Charlotte Flair wins Smack Down Women’s Championship leading up to WrestleMania main event

Flair all smiles after defeating Asuka for the Smack Down Women’s Championship (Video still obtained from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2URDk5H5d3k)

With a career that is already destined for the WWE Hall of Fame, Charlotte Flair has only added to her amazing body of work with entry into the biggest match in the history of the Women’s Revolution. With a Triple Threat match between Flair, archrival (and former bestie) Becky Lynch, and UFC legend Ronda Rousey as the main event of Wrestle Mania 35, marking the first time that a women’s match has main evented, there is a tremendous sense of momentum for the second generation star wrestler.

Defeating prominent Japanese ring master Asuka for the WWE Smack Down Women’s Championship, Flair’s victory has impacted another match that was meant for WrestleMania. Of note, Asuka anticipated defending her title on wrestling’s biggest stage, with a key match scheduled for the March 26 edition of Smack Down Live determining her opponent.

The path towards determining Asuka’s opponent originally held a significant element of drama, as it would have marked a major milestone in the career of another young star in the Women’s Division. Of note, a fatal four-way match between Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Carmella and Naomi would have allowed the winner a chance to challenge Asuka for the title.

For now, an alternate match has been booked at WrestleMania, allowing for eight more grapplers in the Women’s Division to gain the prestige of participation. Still utilizing the Fatal Four Way concept, an intense tag team confrontation features The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection (Bayley and Sasha Banks) (c) vs. The Divas of Doom (Beth Phoenix and Natalya) vs. The IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) vs. Nia Jax and Tamina

Enjoying her ninth title in WWE, Flair is highly motivated to best both Lynch and Rousey, staking her claim as the greatest female wrestler of her generation. With rumours abound as to the stakes involved in the main event, primarily, speculation of a unification bout, the outcome is destined to add lustre to the magnitude of the Women’s Revolution, propelling all three into grappling immortality.

Powerhouse Rouge et Or dominate USPORTS awards but settle for silver

Entering the USPORTS National Championships as the top seed, the Rouge et Or from l’Université de Laval (Québec) were looking for their first title in women’s basketball. Heading into the tournament, the program experienced a remarkable run of momentum. Capturing their third straight RSEQ regular season crown, the Rouge et Or endured only one regular season loss, while setting a program record for most points in a season with an astounding 1,187, an average of 74.18 per game.

Just as dominant in the postseason, the Rouge et Or defeated the Concordia Stingers by a 20-point margin (75-55), enjoying their first Conference Championship since 2011. Aiming for their first-ever national championship, the Rouge et Or last appeared in the finals back in 2017, opposing conference rival McGill in an all-RSEQ matchup.

Khaleann Caron-Goudreau, a former competitor at the University of Texas, where she sported a blonde mane, added to the sense of momentum. Featured on “Sportsnet Connected”, merely days before opening tip-off, testament to the Rouge et Or’s status as a national power, simultaneously raising awareness of the game’s quality.

Leading the RSEQ conference with 1.7 blocks per game, the presence of Caron-Goudreau, who was also a Conference First-Team All-Star, was highly valuable in the paint, grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game, placing third in the conference, respectively. Bestowed with the National Defensive Player of the Year Award, her achievements added to the impressive haul of hardcourt hardware. Guillaume Giroux, who was also part of the Sportsnet feature, grabbed the USPORTS Coach of the Year honors.

Capturing the Nan Copp Award, given to the most outstanding player in USPORTS women’s basketball, Sarah-Jane Marois capped off a sparkling regular season for the Rouge et Or, displaying a superlative statistical consistency. Despite ranking only seventh in the RSEQ Conference with 13 points per game, she was the key cog for an offensive attack that propelled the Rouge et Or towards a one-loss season.

With Marois’ 3.6 assists placing fourth in the conference, while her solid three-point percentage of 41 established her as second best, she topped all competitors with a sterling 94.6 free throw shooting percentage, a well-rounded display of playmaking brilliance. Worth noting, she was the only member of the Rouge et Or to garner First Team All-Canadian status.

En route to the national championship game at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (located inside the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens), the Rouge et Or vanquished the likes of tournament host, the Ryerson Rams (73-51) and the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (60-56). Challenging the Hamilton, Ontario-based McMaster Marauders in the gold medal game, whose tournament opponents included the Concordia Stingers and the Saskatchewan Huskies, this marked their first-ever appearance in the championship game.

