A.J. Gibson

Writer, Producer, Model, Athlete

This is Desiree ‘The Destroyer’ Scott, FC Kansas City’s latest YouTube sensation

On the soccer field, most fans know FC Kansas City’s Desiree Scott as a 5-foot-3 midfielder who is not afraid to tousle and tackle her opponents to win matches. That’s why her coaches call her “Desiree the Destroyer” despite her small stature. In 2010, her beast-mode tenacity earned Scott a spot on the Canadian national team and since then, the 30-year-old has earned 126 caps and an Olympic bronze medal from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. {Cont.]

Shellie Pfohl will ‘remain fearless’ in fight against sports bullying

U.S. Center for SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl will tell you that playing sports has helped develop her into the leader that she is today, for all the reasons you might suspect: It taught her discipline, teamwork, dedication and all in a uplifting environment that allowed her to grow while making mistakes.

But Pfohl knows that not every young athlete—and even adult athletes—have had such a positive experience through sports. Some athletes suffer from discrimination or bullying from coaches and staff, hazing or harassment from their teammates or peers. Some even experience sexual abuse. {cont.]

 

How one mental skills coach plans to motivate the U.S. women’s hockey team to Olympic gold

Dr. Colleen Hacker was in the rink when the U.S. national women‘s hockey team lost the gold medal match at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. As the team’s mental skills coach, she was with the rest of the national team staff watching the hearts of their athletes shatter on the ice. A 3-2 sudden death loss in a nail-biting overtime was agonizing for a team that had let the coveted gold medal slip away for the second Winter Games in a row—a prize the U.S. hasn’t won since 1998.

Yet even amidst the heartbreak, Dr. Hacker sensed that Team USA’s winning spirit hadn’t been broken. [Cont.]

Steph Catley is the Orlando Pride superstar you may not have heard of…..yet

In soccer, defenders don’t often get the public admiration that their goal-scoring, shot stopping teammates do. And if you’re a player on the star-studded Orlando Pride, lining up alongside U.S. national team celebrities such as Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Brazilian legend Marta, it can be hard to make a name for yourself.

But there is one defender on the Pride that fans of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) should know. Her name is Steph Catley. Orlando head coach Tom Sermanni has said that the Australian international is “arguably the best left back in the world.” [Cont.]

Meet the two best friends who are putting women’s freestyle skiing on the map

Meet Olympic silver medalist Devin Logan aka DLo.

She’s the loud, adventurous one.

The 24-year-old from West Dover, Vt., is the freestyle skiier you can find at the start gate, dancing and rapping to her favorite beats before a run. Logan is also a classic “Comeback Queen,” who is known for recovering from a gnarly ACL tear and fractured knee before she made history in 2014. That year during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, she earned second place at the first-ever women’s slopestyle event. Some of her teammates jokingly say DLo is a “thug” because of all the crazy stunts she pulls on and off the slopes, and she no signs of slowing down. [Cont.]

USWNT alum Cat Whitehill can’t wait to announce NWSL game between her two former pro teams

When the Washington Spirit travel to play the Boston Breakers this Saturday, longtime soccer fans might recognize a familiar voice on the live broadcast. Olympic gold medalist and former U.S. national team veteran Cat Whitehill, 35, will be one of the analysts for A+E Network’s NWSL Game of the Week. This will be Whitehill’s first time providing color commentary for an NWSL game and she cannot wait to pick up the mic. [Cont.]

How Quidditch and its ‘Title 9 3/4’ rule are magically altering gender roles in sports

On a windy summer afternoon on the grass fields of New York City’s East River Park, a group of men and women ran around the pitch with sticks wedged between their legs and deflated balls in their hands, playing a sport that one begrudged heckler couldn’t understand.

He stood behind the chain link fence shouting profanities that I cannot publish, making fun of this “semi-pro” team for practicing a sport derived from fiction.The Harry Potter series, beloved by many fantasy nerds, tells the tale of a boy wizard and his friends who sometimes play a game called “quidditch.” It involves athletes flying around on magical brooms shooting balls through hoops, kind of like basketball in the sky. {Cont.]

