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Covid Effect: How super seniors will impact women’s college basketball

Stanford’s defensive stopper, Anna Wilson (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last fall, just before official practices began for college basketball, the NCAA announced that all winter sport student-athletes who competed during 2020-2021 would get an extra season of eligibility due to COVID-19. 

The same benefit that had already been extended to fall and spring sport student-athletes was now being offered to winter sports as they endeavored to conduct a season of competition amidst the ongoing pandemic, where positive Covid tests, quarantine periods, and game cancelations would have otherwise wreaked havoc on a school’s ability to maximize and protect their student-athletes’ eligibility. In essence, no one was a senior last season, unless they wanted to be. While many women’s college hoops players chose not to take advantage of the NCAA’s offering and moved on to their careers or playing in the WNBA or overseas, a number of athletes decided to stay. 

Now a number of Top 25 programs are set to benefit from an extra year of super senior talent, including last year’s national champion. 

Anna Wilson – Stanford

Anna Wilson is one of the top perimeter defenders in the country. In 2020-2021, she started all 33 games and earned Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors for the eventual national champions, who enter 2021 ranked No. 3 in the country.

Known as a gritty and selfless teammate, the 24-year-old graduate student turned her focus to defense after a concussion and stress fractures in her freshman year left her feeling out of rhythm on the offensive end. Now head coach Tara VanDerveer can’t fathom doing a scout without her. 

“Anna has basically forced my hand,” VanDerveer told USA TODAY. “I don’t have any choice: If there’s someone that we need to lock down, she has to be out there.” 

A few of Wilson’s biggest potential defensive assignments are already on the calendar, including Maryland’s Ashley Owusu on November 27th and a Final Four re-match vs. South Carolina’s Zia Cooke on December 21st.  Luckily for the winningest women’s basketball coach of all-time, she’ll have Wilson in her line-up for another year, not to mention a third senior day, as the Cardinal look to defend their national title. 

Raina Perez, Kayla Jones, and Kai Crutchfield – NC State

NC State has three starters returning to the court via the NCAA bonus year. Raina Perez came to the Pack last year as a grad transfer from Cal State Fullerton, where she earned Big West Player of the Year honors in 2020. She started at point guard for NC State in all but two games last season and averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists per game for a program that ranked in the top five throughout much of the season. 

Forward Kayla Jones is also back for what will be her fifth straight season on the court for NC State. As a starter for the past two full seasons, Jones has averaged 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game for the Pack.

The third returning super senior, Kai Crutchfield, led the team in steals, 3-point shooting percentage, and free throw percentage last season. 

These three starters will be joined on the court by ESPN All-American Elissa Cunane and junior Jakia Brown-Turner, who averaged 13.5 points last year. Together, they have NC State ranked No. 5 in the AP’s preseason poll

Que Morrison and Jenna Staiti – Georgia

A valuable weapon on both ends of the court, Que Morrison received 2021 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and SEC All-Defensive Team honors while being the Bulldogs’ second leading scorer with 11.6 points per game. Morrison also led the team in assists, with 3.5 per game. 

Now, she’s back for more alongside fellow super senior Jenna Staiti, who led the team in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (8.1) last season.

Georgia went 21-7 last year, rounding out the top ten in the AP end-of-year rankings. They enter this season ranked No. 26. Expect Morrision and Staiti to lead them back into the Top 25. 

Elsewhere:

At Texas A&M, guard Kayla Wells, who owns the school’s all-time career 3-point field goal percentage record (36.9%) is returning for her extra year. 

Ohio State’s Braxtin Miller will continue to bring veteran leadership to the court coming off a year where she averaged 11.5 points per game and was second on the team in steals and assists. 

Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Brice Chalip is returning to Missouri State after averaging 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game last season. 

Kim Mulkey’s inaugural year at LSU will be boosted by the return of Khayla Pointer, who led the team last year in scoring, steals, and assists. 

And Bethy Mununga, who hails from Belgium and came up through the junior college ranks, will use her bonus year by returning to South Florida, where she earned ACC All-Conference honors and averaged 9.6 points and 12.9 (!) rebounds last season.

Looking ahead: 

Though Covid-19 has been a “gift that keeps on giving” in the sardonic sense of the phrase, one positive for college sports fans is the extended collegiate careers its provided to many deserving athletes. The effect will continue to ripple into seasons ahead as all student-athletes, not just seniors, who played during the designated season were granted the extra year. 

While their track record of supporting and promoting the women’s basketball tournament continues to receive scrutiny, it’s nice to see an example of the NCAA doing the right thing for its players. 

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.

Other former players 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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