Meet the U.S. women’s basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi lead the 2021 U.S. womens basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics
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The U.S. women’s basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics was revealed on Monday morning on the TODAY show.

The roster is headlined by Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who were named to their fifth U.S. Olympic team. In Tokyo, Bird and Taurasi could become the first basketball players (of any gender) to win five Olympic gold medals.

At the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. women can tie the Olympic basketball record of seven consecutive gold medals. The American squad has won their last 49 Olympic contests, dating to the semifinals of the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The team is led by head coach Dawn Staley, who was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that won the first three gold medals in the current streak (1996, 2000, 2004).

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. Olympic team for Tokyo features record number of women

Meet the 2021 U.S. women’s basketball roster for the Tokyo Olympics:

Ariel Atkins – Guard – Washington Mystics

  • Ariel Atkins, a 2019 WNBA champion with the Washington Mystics, will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Sue Bird – Guard – Seattle Storm

  • Sue Bird will make making her fifth Olympic appearance in Tokyo, where along with Taurasi, she could become the first basketball player to win five Olympic gold medals.
  • At age 40, Bird could also become the oldest basketball player to ever win an Olympic medal.

Tina Charles – Center – Washington Mystics

  • Tina Charles, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, will be making her third Olympic appearance in Tokyo.
  • Charles, 32, is a seven-time WNBA all-star (most recently in 2019).

Napheesa Collier – Guard/Forward – Minnesota Lynx

  • Napheesa Collier will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo as the youngest member of the U.S. women’s basketball team at age 24.
  • Since graduating from UConn in 2019, she has played for the Minnesota Lynx, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2019.

Skylar Diggins-Smith – Guard – Phoenix Mercury

  • Skylar Diggins-Smith will be making her Olympic debut at age 30.
  • Diggins-Smith, a four-time WNBA all-star, took the 2019 season off after giving birth to her son.

Sylvia Fowles – Center – Minnesota Lynx

  • Sylvia Fowles, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, made her debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.
  • Fowles, 35, has also won two WNBA titles (2015, 2017), both with the Minnesota Lynx.

Chelsea Gray – Guard – Las Vegas Aces

  • Chelsea Gray, 28, will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo.
  • Gray, a three-time WNBA all-star, won a WNBA title in 2016 as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Brittney Griner – Center – Phoenix Mercury

  • Brittney Griner will be aiming for a second gold medal after helping the U.S. finish on top of the podium at the 2016 Rio Games.
  • In addition to her Olympic gold medal, Griner has also helped the U.S. claim the last two World Cup titles (2014, 2018).

Jewell Loyd – Guard – Seattle Storm

  • Jewell Loyd was a member of the U.S. team that won World Cup gold in 2018, but the Tokyo Games will mark her Olympic debut.
  • Loyd, 27, is a two-time WNBA champion (2018, 2020) with the Seattle Storm.

Breanna Stewart – Forward – Seattle Storm

  • Breanna Stewart made her Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s basketball team (21).
  • Since Rio, Stewart has made an incredible comeback from injury: she ruptured her Achilles tendon while playing overseas in 2019, but returned to the court the following year to help the Seattle Storm win the 2020 WNBA title. She was unanimously named WNBA Finals MVP.

READ MORE: What to expect from the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team in Tokyo

Diana Taurasi – Guard – Phoenix Mercury

  • Diana Taurasi already owns four Olympic gold medals and in Tokyo, along with Bird, she could become the first basketball player to ever win five.
  • Taurasi, who is a three-time WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury (2007, 2009, 2014), is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.
  • Since Rio, Taurasi has become a mom. Her wife, former Mercury teammate Penny Taylor, gave birth to their son Leo in 2018.

A’ja Wilson – Forward – Las Vegas Aces

  • A’ja Wilson, the 2020 WNBA regular season MVP, will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo.
  • Wilson has plenty of experience playing under head coach Dawn Staley. She is the only member of the 2021 U.S. women’s basketball roster that went to South Carolina.

By the Numbers: 2021 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team

  • Average age: 29

  • Olympic veterans: 6 players (Bird, Taurasi, Fowles, Charles, Griner, Stewart)

  • Olympic rookies: 6 players (Atkins, Collier, Diggins-Smith, Gray, Loyd, Wilson)

  • Most represented WNBA team: Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm (3 players each)

  • Most represented college: UConn (5 players)

NBC Sports’ Rachel Thompson contributed to this report. 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”