Virgin Sport’s Mary Wittenberg on running with men and being a female CEO

Whether in sports or business, Virgin Sport CEO Mary Wittenberg has always been racing against men. And she will tell you that she has never let her gender get in the way of what she wants.

When she was a college student, Wittenberg served as the coxswain of the men’s crew team at Canisius College of Buffalo, N.Y. because there were no female teams. And as a law student, she trained with the men’s cross country team at Notre Dame. Wittenberg then became an accomplished runner and lawyer, qualifying for the women’s marathon at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. But injuries cut her Olympic journey short and her passion for running shifted to improving the state of the sport for women. [Cont.]

Spencer O’Brien continues to beat rheumatoid arthritis and the rest of the pro tour

Only three months before the 2014 Olympic Games, Canadian snowboarder Spencer O’Brien found herself crying in her doctor’s office, wondering if she’d have to give up her gold-medal dreams.

Her pain was the worst that it’s ever been. [Cont.]

How Hilary Knight is revolutionizing women’s hockey one social media post at a time

When Team USA skated away with the gold medal in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in April, forward Brianna Decker was named the MVP for an outstanding performance that included a tournament leading nine assists in five games.

But while Decker set up her teammates on the ice, one of Team USA’s most impressive supporting roles had happened just weeks earlier online. After months of fighting with USA Hockey over equitable pay and benefits, the team threatened to boycott the World Championships. But it took a little social media savvy from two-time Olympic silver medalist Hilary Knight to really bring awareness to the issue. [Cont.]

How does Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike handle injuries? Oh, only by becoming a star broadcaster.

When WNBA basketball star Chiney Ogwumike walked on stage to speak at the Hashtag Sports conference in New York City on Monday, her agent couldn’t believe that she was still wearing her square, black-rimmed glasses. Along with the glasses, the Connecticut Sun forward wore a sleek black and white dress, all of which made her look more like a tenured professor than a professional baller, but she didn’t care.

“What? I’m nerdy. I love wearing my glasses,” Ogwumike laughed to the audience. [Cont.]

Black Athletes and Hair, Part Three: Why one of the world’s best high jumpers started to wear wigs

Ever since I started running track in grade school, the legend of Flo Jo has followed me like a beloved bedtime story. I pictured her to be an athletic goddess, with a tumbling mane that trailed in the wind as she raced. As a kid, when I’d run fast and win races, people would tell me all about Flo Jo. I thought, “I could be like her—the fastest female sprinter in history!” [Cont.]

How April Ross won a pro volleyball tournament with a dislocated toe and her mother’s undying hope

Watching beach volleyball Olympian April Ross win the AVP New York City Open on Sunday was painful to say the least.

During the third set of the semifinal match of one of the premier beach volleyball events in the world, the two-time Olympic medalist collided with her partner, Lauren Fendrick, and dislocated her right big toe upon impact. [Cont.]

How Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd turned Kobe Bryant into her mentor and close friend

It’s not difficult to see why basketball fans call Jewell Loyd the “Gold Mamba.”

The Seattle Storm guard plays just like the vicious mamba snake of sub-Sahara Africa from which her nickname is partially derived.  She continually looks for a chance to attack, drive a layup or sink a shot, making her a relentless force on any offense. Case in point: During her first three games for the Storm this season, the 23-year-old from Chicago averaged 26 points per game, making one of the best scorers in the entire league. [Cont.]

Do trans athletes have an unfair advantage in sports?

Tia Thompson has one dream: to represent the USA in volleyball at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But she’ll need more than impressive spiking skills and an amazing tryout to make the squad.

She’ll need acceptance. [Cont.]

How one Portuguese women’s soccer club amassed a cult following in its first season

If you think Americans are the craziest about women’s professional soccer, you obviously haven’t been to Lisbon, Portugal.

