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Natasha Cloud, other stars call out the WNBA’s travel policies

Natasha Cloud entered the WNBA’s health and safety protocols Tuesday. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA’s travel woes have carried over into the 2022 season. Many players have blasted the league for refusing to arrange or even allow charter flights.

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud took to Twitter to call attention to the issue after airlines dropped their mask mandates in April.

“On commercial flights, trying to have a Covid free season…while being surrounded by random people not wearing masks,” Cloud wrote.

This week, Cloud missed the Mystics’ Tuesday game against the Las Vegas Aces after entering the league’s health and safety protocols. She took to Twitter to call out the WNBA once again.

“Shoutout to the WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic. (And no mask mandates),” she wrote.

She further called out the policy on her Instagram stories, writing that she goes to practice and games but heads straight home afterward and hasn’t been outside “in months.”

“Fly commercial next to random a– people with no mask…COVID,” she said. “At what point do players’ safety come first? I’m doing my part.”

In a later story, she wrote that “how we travel makes it nearly impossible” to avoid COVID.

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(via @t_cloud9)
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(via @t_cloud9)

But health and safety issues aren’t the only concerns that players have raised in regard to the league’s travel policies.

The Aces’ Kelsey Plum said after the team’s 89-76 loss to Washington that the full travel day had left her fatigued.

“I think I’m the best conditioned player in this league, respectfully, and I feel like to play that type of game against Seattle [on Sunday night], then to get on a delayed flight for five and a half hours, fly across the country, wake up and play the next day — I mean, I was tired today,” Plum said. “If you guys have ever watched me play, I can go all day. So I don’t think it’s necessarily conditioning as it’s just the setup of the schedule.

“Let’s be real, I mean, I’m not here to blame a charter flight for the reason that we lost, but normally a team would fly out that night and have that whole day to rest and get your legs back under you and then go play the next day. So you know those little things make a difference. Hopefully we’re on our way.”

An article by The Athletic in 2019 also detailed the many issues that players and coaches have while flying coach.

Earlier this season, Diamond DeShields brought up the issue of some players being too tall to fly coach – even in premium economy seats. She showed in a video on social media just how much leg room she has at her 6-foot-1 height.

Some players choose to spend money out of pocket to upgrade their seats. Liz Cambage told the Los Angeles Times that she spends about $5,000 to $8,000 of her own money each year upgrading to first class.

“I’m not sitting in the exit row,” Cambage said. “If you’re under 6-5, you’re fine. But players like me and Brittney [Griner], that’s gonna come out of our pocket.”

In 2021, the league’s tallest players included Cambage (6-foot-8), Griner (6-foot-9) and Bernadett Hatar (6-foot-10).

The Sparks will be on the road for eight out of their 11 games in May and will have to deal with navigating airports and airplanes while also trying not to catch COVID-19.

“I personally think airports are the dirtiest places in the world,” Cambage said. “And the fact that we’re in [them] every other day, when there are owners out there that want us to fly private? And the league literally doesn’t allow it? It’s crazy to me.”

In March, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that the more than $20 million per season cost for the league to charter flights isn’t something she feels the league could handle.

New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai, however, has said that his team had found a way to get charter flights compensated for every team in the league for three years – a claim that the WNBA has refuted. The team was fined $500,000 last season for chartering flights during the second half of the 2021 season and other rules violations.

During last year’s WNBA Finals, the league chartered flights for the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury between Games 2 and 3.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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