Kendra Levesque first girl to win baseball home run hitting contest

After the momentum of Mo’Ne Davis and Emma March participating at the 2014 Little League World Series, the movement of girls in baseball enjoys another significant accomplishment. This season, Cooperstown Dreams Park has engaged in a series of skills competitions. Having begun on May 31, part of the competition included a home run hitting contest known as the King of Swat.

Kendra Levesque of Rio Rancho, New Mexico made her mark during the ninth week of competition (on July 26), connecting for five home runs, becoming the first girl this season to win the King of Swat. Of note, she beat out 103 boys in the competition. Each competitor was entitled to a maximum of 10 swings.

Ironically, Levesque was featured in the same issue of Sports Illustrated (cover date August 25, 2014) that featured Davis on the cover. Currently, she is an infielder and pitcher for the Sparks, a national all-girls team for players 12 and under.

Last season, she batted clean-up in the Sunset Little League, consisting of 10- and 11-year-old-players. In the District 8 championship versus the Paradise Hills Little League All-Stars, she hit a two-out home run in the first inning as Sunset prevailed by a 9-4 tally. After the victory, Levesque and her teammates participated at the state tournament in Clovis, New Mexico. Perhaps the most impressive fact about Levesque is that she clubbed over 20 home runs during that season.

Of note, the Clovis and Sunset Little Leagues have featured female all-stars. Emma Adams (currently at New Mexico State University) and Kacie Swihart have starred at Clovis. Over at Sunset, players such as Lindsey Paboucek, Bailee Bowen and Laura Gutierrez have preceded Levesque.

Phoenix Mercury look for title to complement regular season record 29 wins

Sensational sophomore Brittney Griner is having the same impact in the WNBA as Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had in his early NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks. Griner has emerged as a key reason that the Phoenix Mercury ended their season with a league record 29 regular season wins.

The regular season finale versus the Seattle Storm, one of the WNBA’s signature franchises, saw Griner post 18 points and grab 10 for a 78-65 triumph, providing the Mercury with its 29th win. Her performance was complemented by Candice Dupree, who provided a 16-point output.

Ironically, the former record of 28 wins was shared by Seattle. They posted a 28-6 mark in 2010, which tied the Los Angeles Sparks, who reached the 28 wins plateau twice in franchise history (2000 and 2001). The loss finishes a difficult season for Seattle which saw the club post a dismal 12-22 mark, missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.

Adding to the irony is the fact that the first-round opponent for the record-breaking Phoenix franchise shall be Los Angeles. Of note, Phoenix swept the regular season series with LA, prevailing in all five contests. Last season, the clubs clashed in the postseason as Phoenix prevailed.

The jubilation for Phoenix was enhanced by the fact that the club shot 54 percent from the field, marking the 18th time this season they reached that they shot at least 50 percent from the floor. In the regular season, Phoenix had a 48.4 overall shooting percentage, a league record. The former record of 47.4 was set by the 2013 WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.

Of note, Phoenix and Minnesota met in the 2013 Western Conference finals, with Minnesota prevailing. Led by Maya Moore, it is highly likely that their paths shall cross again in the postseason. For Phoenix, the ability to dispose of Minnesota in the playoffs will only enhance their standing as the league’s best team this season. Just like the Chicago Bulls record-setting NBA season in 1995-96 that encompassed 72 regular season wins, a championship was crucial to justify their season.

Taking into account that Diana Taurasi, who played collegiately at Connecticut like Moore, won a title in 2007 and 2009, is accustomed to the pressure that comes with winning, she will need to be a crucial leader as Griner looks to win her first title.

Off-season CWHL trade a win-win for Brampton and Calgary

As the Brampton Thunder and Calgary Inferno look to brighter futures ahead, a significant trade defined their mutual ambitions. In need of scoring help, the Inferno acquired Bailey Bram (one of the final players released from Canada’s Centralization Camp for Sochi) from the Thunder. Coming the other way is blueliner Jocelyn Larocque. Ironically, Bram and Larocque both grew up in the community of Ste. Anne, Manitoba.

