Opening weekend filled with historic milestones for UWLX

As the highly anticipated opening day arrived, it would prove to be an exciting time for the United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX). League co-founder Digit Murphy, one of the most accomplished women’s hockey coaches of her generation always liked to tell her players, “Every day, we are making history.”
Undoubtedly, that pioneering spirit defined opening day as all four teams took to the field at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. As a side note, all teams shall be participating in a barnstorming schedule, allowing a great opportunity for fans throughout the Eastern United States to appreciate this latest chapter in American women’s sports.

With pleasant 91 degree weather, complemented by a vigorous sunshine blanketing the field of play, it helped set the tone for opening day. The emphasis on such a meaningful day was one defined by sportsmanship, fair play and perhaps more importantly, an empowering achievement.

Such a day started with the Baltimore Ride and the Long Island Sound facing off, both ambitiously looking towards gaining the first win in league history. With no shortage of talent on either side, as evidenced by the results in the historic UWLX Draft, excitement built as to which player would score the first goal of the game, which would simultaneously be the first in league history.

This unique distinction would belong to Baltimore’s Beth Glaros, who took a feed from Courtney Swan, firing the ball past Long Island goaltender Devon Wills. Said goal would be scored under the four minute mark, although the early lead would not be relished for long.

Action from inaugural UWLX match. Photo credit: John Strohsacker

Action from inaugural UWLX match. Photo credit: John Strohsacker

Long Island quickly replied, as McKinley Curro tallied the equalizer, making her own mark with the first goal in team history. Curro would continue to make an impression early in the game, breaking the tie with the first two-point goal in league history.

Despite the advantage, Long Island would not be able to contain Baltimore, watching its lead evaporate. By halftime, Baltimore enjoyed a 7-6 lead, as head coach Jen Adams, one of the most prominent individuals in modern lacrosse, was in a position to possibly become the first winning coach in league history.

As the second half progressed, neither team was able to make any inroads and grab a convincing lead. Instead, the score was 12-12 heading into the last minute of play. Although Baltimore would score the first goal of the game, it was Long Island that would score the last. Alyssa Leonard would score the first game-winning goal in UWLX history as goaltender Devon Wills made a last second save to preserve the historic win. Lindsay Scott would also lead the way for Long Island by scoring the first hat trick in franchise history.

Boston Storm and Baltimore Ride players chat in between games (Image obtained from:

Boston Storm and Baltimore Ride players chat in between games (Image obtained from:

With the Philadelphia Force and Boston Storm both fighting for bragging rights in the second game, anticipation built over which players would log their respective team’s first-ever goals. Rebecca Lynch would carve her place in league history, logging the first goal of the game and the first in Force history. Assisted by Hilary Bowen, Boston first round pick Liz Hogan allowed said goal.

Despite the early setback, Boston’s Kailah Kempney would tie the score, recording the club’s first goal, with the assist credited to Danielle Estrasco. The quick exchange of goals set the tone for most of the first half as the score was tied at 5-5. Despite Philadelphia’s Katie Webster breaking the deadlock, it would be the last time that her team enjoyed any scoring advantage in the game. Boston would score another four goals, as the scoreboard at halftime reflected a 9-6 lead in their favor.

As Philadelphia goaltender Bridget Bianco was peppered with shots in the second half, compiling 11 overall, her teammates struggled to mount an offensive attack, managing to score only two more goals. The second half saw Boston make adjustments, as their defense shut down the Force. With the offense maintaining their high scoring ways, Boston would emerge as the highest scoring team on opening day, compiling 16 goals.

The 16-8 final saw Danielle Spencer of Boston and Kara Mupo of Philadelphia lead their teams in scoring. Coincidentally, each player would score a two-point tally, resulting in other franchise firsts. Statistically, Spencer’s five points were a game-high, while Kempney scored four goals and Estrasco logged a hat trick for Boston. Other goal scorers for the victorious Boston squad included Kristin Igoe, Tanner Guarino and Kara Cannizzaro.