The capital city’s home club, the Sporting CP Lionesses, has made tens of thousands of fans roar across Portugal while breaking attendance records in women’s soccer clubs across the continent.

Sporting CP Women has only been in existence for less than one year, but ever since its inaugural debut last October in Portugal’s semipro league, the Liga Futebol Feminino Allianz, the women in green-and-white have managed to surpass the single-game attendance records of teams in America’s most elite competition in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). [Cont.]

How Iran’s first female motorbike racer has launched a revolution of Muslim women riders

Iranian road and motocross racer Behnaz Shafiei has a hard time taking “no” for an answer, even when “yes” means breaking the law.

In Iran, Islamic Law prohibits women from riding motorbikes publicly in the street. The government considers it an “obscene act,” something immodest for women to do in a culture that also doesn’t allow them to enter sports stadiums or watch men’s sports. And while professional motocross is one of the most popular sports in Iran, it’s considered only a man’s sport, with no space for women. [Cont.]

The secret sports injury that nobody talks about

Pulled muscles, torn ligaments, broken bones, a nasty case of the flu.

Those are the types of ailments that athletes fear. But there’s another condition that few ever talk about and even fewer understand, yet can have far more frightening consequences—and it’s on the rise among athletes and everyday gym goers.

It’s called rhabdomyolysis, or “rhabdo” for short. [Cont.]

How Seattle Storm’s Ramu Tokashiki turned women’s basketball into one of Japan’s most popular sports

On the Olympic stage, Japan is not a country known for basketball. Softball, yes. Wrestling, no doubt. But in the ”Land of the Rising Sun,” where the average height barely soars above 5-foot-7, it’s tough for Japan to field a team tall enough to match the 6-foot-plus players typical in basketball powerhouse countries like the U.S., Spain and Serbia.

But Japan has one player who could help her country reach new heights in basketball—and just in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

That player is 6-foot-3 Seattle Storm power forward Ramu Tokashiki. [Cont.]

A Day in the Life: What’s it like to be US Rugby Player of the Decade Phaidra Knight

Phaidra Knight’s rugby career was supposed to end last summer. The Rio Olympic Games were supposed to be her last hurrah.

The 2010 Player of the Decade had trained for years to represent the U.S. in rugby sevens’ 2016 Olympic debut, but Knight, 42, was cut from the squad before she could realize her dream. The admittance of rugby into the Games meant the sport was being acknowledged worldwide, and Knight was disappointed she wasn’t going to be part of the historic moment. [Cont.]

How Cheryl Reeve transformed the Lynx with one smart draft pick and a distinctive formula

When Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve talks about crafting her team for the 2017 season, it sounds like she’s putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle: Players must match up against other players, weaknesses should be shaped into strengths and all the pieces must fit together to form one cohesive unit.  And for Reeve, the WNBA Draft, held this Thursday in New York City, will determine “the final piece” for her three-time championship winning team, she told Excelle Sports. [Cont.]

Black Athletes and Hair, Part Two: Is this the real reason why African-Americans don’t swim?

On Aug. 11, 2016, it was a hot sweaty night in my New York City apartment, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my computer screen: Live at the Rio Olympics, Simone Manuel had become the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming.

When she removed her swim cap, I saw myself in her poufy hair, all wet and frizzed from the pool. She didn’t care, though. Simone was proud and stood on the podium with her hand over her heart. She appeared just as relaxed as her processed hair. I sat at the edge of my chair, watching as tears fell down her face. I wanted to raise my right fist in solidarity. Simone had finally showed America that black girls could swim. [Cont.]

Why Nicol David’s zodiac sign means everything to her success in squash

Squash legend Nicol David is a pig.

The eight-time world champion may have more titles and records than any female squash player in history, but according to the Chinese zodiac (which is celebrated in David’s native Malaysia), she has always been and always will be a swine. David was born in 1983: the Year of the Pig. [Cont.]