Taking into account that Calgary features a solid defensive unit featuring Meaghan Mikkelson, Tara Watchorn and Kelsey Webster, Larocque was sent eastbound. There is further irony in the fact that Watchorn grew up in Newcastle, Ontario, east of Toronto. Therefore, Watchorn would have seemed as the most logical choice to be traded as Larocque is of Western Canadian heritage.

For both clubs, the trade is a win-win situation as it addresses key needs, while possibly bringing more parity to CWHL play. Defensively, Brampton has endured its struggles since the departures of Allyson Fox (CWHL co-founder) and Molly Engstrom (a two-time Winter Games participant). While Courtney Birchard and Tara French have supplied great leadership on the blueline, Larocque’s presence burdens their load.

Complemented by Brampton selecting Laura Fortino with the first pick overall in the 2014 CWHL Draft, the blueline situation has emerged as one of significant improvement. Of note, Fortino and Larocque played together for Canada’s gold medal winning squad at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. The two should be able to establish some strong chemistry on defense.

Strong defense will certainly be important for Brampton. In the autumn of 2013, the club lost goaltenders Liz Knox and Florence Schelling. While the club has selected backstop Erica Howe in the 2014 CWHL Draft, there will definitely be a rookie adjustment.

Larocque will be counted upon to improve a Brampton club that missed its first CWHL playoffs in franchise history in March 2014. For the last two seasons, Brampton’s goals against and their penalty minutes have increased. During the 2012-13 campaign, the club allowed 83 goals while compiling a league-worst 352 penalty minutes. In the aftermath of 2013-14, those numbers inflated to a dismal 99 goals allowed and 368 penalty minutes, both worst in the league. Disciplined play shall be the only way Brampton can expect a return to the postseason next spring.

After a 2013-14 season that saw the new-look Calgary Inferno experience several franchise firsts (first winning season, first third-place finish, first postseason berth, first award winner), the rapidly improving franchise is hoping for its first Clarkson Cup in 2015. Of all the significant accomplishments over the previous season, the strengthening of its offensive game may have been the greatest.

Rookie sensations Danielle (Danny) Stone and Julie Paetsch registered seasons of 25 and 22 points, ranking sixth and ninth in the CWHL scoring race, respectively. The result was a club that scored 62 goals, a 32-goal improvement on the 2012-13 campaign. In addition, Stone rewrote the club’s scoring records, establishing herself as a franchise player. Despite such a solid performance, Calgary did not have much depth past their first line and it showed in the Clarkson Cup playoffs.

With only one solid scoring line, the acquisition of Bailey Bram adds the potential to provide much needed scoring depth. Reputed as a loyal teammate and friendly with fans, Bram is a proven scorer that earned a gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. In her rookie campaign with the Brampton Thunder (2012-13), she registered 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) to finish among the league’s Top 20 scorers, while finishing fourth in scoring for Brampton.

Accompanied by the selection of Boston University scoring star Louise Warren (who was recently invited to Canada’s Under-22 talent evaluation camp), Brittany Esposito and Frozen Four champion Sarah Davis in this year’s draft, all three may also pay positive dividends for the Inferno offense. The concept of Bram anchoring a line with a combination of the aforementioned players is possible. As the club looks to reach the 70-goal plateau as a team for the first time, Bram has the potential to provide that extra element to the club’s offensive attack.

Indiana Fever ties WNBA benchmark with tenth straight playoff berth

One of the signature franchises in the WNBA, the Indiana Fever have made franchise history by earning their tenth consecutive playoff berth. A must-win against the New York Liberty saw Briann January lead the way with 16 points, contributing seven in the first quarter. All-Star Tamika Catchings posted 15 in the Fever’s 76-63 victory. Of note, the Liberty were led by league legend Tina Charles with a 15 point output.