Plenty of ambition for Brooke Henderson as LPGA season comes into full swing

In her first full season on the LPGA, Brooke Henderson’s career has grown by a quantum leap. Fulfilling her promise as a world-class golfer, she has risen over 200 spots in the world golf rankings, sitting fifth overall. Henderson sits in distinguished company among the top five, which includes American competitors Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and South Korea’s Inbee Park.As a side note, she is ninth on the list of earnings, having won more than $450,000 USD in prize money.

Having competed in 11 events this season, Henderson has managed an incredible Top 10 finishes on eight occasions, while her scoring average (70.02) ranks fifth overall. With ambitions to participate in 30 events before season’s end, there is no disputing her high energy.

Taking into account that her 19th birthday is still four months away, she has handled the expectations and accompanying pressures with the grace and dignity of a veteran golfer. Another noteworthy aspect to Henderson’s maturity is the fact that she has found a mentor in fellow Canadian Alena Sharp. Also a competitor on the LPGA Tour, Sharp (who is nearly twice Henderson’s age) has been like a big sister to Henderson, graciously providing her with insights about life on the tour.

During the summer of 2015, Henderson became the third-youngest winner to win an LPGA tournament, capturing the Cambia Portland Classic. Winning by an impressive eight shots, the bigger victory may have been the honor of full Tour membership afterwards. In the aftermath of such jubilation, Henderson also found time to sign an endorsement deal with BMW, another sign that her star is on the rise.

Photo credit: Frank Gunn

Photo credit: Frank Gunn

With her sister Brittany, who is a competitor on the Symetra Tour (where Brooke partly played last season), the two recently returned to their hometown of Smiths Falls, Ontario. Both were on-hand for the Kevin Haime Kids to the Course Classic at Eagle Creek Golf Club, which was held after Mother’s Day.

In early February, Henderson experienced her best finish of the season, placing second at the Coates Golf Championship. She will be hoping for a similar finish in August at the Rio Summer Games, as golf tournament shall be contested for the first time at the Games since 1904.

Of note, the Rio Summer Games shall be wedged into quite a full golf schedule. Two weeks before Rio, one of golf’s majors shall be contested from July 28-31 as Henderson shall look for victory at the British Open. Should Henderson manage a podium finish in Rio, she will definitely be treated to a heroes welcome, as a pair of tournaments are scheduled to be held in Canada. Calgary shall be the host city for the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, while Cambridge, Ontario is the backdrop for the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.

Former New Hampshire superstar Kelly Paton to build on growing legacy of Western Mustangs

Over the last four seasons, the Western Mustangs women’s ice hockey program rose to unprecedented heights. From the emergence of Kelly Campbell and Katelyn Gosling as All-Canadian superstars, to an OUA conference title and the Golden Path Trophy in 2015, both program firsts, such a performance helped extend Western University’s athletic reputation far beyond its dominant football presence. In the last two seasons, the Mustangs won an astounding 60 games, compared to just 17 losses and 10 ties.

As the program continues to grow, its transition has included a new head coach for the 2016-17 season. Having served this past season as an associate coach with the Mustangs, Kelly Paton rises to a new role as head coach. Adding to this momentum is the fact that she will be joining Shaun Reagan of the Waterloo Warriors as members of Rachel Flanagan’s coaching staff for the 2017 Winter Universiade. This adds to Paton’s already impressive international experience, which included a role on the coaching staff of the Canadian U18 national team for the 2014-15 campaign.

One of the greatest players to have donned the New Hampshire Wildcats jersey, Paton was not only a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in her senior season, she would forego an opportunity to be part of Hockey Canada’s Under-22 player camp in order to be part of history. Of note, she would play at Fenway Park against Northeastern in the first outdoor women’s game in NCAA history.

In four sensational seasons with the Wildcats, Paton helped keep the club in contention for the national championship, amassing an astounding 162 points on the strength of 100 assists. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, she currently sits 11th all-time in program scoring. As a senior, Paton was one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. This was part of a season that saw Paton earn New England Player of the Year honors, a nod to the First-Team All-Americans and a share of the Hockey East Player of the Year Award.

