Golden Knights lead 2023’s top sports stories for Southern Nevada

The Sporting Tribune's W.G. Ramirez reveals his Top 10 sports stories from Southern Nevada in 2023 to close an historic year.

LAS VEGAS — As we reach the end of 2023, it’s time for so many journalists to reveal their top stories of the calendar year. Be it nationally, locally, or ones that had a personal impact on them.

With 100% full disclosure, I must say that it’d be unlikely to find anyone else with the same Top 10 I have, and yet their list would be every bit as right as mine.

There is no right or wrong in my eyes, as long as you can back up your arguments.

The following is not what I think should be on everyone else’s Top 10 sports stories list for Southern Nevada, but more so what I feel as a Las Vegan since 1972 meant the most to me this year.

So as I present my Top 10 sports stories for Southern Nevada, I wish each and every one of you a joyous holiday season and a prosperous 2024, when I’m hoping we’ll have just as exciting a year.



Golden Knights owner Bill Foley’s infamous proclamation: “Playoffs in three, Cup in six” came full circle in June, when Vegas defeated Florida in five games to win Lord’s Stanley Cup after a 9-3 home win in the series finale. It was not only a full-circle moment for Foley’s phrase before the team played its first-ever game in 2017, but the win seemingly felt like closure from the inaugural season, when the group of “Golden Misfits” also went to the Cup final and lost to the Washington Capitals. For it was that season the team not only played for a city relatively new to the NHL, but for victims and those lost in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, on Oct. 1, 2017. The franchise has been bringing the community together ever since, and finally, after breezing past Winnipeg, holding off Edmonton, and knocking off Dallas and former coach Peter DeBoer in the Western Conference playoffs, the Golden Knights skated in, around, and through the Panthers on their own ice as fans shed tears of joy when the likes of Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Jack Eichel hoisted and skated around with the Cup. They rejoiced even more when six-year fan favorite and original Misfit Jonathan Marchessault was handed the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP. And finally, Southern Nevada celebrated equally as exuberant as it did when the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels won the national championship, as the Golden Knights enjoyed a championship parade down Las Vegas Boulevard to the Toshiba Plaza in front of T-Mobile Arena, where it all began.


I remember before the UNLV Football season, new coach Barry Odom welcomed groups of media to a private luncheon at a local tavern, a somewhat meet-and-greet. Conversations were off the record, personal stories were shared – like the morning Bobby Petrino bailed on the program – but most importantly let us in on his mindset. It was a true desire to resurrect the Rebels. He vowed to recruit local young men first, he promised to change the culture to an environment players would want to be a part of, he talked about communication and the importance of having an open-door policy, he revealed a belief in the standards he was bringing and how they’d fit perfectly with the players who made up the roster. Lo and behold, UNLV won nine games for the first time since 1979, when it was an Independent school, and enjoyed its winningest season since 2000, when it went 8-5 under John Robinson and went to the Las Vegas Bowl. On Tuesday, the Rebels will play Kansas in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (the former Cactus Bowl) in Phoenix. Odom made good on all of his promises, and in over roughly 2 1/2 months, he made believers out of not only the young men who donned Rebels jerseys, but also boosters and longtime fans who remember when Randall Cunningham wore a UNLV helmet. This may not be as high on most other sports writer’s lists, but as a longtime Las Vegan, I appreciate it as much as I do No. 3. The football Rebels simply got the nod because it’s been a long time coming.


If I made UNLV Football second, I had to place UNLV women’s basketball next on my list. What Lindy LaRocque has done with this program is nothing short of incredible. Anyone who knows LaRocque always knew she was capable of building a powerhouse out of the Mountain West. But the expedience in which she turned this program around is what can’t be ignored. Picked to finish in the nether regions of the conference in her first season as coach, the Lady Rebels are the two-time defending Mountain West champs. They’ve earned berths into the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons, including last season when UNLV finished 18-0 in conference play, the first season the Lady Rebs went undefeated in league play since the 1984-85 campaign, when they were in the PCAA. LaRocque, the 2021 Mountain West Coach of the Year went from being the second-youngest coach in Division I women’s basketball when she was hired, at 30 years old, to becoming one of the most sought-after coaches in the nation. With a nationally recognized high school team already in the valley, that being Centennial, and the WNBA’s presence firmly in place, becoming an annual powerhouse in women’s college basketball has been huge for the community.


The Aces winning their second-straight WNBA title wasn’t a surprise to anyone. I know we heard on numerous occasions how they were counted out and underappreciated and disrespected and however else you want to describe it. Wrong. They were always favored to win again, even if the New York Liberty provided a formidable foe. I mean let’s be real, the core of last year’s team was back, so most of the roster had championship experience. Now you throw in the likes of Candace Parker and Alysha Clark, and hoo-wheee – star-studded. Yes, DeArica Hamby was shipped to Los Angeles, but Clark was the Aces’ latest Sixth Player of the Year. Riquana Williams opened the season missing time due to a back injury, but she also mentioned before the season during Media Day she was going to be working on her mental health. Then legal troubles clouded her future. And what happened when Parker was lost for the season? The new starting five was the old starting five that won the 2022 title, as Kiah Stokes simply stepped back into her starting role. The Aces’ seasoned bench ran deep and they never really missed a beat, as the rest of the league was forced to play keep-up. Sure, the Aces were the first team to repeat as champs since the 2002 Sparks, but don’t let the self-proclaimed martyrdom fool you, nobody was surprised.