A key factor in the win was attributed to the Fever’s strong defense. Holding the Liberty to a measly 39 percent shooting percentage, the Fever managed a 46-21 advantage at halftime. In addition, New York had committed 13 turnovers in the first half.

Despite finishing the regular season with a losing record, the past few years in sport have proven that upsets are highly possible. While the first round playoff matchup (presented by Boost Mobile) involves a tilt versus the , the Fever cannot be taken lightly.

For the last three years, the Fever qualified for the Eastern Conference Finals, including a Finals victory in 2012 against Minnesota. Catchings, one of five Fever players from the 2012 championship team, has played in every playoff game in Fever history. As the league’s all-time leader in postseason steals and free throws (her postseason rebounds rank second all-time), she will likely emerge as another factor in this year’s postseason, making the Fever a dark horse.

Taking into account that head coach Lin Dunn (a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame) will likely retire at season’s end; there is a strong emotional component to the squad’s playoff run. Her 20 career playoff victories rank first among WNBA female head coaches. On the all-time career playoff wins list, she ranks fourth. Ironically, New York head coach Bill Laimbeer is the all-time leader with 28 wins.

Regardless of the postseason outcome, the Fever’s tenth consecutive playoff berth matches a league record set by the Seattle Storm from 2004-13. In their 15-year history, the club has managed 11 postseason berths and two trips to the WNBA Finals (2009 and 2012).

Pitcher Mo’ne Davis inspires at 2014 Little League World Series

Baseball fans at South Williamsport were witness to history as pitching prodigy Mo’ne Davis tossed a two-hitter in Philadelphia’s opener. Her efforts contributed to a convincing 4-0 victory over Nashville. As the first girl to appear for an American-based team in the Little League World Series since 2004, Davis is quickly capturing the hearts and minds of those in attendance.

When she struck out the final batter of the game, the crowd roared into an inspiring round of applause. It was only fitting as Davis made history by becoming the first girl to win a LLWS game. Statistically, Davis threw 70 pitches while registering eight strikeouts and not walking one batter. In addition, she would retire the first six batters she faced with a remarkable 70-mph fastball.

Despite not getting a hit in three at-bats of her own, it was her superlative pitching performance that impressed those in attendance, including Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett. Shortstop Jared Sprague-Lott provided the heroics at the plate, hitting a three-run blast in the first inning. Five innings later, Carter Davis would hit an RBI sacrifice fly, extending the lead.

One of two girls competing at the 2014 edition of the Little League World Series (Canada’s Emma March is the other), the 13-year-old Davis has become a phenomenon on social media, gaining a fan in basketball superstar Kevin Durant. In addition, baseball superstar Mike Trout and Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman commented on her performance on social media.

Although there are some who are speculating she has a possible career as a major league baseball player, her sporting preferences could change by the time she reaches high school. Having already expressed a desire to play NCAA basketball with the renowned Connecticut Huskies, her sporting heroics may soon translate to another sport. Regardless of which direction she pursues her athletic dreams, the fact that the sporting conversation has turned to the possibility of women one day possibly competing in Major League Baseball was a significant victory.

Emily Scarratt delivers in Rugby World Cup win over Canada

Emily Scarratt provided the heroics late in the gold medal game of the 2014 Rugby Women’s World Cup. Competing against Canada, looking for their first-ever World Cup win, she managed to reach the corner of Canada’s end zone.

It was part of a performance that saw Scarratt scored 16 points, including 10 straight to close the gold-medal game. Prevailing in a 21-9 score, England won its second World Cup and its first in 20 years. Her efforts propelled England to its first World Cup victory in 16 years.

England’s road to the 2014 World Cup title began with a 65-3 drubbing against Samoa in the Group Stages competition. They would proceed by overwhelming Spain by a 45-5 tally. Their final Group Stages contest would come against Canada, finishing with a 13-13 tie. The semi-final saw a convincing 40-7 victory against Ireland. Facing Canada again in the final, it was an opportunity to capitalize on previous errors.