Before Paton returned home to southwestern Ontario to lay down her roots, she would extend her playing career to the professional ranks, competing for the famed ZSC Lions in Switzerland, capturing a league title in 2010-11, an accomplishment that Paton hopes to duplicate as a coach at the OUA level with the Mustangs next season.

Paton’s coaching experience also includes a stint as an assistant coach with the Mercyhurst Lakers in 2011-12, where she was joined by former player Delaney Collins, also serving on the coaching staff. The two were surrounded by one of the greatest collections of talent in NCAA history. The roster was highlighted by the presence of Christine Bestland, Bailey and Shelby Bram, conference MVP Kelley Steadman, Jess Jones, and Hillary Pattenden, who would break the NCAA record for most goaltending wins in a career. Although the Lakers were defeated by the Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament, it was a memorable season for Paton, which saw her gain a Masters of Science in Exercise Science

Bringing a wealth of knowledge to the Mustangs, which shall be crucial in maintaining its status as a national power, Paton inherits the position from David Barrett. Having served as head coach for two seasons, he is moving on in order to focus on his career at the Ivey Business School. As a side note, he shall remain available as an advisor. Undoubtedly, Paton’s sterling career should pay positive dividends with the Mustangs, allowing the program an edge in the ultra-competitive realm of recruiting, while bringing out the best in her players.

Prior to the Mustangs, Paton had a strong hockey presence in southwestern Ontario as both a player and coach. Raised in Woodstock, Ontario, she served as bench boss with the Provincial Women’s Hockey League’s London Devilettes from 2013-15. Amassing 10 wins and 28 points during the 2013-14 campaign, the Devilettes made a huge jump in the standings the following season. Under Paton’s tutelage, the club improved by 11 points, accumulating 16 wins, finishing 11th overall in the league standings. Of note, she had also played for the Devilettes before joining the University of New Hampshire’s team in 2006. Along with Paton, some of the notable alums include Amanda Shaw, Carolyne Prevost, Meghan Hunter, Hokey Langan and Amanda Mazzotta.

During her time coaching the Devilettes, there was a series of unique connections with Mazzotta. Not only did Mazzotta serve as the goaltending coach with the Devilettes program (which features numerous age groups), she spent one season in the same capacity with the Mustangs. The two would also work together with Hockey Canada’s national U18 team for the 2014-15 season. Paton served as a strength and conditioning coach while Mazzotta worked with the goaltenders.

Coincidentally, the pre-competition camp for the 2015 IIHF U18 Worlds was actually held in London, only serving to strengthen their local hockey legacies. The efforts of Paton and Mazzotta helped Canada gain a silver medal at the Worlds.

Paton inherits a team that had a strong showing in 2015-16, ranking fifth in the OUA in goals scored (61) and shots on net (681). In addition, the Mustangs would also rank third in PPG (17), first in power play opportunities (109) and second in penalty kill (90.6).

As the club featured 8 freshmen (five Devilettes on roster) on the roster, they shall be counted upon to play a bigger role for Paton next season. Among them will be April Clark, who played for Paton on the Devilettes. Another young player that will be expected to deliver is Anthea Lasis, who is poised to be the anchor on the Mustangs blueline unit.

Perhaps Paton’s biggest challenge shall be finding a goaltender. With the recent graduation of Kelly Campbell, one of the most accomplished in OUA history, she was a key factor in the Mustangs dominance as a top defensive unit. Even if the Mustangs struggle in her absence for the 2016-17 season, Paton should manage to recruit another top prospect to stand between the pipes in the following season.

Undoubtedly, there will be no shortage of leaders for Paton as she molds the new generation of Mustangs. Tia Kipfer, who once played for the NCAA’s Robert Morris Colonials will be entering her fourth season. Another pair of former NCAA players, Lyndsay Kirkham and Kendra Broad, both formerly with the Lindenwood Lady Lions shall be just as important. Having both reached double digits in points, Broad would tie with Katelyn Gosling for second in team scoring, trailing leader Brittany Clapham by one point, all positive signs for a future where Paton works towards maintaining the Mustangs status as a powerhouse in OUA women’s hockey.

