U18 Women’s Hockey Worlds: After long wait, ‘relentless’ U.S. team is ready to play

Headshots of U.S. hockey players Laila Edwards and Kristen Simms, along with the IIHF U18 Women's Hockey World Championship logo
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Ahead of the 2022 Women’s U18 Ice Hockey World Championship (June 6-13) in Madison, Wisconsin, On Her Turf caught up with two members of this year’s U.S. team: alternate captains Kirsten Simms (Plymouth, Mich.) and Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio).

This week’s tournament will mark the first IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Simms was a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. team in 2020, while Edwards is making her U18 world championship debut. Both players just completed their senior year of high school — and are missing their graduation ceremonies because of the tournament — and will continue their hockey careers as teammates at the University of Wisconsin. 

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. On Her Turf’s guide to the 2022 U18 Women’s World Championship — which includes a full tournament schedule and details on how to watch — can be found here


On Her Turf: What does it mean for both of you to be on the U.S. roster for this year’s U18 Women’s World Championship? 

Kirsten Simms: It’s a huge honor to be on this team, especially with the tournament being held in Madison. I’m super excited to get going.

Laila Edwards: To play in this tournament is a dream that doesn’t feel real yet. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s finally here.

On Her Turf: Kirsten, you’re one of two players (along with Danielle Burgen) on this U.S. team that also competed at U18 Worlds in 2020. What was that experience like for you? 

Simms: Being on that team two years ago was obviously a huge honor, especially being so young. It was such a good experience getting to play with girls older than me and girls that I looked up to my entire life… It’s a little bit different now, being one of the older ones, but it’s still cool knowing what’s going on and getting to help other people.

On Her Turf: What advice are you giving to teammates who haven’t played at this tournament before? 

Simms: (Don’t) let the nerves get to you. Just take it all in, knowing that you’re at a huge event. But at the end of the day, it’s just hockey and there’s no need to get nervous about it. Just play your game.

On Her Turf: Laila, you mentioned that playing at U18 Worlds is a “dream that doesn’t feel real yet.” I’m curious: when did the dream of competing at this level start for you? 

Edwards: Let’s see… I came to Selects Academy when I was 13. And that’s when the older girls there were trying out for the (U18) team.  And my sister (Chayla) was playing too; she’s three years older than me so my dad would talk about her going to these camps… (Once I learned more), I was like, ‘Oh, I kind of wanna do that one day,’ and that dream became bigger every year.

On Her Turf: What about for you, Kirsten? 

Simms: When I was really little, looking up to Olympic, national team-level players, you’re like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ That’s what every little girl’s dream is, I guess. But (it became more of a reality) when I made the switch to girls’ hockey. I started watching the (U18) level and that’s when I got an understanding of what that was. Each year, (the goal) just grew and grew and grew and it started to become a reality as I went to more camps.

On Her Turf: You mentioned being inspired by the Olympic and national team players… How did it feel when those same players were some of the most vocal after this U18 tournament was initially cancelled in December? I know a lot of them were speaking up and saying, ‘Hey, why was this cancelled? Isn’t there a way to reschedule it?’ 

Simms: That meant the world, seeing them repost everything. The amount of backlash the IIHF was getting when it was initially cancelled was super cool. Even though those players are older than us, even though they are on that national team, they want to see us to achieve what they got to achieve when they were (our) age.

Edwards: I thought it was really cool how they advocated for us because they could have simply just gone about their days. (The cancellation) didn’t really affect them, necessarily. But like Kirsten said, they wanted us to get the opportunity they had to keep growing the game. That has to happen one step at a time and I think they’re committed to that.

MORE U18 WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Game schedule, how to watch, tournament format for the 2022 World Championship

On Her Turf: Looking ahead to the tournament this week. You start off with group play games against Sweden, Finland, and Canada. What are the team’s expectations and goals heading into those first three games? 

Edwards: We have three words that we (focus on): pride, relentless, and together. So no matter the opponent, we’re just going to do our best to showcase that we can do those three (things) well.

On Her Turf: For people that are watching this week — either in-person at LaBahn Arena or at home on TV — what do you want them to know about your teammates? 

Edwards: I think our teammates play with a lot of heart. That takes a lot of courage and should earn the respect of the viewers. That’s a big thing.

