Annika Sorenstam enjoying the journey ahead of 77th U.S. Women’s Open

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Don’t call it a comeback when 10-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tees it up in the 77th U.S. Women’s Open next month.

“This is not really my bread and butter anymore,” the 51-year-old mother of two told media earlier this month at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Resort, which will host the USGA championship June 2-5 for a record fourth time and is site of Sorenstam’s second USWO title in 2006.

“It’s more just going out and having a good time, so I don’t feel any pressure. Memories come back. When you get a little older, you think about the journey more than the destination.”

That journey is the subject of a new documentary, “Becoming Annika,” which premieres Tuesday, May 10, on Golf Channel. Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank narrates the film, which offers a look back at Sorenstam’s beginnings as a junior golfer in Sweden to her collegiate campaign at Arizona and her prolific, 72-win LPGA career. The documentary was produced by NBC Sports in conjunction with the United States Golf Association (USGA). 

Among highlights in the film – and her career – is Sorenstam’s record-setting performance at the 2001 Standard Register Ping, where she became the first (and remains the only) woman to shoot a 59 in competition. She finished the 2001 season with eight wins, kicking off a five-year stretch where she won 46 of the 124 LPGA events that she competed in through 2006.

Two seasons later, Sorenstam became the first to woman in nearly 60 years to play against the men in a sanctioned PGA Tour event, teeing it up at the Colonial in 2003. Her presence drew criticism from players, including Tiger Woods, who said, “If she goes out there and puts up two high scores, then I think it’s going to be more detrimental than it’s going to be any good.”

“It is a men’s tour,” said three-time major winner Vijay Singh, who withdrew prior to the start of event. “If I miss the cut, I hope she does, too, because I don’t want to go back and find out a woman beat me.”

While Sorenstam did miss the cut (by four shots), she did not embarrass herself, besting 11 men in the field. Her popularity soared as well, and the typically shy Sorenstam began to come out of her shell, bolstered by personal words of encouragement from Arnold Palmer and welcomed for appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and “Today,” among others.

“I still hear new stories surfacing from people who drove from everywhere to be a part of it, who say they were inspired by it,” Sorenstam told Golf Channel upon the 10-year anniversary of her Colonial appearance. “I hear from parents with daughters who say it really showed them that if they have a dream, they need to follow it. I think people connected with it because they could see themselves, that if they wanted to achieve something, they have to face their fears and take the opportunities that are there for them.”

Sorenstam’s documentary also gives a look into her foundation work, providing women’s golf opportunities to girls at every level, and reveals a more personal side as well, addressing her eight-year marriage to golf industry professional David Esch and how she found love again with husband Mike McGee, whom she married in 2009.

Sorenstam and McGee share 12-year-old daughter Ava and 11-year-old son Will, and Sorenstam points to her children as the reason she decided to come out of her 13-year retirement last summer to play the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. With McGee on her bag and her kids by her side as she marched up the 18th hole on Sunday at Brooklawn Country Club, Sorenstam won by eight strokes after leading wire-to-wire.

“I’d only ever seen these highlights of her playing really good, and I wanted to see that in person,” said Will that day in Fairfield, Conn.

It was in Connecticut that the “Becoming Annika” crew began production, using an all-female crew led by executive producer Staci Green and Emmy Award-winning director Adrienne Gallagher.

“When we committed to an all-female production crew, we promised to deliver a film that you couldn’t tell was made by women,” said Gallagher in a release. “But ultimately I think you can, and that’s a good thing.”

Last year’s victory earned Sorenstam an exemption into this year’s Open, the same stage where she won her first two major titles, in 2005 and 2006. Her third USWO title came 10 years later, in 2006, and her last appearance at the event came in 2008, where Sorenstam recorded the ultimate walk-off by holing out for eagle on her 72nd hole.

As for whether this year’s championship will lead to more competitive appearances, that remains to be seen.

“This is not necessarily about me trying to do a comeback,” said Sorenstam. “It was more about the family. They wanted me to play, so it’s very special.”

“Becoming Annika” will premiere Tuesday, May 10, at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel and will also air on NBC June 5, ahead of final-round coverage of the 77th U.S. Women’s Open.

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.”