Jenny Mac more than just another football player

As the 2016 female football season progresses, the theme of transition continues to be its definition. Despite the addition of several expansion teams in Legends Football League play, there is also the sullen subtraction of several superstars. With the New England Liberty part of the expansion class, their season held tremendous promise as it was spiced by the presence of a stunning, yet dedicated, protagonist.

Having recently made the visceral decision to hang up her helmet, Jenny Mac was poised to be one of the Liberty’s franchise players, whose leadership presence would have shouldered the burden of expectation to qualify for the postseason. With opening kickoff, Mac’s absence was significant for the Liberty. In their inaugural game, the squad suffered a 26-6 thumping on the road against a reinvented Omaha Heart franchise.

Considering that the New England Liberty continues to endure the expansion blues, Mac’s absence reminds fans what might have been. Of note, the Liberty are not the only team this season that has suffered from the impact of her loss. Having first established herself as a superstar with the Atlanta Steam, arguably the most successful expansion team in LFL history, the perennial contender experienced their own offseason filled with change.

Although the Steam has managed to retain a significant part of their leadership core, highlighted by Dakota Hughes, Leanne Hardin and Dina Wojowski, the first winner of the In the Trenches Award, the loss of Jodie Nettles to retirement and Jenny Mac to free agency altered the team’s composition. One of the great qualities about the Steam was the sense of family that existed within the team. Such sense was a key factor in the Steam qualifying for the 2014 Legends Cup final.

Undoubtedly, the loss of Nettles and Mac adds a feeling of loss for this great family. Both statuesque and competitive, Nettles was easily identified by her trademark tye-dye headbands, while Mac would begin an exceptional trend that added an exciting new dimension to the league and its personalities.

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac was truly one of the league’s originals. Gracing the gridiron with remarkable face painting motifs, it quickly propelled her into the rarified air of both trend setter and superstar. Capturing the imagination of both fans and teammates alike, it triggered a league-wide phenomenon that saw others emulate her unique style.

Steammate Leanne Hardin would adorn her stunning visage with red and black make-up akin to pro wrestling’s legendary Road Warriors. Seattle Mist superstar and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace would adopt a face paint style similar to former wrestling champion Ultimate Warrior. Eventually, it was not uncommon for at least one player on every team to adopt face-painting as a means of both intimidation and motivation.

As captivating as Mac became with her innovative use of face painting, she was far from being just a one-dimensional athlete. There was also a gridiron intensity that constantly provided her team with a chance to win, sending a powerful message.

Perhaps no such message was more evident throughout league circles than the brawl that defined one of the most electrifying postseason contests in league history. In what would prove to be the final contest in Jacksonville Breeze history, the 2014 Eastern Conference final brought out the feline bestiality on both sides.

One of the most iconic images of that scuffle between the Steam and the Breeze was Mac putting out her hand to signify stop towards one of the Breeze players. Amidst such chaos, the hand gesture would signify that Mac meant business, bringing a gradual cease to an otherwise volatile situation. As a side note, three members of the Breeze (Adrian Purnell, Dina Wojowski and Lauran Ziegler) would become Steammates in 2015. Coincidentally, the first match in Liberty history also resulted in a bench clearing brawl with the Omaha Heart, likely rekindling memories among hardcore fans, reminiscent of Mac’s presence.

While the 2016 season should have been the extension of Mac’s gridiron legacy, unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Earlier in the year, Mac was among the Eastern Conference stars that competed in the All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala. Considering that Mac proudly contributed to an Eastern Conference victory, no one could have foreseen that it would be her swan song.

Despite the reality of sport being one where no one is irreplaceable, there is something to be said about personalities and their impact on the field of play. Mac was a model teammate, dedicated to making her team better, while embodying the spirit of friendship exemplified by always having one’s back. Like so many other wondrous women whose hard work and sweat helped build the LFL, Mac made the game so much more enjoyable and the fans who saw her play will always be grateful.