Worth noting, the Marauders also featured their own national award winner. Receiving the Sylvia Sweeney Award, which represents USPORTS’ Student-Athlete Community Service honor, starting guard, and co-captain Hilary Hanaka, also earned Academic All-Canadian honors, respectively. Scoring 12 points, complemented by three assists and one steal, she also amassed 36 minutes on the court in a stunning 70-58 upset.

Caron-Gaudreau emerged as a critical component of the offense early on, racking up the first points for the Rouge et Or after going scoreless in the first three minutes. With Claudia Emond, the pride of Saguenay making back-to-back three pointers, the Rouge et Or boasted the 10-9 advantage late in the first. Marois would duplicate Emond’s precision from the three point line during the second quarter, as her team boasted a 30-23 lead, which would later stand as 33-27 at halftime.

A three-pointer by Linnaea Harper, followed by a layup saw the Marauders quickly trim their deficit to just one point. Employing a suffocating defense to restrain the Rouge et Or, Christina Buttenham managed a layup, allowing the Marauders to reclaim the lead. Serving as the game’s turning point, she would follow it up with a successful shot from the free throw line, claiming a 42-38 lead.

Displaying the mettle that made her National Player of the Year, Marois would reply with a three pointer, followed by a free throw that tied the game at 42-apiece. Complemented by Emond’s efficiency at the free throw line, the game changed leads frequently, before the Marauders enjoyed a ten-point run as the scoreboard read 64-54 in their favor, eventually placing the game out of reach. Linnaea Harper, who would gain Tournament MVP honors, excelled in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, posting eight points, to demoralize the favored Rouge et Or.

Despite only posting a 37.7 field goal percentage, the Marauders were solid at the free throw line, a key edge in the championship result. Caron-Goudreau amassed 35 minutes of time on the court, respectable 10 points, living up to her billing as Defensive Player of the Year. A beast on the hardcourt, nine defensive rebounds, gaining 12 in total, while intimidating the opposing offense with four blocks and two steals.

Recognized as the Player of the Game for the Rouge et Or, it marked the final honor in the collegiate career of Caron-Goudreau, while Christina Buttenham gained the same honor for the National Champions. The two would be joined by Marois as national championship game participants that gained Tournament All-Star stauts. Joining them were Summer Masikewich of the, Saskatchewan Huskies and Brooklyn McAlear-Fanus from the, Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Marois led all players with 39 minutes, racking up a game-high 21 points. With only 3 Rouge et Or players in double digits, as Claudia Emond also posted seven rebounds and two steals, complemented by 15 points. The trio of Caron-Gaudreau, Emond and Marios accounted for 79 percent of the points put up by the Rouge et Or.

Compared to the Marauders, their balanced attack saw four players in double digits, with Sarah Gates and Linnaea Harper each posting a team-best 18 points, providing the program with their first podium finish at the USPORTS Nationals since 1990, when they emerged with a bronze medal.

Bizarre decade for Minnesota Whitecaps culminates with Isobel Cup

Having begun the 2010s as the first American-based team to capture the Clarkson Cup, the decade ends with the Minnesota Whitecaps becoming the inaugural first-year team in the NWHL to win the Isobel Cup. Becoming the first team to win both prestigious championships, this brush with history bookends a bizarre decade for the longest running club team in American women’s ice hockey.

Following a highly emotional Clarkson Cup victory over the Brampton Thunder in 2010, becoming the first American-based team, and first from the Western Women’s Hockey League, to hoist the coveted chalice, such success proved to be a peak, rather than the springboard towards an upward projection.

Despite qualifying for the Clarkson Cup playoffs in 2011, their third straight appearance, it also proved to be the last for the Whitecaps. With a strange off-season that saw the dissolution of the WWHL, their three Alberta-based clubs, the Calgary Oval X-Tremen, Edmonton Chimos and Strathmore Rockies, amalgamated into Team Alberta, adopting navy blue and gold as its official colors, while gaining status as the CWHL’s newest expansion team.

Meanwhile, speculation took place that the Manitoba Maple Leafs and Whitecaps would also merge. From there, a seemingly endless series of innuendos, along with the tossing of the word “collusion”, ran rampant, resulting in neither market hosting a CHWL franchise, one which proved to be a tactical error for the budding league.

Forced into independent status, the Whitecaps wandered from season to season, calling Ridder Arena home while scheduled against university teams from Minnesota, notably from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, unable to find a professional league.