How WNBA president Lisa Borders went from ordinary basketball fan to the woman who has transformed the league

Lisa Borders may not be able to dunk or shoot a three-pointer, but that doesn’t matter one bit: The fierce WNBA president is a triple-threat when it comes the game of women’s basketball. [Cont.]

Will squash ever be played at the Olympic Games?

Last August, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the addition of five new sports to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, baseball and softball fans rejoiced the return of their sports to the Games while rock climbing, surfing and karate enthusiasts celebrated the dawn of their Olympic debut. But one group of athletes and fans were not happy: Squash had failed to make the pass in its third consecutive quadrennial bid, causing many to put down the racquet—and make a racket. [Cont.]

How a new women’s minor basketball league could transform the sport this season

When a female basketball player graduates from college and isn’t drafted into the WNBA, she is often faced with a difficult decision: Do I play overseas or do I give up on a professional career altogether?

For some women, playing overseas may not be the best option. Playing in a foreign country can mean dealing with language barriers, culture shock and, in some cases, compromised safety. For example, in January, several WNBA players who play in the Turkish leagues during the offseason stated that they might leave the country due to multiple terrorist attacks in the area.

If a player chooses not to go overseas, then what? She can keep training and try out for the WNBA draft the following year. But the reality is, the number of professional opportunities for women to develop their game in the States is limited compared to the opportunities that male players have. [Cont.]

Black Athletes and Hair: Gymnasts and the controversy caused by Gabby Douglas’ hairdo

When gymnast Gabby Douglas won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, I heard a lot of smack-talk about her hair—and to my surprise, it was mostly from black people.

Douglas kept it straight, pinned back in a tight bun throughout the Olympics. But some people didn’t like how she slicked her hair back with gel, a technique also used by her teammates to keep their hair in place. She also used a clip-on of straight human hair to add volume to her do.

According to the black Twittersphere, her hair scored less than a perfect 10 in 2012. And even after she won gold again at the 2016 Olympics Games this summer, people were still putting down her hair. [Cont.]

Can three Nigerian women who live in Texas make history as Africa’s first bobsled team?

Where these women’s roots grow, the land knows nothing of snow or ice.

But neither climate—nor practicality—has prevented three Nigerian women from pursuing a sport that is almost exclusively about snow and ice: bobsledding. Day in, day out—and in Houston, Texas, of all places—Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga run alongside a homemade wooden sled, envisioning the ice that doesn’t exist under their feet and the cold wind that should be whipping through their suits. But snow or no snow, these three women are determined to make history as the first African nation to slide at the Winter Olympic Games.

Look out, PyeongChang 2018: Nigeria is coming to set fire to the ice. [Cont.]

Basketball’s LaChina Robinson: ‘It’s my responsibility to speak on issues that impact me’

Whether she’s on the court or behind the camera, basketball analyst LaChina Robinson never forgets who she is and how far she’s come.

Who she is: A 6’4” teenager from Alexandria, Virginia. One of 16 kids. A girl who battled low self-esteem most of her childhood.

How far she’s come: A student-athlete with a full basketball scholarship to Wake Forest. An analyst for WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball for major networks. The host of espnW’s popular “Around the Rim” podcast series. And an African-American woman who’s managed to become one of the most prominent voices in a mostly male-dominated industry and sport. [Cont.]

Can Maria Toorpakai change the world while becoming its best squash player too?

Maria Toorpakai should never have become one of the world’s best squash players.

The 25-year old had everything against her: She grew up Muslim in a country where women weren’t allowed to play sports. She had to train and play while living in a war-torn area of the world ruled by the Taliban and conservative Islam. She chose not to identify as a boy or a girl at a very young age in a culture where gender norms are strictly adhered to. And for much of her career, she received death threats to the point where she had to lock herself inside her home for several years. [Cont.]

