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Northern Nevada's 16 biggest sports stories of the 2010s

Eric Musselman
Eric Musselman celebrates Nevada's NCAA Tournament win over Cincinnati (Mark Humphrey/AP file)

Technically, it's not the end of the decade. But it is the end of the 2010s, so it's time to look back at the last 10-year period in local sports, which has had some great story lines for Northern Nevada. Here are Nevada Sports Net's 16 biggest sports stories in the 2010s.

1. Colin Kaepernick kneels

Love him or hate it, it's hard to argue Colin Kaepernick's protest of police brutality and social inequality by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games isn't the biggest local sports story of the 2010s. Heck, it might be the biggest national sports story of the last 10 years. In 2016, the Nevada Wolf Pack alum first sat for the anthem and then knelt after conversations with Nate Boyer, a United States Army Green Beret and former Seattle Seahawks long snapper. As you might expect, the move did not please everybody. Kaepernick has been the target of a lot of criticism, inducing from the sitting president, but he's also viewed as a hero in some communities. Kaepernick had a solid 2016 season (59.2 percent completion, 2,241 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, four interceptions, 90.7 quarterback rating) but has been blackballed by the league since then and settled his collusion case against the NFL in 2019 while receiver an undisclosed payment. Kaepernick has been a national and even worldwide topic of conversation for the last four years.

2. Nevada basketball reaches the Sweet 16

Nevada hired Eric Musselman to run its men's basketball program in March 2015 and the results were staggering. Musselman inherited a 9-22 team and won at least 24 games in each of his four seasons on campus before leaving for Arkansas in April 2019. His teams' crowning moment came in 2018 when the Wolf Pack reached the second Sweet 16 in program history. In typical Musselman fashion, the NCAA Tournament wins were dramatic. In a first-round game against Texas, the Wolf Pack erased a 14-point second-half deficit to force overtime before winning by four. In the second round, Nevada trailed Cincinnati, the No. 8 team in the country, by 22 points in the second half before rallying for a 75-73 win on the strength of Josh Hall's game-winning basket with 9.1 seconds remaining. That marked the second-biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. In the Sweet 16, the Wolf Pack fell to Cinderella Loyola Chicago, 69-68.

3. Nevada football beats Boise State

You could easily flop Nos. 2 and 3 on this list, but we gave the edge to the Nevada basketball's big wins because it came in the postseason. Nonetheless, Nevada football had a historic 2010 campaign highlighted by a thrilling come-from-behind win over No. 3-ranked Boise State on what is know as Blue Friday. The Wolf Pack entered its game with Boise State ranked 19th in the Top 25 at 10-1; Boise State was 10-0 and looking at a potential spot in the national title game or Rose Bowl. The Broncos opened a 17-0 lead and was up 24-7 at halftime. The Wolf Pack fought back to tie the game at 31 with 13 seconds remaining before Kellen Moore's Hail Mary set up Boise State for a game-winning 26-yard field goal by Kyle Brotzman. He missed. Brotzman opened overtime with another miss (from 29 yards) before Anthony Martinez nailed the game-winning 34-yarder to give Nevada the greatest victory in program history. The Wolf Pack finished 13-1 and 11th in the country.

4. David Wise's back-to-back golds

Entering the 2014 Olympics, a Reno born and bred athlete had never won Olympic gold. David Wise, a Wooster High graduate who learned to ski at Sky Tavern, changed that (twice over). In 2014, Wise won gold in Sochi in the Olympic debut of the freeski halfpipe. Wise suffered personally and professionally between the 2014 and 2018 Olympics but was in peak form as he headed to PyeongChang. He struggled in qualifying but did enough to place fifth entering the finals, where he failed to compete each of his first two runs thanks to a malfunctioning binding. With one run left to get on the podium, Wise stomped a career-best run to take gold with a score of 97.20 to capture his second Olympic gold.

5. Jamie Anderson's back-to-back golds

Wise wasn't the only local to be showered with Olympic medals during the decade. South Tahoe's Jamie Anderson was even more decorated during the 2010s (we have her a notch below Wise since Wise is a Reno kid). Anderson won gold in Sochi in the Olympic debut of the snowboard slopestyle. She repeated in the same event in PyeongChang four years later, making her the first female snowboarder to win more than one Olympic gold medal. Anderson earned a silver medal in the big air snowboarding event in the 2018 Olympics. South Tahoe's Maddie Bowman also won Olympic gold at the 2014 Olympics in the ski halfpipe. She finished 11th in the 2018 Olympics.