Despite such unfortunate status, its roster read like a “Who’s Who of Women’s Hockey”, emerging as a destination for graduating NCAA players that grew up in the State of Hockey or neighboring Wisconsin. Throughout its years as an independent, the franchise managed to welcome players such as Jessie Vetter, Alex Rigsby and Finnish stars (and Golden Gopher alumnae) Noora Raty and Mira Jalosuo into the fold. Its relevance reached new heights when players such as Hannah Brandt and Kendall Coyne spurned the nascent NWHL in favor of remaining home.

The one constant throughout this time was inaugural member Winny Brodt-Brown, who evolved into the heartbeat of the franchise. Along with the leadership of General Manager Laura Halldorson, a former head coach with the Golden Gophers, the Whitecaps remained a darling of media attention, covered in Bleacher Report, Women’s Hockey Life, plus a feature in the prestigious New York Times.

Although its first two years involved struggle, especially financial in year two, the NWHL displayed an admirable respect for the Whitecaps, creating good karma and showcasing a group of well-deserved competitors whose imprint on American hockey is undisputed. Hosting the Whitecaps for preseason matches during its inaugural season, the NWHL also sent the Boston Pride to Ridder Arena for a pre-Christmas exhibition in December 2015, the first professional women’s ice hockey matches in the State of Hockey.

In 2018, the NWHL took their dedication to Minnesota one step further. Selecting Minneapolis as host city for its All-Star Game, the league took the unusual step of allowing several Whitecaps to participate in said Game, serving as, both, a season highlight, and a franchise high point.

Earlier that season, the Whitecaps even competed in exhibition matches against teams from Sweden, testament to their standing as a world-class team. Undoubtedly, further trips to Europe could have been a remote possibility had a landmark 2018 not included their welcome into the NWHL.

Such a welcome set the stage for a season filled with the promise of a more stable future for the league, likely opening the door for further expansion. Fittingly, numerous Whitecaps were among the competitors at the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville, where over 6,000 fans set an attendance record for a professional women’s ice hockey game in the United States.

Finishing in first place with a 12-4-0 record, the Whitecaps, whose roster boasted Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Brooke White-Lancette, also a member of the 2010 Clarkson Cup champions, and highly touted Lee Stecklein, quickly emerged as the favorites for the fourth Isobel Cup. Taking into account that the Buffalo Beauts had an eventful off-season which saw the acquisitions of Blake Bolden, plus goaltenders Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley, the level of star power on both rosters to start the season foreshadowed the eventual postseason collision course.

Despite the Beauts looking to ride the brilliance of All-Star captain Szabados in their hopes for a second Cup title, she was unable to be the starting goaltender versus the Whitecaps, citing a lower body injury. After dumping the Boston Pride in the semi-finals, Nicole Hensley, a member of Team USA’s gold medal winning team at the 2018 Winter Games gained the start between the pipes for Buffalo, opposing University of Minnesota alum (and former Beauts goaltender) Amanda Leveille.

Both regulation goals were scored near the end of the first period as Emily Pfalzer scored the game’s first goal, capitalizing on a power play that saw her wrist shot beat former teammate Leveille for the 1-0 advantage. With 1:37 remaining, an unlikely hero emerged as Amy Menke was sent on a breakaway, with NHL All-Star Skills participant Kendall Coyne-Schofield feeding her the puck. Going top shelf, she tied the game at 1-apiece, scoring the last goal of regulation.

With the Whitecaps employing the forecheck, the remainder of the game was a defensive stalemate, as neither side relinquished. Despite strong scoring chances in the third period, the incredibly strong goaltending on both ends of the ice resulted in the first-ever overtime required to decide the Isobel Cup champions.

The Whitecaps peppered Hensley with 28 shots, while Leveille only required 22 saves. Their continued persistence paid off in the overtime frame, as Katie McGovern won a faceoff that found its way to elite blueliner, and Golden Gophers alum, Lee Stecklein. A Winter Games gold medalist from 2018, Stecklein buried the puck past Hensley for the Cup-clinching goal, a 2-1 final.

Fittingly, Stecklein gained MVP honors for her heroics, although she was not the only player to have made her mark in this game. Leveille gained her second Isobel Cup win, the first coming in 2017 with the Beauts. In addition, Corinne Buie made her fourth consecutive appearance in the Isobel Cup finals, the only player to do so.

Perhaps the greater victory was the fact that the Whitecaps proved to be the gem of the NWHL at the box office. With TRIA Rink supplying the home ice advantage, it also represented the tenth consecutive sellout at the venue, supplying the league with an important credibility and financial stability that haunted them in their second season.

