All Summer Long: Chicago Women's Pro Sports Schedule Sizzles

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Courtney Vandersloot addresses the media after being drafted by the Chicago Sky

Over the next few days, Chicagoans are guaranteed the warmest temperatures of the season...80 and above...and that always puts me into a good mood. Why? I start thinking about summer....the end of my severe allergy season, and the beginning of the women's professional sports season  in Chicago!

And what a summer we have: In 2011, after undergoing makeovers internally and externally, basketball's Chicago Sky, softball's Chicago Bandits, and soccer's Chicago Red Stars are after attendance records and glory days on the field. Here are some of the events that they hope will shape your summer.

 WNBA and Chicago Sky: The Sky is one of the newest teams in the league, but are old enough to know the pain of seeing an even younger team compete in the WNBA finals last season. They watched Angel McCoughtry lead the Atlanta Dream, in just its second season, to compete for the WNBA championship against the eventual winner Seattle Storm.

 

That was enough to frustrate Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter and the partners, and wholesale changes followed. Just in time for the WNBA's 15th Anniversary season, the Sky hired a proven (read: winning) coach in former LSU and European League Team Spartak coach Pokey Chatman. Reuniting with former LSU standout 6'6 Sylvia Fowles and Team Spartak's Ephiphanny Prince, Chatman wasted no time in recruiting from the best of the WNBA draft. With the #3 pick, the Sky selected Gonzaga's 5'8 Courtney Vandersloot, the "2000-point woman," who averaged 30.7 ppg in the 2011 NCAAs and took the #11-seeded Zags into the Elite Eight. As Chatman described her, "She's the total package at the premiere position."

Chapman then added needed blocking and outside shooting with her next picks: 6'6 Carolyn Swords from Boston College, who holds school records for the most blocks (178,) double-doubles (46,) and 1,159 rebounds, and Tennessee Volunteer Angie Bjorklund, arguably the best three-point shooter in the history of the Lady Volunteer's storied program. Bjorklund earned the top spot in the prestigious team's record books when she finished her career with 300 three-pointers.  Finally, in the third round, came a large local presence in 6'5 Amy Jaeschke, the Wilmette native and New Trier graduate who put the Lady Wildcats on the map this season as a First Team All-Big Ten selection and the first Northwestern player ever to be selected for the WNBA. Jaeschke finished her senior year at Northwestern ranked No. 1 on the Wildcats' career blocks list with 352 and is the fourth leading career blocker in the Big Ten. 

The Chicago Sky opens its regular season at home on June 10 at the Allstate Arena against the Connecticut Sun. The Sky's website is www.chicagosky.com

 

 

That was enough to frustrate Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter and the partners, and wholesale changes followed. Just in time for the WNBA's 15th Anniversary season, the Sky hired a proven (read: winning) coach in former LSU and European League Team Spartak coach Pokey Chatman. Reuniting with former LSU standout 6'6 Sylvia Fowles and Team Spartak's Ephiphanny Prince, Chatman wasted no time in recruiting from the best of the WNBA draft. With the #3 pick, the Sky selected Gonzaga's 5'8 Courtney Vandersloot, the "2000-point woman," who averaged 30.7 ppg in the 2011 NCAAs and took the #11-seeded Zags into the Elite Eight. As Chatman described her, "She's the total package at the premiere position."

Chapman then added needed blocking and outside shooting with her next picks: 6'6 Carolyn Swords from Boston College, who holds school records for the most blocks (178,) double-doubles (46,) and 1,159 rebounds, and Tennessee Volunteer Angie Bjorklund, arguably the best three-point shooter in the history of the Lady Volunteer's storied program. Bjorklund earned the top spot in the prestigious team's record books when she finished her career with 300 three-pointers.  Finally, in the third round, came a large local presence in 6'5 Amy Jaeschke, the Wilmette native and New Trier graduate who put the Lady Wildcats on the map this season as a First Team All-Big Ten selection and the first Northwestern player ever to be selected for the WNBA. Jaeschke finished her senior year at Northwestern ranked No. 1 on the Wildcats' career blocks list with 352 and is the fourth leading career blocker in the Big Ten. 

