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13-year-old prodigy Mckenna Whitham aiming to make NWSL before finishing high school

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13-year-old prodigy Mckenna Whitham aiming to make NWSL before finishing high school

There aren’t many things Mckenna Whitham can’t do on a soccer field.

She’s fast. She can shoot. She can dribble. She can pass.

“She has a skill set that is different,” her father, Josh, says. “She doesn’t have a flaw in her game.”

She’s also just 13.

At an age when most kids are preparing for high school, Mckenna Whitham is preparing to turn pro in the world’s most popular sport. She’s already the youngest person to sign a name, image and likeness contract with Nike and the youngest to play for an NWSL club. In that February preseason game, Whitham, a non-roster invitee with Gotham FC, scored the game’s only goal in stoppage time, making her the youngest player to score for an NWSL team.

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For Mckenna high school isn’t a necessity, it’s a detour.

“My thoughts haven’t really been high school or anything. I’ve always wanted to go pro, like right away,” she said. “And I’ve been working really hard to get there.”

Kennedy Fuller is already there and the midfielder, who signed with Angel City three days before her 17th birthday last March, said her advice to Whitham would be to be patient — not always an easy thing for a 13-year-old.

Mckenna Whitham practices with the Santa Clarita Blue Heat at College of the Canyons.

(Courtesy of Luc Caouette)

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“It’s super important that she thinks about putting herself in the best environment possible,” said Fuller, who took a red-eye back to Texas for her high school graduation hours after playing the final 28 minutes of her team’s scoreless draw with the San Diego Wave last week. “Whether that’s playing up a couple of years, whether that’s playing with boys, whether that’s playing with professional training, professional teams, whatever that may be.

“Putting herself in the best environment possible is what’s going to eventually help her be the best version of herself.”

Whitham, who goes by Mak, is already doing much of that. By playing with the U.S. U-15 team, she’s playing up a couple of years and she’s been training with LAFC’s boys’ academy team. And on Wednesday she’s expected to make her debut with the Santa Clarita Blue Heat, a highly regarded summer pro-am club whose alumni include World Cup veterans Savannah DeMelo, Alyssa Thompson, Lauren Sesselmann and Ashley Sanchez and reigning NWSL rookie of the year Jenna Nighswonger.

That Whitman can even dream the dream of becoming a professional before finishing high school — a dream Kennedy and a handful of others are already living — is a relatively new development. Until 2021, NWSL required women to be at least 18 to play in the league.

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That was news to Olivia Moultrie and her family. At 13, the same age Whitham is now, Moultrie, now 18, signed with the Wasserman Media Group, U.S. soccer’s most powerful agency, then accepted a multiyear endorsement deal with Nike and an offer to train with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, moving with her parents and two younger sisters to Oregon for what she thought would be the start of a professional career.

When the league told her she’d have to wait five years to play in an official match, she sued and the courts eventually agreed that the NWSL was in violation of antitrust rules. So ahead of the 2022 NWSL season, new commissioner Jessica Berman pushed through a mechanism for signing players under 18, opening the door not just for Moultrie, but for other rising stars such as Chloe Ricketts, Melanie Barcenas and Jaedyn Shaw. Angel City has three teenagers in addition to Fuller: forwards Alyssa Thompson, 19, and Casey Phair, 16 and defender Gisele Thompson, 18.

“It’s incredibly important that we have a domestic pathway for those special players that want to take the next step,” said Jill Ellis, who coached the U.S. women’s team to two World Cup titles before becoming president of the San Diego Wave. “It was a rarity a few years ago to have teenagers in the pro ranks. To see the evolution and opportunities now for our best young talent is exciting.”

Which brings us back to the Whithams, who moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California last summer because the soccer opportunities, such as the chance to play with the Blue Heat and with Slammers FC, an elite youth program in Orange County, were better for Mak. Her father , a senior vice president for a global staffing firm, can work remotely, freeing him to ferry his daughter to games and practices. Her mother, Joni, homeschools her daughter, which helps keep her schedule flexible.

