Three-time Olympian, new mom Resi Stiegler set for quasi-comeback at World Pro Ski Tour event

Resi Stiegler of the United States during the women's slalom alpine skiing race in the 2017 Audi FIS World Cup Finals.
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A year ago, Resi Stiegler retired from ski racing. Eight weeks ago, she gave birth to her daughter, Rosi. A few days ago, she handed Rosi to her husband to sneak in an extra afternoon training session.

She had a race – two, in fact – to prepare for.

The three-time U.S. Olympian will make a quasi-comeback at the World Pro Ski Tour’s championship races this weekend at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. With lucrative prize money on the line, the field is loaded with Olympians, World Cup standouts, national team members, college standouts and those who just so happen to be coming out of retirement (see: Stiegler).

“I was planning on winning, because that’s who I am,” Stiegler cracked of her expectations with qualifying set for Friday, a men’s and women’s parallel slalom race Saturday and a parallel giant slalom race Sunday. “But then I didn’t know they were coming.”

“They” would be a reference to Erin Mielzynski of Canada and American Paula Moltzan, who both competed at the Winter Games in Beijing.

The tour that has long attracted elite racers. With roots dating to the late 1960s, it once featured the likes of Billy Kidd and the Mahre brothers (Phil and Steve) before disbanding around 1999. The tour came back in 2017, but the world championships were put off the past two years because of the pandemic.

Up for grabs will be $20,000 for the men’s and women’s winners in both races. Plus, there’s a $25,000 bonus for the male and female racer who perform the best in both events combined.

The competition will be side-by-side racing along a super-slalom course that features pro-style jumps. One run each on the red and blue courses (for fairness), with the winner advancing through a March Madness-style bracket based on time differential.

On the men’s side, there are names such as Linus Strasser, who was part of Germany’s Olympic silver medal in the team parallel event in Beijing, and American River Radamus (fourth in the giant slalom in Beijing). There’s also Robert Cone, the 30-year-old from Vermont who’s dominated the circuit the last two seasons. In all, more than 50 men entered.

The field for the women is smaller – about two dozen – but just as stacked. Moltzan enters fresh off winning the slalom crown at the U.S. championships.

The tour isn’t designed to compete with the World Cup circuit. It’s simply another avenue for race competition.

“We’re the NASCAR to their Formula One – complementary tours,” explained WPST CEO Jon Franklin, whose partnership deals include Rocket Mortgage. “The action should be fast and furious.”

Expect the unexpected, too.

That was the case with Tuva Norbye, the 25-year-old racer who retired from the Norwegian team due to a back issue. On a whim, Norbye, a grad student at the University of Utah, decided to compete at a WPST event in January. On borrowed skis and gear, she won the event and the $10,000 to go with it.

A month later, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, she won again. Another $10,000.

For this event, she had her racing gear shipped from home and increased her training. The racers go through a time trial Friday to determine their seeding for the tournament, which will be a field of 16 for the women and 32 for the men.

“The competition level is really high, and here for the finals, it’s going to be the highest that it’s ever been,” Norbye said. “I’m excited for it. I’m actually getting a little nervous, too.”

A casual conversation with her husband, German slalom racer David Ketterer, enticed Stiegler back to the starting gate. He simply inquired: How fun would it be to race at an event together?

Extremely, Stiegler thought. And so here they are.

The excitement’s building for the 36-year-old Stiegler, whose long but injury-filled career included 178 World Cup entries – one podium – and more than a dozen surgeries. Stiegler retired last April following a slalom win at the national championships.

Stiegler, who lives in Wyoming and trains at Jackson Hole, skied up to the day of Rosi’s birth in early February. She also watched the Beijing Games, and her heart broke for good friend Nina O’Brien, who fell near the finish line in the women’s giant slalom and suffered a compound leg fracture.

Soon after the birth of Rosi, O’Brien wrote under Stiegler’s Instagram post: “I know a good babysitter who has plenty of time on her hands.”

Stiegler said she is excited to back racing.

“If it’s this really awesome thing that goes well, I can really have a fun year (on the World Pro Ski Tour) next year,” said Stiegler, who serves as a coach for her husband and helps oversee Stiegler Ski Racing Camps with her brother.

Any chance of a full-scale comeback?

“I’m retired,” Stiegler said with a laugh.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Olympic gold medalist Jade Carey announces return to elite gymnastics

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.”