March Madness: Creighton upsets Iowa, led by transfer Lauren Jensen

NCAA  BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Women's Championship - Second Round - Creighton at Iowa
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Lauren Jensen found a new place last spring when she transferred from Iowa to Creighton.

She came back into her former home on Sunday and knocked her ex-teammates out of the women’s NCAA tournament.

Jensen scored 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds left that lifted No. 10 seed Creighton over Caitlin Clark and second-seeded Iowa 64-62 in a Greensboro Region second-round game.

Video of Creighton’s Lauren Jensen scoring the game-winning basket to defeat Iowa:

MARCH MADNESS: 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball – Games Today, Schedule, and Scores

Iowa (24-8), which shared the Big Ten regular-season title and won the conference tournament, had two chances to tie the game in the closing three seconds. Monika Czinano missed a layup with three seconds left, then Kate Martin missed a putback as time ran out.

Jensen scored nine of the Bluejays’ last 10 points.

“I’ve gotten the question a lot,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “‘How is Lauren going to feel today, what’s Lauren going to play like, da da da da?’ Those last few minutes had to be magical and special, and we’re super proud of her and we’re super proud that she’s part of our program.”

MORE NCAA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: South Dakota upsets Baylor to make first ever Sweet 16

“Right away from summer workouts, this team welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home and a part of the team, and I’m just so grateful for that,” Jensen said. “To be able to do that with them here today is just so great.”

Jensen had a layup with 1:26 left to cut Iowa’s lead to 62-60, then her 3-pointer gave the Bluejays a lead.

“I just wanted to go in and play my game and didn’t know what to expect with a sold out crowd,” she said. “Play my game and play with my teammates and hopefully come out with the win, which we did.”

“She goes over there and she comes back and beats us on our home court, and I want to congratulate her because she’s a great kid,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “She is a really, really good kid. I’m happy for her. I wish it wasn’t in this situation, but I am happy for her that she’s found a really good home and is really having a lot of success.”

After Clark missed a layup Emma Ronsiek made the second of two free throws for the final margin.

Ronziek and Payton Brotzki had 13 points for the Bluejays (22-9), who advance to their first Sweet 16. They were the seventh double-digit seed to win in the women’s NCAA Tournament so far, matching the record set in 1998.

“This is for everyone who has played at Creighton and put on a uniform in the past,” Flanery said. “So happy for everyone who has been here. It means a lot. we have so much respect for Iowa and their program. The familiarity led to a lower scoring game than I anticipated. To make a Sweet 16 is really special.”

Czinano led Iowa with 27 points. Clark, who came into the game as the nation’s leading scorer at 27.4 points per game, finished with 15. Clark had a rough game, shooting just 4-for-19 from the field, including missing all eight shots in the second half.

“I missed some bunnies I usually make,” Clark said. “But that’s how basketball goes.”

Creighton led by as much as 12 points in the first half before a six-point Iowa run in the final two minutes cut the Bluejays’ lead to 38-32 at halftime. The Hawkeyes struggled offensively outside of Clark and Czinano, who had Iowa’s first 26 points of the game.

Iowa, which ranked second in the nation in scoring at 84.9 points per game, was held to a season-low in points.

ANOTHER IOWA CONNECTION

Creighton guard Rachel Saunders is an Iowa City native. Her father, Mike, played football at Iowa.

SELLOUT CROWD

Both sessions were sellouts, with an attendance of 14,382. The Iowa site had the best attendance of the 16 sites for the first round. Arizona was second with 9,573.

“To get that many people into a gym to watch women’s sports, I think that’s huge,” Czinano said.

“I apologize to our fans that they couldn’t celebrate a victory with us today,” Bluder said.

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Flanery said on Saturday that playing in this game in front of a national television audience would be a chance to showcase his program, and the Bluejays took advantage of the spotlight to reach the regional semifinals.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes had the homecourt advantage, but struggled to get a lead against Creighton until late. The program had made back-to-back appearances in the second weekend of the tournament.

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.”