Kaliya Johnson part of historic signing for Connecticut Whale

Fresh off a record-breaking season for the Boston College Eagles, one that saw the club enjoy an undefeated regular season, the first in Hockey East play to do so, blueliner Kaliya Johnson signed a one-year offer worth $13,000 with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. Of note, Kaliya Johnson becomes the first African-American player to sign with the Whale.

During the NWHL’s inaugural season, Blake Bolden became the first African-American to appear in a regular season game, doing so with the Boston Pride. Not only would she become the first African-American to appear in the league’s All-Star Game, she would also become the first to capture the Clarkson Cup.

The New York Riveters also featured an African-American player on their roster. Despite being assigned as a practice player, Cherie Stewart, who also played with the US national ball hockey team at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, managed to see some ice time in the regular season. Johnson, who was raised in Arizona, now adds to a growing legacy in NWHL hockey, as visible minorities, both male and female, continue to make significant inroads in the game.

Johnson already brings a solid hockey resume that includes more than just four sensational seasons with the Eagles. Having competed with the US national team at the 2012 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, she would capture a silver medal. In the same year, she would win the North American Hockey Academy win the JWHL national championship.

With a Whale roster that lost Kaleigh Fratkin, the league’s leading scorer among blueliners to free agency, Johnson shall be a welcome addition. Considering that the Whale also signed blueliner Cydney Roesler from the ECAC champion Quinnipiac Bobcats, their blueline shall be significantly bolstered for the upcoming season.

Having graduated as one of the top ten career scorers among Eagles blueliners, she would display remarkable consistency and durability in her final season, appearing in all 41 games, as career benchmarks were set for points, goals and assists. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment was the fact that she helped the Eagles set a program record for most shutouts in one season with 14.

As a sophomore, Johnson came into her own as she did not miss a game with the Eagles. Leading the team in plus-minus rating (+29), while ranking sceond with an impressive 43 blocked shots, she was also named to the Hockey East All-Tournament Team, displaying an ability to excel in high pressure situations.

Statistically, her senior season would be her strongest, registering a career-high 17 points on the strength of 13 assists. Among her goals, one would prove to be the game-winning tally against Northeastern on November 20, 2015 while another was scored in the Beanpot against Harvard.

Recording at least one point in 15 regular season games, her final goal as a member of the Eagles came against Clarkson during the Frozen Four, advancing to the national championship for the first time in program history. Although the club would lose to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the national championsnhip game at the Frozen Four, the efforts of seniors such as Johnson will be sorely missed.

Throughout her exceptional Eagles career, Johnson showed tremendous leadership on campus. Not only was she a representative for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at BC, she was also on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for the Atlantic Coast Conference, attending conference meetings twice a year in North Carolina. The focus of said meetings included rules and regulations, the welfare of student athletes and community service.

Such service was definitely a part of what defined Johnson’s efforts, for she was just as dedicatred to giving back to the community and setting a positive example on and off the ice. In addition to helping Boston College Athletics raise money for programs and academic services, she was also trained as a team health representative to assist students in need. Majoring in psychology, Johnson displayed a heart of gold, helping guide student athletes to different resources available on campus.

As a side note, she also served as a student teacher in Boston Public Schools. Among her efforts in such a capacity, she worked in classrooms teaching English as a Second Language.

Although the Whale have definitely signed a promising talent with a fundamentally sound game, the most important aspect may be that they signed a person with great character. In September 2014, Johnson underwent brain surgery after suffering from concussion related syndromes.

Returning on November 8, 2014, she would log an assist against Northeastern. The momentum would continue the following day, as she notched her second point in as many days, another assist, against the Vermont Catamounts. Her first goal that season would also take place in November, scoring on the 22nd against Connecticut.

While Johnson defied the odds and made a heroic comeback, concussions have proven to be a tremendous point of concern in the game, as the injury has brought an abrupt end to many careers. Hopefully, the strain that Johnson endured shall become an example of addressing the need for concussion research and preventing such injuries from plaguing these exceptional women.

As Johnson stated in her own words on the Eagles website, the presence of a Chiari malformation, which meant that her brain was sitting below the base of her skull, applied pressure on her spinal cord. Such exposure was causing many of the headaches that plagued her in the previous offseason.