Simms: I think the love of the game that our team has and just how close we are as a group to really shows on the ice. And the speed and skill of our team is just at another level.

On Her Turf: I know the team has been in a training camp environment for the last week or so, but did you know everyone on the team pretty well before this or are there some teammates you just met for the first time? 

Simms: We’ve known each other for quite a while, actually. After camp last August, (the roster) was trimmed down to almost the group we have now. So even when the tournament got cancelled in December, we all stayed connected and we were just hoping that this was going to get rescheduled.

Edwards: We also just know each other from traveling and playing against each other. Kirsten’s team actually ended my team’s season this year. So it’s a little bit of bad blood there, but we try to get past it.

Simms: (Laughs)

On Her Turf: Oh, I want to hear this story. What round did that happen in? 

Edwards: It was literally the first game of playoffs. It was quarterfinals.

On Her Turf: What was the final score? 

Edwards: It was 3 or 4 to 1, I don’t remember.

Simms: I think it was 3-1, plus an empty net (goal).

On Her Turf: At least you two will get to be teammates together next season at Wisconsin. What are you most looking forward to as you transition to college hockey?

Edwards: I’m excited because I think it’ll force me to find an extra gear to keep up, I’ll learn new things from my teammates, and maybe even opponents.

Simms: For me, it’s just kind of a speed transition. It’s gonna be a quicker game, quicker plays, quicker puck movement… So I’m super excited to play at that higher level and to play with girls that are three years older than me. You have to step up to their game. You don’t get that in youth hockey, where you’re playing with girls (the same age).

On Her Turf: I know you’re obviously focused on this U18 world championship, and then your college careers after that… but there’s also been a lot of momentum in women’s pro hockey recently, including with U.S. national team players Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight helping to lead the PWHPA. Have you been following those developments at all, given that they could impact you once you graduate from college and reach that point in your hockey careers? 

Edwards: Well, personally, I don’t know too much about the pro league (situation), but I do know that they’ve been making bigger steps as of late, like Mikyla Grant-Mentis (signing for an $80,000) salary and stuff like that. And I think it’s going to continue to grow, which is good for us.

Simms: I’ve been following what the PWHPA is trying to do. I think it’d be pretty cool if it could (become) a huge league or whatever cause all the national team players are on it. So yeah, I’m definitely hoping that they can keep growing so we have somewhere to play after college.

On Her Turf: I think that’s all of my questions. Anything I should have asked but didn’t? 

Edwards: I think it’s super cool we get to play (U18 Worlds) in LaBahn Arena, which is where we’ll play for the next four years. It’s definitely unique… you wouldn’t think your first game (on that ice) wouldn’t be (for Wisconsin).

Simms: Or in a USA jersey.

On Her Turf: So is this the first time both of you have skated on the ice at LaBahn?

Simms: Yeah–

Edwards: No, we did the Badger camp, Kirsten!

Simms: Oh, yeah. True. Sorry!

On Her Turf: I love the fact checking, Laila.

Edwards: But it’s been years, like five or six years.

On Her Turf: I saw a photo of the new ice on Twitter, complete with the logo for the tournament. Does it look as good in person as it does on social media?

Edwards: It looks even better, feels better too. It’s nice ice.


Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Li Li Leung talks USA Gymnastics’ cultural transformation, challenges still to come and embracing her AAPI heritage

Head of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung.
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Li Li Leung joined USA Gymnastics as president and CEO in March 2019, when the organization was reeling from the fallout of Larry Nassar’s widespread sexual abuse and the subsequent revelations of larger cultural issues within the sport. Since then, Leung has seen USAG through an ongoing transformation, one that hinges on the work of the survivors and staff around her, whom she is quick to credit. That evolution, as she calls it, has included instituting new norms and standards at all levels of the sport, particularly in matters related to athlete safety.

Among the notable USAG initiatives that Leung has brought to fruition is the Athlete Bill of Rights, established in December 2020 as a tool “to unite the full gymnastics community around a shared vision of behavioral expectations.” At the same time, USAG instituted a protest policy for national team members aimed at supporting athletes who choose to use their voice on public platforms. Both initiatives were among the first of their kind in sport.

