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JWS NCAA awards: Our picks for Player of the Year, All-Americans, more

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston (Gerry Melendez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 2021-22 college basketball season is almost over. The Final Four is days away, and soon we will crown an NCAA Tournament champion.

But before anyone cuts down the nets in Minneapolis, there are individual awards to hand out. Here are my picks for the top players and coach in college basketball this season:

Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

A few weeks ago, I broke down the cases for Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston in the Player of the Year race. I settled on Boston as my POY, and that hasn’t changed. I won’t rehash the entire argument, but I will say this: If you aren’t sure why Boston should win the award, turn on a replay of South Carolina’s Elite Eight win over North Carolina and settle into your spot on the couch. Her performance in that game tells you everything you need to know.

Boston’s 28-point and 22-rebound performance epitomizes exactly what she has brought to the court all season. The junior’s ability to block and alter shots, and altogether change the way South Carolina’s opponents play by making them avoid the paint, make her the clear choice for this award.

Defensive Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

A big part of Boston’s POY campaign has been her defense, so my gut was telling me all season that she should win Defensive Player of the Year as well. Stanford’s Cameron Brink is also a solid contender, so here is a statistical breakdown of the two.

Per Her Hoop Stats, Boston averages 11.7 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes compared to Brink’s 10, and 1.8 steals to Brink’s 1.6. The Stanford sophomore ranks better in blocked shots, with 4.8 per 40 minutes, compared to Boston’s 3.5, but the category that truly tips this race in Boston’s favor is fouls. She averages just two fouls in 40 minutes of action, while Brink averages 5.1. In order to make a defensive impact, you have to stay on the floor, and South Carolina’s star is able to do that.

Coach of the Year

Wes Moore, NC State

In his ninth season as NC State head coach, Wes Moore put together his best performance. The Wolfpack recorded their best record during his tenure (32-4) and won the ACC regular season in 32 years. And after three straight Sweet 16s, Moore — who was named ACC Coach of the Year — led his team to the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history. The first came in 1998. NC State was consistent all season, losing just four games and finishing the year on a 13-game win streak that ended with a thrilling double-overtime loss to UConn on Monday.

Freshman of the Year

Olivia Miles, G, Notre Dame

Every play for Notre Dame can be traced back to freshman point guard Olivia Miles. Her passing, decision-making and ability to dictate the flow of a game are all reasons why she’s my Freshman of the Year. Miles averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, the latter of which ranks second in the country behind Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. She also led Notre Dame to the Sweet 16, the program’s first under second-year coach Niele Ivey.

All-American First Team

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

16.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks

Based on my previous choice for POY and DPOY, Boston heading up the All-American team doesn’t need any more of an explanation.

Caitlin Clark, Sophomore, G, Iowa

27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists

Clark led the country in both assists and points per game this year, and her scoring prowess is unmatched. She can shoot logo 3-pointers, finish off balance at the rim and score in the mid range.

Haley Jones, Junior, G, Stanford

12.9 points, 3.7 assists, 7.8 rebounds

Jones has been the anchor for a Stanford team that is playing in the Final Four for the second year in a row. She does a little bit of everything for the Cardinal, while also posing a serious mismatch for opponents thanks to her versatility as a scorer.

Rhyne Howard, Senior, G, Kentucky

20.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists

Throughout the season, Howard showcased her basketball IQ and offensive skill while leading Kentucky in scoring. The senior creates her own shot better than almost anyone else in the country.

NaLyssa Smith, Senior, F, Baylor

22.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

Smith led Baylor offensively with her ability to face up and create from the free-throw line. The Bears played through Smith and counted on her to rebound and score in every contest.

All-American Second Team

Elissa Cunane, Senior, C, NC State
Cameron Brink, Sophomore, F, Stanford
Ashley Joens, Senior, G/F, Iowa State
Maddy Siegrist, Junior, F, Villanova
Ayoka Lee, Senior, C, Kansas State

All-American Third Team

Aneesah Morrow, Freshman, F, DePaul
Kierstan Bell, Junior, G, Florida Gulf Coast
Khayla Pointer, Grad Student, G, LSU
Angel Reese, Sophomore, F/G, Maryland
Elizabeth Kitley, Senior, C, Virginia Tech

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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