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Andy Yamashita’s best of 2023: Aces repeat as champs, F1 arrives

Updated December 26, 2023 - 9:26 am

Las Vegas continues to establish itself as the sports and entertainment capital of the world.

This year saw the arrival of Formula One, another WNBA championship for the Aces, the revival of UNLV football and several club and international soccer games at Allegiant Stadium, among other big-time spectacles.

It’s been a privilege to cover all the different events calling Las Vegas home.

Here are five of my best stories from 2023:

1. How volleyball turned A’ja Wilson into the WNBA’s best shot blocker

One of the many impressive things about Wilson is she could have been an Olympic-caliber athlete in multiple sports.

She shines on the basketball court for the Aces, where she’s the two-time WNBA defensive player of the year. Yet she credits her shot-blocking prowess to the few seasons she played volleyball in her youth. Those who saw her play believe she could’ve been one of the greatest volleyball players the sport has ever seen.

2. Beckyball 101: How Becky Hammon’s ‘basic’ offense turned the Aces into a juggernaut

Hammon’s offense powered the Aces to consecutive WNBA championships, yet she continues to preach its simplicity. The principles that created a scoring juggernaut became clearer after speaking with other coaches in the Las Vegas area, including UNLV women’s basketball coach Lindy La Rocque.

3. UNLV volleyball coach arrives with big name, desire to build

Malia Shoji, UNLV’s volleyball coach, has one of the most recognizable surnames in the sport.

Her path to UNLV has always been her own, however. It’s taken her in and out of volleyball as she forged a career off her own tenacity and hard work. The Rebels are another opportunity for her to invest in a project and recreate it in her own image.

4. REPEAT: Short-handed Aces win second straight WNBA championship

The Aces weren’t expected to be in this position. Devastating injuries to starters Kiah Stokes and Chelsea Gray during Game 3 of the WNBA Finals meant the team had to rely on its little-used depth to win a championship.

Coach Becky Hammon threw every defensive scheme she had at the New York Liberty, and the Aces — led by WNBA Finals MVP A’ja Wilson — left everything on the court to beat their upstart rivals 70-69 in Game 4. They clinched their second consecutive title with the win and became the first team to repeat as WNBA champions since 2001.

5. Verstappen finally embraces Las Vegas after winning Grand Prix

While debate about Formula One’s return to Las Vegas raged off the track, the inaugural race on the Las Vegas street circuit lived up to its billing.

Las Vegas put on one of the best races of the F1 season. It featured daring last-lap overtakes, turn-one chaos and three different race leaders. The drama was a rarity during a season dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Plus, it all took place under the bright lights of the Strip. Even Verstappen, vocal in his displeasure about the race all week, found himself singing “Viva Las Vegas” after claiming the win.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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