Despite being unable to start her junior season in 2014-15 due to brain surgery, Johnson would be back on the ice by Christmas, a heroic return for an individual who took on adversity with remarkable courage and dignity. Not only did a return to the ice make Johnson learn to not take the game for granted, it allowed her an empathic approach to other players that are injured, understanding the emotional strain that takes place. It is a somewhat reciprocal experience for Johnson as she saw the true meaning of teamwork when teammates, coaches and her mother showed their support, believing in her abilities and the strength to come back. It is that type of strength and maturity which not only makes Johnson a role model, but is poised to make her one worth watching when the Whale return in the autumn of 2016.

Record-breaking swimmer Kylie Masse honored at BLG Awards

Having qualified in the 100-meter backstroke for Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, there is a strong feeling of momentum for Kylie Masse. At the 2016 BLG Awards, Masse had the honor of the Jim Thompson Trophy Award bestowed upon her, which recognizes the best female athlete in Canadian university sport. Along with the trophy, Masse was the recipient of a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship, a watch and a gold ring. Currently, there are 12,000 student-athletes representing 56 universities in Canada.

The pride of Lasalle, Ontario, Masse becomes the third swimmer to capture the BLG Awards, following 2009 winner Annamay Pierse and fellow Varsity Blues swimmer Elizabeth Warden in 2002. As a side note, Warden would swim for Canada at the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Other Varsity Blues athletes that have captured the Thompson Trophy include track and field star Foy Williams in 1998 and basketball player Justine Ellison two years earlier in 1996.

In addition, Masse becomes the fifth female athlete from the Ontario University Athletic conference to win the award. The most recent was last year, as Windsor Lancers basketball player Korissa Williams gained the honor. Considering that Masse grew up near Windsor, it marked the second consecutive season that an athlete raised or playing in Essex County nabbed the award.

At the 2016 Canadian Interuniversity Sport national swim championships, the University of Toronto sophomore captured victory in three backstroke finals while finishing no worse than second in all seven of her races as her medal haul consisted of four gold medals and three silver medals. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that it marked the second consecutive season that Masse earned seven medals at the nationals.

Complementing her superlative performance was the fact that she broke the Canadian record in the 100-metre backstroke twice. Her ticket to Rio was assured on April 6 with a record time of 59.06 seconds in the 100-metre backstroke.

Masse’s brilliance was also evident in her freshman season of 2014-15, gaining OUA female swimmer of the year honors. At the 2015 Summer Universiade in South Korea, she would establish herself as an international athlete by claiming the gold in the 100-meter backstroke.

During the 2015-16 season, Masse captured an astonishing 18 individual victories in six conference competitions. Not surprisingly, she would set six OUA records in the process. Thanks to Masse, the Varsity Blues female swimming team won the national championship, their first since 1997.

With each conference featuring one male and female finalist for the BLG Award, the other female athletes were as follows. Acadia University basketball player Paloma Anderson (raised in Phoenix, Arizona) represented Atlantic University Sport. Melodie Daoust, who won a gold medal for Canada in ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, represented the RSEQ. During the season, she would reach 200 career points with the McGill Martlets, achieving the feat in only 100 games. Canada West was represented by Donetsk, Ukraine native Iuliia Pakhomenko, who starred on the volleyball court for Thompson Rivers University. Although the winners were selected by the Canadian Athletic Foundation, an online vote, which did not count toward the official result, was available for sports fans during a span of two weeks. An impressive 112,499 votes were cast.

Storm debut among memorable milestones for Breanna Stewart

Labelled “the LeBron James of women’s basketball” by Kelsey Plum, an All-American with the Washington Huskies, the Seattle Storm are hoping that Breanna Stewart can emerge as a franchise player and restore the championship hopes for a loyal fan base. In addition to her scoring prowess, Stewart is also a solid playmaker, as evidenced by her 300 career blocks and 300 career assists, the only NCAA player to do so. As a side note, she was also the only competitor to be recognized as the Final Four most outstanding player four times.
As Stewart made her preseason debut with the Storm, gracing the courts of the WNBA for the first-time ever, there was a tinge of irony. Former Huskies teammate Moriah Jefferson, the second pick overall in this year’s WNBA Draft was opposing Stewart, as a member of the Phoenix Mercury.