Although such success was well-deserved, and long overdue, for the Whitecaps, it brings closure to a decade that saw the franchise endure numerous unnecessary years in the hockey wilderness. Their success, albeit not surprising, certainly presents a “What If?” scenario for the CWHL.

Had they welcomed the Whitecaps to their league (an opportunity that presented itself since 2012), it not only would have presented the Calgary Inferno with a Midwest-based rival, something that still plagues the franchise, but expanded their presence in the United States, raising awareness of their brand.

In addition, the strong fan base of the Whitecaps would likely have prevented the formation of the NWHL, while allowing the Worcester (formerly Boston) Blades with an American-based opponent. Undoubtedly, the presence of the Whitecaps would have benefitted the Blades, as the US national women’s team trains out of Boston, allowing for a team that would have remained in contention, rather than wither away in the doldrums, where one-win seasons and last place finished have become the standard.

Tennis teen phenom Bianca Andreescu becomes instant millionaire with historic win at BNP Paribas Open

Defeating No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, 18-year old Bianca Andreescu, made history with a stunning upset, capturing a purse valued at $1,354,010 million US. Needing three sets to win, with scores of 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, she would capture all the points on her second serve, a key statistical factor.

Becoming the first female wildcard in the history of the tournament to emerge victorious, her road to the title also included a major upset of No. 6 seeded Elina Svitolina in the semis, punching her ticket to the finals.

Quickly showered with praise on social media, experiencing the thrill of being a viral sensation, it added lustre to a dream run for the teen phenom from Mississauga, Ontario. Such a remarkable outpouring of support on social media included tennis great Rod Laver declaring a star is born. Fellow Canadian Genie Bouchard also shared her congratulations, while Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was equally jubilant in his support.

Just three years ago, at the tender age of 15, Andreescu was the third-ranked junior player in the world, foreshadowing the potential glories to come. Akin to Canadian golf phenom Brooke Henderson, who was also a global prodigy in her teens, both have made a seamless transition to success in the pros.

Such success also brought with it a humility and appreciation. A sore back in 2018 forced her to miss the Rogers Cup, a tennis event contested on Canadian soil. Suffering a pair of stress fractures in her foot at the tender age of 16, she worked diligently at improving her serve is a most unorthodox method.

Sitting in an office chair that had its back removed, Andreescu looked just as comfortable on the court displaying a captivating confidence. It also served as the foundation for a strong stamina while gaining the ability to employ a display of power from the baseline that disrupts opponents, quickly altering momentum in her favor.

Although there was a tinge of irony in the fact that Andreescu suffered some minor soreness in her back as she defeated Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round, the level of perseverance and character displayed not only resulted in her first career WTA Tour title, but the finest hour of her promising career.

The next challenge for Andreescu is to keep herself grounded. While her ability to bounce back from physical ailments, including pain in her right arm/shoulder in the third set versus Kerber, has provided her with both maturity and perspective, many teenage tennis stars struggle with the adjustment to star status, often resulting in a loss of motivation, overcome sometimes with lethargy.

Andreescu definitely has a strong role model to emulate. With her victory at the BNP Paribas Open, she became the youngest to achieve the feat since 1999, when Serena Williams captured the title, a springboard towards an outstanding career. In addition, the winner of the 2018 edition of the tournament was an unknown 20 year-old from Japan known as Naomi Osaka, who would add wins in the Australia and US Open to her trophy case.

Certainly, Andreescu holds the potential to imitate the early successes of the celebrated Williams and the nascent career of Osaka. Worth noting, she has managed to win an astounding 28-of-31 matches this season. Although she will not have wild-card status for the foreseeable future as her ranking in the WTA Tour is poised to leap to No. 24.

Lowy and Lamenta lead the way in emotional triumph for Guelph Gryphons at USPORTS Hockey Nationals

One of the premier programs in USPORTS women’s ice hockey, the Guelph Gryphons were a constant presence at the national championship tournament. Boasting some of the nation’s finest on-ice talent, led by elite head coach Rachel Flanagan, their McCaw Cup victories in the Ontario University Athletics Conference were not matched by the Golden Path title, awarded to the national champions.

In their search for an elusive championship, a pair of program luminaries provided a heroic effort that supplied a fitting finish to their fine careers, simultaneously allowing Flanagan, who has served as bench boss for the last 12 seasons, the long-awaited of adding a title to her peerless coaching resume.