After a first half that saw England take a convincing lead, the determined Canadians managed to pull within two points. Magali Harvey made the difference with a penalty at the halfway point of the second. Unfortunately, Canada was not able to capitalize on two scoring opportunities.

In the last three gold medal games, England was the bridesmaid to champion New Zealand. There was a significant emotional component to England’s win. Rugby legend Maggie Alphonsi was one of four players from the English starting lineup that played in the past two gold medal games. As the 2014 edition of the worlds may have signified her final stint for the English, her career ends on a winning and redeeming note. Team captain Katy Mclean dedicated the win to the players who had come before them to compete for England.

For the ambitious Canadian squad, it was their first-ever appearance in the World Cup final, a significant breakthrough for the program. From 1998 to 2006, the Canadians posted three consecutive fourth place finishes. Of note, Magali Harvey was named the IRB women’s player of the year beating out Canadian captain Kelly Russell.

Third annual Beauty of Sport edition captures Canadian female sporting heroes

Including a very different but unique aspect to its captivating series of stunning visual images, Sportsnet Magazine’s Beauty of Sport returns for a third annual edition. With Dara Howell gracing its cover in a black swimsuit, holding her skis with a determined focus, it sets the tone for a much different magazine compared to its preceding editions.

Gold medalist Dara Howell would become the cover girl for Sportsnet Magazine’s 2014 edition of The Beauty of Sport (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Gold medalist Dara Howell would become the cover girl for Sportsnet Magazine’s 2014 edition of The Beauty of Sport (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Compared to the 2013 edition, where Emily Betty was in a powder blue swimsuit, with the Nevada sun shining on her remarkable athletic frame, the 2014 edition carried a much darker tone and serious side. Of note, most of the athletes for the 2013 edition were photographed in Las Vegas. The vibrant setting and glamorous aura of the surroundings created a series of brightly colored backdrops, complemented by vivid swimwear as perfectly white smiles complement the electricity of the shoot.

Field hockey player Kathleen Leahy has ambitions to compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Games (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Field hockey player Kathleen Leahy has ambitions to compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Games (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

The 2014 edition, photographed exclusively in Canada, does not feature such a sexy and dynamic series of images. Photographed by Mark Zibert in the wilderness of Moraine Lake near Lake Louise, Alberta, there is an air of intensity that emanates from the athletes, both male and female.

Beginning the photo shoot by capturing speed skater Alexandra Ianculescu and field hockey player Kathleen Leahy, they would be among a group of nine empowered female athletes. As a side note, heptathlete Rachel McIntosh and rower Sarah Black would be part of a portfolio sharing their workout tips.

Rachel Machin would show no fear as she poses with a 1500 lb. buffalo in Alberta (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Rachel Machin would show no fear as she poses with a 1500 lb. buffalo in Alberta (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Three of the athletes, Dara Howell, Meghan Agosta-Marciano and Kirsten Moore-Towers all experienced podium finishes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Of note, Jennifer Abel would be photographed in a sand quarry while Rachel Machin would be fearlessly photographed with a 1,300-pound buffalo. Women’s hockey legend Meghan Agosta-Marciano would be photographed with a wolf.

Even though a series of exclusive online photos feature two athletes topless (Machin and marathon runner Natasha Wodak), it comes across almost as necessity rather than sensuality.

Promising figure skater Kirsten Moore-Towers earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

Promising figure skater Kirsten Moore-Towers earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games (Photo credit: Mark Zibert, Obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/)

With many of the photos in black and white, the dynamic mountain range of Alberta and its powerful scenery fulfills a presence which complements the toughness of these world-class athletes. The subject matter of the write-ups also mimics such sentiment as it attempts to measure the beauty of the athletes in their ability to overcome and succeed, portraying a sense of courage that is evidently beautiful.

In learning of the athletes great personal triumphs, it exemplifies a character and desire which is admirable. In that admiration lies a beautiful respect which captures the spirit of the emotions that grace the Beauty of Sport’s remarkable pages.