. Las Vegas Aces (15-6) -1

The Aces hold the regular-season edge over the Storm and still have time to retake the top spot in the power rankings. They went into the break first in points per game (90.7), first in field-goal percentage (46.7), first in rebounds (39.3) and second in blocks (5.2). They’re as complete a team as any in the league, and the experience A’ja Wilson gained from her Olympic run with Team USA will only help.

1. Seattle Storm (16-5) +1

It was only one game, but it felt impossible not to give the Storm the honors of the top spot after their performance in the Commissioner’s Cup title game. Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd led the way despite getting back from Tokyo on Monday. They showed no signs of jet lag or fatigue, and instead made the defending champions look even more formidable as we move closer to the playoffs.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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