‘There’s just no quit in this group:’ Dynamic U.S. team to play for gold at Worlds

IIHF Hockey

One of the most impressive characteristics about the U.S. women’s hockey team at this week’s IIHF Women’s World Championship is how players responded in rare moments of defeat.

Down 2-0 against Canada in group play? The Americans charged back to win 5-2.

After a slow first period against Hungary in the quarterfinals? The U.S. scored nine goals in the second, with Hilary Knight breaking the all-time world championship scoring record.

And when Czechia’s Klára Hymlárová got the puck past American goalie Nicole Hensley in Saturday’s semifinal matchup? Amanda Kessel responded 14 seconds later by rounding out a hat trick.

“I don’t think the bounce back is necessarily an emphasis because that means you have the mindset of being down,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said with a laugh. “But I think there’s just no quit in this group. There’s nothing that can shake this group.”

The Americans defeated Czechia 10-1 to earn a spot in Sunday’s gold medal game, continuing the U.S. team’s streak of competing for gold at every women’s world championship in history. They’ll face the winner in Saturday’s other semifinal (Canada vs. Switzerland).

USA vs. Canada gold medal game: How to watch, live updates, Women’s Worlds history

In addition to Kessel’s hat trick, Taylor Heise and Hilary Knight added two goals a piece, while Hayley Scamurra, Jesse Compher, Caroline Harvey each contributed a single tally.

Heise, who is making her world championship debut in Denmark, leads all skaters with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists). She is one short of the all-time Women’s Worlds assist record (12), set by American Cindy Curley in 1990.

The rising fifth-year senior at Minnesota said she wasn’t expecting to have such a prolific performance at her first world championships.

“Absolutely not, I was more so focused on getting here after Covid,” she said. The 22-year-old got the news of her positive diagnosis the morning after being named to the U.S. roster.

“I was playing cards on my bed with Grace Zumwinkle actually, and then my positive Covid test came back. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ So that was real.”

While most of the rest of the U.S. team (minus head coach John Wroblewski and goalie Aerin Frankel, also in Covid-19 protocols) travelled to Denmark, Heise drove 13 hours home to Minnesota.

She was able to get skate on her own after five days in isolation and joined team zoom calls from a lawn chair in her family’s yard. “I had everyone checking in on me and that meant the most to me. When you’re alone for 10 days, it can get really lonely,” she said.

One day after arriving in Denmark, Heise assisted on five goals in the U.S. team’s opening game vs. Japan, tying the IIHF Women’s Worlds record for most assists in a single game.

“She kind of brings everything to the table and makes playing the game really easy,” said linemate Amanda Kessel.

Czechia, a team that first competed in the top division Women’s World Championship in 2016, has already achieved its best ever finish thanks to an overtime victory vs. Finland in the quarterfinal round. They’ll play for bronze tomorrow.

“It was definitely a big challenge, but I think overall, we grew from this game and that’s gonna help us not only in the future, but tomorrow as well,” Czech player Denisa Křížová said after Saturday’s loss.

“Every team goes to the World Championship to win a medal, right?” added Dominika Lásková. “But for us, the main goal was to get through quarterfinals and get to group A, which (has been) one of our goals since 2016… But we are not done yet and tomorrow is going to be the most important game for us so far.”

While the U.S. will need to wait for the other semifinal to determine their opponent, a rivalry rematch against Canada appears likely.

“Walking out of Beijing, it’s not what any of us wanted,” Jesse Compher said of winning silver at February’s Winter Olympics. “I think that’s just fueled our fire every single day… That’s something you keep in the back of your head when you’re working out, when you’re skating, every single day.”

2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship – Medal Game TV Schedule:

  • 09/04/2022: Bronze Medal Game (9am ET, NHL Network)
    • Czechia vs. TBD
  • 09/04/2022: Gold Medal Game (1:30pm ET, NHL Network)
    • USA vs. TBD

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.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.