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The check-in: The Aces are riding high
Proof of celebration.
1. The Aces won the WNBA championship.
It’s been a while since we last talked (my fault, it’s been a rough patch, will make it up this week), and so I need to make sure that we are starting with what should be the biggest story in women’s sports last week, this week, and for weeks to come: The Las Vegas Aces won the WNBA championship, taking the series 3-1 over an underwhelming-but-scrappy New York Liberty squad. The Aces became the first WNBA team since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002 to repeat as champions.
There were a lot of impressive parts of the Aces’ run, but to me, what stood out the most was how they flipped the script and clinched the championship with the help of their depth — the thing which was perceived by many (myself included) to be their biggest weakness. In Game 4, Aces starters, Kiah Stokes and Chelsea Gray, were sidelined with foot injuries. But the Aces were able to grit out a win behind strong performances from bench players Alysha Clark, Cayla George, and Sydney Colson. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be — it was enough to win it all.
Of course, it helps when your team is led by A’ja Wilson, who firmly solidified herself as the best player in women’s basketball right now, bar none.
Anyways, you all aren’t here for stale recaps or luke-warm takes. I know what you want: Celebration photos and videos.
Here’s proof of the parade, which was incredible.
And here’s Usher serenading the Aces — and A’ja in particular — at his concert.
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2. The NWSL semifinals are set.
The NWSL quarterfinals took place two weekends ago. ICYMI, the OL Reign ended the late-season surge by Angel City FC and Gotham FC defeated the North Carolina Courage. I was at the Courage game, and Gotham looked very good — their press is so dangerous, and they have so much talent on their front line. Surprisingly enough, this was Gotham’s first playoff win in the history of the NWSL, so the celebrations afterwards were absolutely epic. IT’S NOT ALI KRIEGER’S LAST GAME!!!!!!!
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As for the Courage, well, they were absolutely heartbroken. After the allegations of sexual misconduct against former Courage coach Paul Riley were revealed in 2021, the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2022. That, combined with key offseason departures, caused outside expectations for the Courage’s 2023 campaign to be low. But Sean Nahas did a phenomenal job keeping the squad together through the tough times and re-establishing a culture of winning in the locker room. They won the Challenge Cup and finished third in the regular season. Unfortunately, Kerolin tore her ACL in the final regular-season game, and her presences was sorely missed in the quarters. Still, I think that something special is brewing in North Carolina.
In the semifinals — which will take place on Sunday, November 5 — the Portland Thorns will host Gotham and the San Diego Wave will host the Reign. (Both Portland and San Diego received byes straight to the semifinals.) The retirement tours of Megan Rapinoe and Krieger will continue, and goodness, are we lucky that they will.
3. But first, in women’s soccer, we had an international break, which means we have updates on a couple of fights between federations and players.
First, in Jamaica, all players from the World Cup team boycotted this international break.
“While this has been one of the hardest decisions we have had to make, we feel it is necessary to take such a drastic stance to put an end to the constant mistreatment we receive from the Jamaica Football Federation,” the players said in a letter released on social media.
Among their complaints? A complete lack of communication between the federation and the players, and incomplete World Cup payments and outstanding bonuses from 2022.
Last Friday, the JFF announced it had fully paid the balances due to World Cup players, which I certainly hope is true. It’s hard to take their word for it, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see what players do next international window.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Jenni Hermosa returned to the national team for the first time since the World Cup and its aftermath, and her return was a triumph: She scored in the 89th minute on Friday to give Spain the 1-0 victory over Italy in the UEFA Nations League.
"[I thought about] many things [when celebrating], but life sometimes gives you little gifts," Hermoso said.
"And today I thought about a lot of people who have been behind me during this time. I am happy because thanks to them today I enjoyed football once again."
In case you need a reminder, Hermosa pressed charges against (now former) Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales after he non-consensually kissed her on the lips during the World Cup trophy ceremony. That lawsuit has been making its way through the Spanish courts over the past few weeks. On Monday, FIFA announced it is banning Rubiales from all football-related activities for three years.
There are other reasons for the Spanish women to celebrate, too — early last week, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and the National Sports Council (CSD) joined with the captains of the team to sign an agreement that is meant to reform Spanish women’s football and provide safety and protection for all the players. As part of the agreement, a committee was formed to monitor the progress and implementation of the agreement.
“The agreement takes us a lot closer to improving women’s soccer,” Olga Carmona said. “There is still a lot to do, but we took a big step forward.”
Now, before we move on, shall we check in on the USWNT?
Well, the U.S. women were in action over the break as well, playing two friendlies against Colombia. The first game and a half were scoreless draws that were extremely frustrating to watch and felt like continuations of the Vlatko era. However, in the second half of the second game, the offense came alive thanks to an inflection of youth, such as Mia Fishel (22), Alyssa Thompson (18), and Jaedyn Shaw (19).
Fishel and Shaw scored two of the USWNT’s three goals — Horan scored the other one — and they’re worth reliving.
Finally, the future is now.
4. Aitana Bonmati won the Ballon d’Or!
And she looked absolutely stunning while doing so, I must say.
Unfortunately, the person who presented her with the award was Novak Djokovic???? Which … WHAT??? I can’t remember ever seeing Djokovic support women’s soccer; he’s actively spoken out against equal pay in his own sport! Just an absolutely bizarre choice from an organization that, well, has made its fair share of bizarre choices when it comes to the women’s game — including holding the awards ceremony in the middle of an international window, when many of the top women’s players are unable to attend.
I’m very tired.
5. We’ve got to talk about these volleyball ratings.
Not much surprises me this day when it comes to television ratings for women’s sports. As I’ve written time and time again, the numbers are trending upwards, and will continue to do so as long as there is proper investment and promotion.
But last week I did stop in my tracks when I saw a report that the Big Ten Network drew 612,000 viewers for a Wisconsin-Nebraska women’s volleyball game. That’s a huge number, close to what the WNBA Finals averaged, and the game even outdrew that week’s Northwestern-Nebraska football game, which drew 560,000 viewers.
That’s right — women’s volleyball outdrew college football!
I love that.
Coming up this week on Power Plays? A look at all the drama happening in women’s tennis right now. It’s not great.