Freeskier Margulies to make Olympic debut after seven knee surgeries

2017 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Copper - Halfpipe Skiing Qualification
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ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Still groggy from surgery, American freestyle halfpipe skier Carly Margulies glanced down at her left knee.

Doctor’s orders — a simple visual test to tell her the severity after that December surgery. If the knee brace was on, it meant the meniscus had to be repaired and any thoughts of the Beijing Olympics were done. But if the brace was not there, it was a positive sign.

No brace.

“I think I teared up with it,” Margulies said.

She’s no stranger to knee surgeries. In all, Margulies has undergone seven procedures to fix ACL tears, damaged meniscus and even one to fill existing holes in her knee. But this latest surgery, the one that landed her on the operating table two months before the Winter Games, had her pondering a possibility she rarely contemplated: This could be it.

“In that moment, I was like: “OK, I’m over this. I don’t want to get hurt again. I’m quitting,’” said the 24-year-old from Mammoth Lakes, California, who will take part in halfpipe qualifying Thursday.

But that was simply the looming seventh procedure talking.

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Freeski Halfpipe Schedule

Event Time/Date (Eastern Time)  Time/Date (Beijing, China) 
Women’s Freeski Halfpipe (Qualifying) 2/16/22 8:30 PM 2/17/22 9:30 AM
Women’s Freeski Halfpipe (Final) 2/17/22 8:30 PM 2/18/22 9:30 AM

Funny story on how Margulies came to be a freestyle skier. She was in a Mammoth ski physical education program, where elementary-aged kids were encouraged to explore the mountain. Maybe not so much the park-and-pipe area. She was too little at the time.

Of course, she was curious.

So, Margulies would ride Chair 6 to the top of the mountain — the one that went over the terrain park — and “accidentally” drop her ski pole into the park. Then, she would go to retrieve it. She’d have to hit the little jumps and rails on her way down — no other way to get the pole.

That set her on the trail to the halfpipe. She joined the Mammoth freeski team around age 11 and by 18 was winning NorAm Cup races.

The sport has been anything but easy on her knees. To keep track of it all, she has made a list:

  • Surgery No. 1: December 2013, to fix a torn ACL in her right knee and meniscus. She was training in Mammoth and under-rotated a spin on a jump.
  • Surgery No. 2: January 2015, torn ACL in her left knee and meniscus after training for a slopestyle event, which followed a win in a halfpipe contest that same day.
  • Surgery No. 3: April 2018, torn right ACL and meniscus again after falling off a rail too early and landing sideways.
  • Surgery No. 4: Around March 2019. During the rehab shortly after, torn right meniscus while completing a return-to-snow test. In all, 13 months away.
  • Surgeries No. 5 & 6: December 2019 and three months later. She fell on her second run of qualifying at a World Cup in Copper Mountain, Colorado, tearing her right ACL and meniscus for a third time. But before doctors could operate, they first had to go in and fill the holes from where her ACL was attached with cartilage because the holes were too large.
  • Surgery No. 7: December 7, 2021. Torn left medial meniscus during a freak training fall. She didn’t think anything of it until she skied off and put weight on it and “knew something was wrong,” she said.

The doctor warned it could be a six- to nine-month recovery. If so, China and the Olympics would be out the door.

But her physical therapist gave her a glimmer of hope, suggesting the meniscus could be so shredded, so beyond repair, they might snip the damaged area instead. That would be four to six weeks. If so, the Olympics were still in play.

That’s why she glanced down at her knee after surgery — and exhaled.

“From then on, I told myself I would do everything in my power to be able to get back on snow, so that’s what I did,” said Margulies, who wears a brace on her right knee.

A month later, she was back on snow and skiing easy runs. Then a call from the U.S. ski team: Could she be up to speed in time? So out to Copper Mountain she went, to see precisely where she stood.

On that surgically repaired knee — and after skiing just a few days — she was back spinning in the halfpipe and showing she was ready to go.

She chalked it up to the power of positive thinking — with an assist to her sports psychologist. She began visiting one as her knee injuries mounted.

One message resonated: Keep the negative thoughts out.

“She said, ‘Whenever you feel yourself thinking something negatively about your skiing or thinking negatively about your knee injuries, try to push those out completely and fill them with more positive thoughts, so that there’s literally no room for the negative thoughts to come in,’” explained Margulies, who graduated last May from Westminster College with a degree in cognitive psychology. “I thought that was really cool.”

Even cooler: competing in Beijing a mere two months removed from her seventh knee surgery.

“I thought I’d be here one day. But with all my setbacks, I didn’t think it would come,” Margulies said. “It’s here and definitely feels unreal.”

MORE FREESKIING COVERAGE: Women’s slopestyle preview and results

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.”