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Welcome to 2023: Our New Year’s resolutions for women’s sports

Mallory Pugh and the USWNT are awaiting their 2023 moment. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The end of 2022 closed the book on a landmark year in women’s sports, one full of triumph and turmoil.

We’ll always remember the title runs for the Las Vegas Aces, Portland Thorns and South Carolina basketball, among other champions, just as we’ll never forget the reverberations from the NWSL abuse reports and Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia.

As 2023 dawns, though, Just Women’s Sports looks forward, as our writers and editors provide New Year’s resolutions for women’s sports.

Healing and progress

Women’s sports gave us much to celebrate in 2022, but hanging over all the little victories was a resounding heaviness.

The NWSL reckoned with years of systemic abuse and cover-ups, as multiple investigations revealed the power imbalances that allowed coaches to sexually and emotionally harass players. The WNBA, meanwhile, kept Brittney Griner front and center throughout the 2022 season as was wrongfully detained on drug charges in Russia. Both situations reached a resolution in recent months, with the release of two detailed reports on NWSL abuse and Griner’s return home via a prisoner swap. The NWSL has plans in place to support its players and fix the systems that enabled abuse, while Griner said she intends to play for the Mercury in 2023.

The leagues are trending in a positive direction as we head into the new year, but that doesn’t mean the next steps will be easy. Players will cope with their traumas, the leagues will be held accountable to their decisions, and may we all continue to respect their humanity as much as their performances on the field and court. Hannah Withiam

Expansion

From both a product and business perspective, women’s sports took a giant step forward last year. The player talent pool and the games themselves are better than ever, and the results are showing in record-setting attendance and viewership numbers. NWSL expansion clubs Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC were living proof of what good investments in women’s sports can look like on the field and off. The NWSL plans to add two more teams by 2024. We’re ready for more.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently walked back that league’s timeline for expansion, with the expectation that one team will join the league in 2025 as opposed to up to two in 2024. Expansion has never felt more urgent in the WNBA, as a strict salary cap continues to limit roster spots and preseason becomes synonymous with a revolving door of both waived draft picks and seasoned veterans. As Engelbert referenced, and as we saw with Angel City and San Diego this year, due diligence is required for expansion to be done right. Here’s to hoping the WNBA figures it out before more quality talent is wasted. HW

More upsets — and the chance to watch them

The 2022 NCAA basketball tournament proved upset central, headlined by No. 10 Creighton’s Lauren Jensen hitting a 3-pointer to send her team past No. 2 Iowa in the second round. In 2023, let’s keep our fingers crossed for even more craziness, both during March Madness and in the regular season. Unranked Michigan State ended 2022 by toppling previously unbeaten No. 4 Indiana, which could be a good omen of chaos to come in 2023.

Yet while women’s college basketball has more parity than ever, lack of TV time could prevent us from enjoying it. Several top-25 matchups have been aired on local channels, apps or shoddy online streams, rather than the prime-time spots they deserve. In 2023, I want women’s college basketball to get all the attention it deserves, on national television. Eden Laase

Women’s sports on TV

The broadcast issue for women’s sports extends beyond college basketball.

The sports landscape is at an interesting moment in its relationship to television. Some broadcasters have picked up league rights to bolster streaming catalogues, while others are committed to spreading properties to all platforms, from flagship channels to exclusive social media streams. With the ground constantly shifting, it’s important that women’s sports not be lost in the shuffle.

The NWSL’s current deal with CBS expires in 2023, so it will have the opportunity to negotiate a new contract that reflects both the rising viewership numbers and the potential of women’s sports for the next decade. Whether the league renews for a mixture of games on CBS platforms or finds a better partner through a bidding war, a strong TV deal would provide an influx of investment. The next step is bigger and better production standards, to make it easier for fans to enjoy games and showcase the obvious talent on the field. Claire Watkins

The 2023 Moment

When discussing women’s soccer in the U.S., we frequently refer to “the 2019 moment,” as the USWNT’s World Cup win in France ushered in a new era of popularity for the sport back in the States. Attendances across the NWSL rose, as new soccer fans became hooked on watching their favorite players every week, and the momentum carried through the following four years.

The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand might not have quite the same impact, with time zones limiting accessibility for casual viewers in the Western Hemisphere. Still, every tournament year is a fresh opportunity to grow the game.

The tournament features an expanded field of 32 teams, so the 2023 moment could — and should — reach much further than the U.S. Debut nations, more parity at the top, and rising support for women’s soccer across the world should create the most competitive World Cup we’ve ever seen, with new opportunities to create dedicated women’s soccer fans. The next step, then, would be pivoting that energy to the domestic club game, to continue to build the new bedrock of the global game. CW

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

WNBA Confirms Toronto Expansion Team for 2026

Fans at a game between the Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx in Toronto
Canadian fans asked and the WNBA delivered: Toronto's getting a team. (Jordan Jones/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA is officially expanding to Toronto, with the league announcing its 14th franchise early Thursday. 

Kilmer Sports Ventures has been awarded the team, said WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert at a press conference attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and others. 

"Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform," Engelbert told the Associated Press ahead of the official announcement. "It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too."

The CBC was the first to report on the expansion franchise back on May 10th. 

With the Golden State Valkyries set to begin play next year, the Toronto franchise will begin play in 2026. The goal, per the WNBA, is to then add two more franchises by 2028 for a total of 16. 

Toronto will play at Coca-Cola Coliseum, which holds 8,700 seats. On occasion, the team will play games in Scotiabank Arena. The WNBA has previously hosted sold-out preseason games at Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place. There are also plans to play games in Vancouver and Montreal, according to majority owner Larry Tanenbaum. 

This will be the first WNBA franchise outside of the United States, and joins PWHL Toronto as just the second professional women’s sports team in the city.

"Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports," Tanenbaum told the AP. "The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. 

"I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history."

Similar to Golden State, the Toronto franchise paid a $50 million expansion fee. They’ve also committed to building a dedicated practice facility, but will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport in the meantime. 

"Women’s sports is good business," Tanenbaum said. "Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement and it’s just the beginning."

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