Prior to joining USAG, Leung served as a vice president at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where she was responsible for building and managing key partner relationships around the world. She continues to use that experience in her roles as vice chair of the National Governing Bodies Council of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Executive Committee.

Leung, who began competing in gymnastics at age 7, was a member of the U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She was a four-year member of the four-time Big 10 champion University of Michigan gymnastics team and was an NCAA Championships participant.

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, On Her Turf sat down with Leung to talk about her journey with USAG, the challenges still to come and how being a member of the AAPI community has shaped the person she is today.

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This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your journey since joining USA Gymnastics in 2019. What have the last four years been like for you?

Li Li Leung: This was just an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. And I really mean that because I started in the sport when I was 7 years old and did it for 15 years. It’s taught me all of these different skills that I apply to my daily life, both professional and personal. It feels a little bit like I’ve come full circle, and honestly, never in a million years did I think I would find myself in this role. … I joined at a time when it was a tumultuous time for the organization. It’s been just a little a little over four years now, and it has been an incredible journey — and believe it or not, I have enjoyed it. While it hasn’t been easy, I actually have enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to make it not just me. One thing that’s important to note is that — I had even said on my first interview with the board — it will take a village to accomplish what we need to accomplish. This is not a one-person job. And I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a leadership team that has been incredible, and also retain the staff that we have retained, as well as hire other new staff members. And it’s because of them and some really key volunteers that we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.

OHT: Can you talk a little more about this cultural transformation that the organization has experienced and your approach to tackling this all-encompassing change?

Leung: When I was interviewing for the position, I actually met every single board member. It was really critical to both sides that they felt that I matched the role and their needs and also I had to be confident in the board believing in the ultimate mission of the organization and what we wanted to achieve. So that the culture really does stem from the well – from the top down and everything in between as well. And when I was looking for leadership team, … one of the characteristics I was really looking for was they couldn’t have an ego. The job couldn’t be about themselves or about what they would personally get out of the role. It had to be about them believing in the bigger picture and believing in what we collectively wanted to achieve. I knew that we would only be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish if people were willing to roll up their sleeves and just do whatever needed to be done, so that was one of the key things in terms of having no ego.

Since 2018, we’ve turned over more than 70 percent of our staff. We’ve been able to retain the really key members of our staff, who have been critical to our success, but also have been able to really bring in new thinking, new blood, new perspectives. Because the other thing I was looking for when I was hiring for the leadership team was diversity in perspectives. That was critical because I did not want to be surrounded by “yes people.” I wanted to be surrounded by people who would be willing to have really robust conversations and engage in difficult conversations, because ultimately, you end up in a better place because of that.

In 2020, we reset our mission to be about building a community and culture of health, safety and excellence, with athletes who thrive in sport and in life. So we were no longer about developing technically superior gymnasts who perform well in gym. We reset our focus to be about helping set our athletes up for success with the skill sets that you learn in gymnastics, and when we come to the office each day, that’s what we’re thinking about. …

The other piece is we also know from a community standpoint that our national team coaches are the most visible representation (of USAG), and a lot of coaches model them. So we’ve been working really hard in terms of working on educating our national team coaches. We work with Positive Coaching Alliance to do educational training with them as well. And we also have introduced training specifically for young coaches coming in, because we know when they come in and they’re new, that they’re eager to learn, and that’s when you can start training and moving them in a way. So our thinking is with this top-down and bottom-up strategy, eventually the middle will meet.

OHT: You noted how the coaches can be some of the most visible representatives of USAG. Regarding the addition of 2008 Olympic silver medalists Chellsie Memmel (USAG technical lead) and Alicia Sacramone Quinn (USAG strategic lead), how have those women impacted the program?

Leung: The addition of Chellsie and Alicia has been fantastic. They have been phenomenal to work with, and the fact that they have firsthand experience of having gone through it themselves – that also gives them a very good idea of what they would change and what they wouldn’t change, at the same time. It has been a phenomenal addition to be able to have this perspective of firsthand, high-level, high-performing athletes to be able to lead our high-performance team. And the athletes are saying it as well. They’re saying, “We trust them; we feel confident in their decisions; we can relate to them” — all of those things that historically haven’t really happened before.