6. California Chrome's Triple Crown run

Before American Pharoah won horse racing's Triple Crown in 2015 and Justify won it in 2018, there was California Chrome, the thoroughbred co-owned by Topaz Lake's Steve and Carolyn Coburn. Chrome rose to fame in 2014 as he attempted to win the first Triple Crown in 36 years. Chrome was a miracle horse in the Sport of Kings, purchased for only $9,500 before rising to the top of the sports world. The morning-line favorite at the Kentucky Derby, Chrome became the fourth California-bred horse to win the Run for the Roses. He then won the Preakness Stakes and was dubbed "America's Horse." Disaster struck at the Belmont Stakes as Chrome was stepped on by Matterhorn out of the gates, cutting his tendon. Chrome still managed to finish fourth behind Tonalist, 1.5 lengths shy of winning the Triple Crown. Steve Coburn generated controversy after the race, saying other horses took "the coward's way out" by not running in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The Coburns sold their 30 percent stake in Chrome in 2015 but the horse went on in 2016 to surpass Curlin as the all-time leading North American horse in earnings won ($14,752,650 in 27 starts).

7. Nevada joins the Mountain West

College athletics went insane in the early 2010s with conferences affiliations shifting with rapid succession and some teams being left without a home. Nevada wasn't left behind in the game of musical chairs. The Wolf Pack moved from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West in 2012 after officially being extended an invitation to the conference on Aug. 18, 2010. (The WAC ended up disbanding football.) The move came with some growing pains as the Wolf Pack joined a more difficult conference with rival schools having larger budgets and better facilities, but Nevada has won seven MW titles in its seven-plus seasons in the league (two in baseball, one in swimming and diving and four in men's basketball). Its basketball program has had the most success in Nevada's MW era, the hiring of Musselman in 2015 changing the program (and athletic department). The hiring of Doug Knuth as athletic director in 2012 also was a big moment for the department.

8. Gabby Williams fourth pick in WNBA draft

An uber-athlete from Sparks, Gabby Williams set the standard for girls basketball players coming out of Northern Nevada. As a high school sophomore, she averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals per game in leading Reed High to a state championship with a win over Reno High. Torn ACLs ended her junior and senior seasons of high school, but she was still named a McDonald's All-American, the third in Northern Nevada's history and first female (David Padgett and Luke Babbitt also were McDonald's All-Americans). At the University of Connecticut, she won back-to-back national titles and compiled a 148-3 record (all three of the losses came by two points in overtime, with two being Final Four games). Williams also became the fifth UConn player to record a triple-double. Eligible for the 2018 WNBA draft, she was the fourth overall pick by the Chicago Sky, becoming the highest-drafted Northern Nevadan in a major sport.

9. Luke and Armon drafted

The Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson story is quite remarkable. Those two will always be intertwined. Johnson set the Nevada state record for high school points until Babbitt broke it one season later. Johnson opted to stay home and play for Nevada, as did Babbitt after verbally committing to Ohio State but signing with the Wolf Pack. The duo played together on the Wolf Pack for two seasons (Johnson played a third college year before Babbitt arrived) and both were early entries into the NBA draft. Babbitt was the 16th pick in 2010 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves but was immediately traded to Portland, which drafted Johnson with the 34th pick. Those two remain the only Northern Nevada locals to be selected in the NBA draft. Babbitt logged seven seasons in the league while Johnson lasted two years.

10. Reno Aces win Triple-A title

The Triple-A Aces have been a staple of downtown Reno since moving to Northern Nevada in 2009. The organization's peak moment came in 2012 when the Aces won the Triple-A championship. Manged by Brett Butler, Reno won the PCL's North Division with a 81-63 record, the third best in the league. The Aces then took down the rival Sacramento River Cats, 3-2, in a best-of-five series in the first round of the playoffs before winning the PCL by topping the Omaha Storm Chasers, 3-1, in another best-of-five set. In a one-game Triple-A championship against Pawtucket, Reno scored the game's first eight runs before securing a 10-3 win at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. Future MLB All-Stars Trevor Bauer (who started the title game) and A.J. Pollock (MVP of the game) were on that team as was future big-leaguer Keon Broxton, whose two-run homer in the third inning put the Aces up 8-0. Thirty-nine big-leaguers played for the Aces that season.