Challenging the dynastic McGill Martlets in the gold medal game, any victory would not only be hard-earned, it would only cement their standing as national champions. Undoubtedly, the Martlets provided a significant obstacle, as First-Team All-Canadian goaltender Tricia Deguire constantly frustrated the Gryphons offense.

Replying in the opposing net was a highly motivated Valérie Lamenta. Raised in the province of Québec, Lamenta’s goaltending proficiency in her youth should have made her destined to stand between the pipes for one of Montreal’s Big Three universities (Concordia, McGill, Montreal Carabins). Instead, Lamenta was forced to tend her craft in the neighboring province of Ontario, emerging as one of the greatest recruits in Gryphons history.

Fittingly, the 2019 Nationals served as her finest hour, enjoying an element of redemption as she shut out Les Carabins de Montréal in the semi-finals, while keeping the Martlets off the scoresheet in the title game.

Long-time teammate, and current captain, Kaitlin Lowy would supply the other half of the heroics, scoring with 1:45 left in the second period for the game’s only goal. Such a goal, which saw Claire Merrick soar through the neutral zone to feed Lowy the puck, proved to be the salve that the Gryphons required, after the Martlets denied them in two power play opportunities earlier in the period.

A multiple OUA All-Star selection, and competitor for Team Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade, said goal stood as the last of Lowy’s brilliant five-year career. Ending her career, along with Lamenta, who is also in her fifth year, in storybook fashion.

Adding lustre to the prestige of the championship-clinching goal was the fact that Lowy was recognized as the Player of the Game for Guelph, while Shana Walker gained the honors as McGill’s Player of the Game. In addition, three Gryphons gained a spot on the Tournament All-Star, featuring Lamenta, Claire Merrick and Mallory Young.

Although it was McGill’s Jade Downie-Landry who captured Tournament MVP honors, Lowy enjoyed another unique privilege. With her jersey given to Scott McRoberts, the athletic director for Guelph, said jersey shall be submitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto for posterity.

In the bronze medal game, Les Carabins de Montréal bested the number-one seeded Alberta Pandas by a 2-1 tally. With a 2-0 lead in the third period, Alex Poznikoff, who captured the Broderick Trophy as USPORTS Player of the Year, trimmed the lead of Les Carabins. providing fifth-year player and team captain Valérie St-Onge with a prized podium finish. Aube Racine captured the Carabins honors as Player of the Game, while Danielle Hardy gained the nod for the Pandas.

So long to beloved baseball luminaries Psota and Stephenson

With a pair of careers that embodied the essence of sporting equality, the retirement of luminaries of Katie Psota, 32, and Ashley Stephenson, 36, has left a lasting legacy for the Canadian national women’s baseball team. Such a visceral decision follows the retirements of Nicole Luchansky, and team manager André Lachance, whose post shall be assumed by former pitching coach Aaron Myette.

Representing a significant part of the team’s leadership corps, each having joined in 2004, the careers of this distinguished duo not only ran parallel, they simultaneously emerged as two of the most notable women in Canadian baseball.

Having both played women’s ice hockey for the Golden Hawks of Wilfrid Laurier University, where Stephenson was recognized as an All-Canadian, their heroics on the ice were merely prologue for an outstanding run on the diamond, including six podium finishes at the IBAF Women’s World Cup of Baseball, attaining silver in 2008 and 2016, while the years 2004, 2006, 2012 and 2018 resulted in bronze.

At the 2008 edition of the World Cup, Stephenson, who led all players with five stolen bases, was named to the Tournament All-Star Team at Third Base. In that same year, she gained the national team’s MVP Award, the second of her career, with the first in 2005. Another notable honor followed in 2011, as she and Psota captured Baseball Canada’s Jimmy Rattlesnake Award.

Worth noting, Psota has also enjoyed a haul of baseball hardware, capturing national team MVP Awards in 2009 and 2010. Akin to Stephenson, she also enjoyed IBAF World Cup Tournament All-Star Team honors. Both in recognition for her play at first base, Psota gained the honors in 2010 and 2012.

Of note, their greatest glory took place in 2015. With Toronto serving as host city of the Pan American Games, the privilege of wearing Canada’s colors on home soil was only eclipsed by the sense of history.

As women’s baseball was a medal event for the first time in Pan Am Games history, it allowed an entire nation the opportunity to catch up to the greatness of the sport, while appreciating the brilliance of its diamond heroes. For Psota and Stephenson, who had also been veteran players on the Canadian rosters that participated in the first eight World Cups, it was a satisfying moment that not only validated their careers, but propelled them to new heights of relevance.

