Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis puts money where his mouth is


Ahead of his second season as owner of the Las Vegas Aces, Mark Davis says his investment in the WNBA franchise is simply a classic case of putting your money where your mouth is.

When MGM Resorts purchased the WNBA’s San Antonio franchise and moved it to Las Vegas before the 2018 season, Davis was among the first to purchase season tickets. And although the Raiders wouldn’t move to Las Vegas until after the 2019 NFL season, Davis could still be found at as many games as possible, often bending the ear of MGM Resorts president Bill Hornbuckle.

“During each game, I would tell him, ‘Listen, you got to pay these girls more money; you got to pay these girls more money,” Davis recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. “And finally, he turned to me and said, ‘Listen, if you think they should get more money, you pay them. Buy the team.’ And I laughed, and he said, ‘I’m not joking.’”

About a week later, Hornbuckle rang Davis to discuss his offer, and on Feb. 12, 2021, the WNBA and NBA approved Davis’ purchase of the Aces.

Davis points to his father, Al Davis, for his love of the women’s game. The elder Davis – principal owner of the Raiders from 1972 until his death in 2011 – was a fervent women’s basketball enthusiast, and according to his son, his knowledge of WNBA athletes rivaled his knowledge of football players.

“He would know their high schools, where they went to college, their coaches and all of that stuff, so I got an interest in women’s basketball early on,” explained the 66-year-old Davis.

But his passion for the women’s game isn’t the only thing that Davis credits his father for: In a round-about way, Davis says he has his father to thank for securing WNBA great Becky Hammon as the Aces’ head coach ahead of the 2022 season.

Taking a cue from the Raiders’ alumni program, which was established by Al Davis and was the first of its kind in the league, Davis invited former players from the Aces, Utah Starzz (where the franchise began in 1997) and San Antonio Stars (where the franchise relocated from 2002-17) to visit the program for each home game last season. Hammon, who played for San Antonio from 2007-14 and was an assistant coach for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs at the time, was among them.

“Each game, …we would bring in alumni, take them out to dinner the night before the game, get a chance to know them, talk to them, talk about their history in the WNBA,” he explained. “And through that process is how we met Natalie (Williams, Aces’ GM) and Becky. And with Becky, I knew right away that I wanted her to be a part of this organization one way or another.”

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Davis said he believes the alumni are “the most valuable asset we have,” and in celebrating the WNBA’s 25th anniversary last season, it was important to recognize the women who paved the way.

“We wanted to honor the fact that that this franchise was 25 years old, and to bring these women back, and to let them know that we understand that it was them upon whose backs this league was built upon, and that who’s going to help us bring the league into the future.”

What’s more, Davis is particularly proud of the way the Aces have embraced the “Just win, baby” motto that’s been synonymous with Raider Nation since Oakland’s NFL Super Bowl victory in 1984.

“It’s just amazing what kind of a family we’re building over at the Aces in the front office and on the court, and you take that ‘Just win, baby,’ and it’s ‘Just win – on and off the court,’” he said.

In particular, it’s been the WNBA players’ impact on social and political issues that have most impressed Davis, who points in particular to former Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia politician Kelly Loeffler. After Loeffler wrote the WNBA a public letter in July 2020 objecting to players wearing shirts with “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” printed on them, players clapped back publicly and forcefully. Loeffler lost her bid to keep her appointed U.S. Senate seat, and less than two months later, she sold the Dream.

“The women showed me how to organize and do things the right way,” said Davis. “Using your vote as a weapon was something that is talked about, but I hadn’t seen it really be done in action. And I believe that women at the WNBA helped flip the United States Senate through the vote and doing it in the right way. And so I’m honored to be associated with women of this type.”

The Aces face the Minnesota Lynx in Minneapolis for their lone preseason game on Sunday, with regular-season action kicking off on the road vs. the Phoenix Mercury on Friday, May 6. Their home opener is May 8 vs. the Seattle Storm.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: ‘Natural-born leader’ Angel McCoughtry steps into veteran role as Lynx chase fifth WNBA title

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.

USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)


  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”