Then in terms of the athletes who are going to college and coming back to compete with USA Gymnastics – there are so many aspects that I think are great about this. One: It’s showing a lengthened career in a sport that historically has not been very long because it’s so demanding on the body. So that means that our athletes are physically healthier, as well, that they can train and compete at a high level for a longer period of time. It also means that they’re enjoying it more because they’re staying in the sport. From an emotional standpoint, they’re finding a lot more joy in the sport, and they’re talking about it, too. And we love the fact that they’re talking about it. We want them to talk about it, and we want them to have voices and feel open and free about sharing what they’re thinking about. I have to say I’ve been really enjoying seeing almost like — I’m not sure if I can go as far as a new era in the sport maybe — but just this evolution of the sport and the athletes changing in front of my eyes.

OHT: What do you consider now to still be the biggest challenge or obstacle for USAG?

Leung: There are a couple of big initiatives on the list. One is we want to build a training and wellness center where all of our disciplines will train under one roof. This is a long-term project, obviously, but my vision around it is that it will be the heart and hub of gymnastics in America. And while this is where national team athletes will ultimately train to some extent, it is going to be a welcoming place for athletes of all different disciplines and all different levels. We want it to be a place where young athletes can come through and see their role models training. We want this to be a place of education for our community and judges. We want to be able to run clinics there for all different levels. We just want this to be a gathering place of gymnastics and to be able to celebrate the sport there at the same time.

We’re also going to reset our foundation. There’s been the National Gymnastics Foundation, but we are going to reset it and basically be much more proactive on fundraising and development to grow the sport and also to raise more money for athletes in their training.

OHT: Turning to AAPI Heritage Month and being named to the 2023 Gold House A100 List (the A100 is named each May honoring 100 Asian Pacific leaders who made the greatest impact on culture and society over the past year). What did that honor mean to you?

Leung: It was such an incredible honor to be recognized by them, and my fellow honorees — when I read the list, I thought to myself, “I don’t belong.” There are some incredible names on that list. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: I owe this honor to a lot of the other people who work [at USAG]. I think the really important thing to recognize is that this was not done by just me. It was done by a lot of other people who are on staff and who aren’t getting the accolades or the recognition. But it was an incredible experience to be, and I’m very, very touched and honored to be on that list.

OHT: How do you identify within the Asian American Pacific Islander community? Did you embrace your heritage growing up and how has that shaped who you are today?

Leung: So I’ll tell you a story that I’ve mentioned to other people recently. I grew up in a town called Ridgewood in Bergen County, New Jersey, and most of my friends had blond hair and blue eyes. When I was growing up, I wanted the name “Nancy Smith,” and I wanted blue eyes. I wanted to fit in. As a kid, you always want to fit in. Then when you get older and wizen up a little bit, you realize that it’s okay and it’s good to be different, that you can use that to your advantage. And so upon growing up, I realized that it’s pretty special to be Asian American and there are benefits to being Asian American, and you should embrace the fact that you are different. In fact, I recently lectured to a women-in-sports-business class, and one of the questions they asked me was about impostor syndrome. I said the same thing that I’m saying to you now, which is absolutely embrace who you are. Absolutely embrace your differences, because those ultimately are embedded advantages to who you are and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. So that’s my philosophy now.

OHT: Do you or your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Leung: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but in the Chinese culture, food is really important. Food is what brings people together. It’s a sign of respect, and that is the ultimate unifying language in a way. So when we do get together as a family, it’s really important for us to get together around a meal, because that’s when we share our stories. That’s when we connect with one another.

OHT: You might have just answered my next question, but I want to ask: What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

Leung: It’s funny, I was actually at a conference last week and you were supposed to find someone you didn’t know in the conference and share a secret talent that you have. I shared that I can eat a lot more than most people think. Food is a really important part of our culture and in my upbringing and family.

OHT: Lastly, I wanted to ask, as we’ve seen an increase in hate-filled actions toward the AAPI community, what does supporting the AAPI community look like for you?

Leung: Well, I think kind of going back to my other answer, it’s just about embracing who you are and embracing your differences. I think part of it is being unafraid of it at the same time, which I know is really difficult. But if you’re going to truly embrace it, and then you can’t be afraid about embracing it at the same time.

