The Ogwumikes are the type to play next-after-next-after-next-after-next-after-next in pickup, looking bewildered when everyone else in the gym starts taking off their kicks to call it quits. All four Ogwumike women, whose last name means “warrior” in Igbo, one of the national languages of Nigeria, are relentless. “No matter how we feel when we walk on the basketball court, we all have this sense of pride, so we always work hard,” Erica says.

Last season, Chiney took a nasty elbow to the mouth. She felt her tooth shake—it fell out the next day—but she kept playing. Only now has she set up an appointment for an implant. Nneka has a three-inch scar on the right side of her body from diving into the scorer’s table while playing for the Polish team CCC Polkowice in the Final Eight of Euroleague in Russia. She hopped right back in the game. Olivia has been whacked in the head as an undersized forward more times than she’d like to remember. Erica is the only Ogwumike to wear a mouth guard, as she boxes out players a head or two taller than she in the paint.

“We’ve all had our battle scars,” says Chiney, who is sitting out this season to rehab a left Achilles injury.



Going one-on-one, McRae slips, her legs nearly scissoring into splits, but recovers to score. She dances in front of the net while El-Amin Gateward snaps each pose with an imaginary camera. “Give ’em face, Sis!” El-Amin Gateward screams in delight. “Give ’em face!”

That two black girls are celebrating their lacrosse skills — honed enough to take them to college — is something of a rarity. Lacrosse is played in predominantly white, affluent areas. At the NCAA level, 86.4 percent of Division I women’s lacrosse players in 2015-16 were white, while just 2.8 percent were black. US Lacrosse doesn’t even track participation rates for girls of color at the youth and high school levels.

“Every time you walk on that field, I want you to understand that people are always going to show you what you can’t do. You have to prove them wrong. Don’t let people get in your way,” coach Jazmine A. Smith reminds them. “Only you can stop you.”


Before every game, Cal State Fullerton infielder Sahid Valenzuela tells himself, “ponte perro,” the same words his father, Hector, whispered to him before his games growing up.
Be tough, be a grinder. Let’s go, get after it. Valenzuela, a 5-foot-9 rookie for the playoff-bound Titans, has been named to the initial watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award, awarded to the country’s best shortstop.

And this week he was named Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year for 2017. He is the second Titan to earn the honor since Michael Lorenzen in 2011. Maybe it’s because he’s batting .344, ranking fourth in the Big West Conference. Maybe it’s because he’s racked up a team-leading 21 multi-hit games. Maybe it’s because he’s collected knocks in 33 of his last 39 games — 18 of those being multi-hit outings. Or maybe it’s because he scratched and clawed for most of his life just to get to this point.

“He’s got the heart of a lion, that kid,” said Alejandro Rivera, his uncle. “He’s the most humble person in the world, but he’s also going to let you know, ‘You gotta respect me.’” “You play hard,” Rivera said, “but he’s going to play harder.”


There is a hoop, tall and sturdy. A net, white-grey, with two holes stretched out. Above that, a backboard, grey-black, with trails of original white poking through. Hovering above a driveway, with a slight dip on one side, an advantage or disadvantage depending on who’s on offense and who’s on defense.

“We’ve had some good battles on this court,” said Ken Kikkawa, 52, wearing navy Air Jordans. He grew up here, in Pasadena, California, playing in local Japanese-American leagues. He now plays in a Master’s division for players over 40 years old.

“I can still outshoot him,” Ken said, pointing to his 18-year-old son Kendall, who plays in the leagues and aspires to play college ball.

“I don’t know about that,” said Kendall, who, in addition to his basketball prowess, is also a football player and once scored eight touchdowns in a game for Flintridge Prep.

The one who can out-shoot them both walks over: Robert Kikkawa, 85, a founding member of the Pasadena Bruins organization in 1972. The hoop community calls him Lefty: “I used to shoot marbles left-handed,” he said, clutching a ball next to his son and grandson.

Hoops has bound the Kikkawas and countless other SoCal Japanese-American families together. Unwelcome in mainstream leagues, Japanese Americans sustained their own through internment during World War II and discrimination faced in its aftermath.


Madison Holleran. All Lanesha Reagan could think about was Madison Holleran, the University of Pennsylvania track athlete.

Reagan, Oregon State volleyball’s 5-foot-10 starting outside hitter, known for her power and pogo-stick bounce, lay in her bed in her freshman dorm and combed through Holleran’s story. Madison seemed to be gifted, kind, competitive. A budding track star, a daughter, a friend. Even a banana-and-peanut-butter aficionado. Few knew she struggled with depression and the pressures of social media.

On Jan. 17, 2014, Holleran leaped off the ninth level of a parking garage in Philadelphia. She died at 19.

Reagan shivered. Images of her own life swirled around her head: years of masking her pain, years of blocking out her shame, years of wishing she inhabited a body other than her own.

“That honestly could have been me,” Reagan said. “If things would have been different … I have no doubt in my mind that that could have been me.”


John Gavin replayed bits of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas game in his head, combing through his pitches that night. The junior southpaw for No. 5 Cal State Fullerton (17-10, 2-1) rated himself on a scale of 1 to 10, as he does after every game, with the scrutiny of a pathologist conducting an autopsy. Except it was just Gavin, alone with his thoughts, in the lab that is his mind. 8? No way (Gavin doesn’t consider 8s, let alone 9s or 10s).
7.5? Nope (He remembered some pitches he left up. He hurried his pitches. He didn’t have as much command of his slider as he had hoped). 7? Hmm. 7.25? Alright, he thought, shrugging his shoulders. I’ll go with that.

Gavin, who pitched a then career-high 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball to help the Titans to a 5-0 win on Feb. 26, measures himself with a different yardstick from his peers. Even as he leads the Big West Conference in earned run average (1.63) in 38.2 innings of work (and, prior to giving up two runs in Sunday’s win over UC Riverside, had tossed 17 consecutive shutout innings), he expects more of himself. Gavin (3-0) doesn’t want to pitch alright. To pitch so-so. To even pitch well. He wants to be great. Nothing less. “John’s the hardest person on John,” said Jim Gavin, his father.


Mo’ne Davis calls for the ball. She drains a three, holding her follow-through for a second longer as she and a teammate battle two others for most threes made during a drill. “BOOM!” the boys on the sideline shout. Davis, wearing white and chrome Nike Kobe A.D.s, scurries around the perimeter, releasing shot after shot. “They cheatin’!” Davis hollers, waving her arms and hip-checking one of her opponents. She pops three more in a row. “Oh yeaaaaahhhh,” she says, bouncing up and down, sensing victory.

Davis has been knocking down shots at Philadelphia’s Marian Anderson Recreation Center with these same boys—her teammates on the Anderson Monarchs, a youth recreational team—for the past eight years. The center’s gym, with its four rows of brown bleachers, its cream-colored wall tile and its green and white scoreboard, has long been home to the 15-year-old—since before she became an American sensation in 2014 as the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series; before she starred in Spike Lee’s Chevrolet commercial; before she couldn’t walk anywhere without fans approaching her for pictures.