Q+A: Alex Loera on journey to Kansas City, 2022 NWSL Championship

Soccer player Alex Loera kicks the ball during a Kansas City Current NWSL game
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Current defender Alex Loera has enjoyed a stellar rookie season in the NWSL, highlighted by her game winner — and game saver — in KC’s 2-0 semifinal win.

Head coach Matt Potter says Loera should have been a rookie of the year candidate, an award that ultimately went to Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave.

“We’re obviously blessed to see her (play) every day. I’m just pleased that she’s starting to show those qualities on the biggest stages, too,” Potter said. “I think her best days are still ahead of her.”

Ahead of the 2022 NWSL Championship on Saturday, On Her Turf caught up with Loera about her journey to the Kansas City Current, when she decided she wanted to play pro soccer, and what she’s most excited about in the NWSL final.

On Her Turf: I’ve heard your last name pronounced a lot of ways. How do you pronounce it?

A lot of people actually mess it up… It’s loo-ERR-uh (with rolled Rs)… For people who can’t roll their tongue, I always say it’s like loo-ed-uh.

On Her Turf: How would you summarize your rookie season in the NWSL?

Loera: I honestly didn’t expect it to go this well. I don’t even know what I was expecting when I came into the league, but I have been very blessed with how well my journey has gone so far.

It’s definitely helpful when you have such inspiring vets on your team. Desi(ree) Scott, especially, has been in my corner. Taylor Leach too. Just letting me know that they have confidence in me.

The coaching staff, as well, has been great at letting me know that they trust me and that they know what I can do.

That environment makes it really easy to express yourself, both on and off the field. So we all just have the best time playing, which I’m sure you can see.

On Her Turf: How have you been adapting to life in Kansas City? Had you ever spent any time in that part of the country before moving there this season? 

Loera: I had spent a little time in St. Louis because I have some family there, but I’d never been to Kansas City before this year. And it is very different from California… so that’s been a little difficult. But they both have their perks. The people here, the fans, everybody is so kind. It’s starting to feel like home.

I just started nannying because I love being around kids. So it’s been really nice to build that lifestyle here. And I do have a couple friends outside of soccer.

The city is beautiful, especially at night. But even on the drive to work in the morning, just the sun and the skyscrapers, it’s really beautiful.

On Her Turf: I love that you said ‘on the drive to work.’ What was it like to make the mental shift that playing soccer is now your job?

Loera: It’s actually really funny because when I talk to my family or friends back home, I say ‘work.’ I’m like, ‘I have to work today.’

It’s hard, changing it from ‘I have to train today’… But it’s actually my job now. I have this epiphany every week that’s like, ‘Wow, I actually get to do what I love and get paid to play soccer.’ It’s incredible. I’m very thankful for that.

On Her Turf: That’s related to something else I wanted to ask you. It’s your first season, but it’s also the first season the NWSL has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which has helped institute workplace protections. What have your initial impressions of the CBA been?

Loera: I was just full of emotion when the CBA came out. It was all kinds of emotion. I was sad that people had had a workplace where they didn’t have (a CBA) in place. I was like, they deserve this. We all deserve this. I just felt so incredibly grateful to those who have — day-in and day-out — fought for these basic workplace rights that (didn’t exist) before.

Just to see all these women come together in this league and demand more, it was incredible to see it finally put in place.

On Her Turf: Looking back in time… I’d love to go back to your early years in Thornton, Colorado. What was it like growing up there and what did your start in soccer look like?

Loera: It’s one of my favorite places, it’s just beautiful. I started playing soccer when I was three years old. My parents put us in all sports. (Eventually) we had to choose one because it was too difficult with travel and everything.

I had to choose between soccer or softball. I loved softball, but I was not very good at it. I couldn’t see the ball when I was trying to hit it so that’s how I chose soccer.

From then on, I just knew that I wanted to play soccer professionally. After school, I would drive an hour to practice and an hour home. It was difficult (to miss out on) activities like basketball games or football games… But I knew that in order to get where I wanted, it had to come with sacrifices.

(Eventually), I had to make a decision to change teams. That was really difficult, but I knew that in order to do what I wanted, I needed to be on one of the best teams in the state. So I started playing with Colorado Storm.

