Mallory Pugh
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Mallory Pugh could become second-youngest U.S. Olympic women’s soccer player ever

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HOUSTON (AP) — For a moment, Mallory Pugh‘s eyes widened.

The U.S. national team had just qualified for the Olympics, and the 17-year-old player now faced cameras and questions. But Pugh, still months away from college, seems an old hand in many ways when it comes to poise.

The Americans assured their spot for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games on Friday night with a 5-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Pugh started and assisted on Tobin Heath‘s goal in the 12th minute.

“I think it’s a really cool and awesome opportunity,” Pugh said. “I mean, not everyone gets it. And I think making the most of it when it comes is really cool.”

She is the youngest in a youth movement and could become the second-youngest U.S. Olympic soccer player since 1904, according to sports-reference.com. She would be just younger than Cindy Parlow was at the first Olympics with women’s soccer in 1996.

The average age of the qualifying team is 25, down from the 29.5-year average of the team that won the World Cup in Canada last summer.

Eight of the players on the 20-player roster for this tournament had fewer than nine appearances with the senior national team. Other newcomers include Lindsey Horan, 21; Crystal Dunn, 23; and Emily Sonnett, 22.

Several veterans, including Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday, have retired from the team that beat Japan 5-2 last summer in Canada for the World Cup title. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are expecting and won’t be available for the Olympics. Megan Rapinoe is recovering from knee surgery.

Pugh first came to the attention of U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who also serves as U.S. Soccer’s development director, when she was 14. Pugh played on the under-17 and under-20 national teams, turning heads when she captained the team that won the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship last year, earning the Golden Boot award for most goals with seven.

She made her debut at the senior level in the team’s opening game of this year, scoring her first goal in a 5-0 win over Ireland in San Diego.

Pugh is the youngest player named to a U.S. qualifying roster. The Colorado native made two starts in the tournament, which wraps up Sunday when the Americans face Canada in the final. Canada earned the region’s other Olympic berth with a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals.

With her speed on the left flank, Pugh held her own Friday night. Ellis decided to sit Dunn, who had five goals in the Americans’ previous game, a 10-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

“I knew (Pugh) was ready, so it was looking more at what we wanted and what we wanted to see,” Ellis said. “I think part of it is, in a tournament like this, being able to utilize your depth. And we have depth in those positions.”

Carli Lloyd likes what she’ sees from Pugh.

“I think she’s got a lot of talent, she’s really fast, she’s got good pace, very smart on the ball. I think she’s got to keep grinding away, and be able to continue to keep that level for an entire game. But great tournament for her so far, and she’s got a lot of good years ahead of her.”

Pugh will continue to play for the U-20 national team – the World Cup for that level of soccer is in November. She will also keep fit for a possible spot on the final Olympic roster by training with a boys’ team back home in Colorado. Ellis can take only 18 players to Brazil.

And she’ll also get ready for her freshman year at UCLA in the fall.

“Mallory Pugh, being on the field, it was so cool,” goalkeeper Hope Solo said following the victory. “I was so proud for her to start. To be honest, she didn’t seem nervous. She just seemed excited and happy. It was good energy.”

MORE: Carli Lloyd ranks Olympic final-winning goals, World Cup hat trick

Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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