“My job is to make sure that as long as she’s having fun, and if she wants to do it, that she has the opportunity to do it. Then it’s up to her to prove herself,” Josh Whitham said.

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“All I care about is that she’s following her dreams and that she wants to do it. My goal is just to be here to support her.”

Josh Whitham said he doesn’t push his daughter to train. The motivation comes from her.

Mckenna Whitham kicks the ball during a training session

Mckenna Whitham kicks the ball during a Santa Clarita Blue Heat training session at College of the Canyons this month.

(Courtesy of Luc Caouette)

“She runs her entire schedule, including her homeschooling,” he said. “She learned a big organizational thing that most adults struggle with.”

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Josh Whitham knows a little bit about the challenges of being a precocious athlete. At 15, he was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic ski team, ranking as high as 40th in the world and making the roster for the 1998 Nagano Olympics as an alternate before he was out of high school.

“We have those conversations,” he said. “But my job is shifting to more of an advisor and just to make sure I’m here to talk about anything. [The] experiences she’s living right now, you can never replace those no matter what you do. In regular life you cannot replace going to Europe, being with the teams, having the interaction with these players.

“We do worry about those things. All I care is that she’s following her dreams and we’ll be here to support her. And if that [dream] changes, then it changes.”

Right now that dream is to sign a professional contract. Barcenas became the young player in NWSL history when she signed with the Wave last season at 15 years 138 days. Whitham, who has continued to train with Gotham, the reigning NWSL champion, as well as NWSL clubs in Kansas City and Washington, won’t turn 15 for another 14 months.

“As of now, we’ve committed to riding out this the way it is and finishing out the year,” Josh Whitham said. “She wants to sign. It’s just a matter of time and where the best developmental situation is.”

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Time, certainly, is on their side.

“This,” Josh Whitham agreed “is a long road.”

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the “Corner of the Galaxy” podcast.

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Paige Bueckers aims to make this her final season at UConn … and to go out with a bang

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Paige Bueckers aims to make this her final season at UConn … and to go out with a bang

If there’s an overriding lesson from the last four years of Paige Bueckers’ college basketball career, it’s this, she explains: “You never know what each day will bring. You never know what life is gonna throw at you.”

There was a time when Bueckers didn’t necessary think that way, when she assumed her plans would come to pass. Like when she arrived in Storrs, Conn., in the fall of 2020. She knew then that her freshman season — already outlined with the COVID-19 protocols of testing, masks and isolation — wouldn’t look exactly the way she always imagined as a kid. Still, when she thought about the four seasons in front of her, there was a sense of expectation and progress: Four years of healthy play, a few national titles, a graduation and at the end of it, a seat at the 2024 WNBA Draft.

Very little has gone to plan. Bueckers was, in fact, at the 2024 WNBA Draft, but she was there supporting her teammates Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Mühl being drafted. She described the night as “surreal,” having always imagined that the class she entered with alongside Edwards and Mühl would be the class with which she exited. Instead, she’s now watching them begin their WNBA careers on television as she returns to college offseason workouts, using one of the two available redshirt years.

Bueckers has played only two healthy seasons of college basketball, as a freshman, when she was named national Player of the Year, and last season, when she was again an All-American. She has advanced to three Final Fours in four years but never won a title.

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She has readjusted her expectations, imagining her name called in the 2025 WNBA Draft. She plans to make the 2024-25 season her last at UConn, she told The Athletic.

“There’s a much larger sense of urgency,” Bueckers said. “This is my last year to get what I came here for, which is a national championship. … No more ‘Passive Paige.’”

As Bueckers enters her final chapter in Storrs, going through her first (and last) college offseason workouts in which she’s completely healthy, she’s focused on definitively shifting her mentality while recognizing the need for flexibility. After all, that’s the lesson the last four years have taught her.

