Serena Williams: Williams nearly died from complications after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. She made a remarkable tennis comeback in 2018, advancing to two Grand Slam finals — Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Williams, who turns 38 in September, heads into 2019 with 23 career Grand Slam titles, one shy of tying Margaret Court’s record. Williams will begin her 2019 quest to tie and perhaps break Court’s record in January at the Australian Open.
Alex Morgan: Morgan continues to be a star player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team and will be a major name to watch in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which starts in June in France. Morgan scored 18 goals in 19 games for the national team in 2018 and was named the U.S. women’s player of the year. She will be counted to play a major role for the U.S. as it tries to win back-to-back World Cups for the first time in its history.
Becky Hammon: Hammon became the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching job when she met with the Bucks in May. Hammon didn’t get the position, but was promoted to the front of the bench as an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the Spurs in June. Hammon is a name to watch when the next round of head coaching jobs likely will open in the spring and summer of 2019. There never has been a female head coach in the four major professional team sports leagues in North America.
Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn: Shiffrin, who doesn’t turn 24 until March, started 2018 by winning two skiing medals, including one gold, at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She is off to a strong start on the World Cup circuit with a massive lead in the overall standings. Shiffrin got her 36th career slalom victory on Saturday, the most by a female skier in World Cup history. Vonn said this will be her final season on the World Cup circuit, although she has missed the start due to a knee injury. Vonn is four World Cup wins shy from tying Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86.
Ariya Jutanugarn: The Thai golfer is the top-ranked player in the world and just completed one of the greatest seasons in LPGA history. She finished the year by winning the CME Group Tour Championship in November, which clinched her a $1-million bonus. She also won the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the LPGA money title, the Rolex Annika Major Award, and Vare Trophy for low scoring. Jutanugarn is just 23 and already has won 10 LPGA Tour titles and two major championships.
Arike Ogunbowale: Ogunbowale’s basketball skills for Notre Dame in the 2018 Women’s Final Four was amazing. She hit a step-back buzzer-beater to defeat unbeaten No. 1 Connecticut in the semifinals and followed that 48 hours later with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Mississippi State in the national title game. Notre Dame is expected to be a national title contender again in 2019. What will Ogunbowale do for an encore?
Amanda Nunes: Nunes, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, moves up a division to challenge featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, considered the best female MMA fighter ever, at UFC 232 on Saturday. Win or lose, Nunes will remain the bantamweight champion. She hasn’t lost in four years heading into the Cyborg fight, an eight-fight streak that includes wins over Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Valentina Shevchenko, all former or current UFC champions. Nunes is only 30 and coming into her own as a fighter and as a draw for fans in both arenas and on pay-per-view.
The next WNBA president: The WNBA has had four presidents in its history and all have been women. The replacement for Lisa Borders, who stepped down in October, will have major issues to deal with. A new collective-bargaining agreement needs to be negotiated with the players, who want change and have been particularly outspoken about attaining better salaries. The new president also will need to move the league forward and build on the momentum of the successful 2018 season.
Simone Biles: It’s not an Olympic year in 2019, but it’s the start of the road to the 2020 Summer Games in Toyko. Biles finished 2018 with a spectacular performance by winning six medals at the world gymnastics championships in Doha, Qatar, in November. Next up for Biles will be the 2019 U.S. and world championships. Strong performances in those meets will only intensify talk of Biles potentially becoming the most decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast in history in Tokyo.
Katie Ledecky: Ledecky turned pro in March, forgoing her final two seasons of college eligibility at Stanford to focus on training for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Ledecky had a sensational 2018, smashing her own world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle by five seconds (her 14th world record). She was also named U.S. swimmer of the year for a record-tying fifth time. Ledecky could give a glimpse of what to expect in 2020 when she competes in the 2019 FINA World Swimming Championships in South Korea this summer.
With Mark LaMonica