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2023 Mizuho Americas Open: How to watch, who’s playing in inaugural LPGA event at Liberty National GC

Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand tees off on the eleventh hole during Day One of the HSBC Women's World Championship.
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The Statue of Liberty is the backdrop for this week’s inaugural Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tournament boasts a theme of mentorship and education, and includes a girls’ 72-hole, modified Stableford tournament featuring 24 juniors to go along with the 72-hole stroke-play event for 120 LPGA professionals.

The field is led by seven of the top 10 players on the Rolex Rankings including world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 3 Lydia Ko, No. 4 Lilia Vu and No. 5 Minjee Lee. Also teeing it up this week are the finalists from Sunday’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play, where Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn captured her second LPGA title with a 3-and-1 victory over Japan’s Ayaka Furue.

Michelle Wie West is serving as the tournament host, and she’ll be on hand to welcome fellow Stanford alum Rose Zhang, who’s fresh off her second straight NCAA individual title and turned professional just last week. Zhang will have her first go at an LPGA prize purse, which tops out at $2.75 million this week with the winner taking home $412,500.


How to watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open

You can watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, June 1: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Friday, June 2: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Saturday, June 3: 5-8 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Sunday, June 4: 4:30-5 p.m. ET (streaming only on Peacock); 5-7:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Wake Forest captures team title at 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships, Stanford’s Rose Zhang wins individual crown


Who’s playing in the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open?

The 120-player field features seven of the top 10 players (and 16 of the top 25 player) on the Rolex Rankings:

  • No. 1 Jin Young Ko
  • No. 3 Lydia Ko
  • No. 4 Lilia Vu
  • No. 5 Minjee Lee
  • No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 8 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 9 Georgia Hall

Also in the field are 2023 winners Celine Boutier (LPGA Drive On Championship), Ruoning Yin (DIO Implant LA Open) and Grace Kim (LOTTE Championship), plus several sponsor exemptions including reigning NCAA individual champion Rose Zhang and her Stanford teammate Megha Ganne. Ganne, a native of Holmdel, N.J., finished T-21 at the recent NCAAs and is playing as an amateur. Joining them as an exemption is fellow Cardinal Mariah Stackhouse, who has conditional status on tour in 2023. Monday qualifiers include tour rookie Alexa Pano and Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith.

Among the notable juniors expected to play are 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Anna Davis, 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior winner Yana Wilson and 2022 U.S. Junior Girls’ runnerup Gianna Clemente. The 24 junior players were invited through their standings in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.


What’s the format for the Mizuho Americas Open?

The professionals will play a 72-hole stroke-play competition, with a cut to the top 50 and ties after 36 holes. The 24 juniors will play a 72-hole, no-cut competition using the modified Stableford scoring format and a different yardage than the pros.

During the first two rounds, the AJGA players will all be paired together. During the final two rounds, one junior player will play with two LPGA pros with groupings based on scores. This unique format marks the first time the AJGA and LPGA have partnered to showcase junior and professional competitors playing together.

Stableford scoring refresher: “Stableford” is a scoring system that awards points for the number of strokes taken on each hole in relation to par, rather than simply counting strokes like in stroke play. Unlike in stroke play, where players want the lowest score, the goal in Stableford scoring is to have the highest score. Standard Stableford points values are:

  • 0 Points – Double bogey or worse (two strokes or more over par)
  • 1 Point – Bogey (one stroke over par)
  • 2 Points – Par
  • 3 Points – Birdie (one stroke under par)
  • 4 Points – Eagle (two strokes under par)
  • 5 Points – Albatross or double eagle (three strokes under par)
  • 6 Points – Condor (four strokes under par)

More about Liberty National Golf Club

Located on the shore of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Liberty National Golf Club was designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite and officially opened on July 4, 2006. After the course received mixed reviews following the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust in 2009, the course underwent a renovation led by Steve Wenzloff of PGA Tour Design Services. Of note, the course hosted an event during the PGA Tour Playoffs four times (2009, 2013, 2019 and 2021) as well as the 2017 Presidents Cup, where the U.S. defeated the Internationals 19-11 for the Americans’ seventh consecutive victory in the competition and its 10th straight win overall. For this week’s event, the course will play to a par of 72 with an unofficial scorecard yardage of 6,671 yards.

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