Rio reflections with table tennis athlete Jennifer Wu

For table tennis athlete Jennifer Wu, it’s as if everything has returned to normal. Well, almost everything. After Rio 2016, Wu finally realized her dream. She became an Olympian with a fancy “Team USA” ring. Wu met Michael Phelps and Simone Biles. She walked the red carpet for an awards show in D.C. and President Obama welcomed her with a smile at the White House.

But now the glitter has worn off and it’s time to get back to work. [Cont.]

Rio reflections with American pole vaulter Sandi Morris

Seven weeks before the U.S. Olympic Trials, American pole vaulter Sandi Morris broke her wrist ahead of the biggest event of her life. It was her dream to be an Olympian but on May 20 at a meet in the Czech Republic, she broke a pole and fractured her wrist. Her dreams were in jeopardy. But Morris came back.

Despite the pain, she got silver at Trials and earned a spot on Team USA. She went off to Rio and returned with a silver medal. Since she didn’t get the gold, Morris used her competitive fire to seek redemption in the Diamond League. In Brussels, she became the second American woman to ever jump five meters.

Now after a month of vacation, Morris is back in Arkansas training to get back into track shape. Excelle Sports caught up with Morris on the phone as she talked about being back at home, her life post-Olympic glory, and swimming in mud puddles. [Cont.]

Rio reflections with Olympic runner Kate Grace

When Kate Grace entered the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, she had only just graduated in college and wasn’t sure if she could make professional running work. Grace placed 6th in her preliminary heat of the 800m and only made it to the semifinal in the 1500. But she got hungry for more and dedicated the next four years to training. Lo and behold, all of those years of training have paid off. In 2016, Grace won the 800m run at Trials and finished 8th overall at the Rio Olympics. Excelle Sports got a chance to talk with Grace over the phone and she explained how she was able to realize her dreams, deal with loss and the temporary fame of being a track and field Olympian. [Cont.]

The early women of baseball: Lizzie Stride Arlington and Effa Manley

Women in baseball are fairly topical nowadays with the all-new FOX series Pitch already making its mark on pop culture.  The series takes us on a fictional journey with an African-American athlete named Ginny Baker as she becomes the first woman to pitch in the MLB. And two years ago, the world was wowed by the young Mo’ne Davis who was the first girl to win and pitch a shutout in Little League World series history.

But did you know that women have been dabbling in professional baseball almost as long as men have? Today we look at two of baseball’s pioneers–Lizzie Stride Arlington and Effa Manley. [Cont.]

Amanda Polk on rowing for a legacy and her ‘Dancing with the Olympians’ dream

Under the clear blue skies of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer spread his hands wide over the boats of the women’s eight gold medal race. Four years ago, U.S. rower Amanda Polk, 30, remembered watching those boats from land. She was cut from the Olympic team and thought she would quit.

But after years of perfecting her competitive edge and revitalizing her spirit, Polk finally got to sit third seat from the bow as a proud member of “the Unbeatables.” The American squad hadn’t lost since 2006 and all eyes were on those eight women to maintain the legacy. Polk looked to Christ and said a prayer. Please help me do the best I can, she asked. Just a little more push, only six more minutes, and at the end of those 2,000 meters she could have the gold medal she’d always wanted. The buzzer rang and Polk lost herself in the rhythm. [Cont.]

Helen Maroulis is relishing America’s first-ever women’s wrestling Olympic gold

The moment wrestler Helen Maroulis defeated three-time gold medalist Saori Yoshida, she became the first American woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. When the final whistle blew, Maroulis had outdueled her formidable opponent, 4–1. Both wrestlers sunk to their knees in disbelief.

Maroulis carried her country’s flag then stepped onto the podium with a face red from all of the roughhousing and joyous tears. The sound of the national anthem rung with pride. Then, she ran from press interview to press interview, to team dinner, hugs and celebrations. So many smiles and camera flashes.

That night, Maroulis returned to her room to lay in bed. The adrenaline rush from the ups and downs of struggle and victory kept her spirit alive and eyes open, though her body was exhausted. She almost felt ill. [Cont.]