Bueckers’ final shot at a national title will come with some adjustments. Edwards and Mühl are gone. The three returning upperclassmen — Azzi Fudd, Aubrey Griffin and Caroline Ducharme — are coming off injuries. Kaitlyn Chen, a Princeton transfer, is settling into the program after arriving on campus in late May.

But that turnover in roster — nothing new to Bueckers — makes her mental shift that much more important as she prepares to shoulder so much more.

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UConn coach Geno Auriemma can point to March to remind Bueckers of her focus. Conversation around Bueckers’ aggressive mentality have been “constant” since she arrived on campus in 2020, he said. But the Huskies’ recent history, an unexpected run to the Final Four, led by Bueckers, provides all the evidence she needs to continue to be a bit more selfish on the floor. Before the Big East tournament, Auriemma said he told Bueckers, “Paige, you need it to get 30 every night. Just make life easier on everybody else. We don’t have a lot of options. We don’t have a lot of choices. So this is what we got. And we can’t be milling around with this stuff.”

In short: No more Passive Paige.

Through five NCAA Tournament games, Bueckers’ game completely elevated. After averaging 21.3 points, 3.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds a game during the regular season, she averaged 25.8 points, 4.6 assists and 8 rebounds a game, pulling the Huskies to their 23rd Final Four.

“I love to score. I’ve always felt like I’m a pass-first player. I love to get my teammates involved. I love to make sure everybody’s happy,” Bueckers said. “But at the end of the day, everyone is happy when we win, and I think we have a better chance of winning when I’m aggressive.”

Added Auriemma: “She’s too nice, too caring about what other people think. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great, great quality. I just don’t know if it’s a great quality for (a) killer superstar.”

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Bueckers has learned too much over the past four seasons to make too many plans. Everything can change in an instant. She knows, because she has been there (multiple times). But with a heightened sense of urgency, she’s approaching this offseason differently. She wants to come in as a better scorer, passer and rebounder. Ask her where her game can improve, and there is no shortage of options that come to Bueckers’ mind: her range, 3-point shooting, off-the-dribble shooting, one-on-one moves, ballhandling, playing off two feet, experimenting with tempo.

She’s trying not to live in the past too much and also not look too far into the future. She hasn’t rewatched the Huskies’ final game of the 2024 NCAA Tournament yet — a loss to Iowa — but she’ll get there. She knows she has to watch it to completely turn the page from last season. Just like the NCAA Tournament, there will be lessons to glean from those 40 minutes, but Bueckers still wonders if she had been just a bit more aggressive, maybe the game would’ve turned out differently. With one final year at UConn, she’ll make sure not to feel that after any game again, she said.

“I want to be an unselfish player, somebody that people love to play with, but at the same time, I’m trying to balance that with also being like, a killer, a scorer, a bucket getter,” she said. “It’s always been a battle of me trying to find the happy medium, but I think for the most part from here on out I gotta be more aggressive first.”

(Photo of Paige Bueckers: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy reveals he recently 'beat' cancer

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Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy reveals he recently 'beat' cancer

In the most subtle, low-key fashion, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy revealed he had, and beat, cancer.

The 47-year-old revealed the diagnosis on an episode of “The BFFs Pod” when his co-hosts took note of a scar on his neck.

Portnoy said he “beat it” and replied yes when it was skin cancer “lying in the sun all day with no sunscreen.”

Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy attends an event. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

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“I’ve had a heart attack, cancer and stung by bees, beat it all,” Portnoy joked.

“I went to a doctor, did a skin thing, they scrape it, and one of them came back cancerous; got to take it out,” Portnoy added.

Portnoy said that he had actually been trying to get people to notice the scar. 

“I’ve been trying to shove it in people’s faces,” Portnoy said.

But he did say he kept the operations to himself.

