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2021 women’s college basketball recruiting class rankings: South Carolina starts at No. 1

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It’s early fall, and 92 of the top 100 players in the Class of 2021 have verbally committed to schools. Four schools — South Carolina, North Carolina, Syracuse and Washington — have landed four espnW 100 prospects, while four schools have three.

Many traditional powerhouses — South Carolina, UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford — find themselves in the top 10 of the recruiting class rankings, but there are some sleeper teams as well.

Texas had the No. 16 class in 2020 and was ranked outside the top 20 in 2019, yet new coach Vic Schaefer, who left Mississippi State in April, has the Longhorns back in the top five. Tennessee also fell outside the top 20 last year, but second-year coach Kellie Harper has the Lady Vols in the top 15 thanks to four commits, including two in the top 50.

Top-ranked prospect Azzi Fudd has yet to declare and is keeping her recruitment process private. She is unable to take any official visits before the November signing period after the NCAA extended its recruiting dead period through Jan. 1.

For now, we rank the top 25 recruiting classes for the Class of 2021.

1. South Carolina Gamecocks
Highest-ranked commit: PG Raven Johnson (No. 2)

Dawn Staley brought in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2019 when the Gamecocks landed four prospects in the top 11. South Carolina had just one commit — PG Eniya Russell, the No. 43 prospect — last cycle, but the Gamecocks are atop the class rankings again with four 2021 prospects inside the top 15, led by Johnson, a true point guard who has developed her 3-point range. G Saniya Rivers and F Sania Feagin are the third- and fourth-ranked prospects, respectively, while G Aubryanna Hall is ranked 14th overall.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels
Highest-ranked commit: W Teonni Key (No. 9)

Courtney Banghart signed an eye-opening class in her first go-round in Chapel Hill, and she might have already outdone herself with her second signing class. Key has good ball skills, a strong mid-range jumper and gets on the glass on both ends. No. 17 Kayla McPherson is an explosive guard with deep range from 3. No. 18 Morasha Wiggins has a terrific blend of size and skill, while No. 20 Destiny Adams improved her rebounding and defensive skills over the past year.

3. UConn Huskies
Highest-ranked commit: G Caroline Ducharme (No. 5)

Ducharme is one of the most improved players in the country heading into her senior campaign. F Amari DeBerry, the No. 15 prospect, has a skill set similar to UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa thanks to her elite size, length and mobility. No. 30 Saylor Poffenbarger is a versatile guard who has 3-point range and size to post up in the paint. The Huskies, who signed No. 1 prospect Paige Bueckers in the Class of 2020, are still in the hunt for Fudd as well.

4. Texas Longhorns
Highest-ranked commit: F Aaliyah Moore (No. 6)

Vic Schaefer landed two top-10 players in his first recruiting class in Austin, Texas. In Moore, the Longhorns get someone who has excellent footwork and hands and is a hard worker down low. PG Rori Harmon, who is ranked 10th, is an elite finisher in the paint and keeps defenses honest with her ability to shoot the 3 off the dribble.

5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Highest-ranked commit: PG Olivia Miles (No. 10)

Niele Ivey officially succeeded the legendary Muffet McGraw on April 22. Days later, she landed Miles, a five-star prospect out of Blair Academy in New Jersey who shows flashes of former Old Dominion and WNBA star Ticha Penicheiro in her game. Within the same week, the Irish got a commitment from Sonia Citron, a 6-foot-1 guard who has a solid mid-range pull-up jumper and good awareness on the defensive end.

6. Stanford Cardinal
Highest-ranked commit: W Brooke Demetre (No. 11)

Demetre is a versatile 6-foot-2 forward who will help the Cardinal in the frontcourt. F KiKi Iriafen, the 19th-ranked prospect, has tremendous upside and has a skill set resembling former Cardinal stars Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. PG Jzaniya Harriel, ranked No. 78, is a quality scorer from Northern California.

7. USC Trojans
Highest-ranked commit: P Clarice Akunwafo (No. 21)

Akunwafo is an active and disruptive defensive presence with an emerging offensive game. G Rayah Marshall (No. 27) has as much potential as anyone in the class. She is a big guard with a smoothness to her game.

8. Oregon State Beavers
Highest-ranked commit: W Talia Von Oelhoffen (No. 25)

Von Oelhoffen is a 5-foot-11 guard and strong perimeter player who fits in well with Scott Rueck’s system. Greta Kampschroeder, the No. 32 player, is one of the best shooters in the country, be it off the dribble or in a catch-and-shoot situation.

9. Maryland Terrapins
Highest-ranked commit: G Shyanne Sellers (No. 22)

Maryland landed two talented players in its 2021 class. Sellers is a versatile 6-foot guard who has every tool — shooting, floor vision and passing — and can guard multiple positions. Emma Chardon, a 4.5-star prospect from Switzerland, has shown the ability to deliver on the big stage.

10. Northwestern Wildcats
Highest-ranked commit: G Hailey Weaver (No. 35)

This could be coach Joe McKeown’s deepest class ever. Weaver and No. 50 Jillian Brown are two quality perimeter players whose skill sets complement each other. No. 56 Caileigh Walsh is a stretch 4 player who is learning the value of physicality in the paint. The Wildcats have two four-star prospects: Anu Ademusayo, who has elite height and length, and Melannie Daley, an under-the-radar prospect who has serious game as a three-level scorer.

11. Syracuse Orange
Highest-ranked commit: F Latasha Lattimore (No. 38)

Syracuse landed three international prospects in its five-player class. Lattimore and PG Shayeann Day-Wilson (No. 41) both play for Crestwood Secondary School in Canada, while four-star forward Maud Huijbens is from the Netherlands. No. 51 Amani Bartlett is a slasher-type forward who makes her presence known defensively and on the glass. G Nyah Wilson (No. 99) comes from Texas powerhouse Duncanville High School.