The Hurley sisters fence in Rio, and maybe against each other

No doubt becoming an Olympian is one of the hardest athletic feats to accomplish and that is what makes the Olympics so special: We get to watch the few athletes who overcome all the obstacles to be at the top of the game at the right time. Just looking at the stats, a person has a 1 in 562,400 chance of going to the Olympics, according to the International Society of Olympic Historians. For American female fencers the chance is about 1 in 275.

Now imagine beating those odds twice with your sister.

Well the Hurleys don’t have to imagine, because they’ve done it. This summer the Hurley sisters will be one of the seven sets of siblings to go to Rio. [Cont.]

Billie Jean King returns to TeamTennis world she helped build

The rain faintly dribbled over Forest Hills Stadium as tentative tennis fans trickled to their seats. Would it pour? Not on Billie Jean King’s parade. This was the opening night of World TeamTennis, the league she helped to start back in the 70s. This was the first match for the league’s new franchise, the New York Empire. Above all, this was the night professional tennis would return to Forest Hills, one of the courts where the young Billie Jean rose to fame. [Cont.]

Pole vaulter Sandi Morris is ready to fly at Olympic Trials

She says, “Every competition ends on a miss.” Before the vault, she stands on the runway with a pole in hand. She sprints, she jumps, she soars. Bending, launching, floating—if only for a moment. She falls. The bar tips, drops and bounces onto the pit.

It’s a miss.

It’s funny, she says. The life of a pole vaulter is all about the failures. For without all of the attempts, without all the tries, she could not reach new heights. And Olympic hopeful Sandi Morris wants to show the world she can fly. [Cont.]

Claressa Shields’s “T-Rex” reflects hope for Flint, Mich., more

“A champion. A coach always wants a champion. I think I got one. I just never thought it was gonna be a girl.”

Retired pro-boxer Jason Crutchfield, sits in his gym reveling in the rise of his number one boxer, Claressa Shields. Shields punches the air and bounces up and down to warm up her legs. Her story has only just begun.

“T-Rex” the documentary recounts Shields’ journey from being just an ordinary teenager from Flint Michigan to an American heroine. At 17-years-old, Shields aka “T-Rex” became the first woman to win gold at the Olympics—all the while juggling school, love and family obligations. [Cont.]

Beyond X’s and O’s: A look at gender bias in college sports

Since the inception of Title IX in 1972, the world of college athletics opened up in a way that has allowed women’s sports to grow as popular as it is today. Just look at UConn’s basketball dynasty to see the amount of Huskies that have fueled the WNBA or count the number of professional soccer stars that have emerged out of the University of North Carolina.

Countless female leaders have emerged from sport on and even off the field, but in the 46 years post-Title IX, has the realm of college athletics become the model for progressing gender equality in society? According to recent research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, the NCAA and other associations alike still have a ways to go—and policies should focus on coaching. [Cont.]

How rugby prodigy Tess Feury found the game so young

In the United States, most girls grow up playing pee-wee soccer in their backyards or playing pickup basketball on the local court. They develop dreams to play at the best Division I schools, or be the next Alex Morgan or Maya Moore of the sports world.

20-year-old Tess Feury thought that was going to be her story. During high school, she took soccer very seriously and hoped to play at a reputable college. But she just couldn’t shake the idea of doing something different and play a sport that is now developing in the States. Feury wants to become the next international rugby star and she is well on her way to making a name for herself on Team USA. [Cont.]

Women’s wrestling star Adeline Gray seeks gold in Rio

Since winning the Olympic Trials, life has has been a little crazy for world-champion wrestler, Adeline Gray. On a bright Tuesday afternoon Gray was running around to and from promotion events, interviews and sightseeing excursions—not to mention celebrations: She had just finished her business degree at DeVry. With all of the commotion, Gray hasn’t got her training in like she wanted to and she had a match on Thursday for an international wrestling exhibition in the middle of Times Square. She was nervous, but all of this running around was worth it because Gray was getting the chance to tell her story, and the attention is well-deserved. [Cont.]

