March Madness: Women’s Bracket for the NCAA Basketball Tournament

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston
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Dawn Staley and South Carolina are once again a No. 1 seed in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament — a familiar role for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina earned the the top overall seed in this year’s tournament field, which was announced Sunday night. The Gamecocks have been No. 1 in a region six times since 2014.

The women’s tournament itself also is getting back to a familiar setting.

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For the first time since 2019, the tournament will feature games on campus sites with fans in the stands.

“I just think the semblance of normalcy, I hope brings back some good feelings and the excitement and the hoopla that is part of this event, which is what makes it so great, is the fans,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think having them back is going to make all the difference in the world.”

Auriemma’s Huskies are a No. 2 seed in this year’s competitive field.

North Carolina State, Stanford and Louisville are the other No. 1 seeds.

2022 Women’s Basketball NCAA March Madness Tournament Bracket:

Staley isn’t buying the argument that as the top seed her Gamecocks will have an easy road to winning their second national championship.

“They said that the No. 1 overall seed has an easier path to the Final Four. I don’t see that,” Staley said. “But I do believe we’re going to play our best basketball from here on out.”

Potentially awaiting Aliyah Boston and the Gamecocks in the regional final could be Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa in a matchup of two top players in the sport.

While there will be much familiarity to the tournament, there also are some major changes — including expanding the field to 68 teams.

This year’s bracket grew to match the men’s field with the play-in games on Wednesday and Thursday. The Gamecocks, who top the Greensboro Region, will face the winner of Howard and Incarnate Word — one of the First Four games.

Expanding the field was one of the many changes to the women’s basketball tournament in the wake of inequities revealed at last season’s NCAAs.

North Carolina State is the top seed in the Bridgeport Region and could face UConn in the regional final. The Huskies finally are getting healthy with reigning Associated Press player of the year Paige Bueckers working her way back from a knee injury that sidelined her for two months.

“They have all the pieces, all of their players playing,′ said women’s basketball selection committee chair Nina King. ”Relative to Bridgeport, we place the teams on the seed lines on an S-curve. When we place them in the regionals we try and stay true to the S-curve. … It’s how it fell this year and that’s why Connecticut is in Bridgeport.”

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Defending champion Stanford headlines the Spokane Region. The Cardinal cruised through the Pac-12 and will try to win a second straight national title. Texas, which won the Big 12 earlier on Sunday, handed the Cardinal one of its three losses this season.

Louisville is the top seed in the Wichita Region. The Cardinals were the most surprising of the top seeds, edging No. 2 seed Baylor after the Bears lost in the Big 12 title game.

The NCAA announced the selections on Sunday for the first time since 2006 this year. Officials hope to move the announcement back to its normal Monday night slot next year. NCAA officials also would like to play next year’s opening round play-in games at a neutral site, similar to the men’s event in Dayton, Ohio.

As part of a return to normalcy, the top 16 seeds will host the first- and second-round games. Last year the entire tournament was played in a makeshift bubble in San Antonio because of COVID-19 concerns. However, because the coronavirus continues to take a toll on the country, the women’s bracket — just like the men’s tournament — has teams in waiting in case a school can’t play because of COVID-19.

King said that the first four teams in waiting are Boston College, Missouri, South Dakota State and UCLA. But the NCAA expects to be able to play the tournament in all its normal locations, including at campus sites for the first weekend.

Bridgeport, Connecticut; Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; and Wichita, Kansas, will host the regionals and Minneapolis is the site of the Final Four on April 1 and 3.

Longwood, IUPUI and Incarnate Word will all be making their first appearance in March Madness — a phrase the women are allowed to use for the first time. Incarnate Word became the first sub-.500 team to play in the tournament since 2015.

The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference led the way with eight teams each in the field.

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.”