12. Florida State Seminoles
Highest-ranked commit: PG O’Mariah Gordon (No. 31)

Gordon is a dynamic point guard who hails from Florida’s Braden River High School. Makayla Timpson, the No. 48 player, is a 6-foot-2 forward who simply makes plays that many others cannot because of her natural ability. Three-star forward Mariana Valenzuela played prep ball at Florida’s Montverde Academy.

13. NC State Wolfpack
Highest-ranked commit: G Aziaha James (No. 36)

James is an athletic slashing guard with a serious scoring prowess. P Sophia Hart, the No. 64 player, will fit in with the Wolfpack’s system well thanks to her craftiness. Four-star Jessica Timmons has good scoring skills and pressures the ball defensively very effectively.

14. Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Highest-ranked commit: F Sara Puckett (No. 43)

Coach Kellie Harper made quite the regional haul. G Kaiya Wynn, the No. 62-ranked prospect, went to Ensworth High School in Tennessee but will finish her high school career outside of Houston, Texas. Puckett and No. 45 Karoline Striplin are from Alabama, while three-star prospect Brooklynn Miles is from Kentucky.

15. Arizona Wildcats
Highest-ranked commit: G Madison Conner (No. 71)

Conner is a fundamental shooter with extreme confidence on the floor. Aaronette Vonleh (No. 100) is a powerful post player whose brother is Denver Nuggets PF Noah Vonleh. Arizona continues to be successful in landing international recruits, and that is evident in Anna Gret Asi, a 4.5-star point guard from Estonia who can run the show.

16. Washington Huskies
Highest-ranked commit: G Ashtynne Marotte (No. 63)

Jody Wynn and her Washington coaching staff traveled all over the world for its five-player class. Marotte is a 6-foot guard from Texas. Marisa Davis (No. 76) is a 6-foot-1 wing from Arizona. Avery Van Sickle (No. 85) is a 5-foot-10 point guard from Colorado. No. 94 prospect Jess Finney is a 5-foot-10 guard from Arizona. And four-star guard Olivia Pollerd is from Australia.

17. Michigan Wolverines
Highest-ranked commit: G Laila Phelia (No. 28)

Phelia is a skilled guard who has proven she can play anywhere on the perimeter. No. 68 Ariana Wiggins is a dynamic and quick point guard. Three-star forward Taylor Gibson will provide physicality in the paint for the Wolverines.

18. Louisville Cardinals
Highest-ranked commit: G Payton Verhulst (No. 12)

Verhulst is one of the top guards in the country with a smooth jumper and some flair to her game off the bounce. Four-star Sydni Schetnan doubles as a volleyball player. At 6-foot-5, she might have even more potential on the basketball court.

19. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Highest-ranked commit: PG Knisha Godfrey (No. 40)

Nikki McCray-Penson took over at Mississippi State in the spring, and her Bulldogs staff immediately went to work in recruiting. Godfrey, No. 55 Jasmine Shavers and three-star Mia Moore are three guards who can push the tempo and put pressure on opposing defenses in the SEC.

20. Iowa Hawkeyes
Highest-ranked commit: P Allison Ediger (No. 39)

Ediger is a skilled 6-foot-2 forward out of Hamilton High School in Michigan. No. 92 Addison O’Grady is a physical forward/post player out of Colorado whose style of play will fit in well in the Big Ten. Four-star wing Sydney Affolter is an active and skilled player out of Illinois.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Highest-ranked commit: W Kendall Coley (No. 49)

Nebraska has a deep class thus far with five commits. Coley is a stretch forward who could see some time at the 4 and eventually the 3 in her college career. Allison Weidner (No. 80) is a perimeter player who knows how to hunt down shots. Four-star Tatiana Popa is a 6-foot-5 finesse stretch forward/center type with a European-style game. Kendall Moriarty is a 6-foot-1 guard with perimeter skills. Alexis Markowski is a physical forward with good hands who can knock down shots from beyond the arc.

22. Purdue Boilermakers
Highest-ranked commit: F Sacha Washington (No. 57)

Purdue brings in two top-100 players in Washington, a 6-foot-2 forward from Georgia, and Skye Williams, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Ohio who is ranked No. 93. Jayla Smith runs the lanes well and gets on the glass. Ava Learn is a finesse forward with the ability to stretch the floor.

23. Arizona State Sun Devils
Highest-ranked commit: W Meg Newman (No. 33)

Newman is a tough and intelligent utility forward who can play multiple positions on the floor. Four-star prospect Jade Melbourne, an excellent passer who can shoot along the perimeter, joins Charli Turner-Thorne’s program from Australia.

24. West Virginia Mountaineers
Highest-ranked commit: G Emma Shumate (No. 59)

Shumate is a good shooter with a good court awareness. No. 81 Messiah Hunter is a talented guard with a nice pull-up jumper. Wynter Rogers is a 3.5-star wing/forward who can knock down the 3, while Ja’Naiya Quinerly is a confident point guard.

25. Arkansas Razorbacks
Highest-ranked commit: PG Jersey Wolfenbarger (No. 7)

Wolfenbarger might be the steal of the class. She is a skilled 6-foot-5 guard who might still be growing, and that usually means there are aspects to her game that remain untapped. Samara Spencer, a 3.5-star prospect, is a quick and fast guard. Arkansas has two three-star prospects in the fold as well: Ashlyn Sage, a lengthy shooter who can knock down the 3, and Emrie Ellis, a lanky forward who can run the floor.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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