Sabrina D’Angelo, WNY Flash goalkeeper, is ahead of her time

After the Western New York Flash’s comeback win over Sky Blue FC, goalkeeper Sabrina “Sabs” D’Angelo walked off the pitch hazel eyes all a-glitter, blue ponytail swishing behind her. After another strong performance, the Canadian national is establishing herself as one of the rising shot-stoppers in the game.

A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she started 81 games in four years. D’Angelo was 2nd in career shutouts (29), 2nd in career saves (241) and was the first two-time First Team All-American from South Carolina. This year she earned her first cap with the senior Canadian National Team and helped them bring home gold in the Algarve Cup, and she has returned for her second season in the NWSL as the starting keeper for the Flash. [Cont.]

Jacque Davis and the Columbia Women’s Wrestling Club

A boy lay limp on the mat while Jacque Davis straddled his back and pushed her forehead deep into the nape of his neck.

“I want it to hurt as much as possible,” she said as she pressed harder. A group of 24 high school girls sat on the mat and studied how their coach mastered wrestling techniques. Coach Davis then flipped the boy onto his back and told the girls to partner up and get it done.

Every Sunday morning, the Columbia Women’s Wrestling Club meets at the university’s fitness center to practice tumbling, pulling, grabbing and finding weak spots on their opponent. Sometimes some of the local high school boys come as assistant instructors or test dummies, and these girls aren’t afraid to go at it with one another or even the opposite sex—a bodily comfort that is rare in the world of cooties and awkward school formals. In warm-up drills, the girls glue their foreheads together and mirror each other’s movements. [Cont.]

Sky Blue FC’s Natasha Kai, on a promise to her father and feeling free

Watching Natasha Kai laugh on the soccer field is like the first cloudless sky of spring. During practice for her club Sky Blue FC, the 32-year-old forward from Hawaii bounced and weaved through the drills. Here and there she might tease a teammate.

After upsetting NWSL powerhouse Seattle Reign, Sky Blue is on Cloud 9. Kai is still glowing after she scored her first professional goal in five years last weekend. [Cont.]

Madison Packer and her ‘beast of a mother,’ Momma Pack

Michigan native Madison Packer is known as one of the most tenacious forwards in the NWHL. The New York Riveters winger has no fear when it comes to being physical and attacking the play. But where did she get her drive? Madison will tell you she got it from her training partner, best friend and “beast of a mother,” Momma Pack. [Cont.]

Team USA owns the mat at NY Open Judo Competition

At the New York Athletic Club last Sunday, judoka and fans gathered around a wrestling mat for the International New York Open Team Judo Tournament. Men and women from all around the world packed the house for the sold out event. Retired judoka chuckled between sips of beer while their daughters and sons ran around with signs of their favorite American players: Kayla Harrison and Marti Malloy. [Cont.]

‘I think we are more feminine than most women out there’

With the CrossFit Games Open underway, female athletes around the world are gearing up for one of the biggest fitness competitions on the planet. This year over 120,000 women are registered for the Games, showing everyone how well they can move a barbell and tackle amazing gymnastic feats. The growing popularity of this grueling five week competition reflects the fact that more women are hitting the weight room—and heavily. Our reporter went to find out why. [Cont.]

NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan looks back on the league’s inaugural season

With the first NWHL season coming to a close, maybe Dani Rylan can get some more sleep. Between running the league, serving as general manager of the New York Riveters, giving interviews and playing hockey on Tuesday nights, the 27-year-old founder has been trading an early bedtime for a chance to make history. Through her tenacity and a supportive hockey community, she has created an opportunity for talented athletes all over the world to get paid to play the game that they love.

One year in, Rylan is already looking for ways to improve the league. But since the inception of the NWHL, what have the highlights been so far? [Cont.]

