2023 wish list: Top women’s sports storylines to follow in the new year
USWNT goes for historic three-peat at FIFA Women’s World Cup
The countdown is on to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, July 20-Aug. 20, where the U.S. Women’s National Team will look to defend their 2019 title at the tournament cohosted by Australia and New Zealand. The four-time World Cup champs also have their sights set on a historic three-peat, after taking the title in 2015 and 2019. The U.S. women could become the first team in either the women’s or men’s game to win three successive World Cups.
The current USWNT includes a healthy mix of newcomers and veterans, led by Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe, winner of both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball in 2019. But an infusion of new talent is already capturing attention, led by former Stanford teammates Sophia Smith and Naomi Girma, and 20-year-old Trinity Rodman, who was a Ballon d’Or finalist this year. Smith, a member of the 2022 NWSL championship-winning Portland Thorns, earned league MVP honors, while Girma won both Rookie and Defender of the Year awards last season.
We’re looking forward to seeing more of this new-look USWNT in the new year, including next month in New Zealand, where they’ll play a two-game series (Jan. 17 and 20) against the co-host nation. The U.S. women kick off their title defense Friday, July 21, with their first World Cup Group E match vs. tournament newcomer Vietnam.
G.O.A.T watch 2023: Mikaela Shiffrin, Katie Ledecky chase history
To say the last week of the year was a momentum builder is an understatement for alpine racer Mikaela Shiffrin, who swept three straight World Cup races – two giant slalom, one slalom – in Semmering, Austria, to bring her career total to 80 wins. The number puts her two wins away from the women’s record of 82 wins, held by fellow American Lindsey Vonn, and six wins away from the all-time record of 86 held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.
The 27-year-old Shiffrin, who’s won six races this season and is on a four-win streak, could tie Vonn’s record as early as next week in Zagreb, Croatia, which will host slalom races on Jan. 4 and 5. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has four previous slalom victories at Zagreb and finished second there in 2020 and 2022.
Also chasing an American legend for all-time honors is swimming great Katie Ledecky, who heads into 2023 as the AP Female Athlete of the Year, earning the honor for the second time in her career. Ledecky edged out track star Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone in balloting after winning all four of her races at the FINA World Championships in June, setting two world records in the process and becoming the first swimmer to win five consecutive world titles in one individual event (800m freestyle).
She now owns 22 career world championships medals, including 19 gold, which bests the previous U.S. women’s record of 20, held by Natalie Coughlin (eight gold). Ledecky’s 19th career gold at 2022 worlds broke a tie with Ryan Lochte for the second-most in history and puts her just seven back of Michael Phelps (26). She’ll take aim at another all-time record this July at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, where just one in individual world title would tie her with Phelps’ record of 15.
2023 Solheim Cup: Americans head to Spain as underdogs?
The ultimate women’s team golf event heads to an intriguing new venue, Finca Cortesin Golf Club in Andalucia, Spain. The club played host to the men’s Volvo World Match Play Championship three times from 2009-2012 and will serve as the biennial event’s backdrop for its 18th edition. The European squad, winners of the last two matches at Inverness Club in Ohio (2021) and Gleneagles in Scotland (2019), will be captained by Norway’s two-time major winner Suzann Pettersen, who boasts an 18-12-6 record overall in nine Solheim Cup appearances. The 15-time LPGA winner is known for her mic-drop moment at the 2019 matches, where she holed the winning putt for the Europeans after being away from the game on maternity leave for nearly 20 months prior to the event.
For the Americans, who have won the cup 10 times in the matches’ history, they’ll look to win the cup for the first time since 2017 and the first time on foreign soil since 2015 in Germany. Stacy Lewis, a four-time U.S. Solheim Cup team member (5-10-1 overall record), will serve as captain of the American squad, which perhaps for the first time could be considered the underdogs. Currently, there are six Americans in the top 30 of the Rolex Rankings compared to seven European players. The calendar date – set for Sept. 18-24 – should give the matches an added boost, too, as they fall one week before the men’s Ryder Cup in Rome.
Can South Carolina repeat as NCAA women’s basketball champions?
The South Carolina women’s basketball team hasn’t missed a beat since winning the 2022 NCAA national championship last April, blazing through six post-season games including a 64-49 win over UConn in the tournament final. And the Gamecocks have kicked off the 2022-23 season with a 12-game win streak, maintaining their hold of the top spot in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll for 27 consecutive weeks.
The Gamecocks reached a milestone in the process, with their 27-week streak marking the fifth-longest run of all time. UConn holds the record for the longest streak at 51 weeks, dating from Feb. 18, 2008, to Dec. 10, 2010. Louisiana Tech has the second longest at 36 weeks, and the Huskies also hold the third and fourth spots on the list, with 34- and 30-week runs at No. 1. South. Carolina started last season at No. 1 and hasn’t relinquished the ranking since. With more than eight weeks left in the regular season, the Gamecocks are on track to keep climbing the all-time list.
Whether or not they’ll repeat as national champions remains to be seen, but it would mark the third national title for head coach Dawn Staley, who also was at the helm for South Carolina’s 2017 championship win over Mississippi State. Staley has four starters back this season, including 2022 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, Victaria Saxton, Brea Beal and Zia Cooke (only Destanni Henderson graduated). Boston, who’s averaging 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds and is expected to be a frontrunner for various player-of-the-year awards again this season.
WTA celebrates its 50th anniversary
It was June 21, 1973 – the eve of Wimbledon Championships – when the already nine-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King called a players’ meeting at London’s Gloucester Hotel that would change the course of women’s professional tennis. Frustrated by the obvious gender inequity and an establishment that split the talent pool among competing circuits, King spearheaded the players’ efforts to formally join forces and pioneer their own destiny. Since then, what began as a players’ union has morphed into member association between athletes and the more than 50 tournaments on six continents, boasting parity in all Grand Slam prize money since 2007. Heading into 2023, the WTA notes that 32 countries are represented in the Top 100 of the WTA rankings, with more than 900 million fans worldwide expected to take in tour action next year.
To celebrate, the organization has unveiled a season-long campaign that will pay tribute to the game’s legends as well as its current stars — but through a lens focused on the future. Called “WTA 50: Just Starting,” the campaign will highlight not only what can be done to improve the sporting landscape for women around the world, but also how the WTA can “effectively champion equality and inclusivity for all.” Cheers to the next 50 years!