The Chicago Sky opens its regular season at home on June 10 at the Allstate Arena against the Connecticut Sun. The Sky's website is www.chicagosky.com

 

 

Chicago Red Stars: In two seasons in the Women's Professional Soccer League (WPS), the Red Stars built a sizeable group of fans at Toyota Park in a short period of time. Featuring the likes of Brazillian star Cristiane, 1999 Women's World Cup team member Kate Markgraf, and young stars like Megan Rapinoe and Ella Masar, the team showed much promise, but ultimately failed to live up to expectations, with a 2010 record of 7-11-6, and never made the playoffs. Financial considerations forced the team to withdraw from the WPS schedule for 2011.

However, a loyal local following, including the investors, wouldn't let the Red Stars fade into obscurity, and on April 21, co-owner Arnim Whisler announced that the Red Stars were regrouping, joining the Women's Premier Soccer League for the 2011 season. 

Coached by Eclipse Select Soccer Club's Director of Coaching and Player Development, Rory Dames, a St. Viator alum, the Red Stars roster currently includes former Atlanta Beat and St. Louis Athletica forward Amanda Cinalli (a Notre Dame alumna); Geneva, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars midfielder

Jackie Santacaterina (a University of Illinois alumna); Elk Grove, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars defender Elise Weber (Notre Dame); Naperville, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars forward Michele Weissenhofer (Notre Dame); Aurora, Ill., native and 2011 All-Big East Conference First Team midfielder Bri Rodriguez (West Virginia); former Chicago Red Eleven midfielder and current Lewis University (Romeoville, Ill.) women's assistant coach Kara Kabellis; and Batavia, Ill., native and recent University of Illinois defender Julie Ewing. The Red Stars will play their home games at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle. The Red Stars are hosting two home matches open to the public on July 2 and 10 The Red Stars' web site is www.ChicagoRedStars.com

 

 

The Chicago Bandits If the United Center is "the House that Jordan Built," and US Cellular Field is located on One Bill Veeck Drive, Rosemont Stadium, opening on Saturday, June 4, can best be described as "the House that Jennie Finch Built." The brand-new National Fastpitch Pro Stadium, located at Bryn Mawr and Pearl Streets, has a street address of 27 Jennie Finch Way. The honor is well-deserved. The two-time Olympic medalist, who retired last year and is now expecting her second child, pitched for the Bandits since they started their inaugural season in 2005 and brought home a championship in 2008.   

In Finch's absence (her name is still listed on the Bandit's roster for 2011), the Bandits shored up their pitching roster with the addition of 6'3 Monica Abbott. The former Lady Vol recorded a .079 ERA by striking out 146 batters in 115.1 innings for the Tennessee Diamonds, who advanced to the final round of the playoffs before losing to the USSSA Pride. Catching Abbott this year will likely be the former Diamonds catcher Shannon Doepking. In 60 at-bats she had a slugging percentage of .233 with an on base percentage of .258.  Also joining the team is pitcher Taryne Mowatt, a two-time ESPY winner for Best (College) Female Athlete of the Year. She has said that Bandits catcher and slugger Rachel Folden, whose 12 home runs last year tied her for first place in the league, always been "a thorn in my side." 

The 2011 season at the Rosemont Stadium will kick off Saturday, June 4 with an exhibition game featuring the Chicago Bandits versus the Bloomington Lady Hearts. The Bandits will honor the players of the "League of their Own" era by wearing the uniforms of the Chicago Colleens, an All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) team from the late-40's to early 50's.

On June 11, the Bandits will officially open the NPF 2011 season, with a reprise last year's Championship Series Finals game with the USSSA Florida Pride, carried live on ESPN2. Later on, they will travel to the Rockford Riverhawks for their fourth annual "Battle of the Sexes" game on June 28. I hear that the Riverhawks have already hired professional male softball pitchers for that day.

The team promises "autographs after every game!" Find out more at www.chicagobandits.com

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    Alison Moran

    Writing and broadcasting are my life, especially about women's sports and women's issues. I believe in God, Title IX, equal pay and equal rights for all mankind. Recently, I became the guardian of a beautiful, inquisitive little girl. Occasionally, you'll find me 'mommy blogging.' Read all about it!

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