Meet the George Blanda of women’s pro football

Karen “Mulli” Mulligan is the star quarterback for the New York Sharks, a professional women’s football team that I tried out for last fall. While football wasn’t for me, Mulli picked up the sport after playing collegiate basketball and she hasn’t looked back since. When she isn’t teaching phys ed at PS 65, she eats, sleeps, and dreams football. She has broken almost every passing record in Sharks’ history and has led the team to four division titles and three conference championships. Excelle Sports sat with Mulli in Oceanside, New York after a recent practice to talk about the growth of the women’s game, her thoughts on player safety and her favorite sports movies. [Cont.]

Kate Grace is faster than ever closing in on Olympic Trials

Four years ago we might not have been professional athletes, but we had all the aspirations in the world — some larger than others of course. One summer at Yale, Kate Grace was training to be the fastest runner in the NCAA, while I was running so I wouldn’t die in my fitness test come soccer season. Living with Grace lit a fire under my feet and I fed off of her desire. Conversely, my contribution to her meant that I would sometimes let her pick from my salads.

Some mornings we would go pool jogging for non-impact cardio. Grace would tape an iPod to her baseball hat. I copied her and pasted mine to a shower cap. We found that America’s Top 40 would break up the monotony of all the hours spent in the water.

Grace would often spend her evenings bent over a notebook planning, dreaming. “How can I make professional running work?” she asked. That wasn’t a common thought among soon-to-graduate Yalies, but if anyone could do it, I believed she could. [Cont.]

The shark tank: Our reporter tries pro football

The Astoria Sports Complex was so quiet you could almost hear the fake grass scratch my cleats. I squatted into a three-point stance when my heart started to pound in my eardrums. The coach’s words rang in my head. This isn’t a rec league. This isn’t girls’ time. This is tackle football. We have standards. I scrunched my eyebrows at the opponent, hoping that at least my game-face would make the cut. [Cont.]

How to become the best squash player in the world

Just nine months ago, Laura Massaro considered leaving the professional squash circuit for good after an uneven spring dropped her ranking on the PSA World Tour to No. 5. Fast forward to the end of 2015, and the 32-year-old Englishwoman had steadily played her way back to score the No. 1 spot for the first time in her 15-year career. Excelle Sports sat down with Massaro in NYC this week at the Tournament of Champions to talk comeback, equal pay and how to concoct the ultimate homemade snack bar. [Cont.]

Meet the winningest female soccer coach in NCAA history

Aliceann Wilber is a coaching legend in college soccer. But there were times during her first years on the sideline at William Smith College where her teams looked more like The Bad News Bears than eventual national champions.

She had a rag-tag team of girls who wanted to play ball, but many didn’t know how. She remembers subbing in a player who didn’t know where to go, and one time mid-game, her starting keeper ran off the field and screamed “I can’t take it anymore!” Wilber never saw her again.

Thirty-five years later, Wilber remains the only coach William Smith soccer has ever had, becoming the winningest female soccer coach in NCAA history. [Cont.]

USC Volleyball aims for perfection

When a team goes undefeated for 20 straight matches, people begin to wonder how the magic happens. Time and time again, the USC Women’s Volleyball Team excites its fans by knocking down every opponent on its way to the NCAA Championship. The Trojans are now the No. 1 ranked team in the NCAA, going  8-0 in the Pac-12 Conference and 20-0 overall. [Cont.]

Frenemy lines are drawn in NWSL title game

Tomorrow night in Portland, Oregon, the Seattle Reign will challenge FC Kansas City to an epic rematch in the 2015 NWSL Championship Game. Last year, Kansas defeated Seattle 2-1 and the Reign is hot for revenge.

FC Kansas City Blues all-stars Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Heather O’Reilly and Amy Rodriguez will face off against the Reign’s Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe. Just a few short months ago, they were all teammates on the 2015 World Cup winning National Team. But come Thursday night, rest assured, they will have no problem duking it out on the field for the championship title.

There are also lesser known frenemies that will play just as important of a role in this week’s showdown: Beverly Yanez and Becca Moros. [Cont.]