The WNBA Draft was a watershed moment for the league and the Huskies. With the draft launching the celebration of the WNBA’s 20th season, it was only fitting that the Draft was held at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. Holding the first overall pick for the second consecutive year (the Storm selected Jewell Loyd in 2015), the Storm did not surprise, selecting Stewart. Of note, Stewart became the fifth UConn alum taken first overall in WNBA Draft history. The others in this remarkable class include Maya Moore (2011), Tina Charles (2010), Diana Taurasi (2004) and Sue Bird (2002).

Following Stewart, San Antonio grabbed Jefferson Moriah Jefferson while Morgan Tuck went third overall to the Connecticut Sun, allowing her to stay in close proximity to her Huskies glories. It marked the first time in WNBA draft history (and in professional sports) that three players from the same school represented the top three picks. As a side note, the 2002 WNBA Draft saw Huskies players selected first, second, fourth and sixth overall.

This titanic trio also hold the rare distinction of having won the Final Four in every season of their NCAA careers, another historic first. It was a fitting end to their glorious collegiate careers, propelling the Huskies into one of the greatest dynasties in American sporting history. Except for the likes of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton with the UCLA Bruins, Stewart may be the most accomplished basketball player in the history of NCAA basketball, capturing three straight Player of the Year Awards, an unprecedented achievement.
In her WNBA debut, Stewart managed 29 minutes of playing time, logging 11 points and a solid eight rebounds, although Phoenix that would prevail. With 3,271 fans at Key Arena witnessing her debut, it was Stewart’s first loss on a basketball court since November 28, 2014.

While the Storm had a solid first half, a 36-28 lead evaporated as the Mercury enjoyed an 11-0 run. Loyd would tie the score at 39-39 at halftime. Considering that Sue Bird was inactive in the second half, the Mercury outscored the Storm in both quarters (20-14 in the third, 22-20 in the fourth), grabbing the W. Compounding matters was a lack of on-court chemistry between Loyd and Stewart, a key challenge for head coach Jenny Boucek to overcome. The leap to the professional ranks became a sobering reality, as winning, something so easily attained at the University of Connecticut could not be taken for granted in the WNBA.

One of the benefits of joining the Storm is the fact that Stewart is joined by another Huskies legend. Entering her 15th WNBA season, Sue Bird led the Storm to WNBA titles in 2004 and 2010, complemented by 10 straight postseason berths. While both represent Huskies pride with the Storm, the two will also get the opportunity to be teammates twice before the WNBA season expires.

In addition to being part of the Seattle Storm’s roster, both were named to the US national team that shall compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. Having already won three gold medals in Summer Games play, Bird will be looking for a fourth, as this will likely be the final Games of her storied career.

While Rio represents the first Summer Games for Stewart, she will be joined by a couple of other celebrated first-timers, including Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner. At the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Stewart donned the US jersey in a silver medal effort, suffering an upset to fellow Husky Kia Nurse and the host Canadian team in an emotional gold medal match.

Gold is a strong possibility to be the color of choice in the aftermath of Rio for Stewart et al. With Huskies coach Geno Auriemma serving as the US head coach (he was also the bench boss at London 2012), a second championship in 2016 for Auriemma and Stewart would only add to the legendary legacies that the two have forged in four fantastic years with the Huskies.

Meanwhile, Stewart’s focus shall be on bringing the Storm back into contention. Despite opening her WNBA career with a loss, Stewart has the talent and the tenacity to ensure that the wins will outnumber the losses. A rematch with the Mercury on Mother’s Day shall prove to be a key test for Stewart.

Another element of intrigue in the preseason shall include a contest the followigtn week against the Los Angeles Sparks. Of note, the Sparks selected Syracuse University star Brianna Butler in the Draft. Not only did Stewart grow up in North Syracuse, but her fourth straight Final Four title came against Syracuse. Undoubtedly, emotions will run high for both.