Paralympics: Oksana Masters adds to medal haul while first-time Paralympian Sydney Peterson goes 2-for-2

Oksana Masters of Team United States prepares before the start in the Women's Sprint Sitting Qualification on day five of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics.
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Another day, another medal for U.S. powerhouse Oksana Masters, who captured her fourth medal in her fourth event at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games with a silver in the women’s cross-country sprint sitting classification on Wednesday. Five days into the Games, Masters is responsible for nearly a third of Team USA’s total medal count.

But the 32-year-old isn’t just representing the U.S. in Beijing.

The 32-year-old Masters, who was born in Ukraine and grew up in the U.S., said it’s hard not to race at full force under the weight of the current state of conflict in her birth country.

“It hurts my heart and it’s very hard to race 100 percent,” said Masters, who finished with a time of 3:19.9, coming up just +1.7 behind winner Yang Hongqiong of China. Fellow Chinese athlete Li Panpan took bronze with a time of 3:31.0.

“That’s why I just dug deep today, not just for team USA, but also for Ukraine, where I am from,” she said. “I really wanted to bring home gold in the sprint.”

Masters, who is competing in her sixth Paralympic Games, now owns 14 medals (five gold, six silver, three bronze), with nine of those coming at three Winter Paralympics.

“I had put a lot of work into this, but … I am so proud because at the end of the day, I get to rest my head at night proud of my silver medal – honest, pure and clean, and I’m just so happy.”

The gold medal marked the second for 32-year-old first-time Paralympian Yang, who also won the women’s cross-country long distance sitting event on Sunday.

“Winning or losing depends on even a few seconds,” said Yang regarding edging Masters for the second time in Beijing. “During the race, I didn’t care whether my opponents were catching up. No matter what sound I heard, no matter whether it was far or near, I was keeping my own pace.”

Tracking Oksana Masters’ success at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing:

Para Nordic competition takes a break on Thursday and resumes Friday with the long distance biathlon events for the sitting, standing and visually impaired classifications.

MORE PARALYMPICS COVERAGE: Masters has chance to break U.S. medal record at 2022 Winter Paralympics

First-time Paralympian Sydney Peterson records second straight podium finish

American teammate and first-time Paralympian Sydney Peterson won her second medal in two races, a bronze in women’s sprint standing race.

For 20-year-old Peterson, who competes collegiately for Saint Lawrence, winning bronze in the women’s sprint standing was a bit of a surprise after she finished with a time of 4:12.1. Canada’s Natalie Wilke won gold with a time of 4:05.1, while Norway’s Vilde Nilsen claimed silver in 4:08.1.

“It was a super challenging race,” Peterson said via “Lots of components going into it throughout the day, but I’m super excited about how it stacked up. I had a ton of people that were out there helping and cheering, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all their support.”

The victory marked the second para cross-country gold for Wilke, who also won the women’s long distance classical technique (standing) on Monday when Peterson captured the silver.

“I don’t want to sound too confident, but I was fairly sure I had a good chance of winning a medal today and it was just a matter of deciding the color,” said Wilke, who noted that Monday’s win boosted her confidence. “I just thought to myself, ‘This is going to take you like five seconds to get to the finish chute, just hammer it, you’re not going to regret it.’

“I’m not regretting this at all.”

Nilsen admitted to feeling disappointment after coming up shy of winning gold again: The 21-year-old Norwegian earned silver in the sprint event in PyeongChang and thought she was headed toward a different outcome in Beijing.

“It’s a little bit mixed feelings,” said Nilsen. “I was really hoping for a gold medal in the middle of the race. I thought I had it in my pocket, but the same as in PyeongChang 2018, someone was coming up to me next to the finish line and it’s a little bit sad.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Last fall, the Paralympics weren’t on Sydney Peterson’s radar. She just won silver in her Games debut

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)


  • 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.”