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Washburn Rural volleyball ends 10-year state title drought

The Washburn Rural volleyball team didn’t drop a single set throughout postseason play this season. (Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal via USA TODAY NETWORK)

Any hopes the Washburn Rural (Kan.) volleyball team had of going undefeated in 2022 were quickly dashed after the Blues lost their second match of the season back on Aug. 30.

From that point on, however, they didn’t lose again.

Washburn Rural ended the season on a 44-match winning streak, winning the Class 6A state championship this past weekend for the eighth state title in program history and the first since 2012.

After losing in the state semifinals last year, the Blues didn’t drop a single set throughout postseason play this season. In fact, they lost just four sets all year.

It was a fitting end to a stellar high school career for Kentucky commit and reigning Kansas Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year Brooklyn DeLeye. The No. 6 overall recruit in the Class of 2023 was one of five seniors to end their time at Washburn Rural with that elusive state title, one year after losing in the state semifinals.

Thanks to the impressive 40-plus match winning streak, capped by a championship trophy, Washburn Rural moves up two spots in the Just Women’s Sports team volleyball rankings, cracking the top five at No. 4.

Check out the complete rankings below, and click here to see last week’s rankings.

1. Cathedral Catholic (Calif.), 37-0

The Dons still haven’t dropped a set this season. That record will be put to the test in the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego Section Open Division championship Friday against Torrey Pines.

2. Cornerstone Christian (Texas), 55-2

The Warriors made a tradeoff — they tested themselves against the best teams in the country with a national schedule, giving up the chance to play for a state title by forgoing district matches due to travel requirements.

3. Mira Costa (Calif.), 36-3

Drew Wright notched 25 kills, and Erin Inskeep recorded 19 digs as the Mustangs beat Mater Dei in a five-set thriller this past weekend and booked a spot in the CIF Southern Section Division I Championships final against Sierra Canyon.

4. Washburn Rural (Kan.), 45-1

The Blues will lose DeLeye but return several key contributors next year.

5. Westminster Christian (Fla.), 26-0

The Warriors are just two wins away from their first state title since 2016 and have not dropped a set since Sept. 3.

6. Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.), 33-1

The Royals have already knocked off one top-25 team on their way to the Class 4A state final, and they will have to beat another to win the state crown. Hamilton Southeastern, which ended No. 17 McCutcheon’s season in the regional final, faces No. 16 Yorktown for the title Saturday.

7. Fayetteville (Ark.), 36-2

It was only appropriate that the seniors led the way as the Bulldogs won their third consecutive state title. Stanford beach volleyball commit Brooke Rockwell smacked 17 kills, and Madeline Lafata added 13 in a straight-set championship victory. Kennedy Phelan was everywhere with 37 assists, 18 digs and seven kills, while Ashley Ruff had a team-high 22 digs. Those four were part of Fayetteville’s 14-player senior class.

8. Prestonwood Christian (Texas), 37-1

The Lions ended the regular season on a 25-match winning streak and now turn their attention to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools playoffs.

9. Bloomfield Hills Marian (Mich.), 43-1

The Mustangs opened the playoffs Wednesday with a straight-set victory in the district semifinals, booking a spot in Friday’s district championship.

10. Highland Park (Texas), 41-2

The Scots dominated their postseason opener, not allowing their opponent to win more than 10 points in a set.

11. Tompkins (Texas), 37-3

The Falcons are riding a 17-match winning streak and eyeing the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state crown.

12. St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.), 40-3

The Saints defeated St. James Academy for the third time this season to claim the 5A state championship. Two of their losses came against Washburn Rural.

13. Oconomowoc (Wis.), 37-1

Cordelia Kearns became the Raccoons’ all-time kills leader in a postseason victory this past weekend. Kearns has 394 kills this season alone, and now the senior and her teammates are just three wins away from a state title.

14. Cypress Ranch (Texas), 43-2

The Mustangs opened the playoffs the same way they ended the regular season, with a sweep. But a tough test awaits Thursday against The Woodlands, who are 39-9 with a win over Cornerstone Christian.

15. Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 32-4

The Trailblazers defeated reigning state champion Marymount for the second time this season to finish unbeaten in pool play and set up Saturday’s showdown with No. 3 Mira Costa.

16. Yorktown (Ind.), 34-2

Charlotte Vinson had 20 kills, Addi Applegate contributed 27 digs and Kynnadi Bell added 25 assists as the Tigers knocked off Floyd Central in the state semifinals to set up a championship showdown with No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern.

17. McCutcheon (Ind.), 33-2

The Mavericks’ season ended last week in a loss to Hamilton Southeastern in the regional finals.

18. Mother McAuley (Ill.), 35-3

The Mighty Macs avenged one of their three losses with a taut, three-set victory over Marist in Wednesday’s sectional final.

19. ‘Iolani (Hawaii), 25-5

The Raiders ended the season on a 12-match winning streak, earning the Division I state title as Brooke Naniseni racked up 16 kills in the state championship match. Tessa Onaga contributed 32 digs, and Maya Imoto-Eakin dished out 39 assists.

20. Dike-New Hartford (Iowa), 45-2

The Wolverines play for the Class 2A state championship Thursday, with Madelyn Norton leading the way with 894 assists. Twins Payton and Jadyn Petersen lead the team with 456 kills and 295 digs, respectively.

21. Buford (Ga.), 37-5

If the Wolves beat Lambert in the 7A state championship Saturday, it will be their third state title in three years.

22. Marymount (Calif.), 30-8

The Sailors struggled in the CIF Southern Section Division I Championships, going 1-2 in pool play, but their season isn’t over yet. They could receive an invite to the Southern California Regional Open Division playoff bracket.

23. St. Francis (Calif.), 29-0

The Lancers’ reward for winning their CIF Central Coast Section semifinal match Wednesday is a fifth matchup against Archbishop Mitty.

24. Assumption (Ky.), 33-7

The Rockets are just three wins from another state championship. First, they must navigate past a Mercy team they have already beaten twice this season.

25. Flint Hill (Va.), 31-0

The Huskies haven’t faced the same caliber of competition as Cathedral Catholic, but just like the top-ranked Dons, the new top-25 entrant has yet to drop a set this season.

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

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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