Qualifying for the gold medal game, the Canadians competed against their eternal rivals from the United States. Considering that Canada’s men’s baseball team also reached the gold medal game, baseball certainly stirred the strong feeling of national pride among sporting enthusiasts.

While she played for the national baseball team, Stephenson, a member of the Golden Hawks Hall of Fame, who is occupied full-time as a physical education teacher, also remained prominent in professional women’s ice hockey.

Playing for the Brampton Thunder, Canada’s longest running club team in women’s ice hockey, she gained a podium finish as a member of the Mississauga Chiefs at the 2008 Esso Women’s Hockey Nationals. Later competing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, she became intertwined with league history during the 2011-12 season.

Skating for the Burlington Barracudas, which proved to be their final season, she scored the last game-winning goal in franchise history. The following season, Stephenson joined the coaching staff of Sommer West (who was the Barracudas captain in 2011-12) with the Toronto Furies, qualifying for the 2013 Clarkson Cup playoffs.

Coaching shall remain a focus for Stephenson, who will serve in that capacity with Canada’s national women’s baseball team. In addition, she shall serve on the World Softball Baseball Confederation (WBSC) Athletes Commission, the only Canadian elected in 2018. As a side note, Stephenson also holds significant coaching experience on the diamond. Along with teammate Autumn Mills, both were instructors at the Tornoot Blue Jays Baseball Academy in 2015.

Undoubtedly, the most recent World Cup (2018), provided Psota and Stephenson with an element of satisfaction, setting the stage for a sensational finish to their careers. Challenging their American archrivals in the bronze medal game, a highly dramatic extra innings finish resulted in an 8-5 victory.

Playing at her usual spot of first base, Psota was in the batting order as the clean-up hitter, with one hit in three at-bats. Stephenson was seventh in the order, garnering a pair of RBIs in a day that saw her go 2-for-4.

Avenging their loss from the Pan American Games, it was the kind of victory that may signify an essential transition in the history of the Canadian program, able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their rivals, while demonstrating a possible rise towards even greater glories.

Russia’s women undefeated en route to Winter Universiade gold

After Canada captured the first three gold medals (2009, 2011, 2013) in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade, the women of Russia have now duplicated their dynastic run. With the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, located in central Siberia, serving as host for the 2019 edition of the Universiade, the host team did not disappoint.

Boasting an undefeated mark on home ice, their dominance was definitely on display as they shut out their opponents in the medal round. Outscoring opponents in round robin play by a cumulative score of 45-3, their semi-final match certainly against the USA affirmed their sterling performance, pummeling a beleaguered American squad by a 10-0 margin. As a side note, Japan would best the USA in the bronze medal game, as Chisato Miyazaki and Yoshino Enomoto gained the goals to overcome a 1-0 disadvantage in a hotly contested 2-1 final.

Fittingly, the six-team round robin, one that saw Switzerland (host country in 2021) ice a team for the first time in tournament history, culminated with powers Russia and Canada colliding in the gold medal game, each looking to make a bold statement. During round robin play, Canada was the only team that provided Russia with a significant challenge, despite a 4-2 Russian victory.

For a Canadian team eager to redeem themselves after silver medal outcomes in 2015 and 2017, they were frustrated throughout, unable to score once against a strong Russian opponent that featured 14 skaters from the national team roster that competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Employing a strong defensive approach, the first 50 minutes of the game were actually scoreless, providing tension for the fans in attendance.

With a frustrated Canadian team serving a penalty, Gorny Ukhta would resolve the defensive stalemate, capitalizing on the power play to score the game’s first goal. Fanuza Kadirova, an alum of the Russian Under-18 national team, planted herself in a position to screen the Canadian net, a highly strategic move. As the Russians fans roared in euphoric approval, there was a sense that said goal would deflate Canada’s hopes, emerging as the definitive moment.

Jessica Vance, a goaltender for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, earning Canada West Goalie of the Year honors in 2018, stopped 20 Russian shots in the first period, abandoned the net for an extra attacker, but such ambitions did not produce the desired results. Alevtina Shtaryova, one of Russia’s competitors in PyeongChang, inserted the puck into the empty net, sealing the victory in a 2-0 final, with Nadya Morozova logged the shutout.

Valeriya Pavlova captured the tournament scoring title with 14 points, on the strength of a superlative 10 goals scored, in seven games played. Placing second was Canadian Katryne Villeneuve, recording six goals and five assists for a solid 11 points.