11. Reno 1868 FC is born

Reno has been home to a number of minor-league teams over the years and actually lost one this decade (the G League's Reno Bighorns), but it also saw the birth of a franchise in 2017 when Reno 1868 FC began play in the USL Championship, which is basically the Triple-A version of professional soccer in America. Playing at Greater Nevada Field, Reno 1868 FC has reached the playoffs in each of its first three seasons of existence. Reno is 49-24-25 in three regular seasons in the USL and 1-3 in the playoffs. The franchise also has drawn pretty well, averaging 4,979 supporters per game with a franchise best of 5,559 fans per game in its debut season.

12. Kyle Van Noy wins the Super Bowl

Before Reno High's Ale Kaho went to Alabama and Damonte Ranch's Cade McNamara went to Michigan, McQueen High's Kyle Van Noy was the first major recruit from Northern Nevada to be a national prospect. The athletic linebacker eventually picked BYU and was an All-American there before being a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2013. After two-and-a-half so-so seasons in Detroit, Van Noy was traded to the New England Patriots where he became a starter and the first Northern Nevada native to play in a Super Bowl (Truckee's Ted Popson played in the 1994 Super Bowl, but that school is located in California). Van Noy has played in each of the last three Super Bowls, winning rings in the 2016 and 2018 seasons. In those three Super Bowls, Van Noy has 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. Van Noy has played every defensive snap for the Patriots in the last two Super Bowls.

13. Sharae Zheng wins two national titles

Born and raised in Chengdu, China, Zheng always had a dream of going to college in America, so she taught herself English by reading the dictionary and watching any American movie she could find in hopes that one day she could move to the United States. Nevada made that dream come true in January 2016 by accepting her application for enrollment and two months later she was a collegiate national champion. The 5-foot-1 Zheng won the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events to become Nevada's first national champion since 2002. She also was voted NCAA Diver of the Year while Jian Li You was voted NCAA Diving Coach of the Year. Zheng is one of 11 Wolf Pack athletes to win an NCAA title; she is one of five to win multiple titles.

14. Reno girls win back-to-back state crowns

Northern Nevada winning 4A state championship in the premier high school sports has been rare this decade since that seems to be the domain of Bishop Gorman. But Northern Nevada girls basketball had a run of state titles in the early 2010s. Reed knocked off Reno for the crown in 2012 before Reno won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, beating Bishop Gorman, 52-39, for the first crown and Liberty, 50-30, for the second. Centennial has responded by winning the last five 4A girls state basketball titles, but Reno's back-to-back championships were the most memorable moment for a local high school this decade. In the second state title game, Reno’s Morgan McGwire, Mallory McGwire, Savannah Schulze, Shalen Shaw and Aly Rippingham scored 49 of the Huskies’ 50 points as the team finished the season 30-1. The Huskies were ranked 66th in the nation, making it one of the best girls basketball team in Northern Nevada's history.

15. Manogue stuns Gorman in state semifinal

In one of the largest upsets in Nevada high school history, Bishop Manogue stunned Bishop Gorman, 45-44, in the 2011 boys basketball 4A state semifinals. The Gaels were coming off back-to-back state titles and have won the last eight state crowns, so this upset marks the only time Bishop Gorman has not won the 4A boys basketball title since 2009. The Gaels were teeming with future Division I talent, including future NBA player Shabazz Muhammad and future NFL player Ronnie Stanley, but it was Manogue's Niles Lujan who was the best player on the floor. He scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. The Miners trailed by three with less than 45 seconds to play before two late baskets, including the game-winning layup by Ethan Dillard, won the contest. Alas, Bishop Manogue didn't take home the state title, falling 82-47 to Canyon Springs, but the win over the Gaels is still one of the most shocking results in Northern Nevada preps history.

16. Jake Dalton's back-to-back Olympic bids

Millions of little boys participate in gymnastics but only five grow up to make the U.S. National team every four years. Fernley-born Jake Dalton, a graduate of Spanish Springs High, made the Olympic national team in gymnastics in back-to-back cycles (both 2012 and 2016), becoming the first from the region to accomplish that. While neither appearance ended with a medal, Dalton performed strongly in the team portion of the event. Dalton had five top-three finishes in various events in the qualification stage of the team event and had six top-six finishes in the team finals. In both Olympics, Team USA finished in fifth place. Individually, Dalton's best finishes were fifth in the floor exercise in 2012 and sixth in the same event in 2016. While he didn't come away with an Olympic medal, Dalton showed he was one of the best gymnasts in the world, which is certainly worth applauding.

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