Biggest local sports moments of 2019

We waited right until the very end of the year to get our list of biggest sports moments out the door, just in case any surprise contenders came crashing through the wall late.

With that said, not every local team has a spot on this list. A year after the Caps’ title run, 2019 was somewhat quiet (and this season is still being written). Sure, there was change in Ashburn, including Bruce Allen’s ouster Monday, but until we see exactly what direction things go from here, we’ll wait on weighing in.

So with no further ado, here were 10 moments that stood out in local sports this year.

10. Coco Gauff takes Citi Open by storm

Coco Gauff made international headlines this summer after beating Venus Williams and storming to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon at just 15 years of age. Her next stop? The Citi Open in D.C., where she had to qualify just to make the main field. That she did, capturing the crowd along the way, before bowing out in the Round of 32. With a commitment to return to D.C. in 2020 already in the books, let the hype for the summer begin.

9. Georgetown soccer wins title in PKs

A rollicking, back-and-forth game that saw Georgetown push ahead in the 81st minute, only for Virginia to tie it in the 86th couldn’t be settled by two overtime periods. Deadlocked 3-3, nobody could miss in penalty kicks until the Hoyas’ freshman keeper Tomas Romero saved Axel Gunnarsson’s shot on in the seventh round, clinching the first ever soccer title for the Hoyas. Despite featuring a matchup of the nation’s top two defenses, Georgetown and Virginia combined for six goals, the three against the Cavaliers marking a season high.

8. Maryland women’s lacrosse caps dominant decade

Ten years, 10 Final Fours. In fact, Cathy Reese’s teams have made lacrosse’s final weekend in each of her 13 years in College Park, winning their fifth national title of the decade and fourth in the last seven years this spring. The women’s lacrosse team won half of the 10 national titles across all sports, men’s or women’s at the school this decade. They avenged their lone loss, a 16-11 defeat to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, with a 25-13 thrashing in the national semifinal, their highest scoring game all year.

7. Rooney announces he’s leaving

Wayne Rooney’s arrival in Washington as Audi Field opened seemed to chart the course for a new era of D.C. United. He combined with Luciano Acosta to provide arguably the most exciting tandem in franchise history, and with a 3.5-year contract, seemed to be a stabilizing force. But soccer can be highly unstable, and just a year-and-a-half into his tenure, Rooney is headed back to England, with Acosta following out the door, just two first-round playoff exits to show for their union.

6. Wizards fire Ernie Grunfeld

At long last, Ted Leonsis opted for a change in leadership, as the Washington Wizards revamped their entire basketball operation for the 2019-20 campaign. Under Grunfeld’s tenure, the team constantly mortgaged the future for the present, trading away draft picks for reinforcements. But the Wizards were never one role player or complementary piece from a title, so their midrange finishes piled up, all while the reserves of young talent ran dry. While we still don’t know what to expect from John Wall once he returns, at least the focus has returned to development, as the Wizards chart a new path forward.

5. Strasburg returns, Rendon doesn’t

Despite winning the World Series, the Washington Nationals gave every indication they were only willing to spend to re-sign one of their two big free agents on this year’s open market. That one always was likely to be Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick who has defined this era of Nats baseball as much as anyone and who was fresh off a World Series MVP. But that meant saying goodbye to Rendon, who leaves a tremendous void at third base in his wake, both offensively and defensively.

4. Rose Lavelle’s goal seals World Cup

The American women dominated the group stage of this summer’s World Cup, but found more resistance in the knockout stage, including the Final. They found themselves in a tough fight with a game Netherlands squad, heading into halftime in a 0-0 draw. They pushed ahead on a penalty kick that only came about through VAR, and might have felt lucky to have a lead at all in the 68th minute, when Lavelle took the ball from 40 yards out and ran all the way to the top of the box, letting fly a wicked strike just before two defenders converged upon her. As she spun to the turf, she saw the ball escape to the diving keeper’s left, her face exploding with joy and exuberance, knowing what everyone else in Paris and around the world knew, that the World Cup was theirs once again.

3. Virginia finds redemption

If you were going to write the story of redemption for the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed, you’d play up the drama for maximum effect. They’d have to trail the opening round 16 seed again, by double digits, to start. They’d have to trail every game, to need a miracle to force overtime in one game, then another to win the next. They’d need heart-stopping drama at every turn, making you think that redemption is too good to be true. And then, they’d have to cap it all off with not just a Final Four, but the first national title in program history (in overtime, naturally). Good thing Virginia stuck to the script.

2. Mystics run it back

After heartbreak in 2018, the Washington Mystics weren’t going to be stopped this year. Battling lingering injuries throughout the regular season and the playoffs, they found another gear with the return of Emma Meesseman, whose role continued to grow and blossom all the way to the decisive Game 5 finish at home, ultimately leading to her being named WNBA Finals MVP. For the rest of the crew, a title was validation of a yearlong promise to “run it back,” to make good on the promise of the talent and experience in D.C. To do it all on their brand-new home floor was just icing.

1. Nationals win World Series

It never really seemed real, or possible, until that leather sphere clanked off the yellow-painted pole in right field at Minute Maid Park. At no point did the Nats seem like they would actually pull it off, not with their history, not with the way the Wild Card Game, or Game 5 in LA, or Game 7 in Houston actually unfolded. Not until Howie Kendrick’s opposite field blast suddenly shifted the balance of the final game of the baseball season did the Nats ever feel like favorites to actually bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to South Capitol Street. And yet, here they are.

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