After practices, I would drive home and do (more training) with a men’s team in the area. One of those coaches, Jeff Carroll, I would not be where I am today without him. Every day, I would go and train with his team after my own team’s training. I just loved training with boys because they were faster… their touches were a lot sharper than mine, at the time.

I just put myself in a situation to fail so I could grow… You have to surround yourself with people who are better than you. In the moment it sucks, for sure. I was embarrassed at those practices when I’d lose the ball every single time I touched it. But as I as I kept going, I could see myself (improving).

So my journey has been crazy. And if there weren’t for the sacrifices that my parents made, that my family members made, I would not be here. So I’m very thankful.

On Her Turf: And then you went to Santa Clara University. Attending college in the pandemic was obviously such a tough experience. Can you tell me what that experience was like and how you decided to take that extra NCAA COVID year?

Loera: Yeah, playing during the global pandemic was terrible because we didn’t even know if we were gonna have a season. If you had asked me at the beginning of my senior year, I would have been like, ‘We are not going to get our season.’

But we ended up playing. We only played seven games before the (conference) tournament… which put us in the (NCAA) tournament. It was crazy because we went from not even knowing if we were going to play to being in the Final Four and then winning the whole thing. It was just a whirlwind of emotions, from not being sure if we were playing to winning the championship.

And then it was kind of a no-brainer for me to take my fifth year because Santa Clara was going to pay for me to get a master’s degree. My parents have always been super keen that education comes first so… it was like, ‘Sorry, Current. I gotta do this real quick and then I’ll come join you guys.’

On Her Turf: So when you got called in the 2021 NWSL Draft, that was that weird situation where some players declared for the draft, but teams could draft anyone, right?

Loera: It was funny because my (college) coach had been telling some of the (NWSL) coaches, like, ‘She’s not going to come if you draft her. Like, don’t bank on her coming and use that pick if you want her to come now.’

But thankfully Kansas City was like, ‘No, we’re taking her.’ So I ended up in such a great place.

On Her Turf: You ended up going a little later in the NWSL Draft (36th overall)… Were you surprised when you heard your name? 

Loera: I was not expecting to get called (based on) what my coach had been telling me. And then I got a phone call from my coach, like, ‘It might be you. Or it might be someone else.’

I was like, ‘This is nuts.’ Then I heard my name and it was crazy. I don’t know how else to say it, I just started crying. My family was there, my (college) team was there. My mom and sister and grandma all flew out just in case (I got drafted). So I was very lucky to be surrounded by all my friends and family when it did happen.

On Her Turf: Given that you had this year in between getting drafted by Kansas City and joining them, were you worried at all given that the team struggled in 2021? Like, ‘Uh, what am I getting into to going to play with the last-place team?’

Loera: I think I took it more like, ‘What can I do to help when I get there?’ So I just tried to go in with an open mind. This is a brand new team. This is a brand new season, a clean slate… So I think just focusing on the clean slate really helped.

On Her Turf: What are you most looking forward to heading into the 2022 NWSL Championship?

Loera: I am so excited. And I’m just so excited for my teammates, too, because there are people who haven’t ever the NWSL playoffs. So just to contribute to getting them this experience, that’s kind of my favorite part.

Just the way that Desi Scott pours her heart into this club, this program, and our teammates… The smile on her face when we beat Houston in the quarterfinals (when she had a red card), she got to live to see another day in the playoffs. And to actually see her play in that next game, I can’t tell you how happy that made me.

So I think that’s my favorite part: just getting to see my teammates, their facial expressions, their reactions.

On Her Turf: In Kansas City’s two games vs. the Portland Thorns this season, you lost one and tied one. What is the team’s focus heading into Saturday night’s NWSL championship game?

Loera: I don’t think we’re too focused on past performances. The last times we played (Portland), we had a lot of room to grow. We are a different team now than we were then… I think our coaching staff has really just set us up for success… I also really applaud our game changers (substitutes) that act as the other team in training. They do such a great job – week-in and week-out – of really nailing what the other team does, their tendencies, their patterns.

I think the whole group is just like, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones to win it all? We’re here.’ I think everyone knows we have such a great opportunity in front of us.

Q&A: Lo’eau LaBonta on KC’s success, iconic cellies and persevering through NWSL turmoil

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.