Ascending to heroic status in their native Russia, such dominance in women’s ice hockey at the Universiade rekindles the on-ice glories of the late 20th Century, when the nation was both feared and respected as an international men’s hockey power. Simultaneously, such dominance builds on the proud achievement of Russia’s women winning the bronze medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, a feat they hope to duplicate in Finland, host country for the 2019 Worlds.

Summer Games hopeful Caitlin Keen will not run away from fear

With dreams of qualifying for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan, the date of Sunday March 3 shall stand as both, a defining, yet frightening, moment in the journey of Caitlin Keen. Running on the Trinity Trails of Fort Worth, where she had already logged seven miles, a pit bull mix violently, and unexpectedly, attacked her. First reported on KTVT-TV, the incident became national news. Understandably, it was not the type of exposure that Keen, expected.

Luckily, nearby witnesses came to her aid. Although a lady threw a large rock at the aggressive dog, whose brute force literally pulled Keen down to the ground, her rescue came when a man who was walking two other dogs, grabbed the pit bull by the collar and sat on it, calling 911 afterwards. Perhaps more disturbing than the violent attack was the fact that the owner of the dog, who was not present during Keen’s unfortunate assault, did not show any remorse.

Sadly, this is not the first time that Keen’s career has coincided with unforeseen happenings. Making her first appearance at the Dallas Marathon in 2017, Keen’s second place finish was a topic of debate. Winner, Chandler Self, crossed the finish line in an exhausted state with the assistance of a local teenager. With Keen not issuing a challenge, possibly a display of compassionate sportsmanship, akin to the pit bull encounter, it was a heart-wrenching example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Currently quarantined for 10 days at Fort Worth Animal Care and Control, the attack of this fierce animal, who had no bite history prior to this occurrence, is another example in the case to ban pit bull dogs in numerous communities. With a court date to follow, in that a judge will decide on the dog’s fate, the owner, identified as a homeless person, should be concerned about possible criminal charges.

Surprisingly, Keen did not receive stitches immediately, getting them following the prudent advice of her physician. Receiving 21 stitches, as her back suffered significant scarring; the real salve came several days later. Syndicated television show “Inside Edition” arranged a heartwarming reunion between the rescuer and an emotional Keen, tearfully hugging him as a gesture of gratitude.

Last December, Keen’s finish at the California International Marathon allowed her to qualify for the US Olympic Trials. It was part of a milestone-filled year for the alum of Southern Methodist University, where she was a walk-on in both, track and cross-country, capturing six conference championships, achieving another dream earlier in the year. Winning Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon in the month of May, it was a race that she boldly predicted she would one day win when she was only 12 years old.

Keen, who also trains with the Cowtown Elite, is in good spirits, stating that a totally different level of pain tolerance is one of the results. Although she plans to return to the Trinity Trails as part of her daily training routine, she plans to employ the strategy of carrying a can of pepper spray, one of her approaching goals is to cross the finish line first at Flying Pig once again this May.

Recognized for tenacity and character, the national media attention has brought with it a new legion of fans, admiring her relentless effort and indomitable spirit. Regardless of the final outcome for the Summer Games, her heart of gold has already propelled her to a sporting greatness.

Soccer icon Ada Hegerberg gets the trading card treatment

Among the most enjoyable elements of SI Kids Magazine, arriving at the page with the sheet of nine perforated trading cards, every issue becomes an opportunity for fans, to learn and connect, with the depicted athletes, through the card experience. Akin to the traditional way of collecting, when opened wax packs of cards revealed the sweet smell of the enclosed bubble gum, there is always a feeling of curiosity as to which athletes will be in the newest issue’s nine cards.

With at least one female athlete featured in said issue, the trading card treatment is an integral way to educate young sports fans about the impact, and growing potential, of women in sport.

The March 2019 issue featured an exceptional athlete, as Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, the first-ever recipient of the FIFA Ballon d’Or for Women, had her image on a trading card. As a side note, the only other female athletes featured on a trading card in this issue included long distance runner Dani Jones. The 2017 NCAA champion for the Distance Medley Relay and the Indoor 3,000 meters, Jones was also the recipient of the University of Colorado Buffaloes Female Co-Athlete of the Year Award.

While the women of US soccer have enjoyed the trading card treatment, it is a rarity to see competitors from Europe featured. Undoubtedly, the impact of said card is that women such as Hegerberg are helping to raise awareness in the United States of international soccer stars, fuelling the growing interest in the female game. As a side note, Karen Bardsley, a member of the English national team graced the pages of the British version of Women’s Health in spring 2018, which is also available in select outlets stateside.

