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Focus on female athletes encouraging for local women’s sports

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Aaliyah Edwards being taken sixth overall in this week's WNBA draft is the latest headline that has local athletes and coaches excited about the future of professional women's sports.

The 21-year-old Kingston native was selected by the Washington Mystics after four years on the University of Connecticut's basketball team.

"I think it's crazy because I played against her in high school," said Alliasen Miscione, a guard with the University of Waterloo's women's basketball team.

"I think it's really good for Canadian women's basketball, especially because we always see U.S. women's basketball players making the WNBA - obviously, because it's in the U.S. - but not as much Canadian recognition."

"Going into the draft, there was so much talent in that class," added Warriors' forward Charissa Virr. "And so watching it was just super motivating as a female athlete, coming from a place where as a young child, you never saw this sort of thing."

The team's head coach, Jessica Roque, said watching the draft gave her a feeling of pride and excitement as someone involved in the sport.

"The passion around the game is changing and we love to see that," she said.

The women all agree it has been a monumental year for women's basketball, with much of the conversation during March Madness focused on Caitlin Clark's stand-out season.

"Seeing the NBA players tweet about Clark and tweet about women's March Madness and now they're watching it, and even being angry about games and calls, it shows that they actually care about it," said Miscione.

"I think that this year's NCAA women's basketball is extremely, extremely popular and even more so than the men's," said Virr. "It's unheard of."

The attention on women's college basketball this season, comes on the heels of the successful launch of the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) earlier this year.

"It's a really fun time to be a female in sport," said Kelly Paton.

Paton is the manager of the women's hockey program for Wilfrid Laurier University.

After playing hockey in college, she spent time in a professional league in Sweden.

She said the PWHL is exposing more young female players to the game, in a way they haven't been able to see before.

"I know it sounds cliche, but if you can see it, you can be it," Paton said. "I think it's encouraging our girls to start watching more hockey, which is a big piece to just learning how to play the game differently and adding creativity to what you do."

She said girls' minor hockey programs have been seeing not only growth in numbers, but also in the level of coaching and player development.

"Everything's just kind of on an accelerated timeline," Paton said. "I'd say the access to resources at a young age and the population of minor hockey is growing as well, which is amazing to see."

The women are hopeful the momentum will pave new paths for women to have careers in sports beyond being an athlete.

"Before I don't think I ever would have thought I can go be a GM or I could be a really high-level referee because it was always males," said Miscione. "But now I think, yeah women's sports jobs are getting a lot bigger."

"I think there's certainly room for some females to make an imprint," added Paton.

Virr said there are more outlets for female athletes.

"Even just like coaching or media," she said. "Leaps and bounds, I hope, will be taken."

For Roque, she's excited about increasing exposure and accessibility for the fans - saying they're there and want to watch.

"Access to media is so easy now. There's a million different platforms to utilize in our league."

Roque hopes this recent burst of attention on women's sports is a starting point, and that it continues to build.

"I think fans and the players and the growth in the sport have shown that we deserve [a league]," Roque said.

As a player, Miscione likes to see female athletes' confidence growing.

"They're looking for sports agents. Which before it was if you had the exposure, you had the exposure. If you didn't, you didn't. So now I think reaching out for exposure is a lot bigger and they're looking for those opportunities."

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