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Dave Portnoy

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy revealed that he recently had cancer and beat it. (The Dave Portnoy Show With Eddie & Co/Youtube)

BARRY BONDS, WILLIE MAYS’ GODSON, POSTS TRIBUTE TO FELLOW GIANTS LEGEND

“I didn’t even tell anyone I was doing it. It was all part of my master plan. God forbid the [Boston] Celtics lost last night, I was going to be like ‘I have cancer. I don’t want to talk about it.’ But they won.”

Portnoy said he and his fellow Barstool hosts were recording a recap of the Celtics’ NBA Finals victory, but no one even mentioned the scar or a bandage on his neck from his celebratory cigar video he posted.

“It’s almost like they know I’m going to call myself a cancer survivor,” Portnoy said. “I was getting close to the point I was going to re-cut this thing open and just start bleeding until somebody would be like, ‘What is going on?’ This is a huge f—ing scar, and nobody’s saying anything.”

Portnoy then said on X, formerly Twitter, that the cancer “wasn’t the serious kind thank god.”

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Dave Portnoy

David Portnoy of Barstool Sports (Tom Briglia/ Getty Images)

Portnoy bought back Barstool last year, initially selling the company for about $500 million, and he bought it back for just $1 after the Penn-ESPN deal.

Follow Fox News Digital’s sports coverage on X and subscribe to the Fox News Sports Huddle newsletter.

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Shoe is on the other foot as Dodgers lose to Rockies in walk-off fashion

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Shoe is on the other foot as Dodgers lose to Rockies in walk-off fashion

This time, the late-game magic belonged to the Colorado Rockies.

A day after the Dodgers’ historic ninth-inning comeback at Coors Field, their hosts answered back Wednesday with an 7-6 walk-off win.

With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth — and one of the Dodgers’ typically low-leverage relievers, Yohan Ramírez, on the mound in the most crucial of situations — the Rockies flipped the script from Tuesday’s night loss, when they blew a five-run lead in the final frame.

This time, they put two runners aboard immediately with back-to-back singles. They advanced the lead one to third on a ground ball to first base.

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Then, in a rare celebratory sequence for a team that has long resided in the National League West basement, outfielder Brenton Doyle delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly.

The Rockies piled out of the dugout. They sprayed Gatorade around the infield.

The exaltation the Dodgers experienced Tuesday, this time was on the other side.

The Dodgers had led for most of the game, despite a rocky start from right-hander Bobby Miller.

Making his first outing in more than two months because of a shoulder injury, Miller battled through a five-run, 6 ⅓-inning appearance. He gave up a three-run homer to Michael Toglia in the bottom of the first, after issuing a single and walk with two out in the inning.

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But the 25-year-old bounced back from there, giving up just one run over the next five innings with the help of three double plays.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, surged ahead thanks to production from the bottom of the lineup.

In the second inning, Nos. 6-8 hitters Gavin Lux (single), Cavan Biggio (hit-by-pitch) and Kiké Hernández (walk) loaded the bases for Shohei Ohtani, who promptly unloaded them with a three-run double. Ohtani was driven home on Freddie Freeman’s RBI single in the next at-bat.

With the score tied again, 4-4, in the top of the fifth, it was another bottom-half hitter, outfielder Jason Heyward from the five-hole, who delivered a two-run double off the wall in right field, continuing his recent tear after Tuesday night’s ninth-inning grand slam.

In the top of the seventh, though, Roberts tried to extend Miller — who was only at 73 pitches — only to watch him surrender a leadoff double to Sean Bouchard, who eventually scored what was Miller’s fifth earned run of the game.

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After Miller exited, the seventh only got messier for the Dodgers. Third baseman Biggio booted a grounder with one out. No. 9 hitter Adael Amador belted a double off reliever Daniel Hudson. And Brenton Doyle tied the score at 6-6 on a one-out sacrifice fly — what could have been the third out of the inning had Biggio not made an error.

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