Having competed for Norway at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup as a 20 year-old, (two years earlier, she played with her sister Andrine in the German women’s Bundesliga for FC Turbine Potsdam), Hegerberg emerged as one of the event’s brightest stars. Fast forward four years, and her continued dominance establishes the Norwegians as one of the favorites for the 2019 edition of the World Cup.

Since the last World Cup, Hegerberg, currently a striker for the Division 1 Féminine club Olympique Lyonnais in France (where she won a Coupe de France Féminine Final in her first season of 2014), has amassed a solid body of work. January 2016 would set the tone for the greatness to come, as she became the first woman in two decades to capture the Norwegian Gold Ball, recognizing the country’s best soccer player. In that same year, she reached a new pinnacle as UEFA’s Best Women’s Player, having also led Division I Féminine with 33 goals scored, respectively.

The following year saw Hegerberg gain the honor of BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year. Also in 2017, she led Olympique Lyonnais to another Coupe de France title, along with top spot in the UEFA Women’s Championships, recording a superlative 13 goals in nine appearances.

December 2018 would stand as the crowning achievement in her most recent World Cup cycle, capturing the first-ever Women’s Ballon d’Or. As a side note, the other finalists included Danish competitor Pernille Harder, Lyonnais teammate, Dzsenifer Maroszan, Brazilian legend Marta and Chicago Red Stars striker, Australia’s Sam Kerr.

Fittingly, the back of Hegerberg’s SI Kids card makes mention of her phenomenal feat as the inaugural Ballon d’Or recipient, enlightening young fans of soccer’s global reach. Taking into account that other card brands such as Allen and Ginter (Topps) and Goodwin Champions (Upper Deck) have also featured American and international female athletes in their annual issues, perhaps there will be more cardboard glory for Hegerberg, although winning this year’s World Cup, would understandably be more treasured.

Jessica Mendoza adds Mets job to sports resume

A generation ago, the “Mendoza Line” was a humorous metric that determined if a major league player had a batting average lower than Mario Mendoza did. An affable second baseman during the Seattle Mariners nascent years, his average tended to dip below the .200 mark throughout his career, resulting in one of baseball’s most nostalgic statistical yarns.

Fast forward to 2019, and a new “Mendoza Line” exists, setting the bar for other women in baseball to aspire to. Having enjoyed a three-season run as an analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcasts, Mendoza, an accomplished athlete herself, having starred with Stanford University’s softball team, later capturing a gold medal with the US at the 2004 Athens Summer Games, takes on a front office role.

Hired by the New York Mets to serve in the capacity of Operations Advisor, Mendoza has attained to a status as one of the most influential women in the game. Reporting to Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets’ Executive Vice President & General Manager, who praised her baseball IQ as extremely high, she will juggle numerous tasks, including views on player evaluation, roster construction, and technological advancement, among others.

Such a hire builds on the momentum of women in baseball during this defining decade. From Mo’Ne Davis pitching in the Little League World Series, (later gaining a baseball card with The Topps Company), to Jean Afterman serving as Assistant General Manager with the New York Yankees.

Haley Alvarez and Justine Siegal both hold unique ties to the Oakland Athletics. Alvarez serves as Oakland’s scouting director, hoping to one day become MLB’s first female General Manager. Siegal served as their guest instructor for an Instructional League Club in 2015, building on the achievement of becoming the first woman to throw batting practice in 2011, throwing at the Indians’ spring training.

In addition, Amanda Hopkins who was hired by the Seattle Mariners as a scout, the first full-time female scout since Edith Houghton, who was first hired by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1946, Mendoza is part of this great sorority.

Being part of this significant time in the game’s history is nothing new for the highly accomplished Mendoza. Debuting in her analyst role for Sunday Night Baseball back in 2015, it made her the first woman to be in the broadcast booth for nationally televised MLB games since Gayle Gardner was part of NBC’s broadcast crew for baseball back in 1989.

Allowed to retain her position on the Sunday Night Broadcast Team, where she will also become lead analyst for the network’s coverage of the Women’s College World Series, Mendoza will take the next step in her athletic endeavors, serving as baseball operations adviser for the New York Mets. Coincidentally, the Mets also welcomed former pitcher Al Leiter, a member of their Subway Series roster in 2000, into the front office fold, while allowing him to keep his employment with the MLB Network.