While the Raiders have been one of the league’s trademark franchises since they arrived from the AFL, they’ve also been one of those NFL teams you either love or hate. There’s really no in-between, just like with the Dallas Cowboys. But I would venture to say with how bad things were getting, and how some of the most beloved players to the community were coming across as dismayed and unhappy to football fans, it was hard not to feel bad in watching firsthand what Josh McDaniels did, again. First, he disrupted the Denver Broncos in his inaugural job as a head coach, a stint he said he learned and matured from, and then he came in and proved he hadn’t grown from his first go-round when he turned a Raiders franchise upside down one year after it endured one of the most trying campaigns off the field with numerous issues. You can bring up any number of the wins, interim coach Antonio Pierce’s appealing personality, or Maxx Crosby being nominated for NFL Man of the Year as the biggest moments for the Raiders. But on Halloween, the Raiders’ season became a little less spooky when the biggest moment of the season came with the dismissal of McDaniels as head coach.


Major League Baseball became the newest professional league to announce its move into Southern Nevada. MLB owners unanimously voted to approve the relocation of the Oakland Athletics from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. Love the league coming to town, but not necessarily excited bout the franchise we’re getting. I mean, between the Golden Knights’ success over six years, and the Aces’ rise to WNBA supremacy, this town can become spoiled with winning, and, quite frankly, we’ve become a city that at the very least deserves an owner who seems to care about the franchise. It remains to be seen if managing partner and owner John Fisher will change his ways, and begin investing better than he has in the past – the A’s ranked dead last in baseball with a $56.8 million payroll – but it has to be better once Las Vegas is sewn on the Athletics’ jerseys. I mean, let’s put it in perspective: Oakland’s entire payroll last season was less than $57 million and the newest Los Angeles Dodger Shohei Ohtani signed a contract that averages $70 million per year. Yep, Fisher will have to do better.


Three months after hitting one of the biggest shots for Gonzaga in his hometown during the NCAA Tournament, Julian Strawther became a first-round NBA draft pick and fulfilled a dream and promise for his late mother, Lourdes, years after she passed following a long battle with breast cancer when he was a little boy. Strawther’s long 3-point shot in the Sweet 16 at T-Mobile that proved to be a dagger to UCLA was merely a preview of what the Denver Nuggets could expect from the 6-foot-6 rookie gunslinger. Heading into Denver’s Christmas game, Strawther appeared in 28 of Denver’s 31 games, producing seven double-digit scoring nights while ranking 11th among rookies with 33.7% shooting from 3-point range (with a minimum 60 attempts). Strawther’s growth from high school to college, and now the NBA may not be as special to others, but considering I remember when he was born, yes, this is undoubtedly a personal choice for me, knowing the pride his father Lee, and sisters, Paige and Paris, beam with every time the Nuggets take the floor.


Making a Top 10 doesn’t always have to come in a positive light. I’m sure this is a bigger story for many, considering the impact the worldly popular sport had on the local economy. But I would imagine a majority of the locals weren’t enthused much by Formula 1’s arrival. I remember attending U2’s show at the newly built Sphere, and the nightmare it was just to park at a nearby resort that doesn’t charge locals for parking. What should have been a two-block walk turned into a cardio sesh I probably needed after an intense leg day, and it was due to construction in preparation for the November race. I respect the attention and money it added to our town, but it’s one event I won’t be sorry to see go after the three-year probationary period.


Having covered the Gaels’ first three national championships, a winning run that included a 55-game win streak with some of the nation’s top players, some of whom are now in the NFL, it was fun to see this year’s version crowned national champs by USA Today and MaxPreps. Not only did Gorman finish a perfect 12-0 and add the Class 5A Division I state championship to its coffers, but eight members of the squad inked their names to national letters of intent to Football Bowl Subdivision schools. There are certainly haters when it comes to Gorman, and its longtime dominance due to the parochial school’s ability to legitimately encourage students to attend, but the growth of this program on a national level brings college scouts to the area every season and that’s better exposure for every school in the valley.


For the second time ever – and in a 10-year span no less – Southern Nevada sent a team to the prestigious Little League World Series. Quite special for the group of Hendo, which represented the Mountain Region. After an opening-round loss, Nevada’s best advanced to the elimination bracket quarterfinals by responding with two victories before losing a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to the Southeast Regional Champion. Henderson was one of the final six teams in the bracket. Been quite some time since I’ve written about Little Leaguers, roughly 15 years, when I was a board member for Lone Mountain Little League and would write stories on the kids for the website, but for someone who remembers when Southern Nevada had a fraction of the number of Little Leagues in Districts 2 and 4, local kids making national headlines will always be a great story we should celebrate.