Czech Republic makes noise in women’s hockey debut as three-time medalist Finland struggles

Tereza Vanisova scores a goal in Ice Hockey - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 1
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More than halfway through the round robin portion of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, the Czech Republic has emerged as a contender to make the quarterfinal round.

The Czech women are making their first appearance in the Olympic tournament, which expanded from eight to 10 teams for the 2022 Games, after earning their spot through a qualifying tournament.

On Her Turf takes a closer look at the tournament newcomers, who are joined by Denmark in their first Olympics. Also of note at the midway point in the opening rounds: Three-time medalists Finland, the 2018 bronze-medal winners, are 0-2 to start their Olympic tournament.

Can Czech Republic’s women hockey team keep up the momentum?

The Czech women are making their Olympic debut in Beijing, and they kicked off with a 3-1 win over China followed by a 3-1 triumph over Sweden. Scoring the first goal in their first game was Tereza Radova, who currently plays club hockey in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League with Goteborg HC.

“Right now, I don’t feel like it’s something special,” said the 20-year-old regarding scoring the first Olympic tournament goal for her country. “Later it might be a bigger deal, but right now it’s a normal goal. It was really important that we were the first team to score.”

Tereza Vanisova scored two goals for the Czech Republic in their 3-1 win over Sweden, but she believes her team is still capable of more.

“We are a real good offensive team and we have to do better,” said Vanisova, who played college hockey at Maine and scored 63 goals with 66 assists during her collegiate career. “We had so many chances and we will get better game by game.”

The Czech team has never finished better than sixth at a Women’s World Championship, but last August at worlds, they narrowly lost to Finland 1-0 in the quarterfinals. They finish out qualifying with matchups vs. Denmark and Japan, and will need to finish in the top three in the Group B standings to advance to the quarterfinals.

MORE OLYMPICS COVERAGE: Denmark’s Olympic hockey teams make sibling history in Beijing

Can Finland’s women’s hockey team win another medal?

The Finnish women have played in every Olympics since women’s ice hockey was added to the program in 1998 and have won three bronze medals (1998, 2010, 2018) — the most medals by a team other than U.S. and Canada. But they’ve had a tough start in Beijing after opening with a 5-2 loss to the Americans and a 11-1 drubbing at the hands of Canada in Group A competition.

“We know we can play better, and we can improve,” sad Minnamari Tuominen, who scored the lone goal in the loss. “That’s the positive side.”

They’re led by 34-year-old Jenni Hiirikoski, who’s playing in her fourth Olympics and is one of only two players to have been named top Olympic defender twice. The 31-year-old Tuominen, also making her fourth Games start, played one season of college hockey at Ohio State and currently is captain of Kiekko-Espoo in the Naisten Liiga, Finland’s top women’s hockey league. Forward Malene Frandsen , 31, is the third team member playing in her fourth Olympics, while the team features 11 players making their Olympic debut.

Finland faces Switzerland (0-3) on Monday in Beijing followed by their final round-robin matchup vs. the Russian Olympics Committee, whom they defeated in the 2018 bronze-medal game. They’ll advance to the quarterfinals no matter what, as all five teams in Group A automatically move on, while the top three teams in Group B advance to the quarters.

Can Denmark’s women’s team rally to a quarterfinals berth?

Denmark’s women’s hockey team made its Olympic debut in Beijing, earning its spot at the Games by winning a final qualification tournament in November. The Danes won their first two games of the qualifier event and needed to earn just one point from its final game against Germany to secure an Olympic berth, which they eventually earned in a shootout loss.

They haven’t had an easier time of it in Beijing, where they fell 3-1 to China in their opener and suffered a 6-2 loss to Japan. Malene Frandsen scored the first Olympic goal for Denmark vs. China but took little satisfaction from it afterward.

“It’s always nice to score when things are at stake — that it wasn’t enough today is a shame,” said Frandsen, 26, who played in all four games for Denmark at the 2021 worlds and played all three games in Olympic qualifying. “This is just ice hockey when it is at its worst.”

Team captain Josefine Jakobsen, 30, offered her take on what Denmark needs to do better after their loss to Japan: “We can’t give away that many odd-man rushes and breakaways, that’s the first step,” she said. “We try to play very aggressive, but sometimes I think we need to turn our heads and look back, and come back home before we go forward.”

The NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report. 

MORE WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Olympic quarterfinals schedule, how to watch

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.”