Las Vegas (April 14, 2021)—Las Vegas Aces Head Coach Bill Laimbeer announced today that the team is adding former WNBA player and coach Vanessa Nygaard to the team’s coaching staff. The five-year WNBA veteran joins second-year assistant Tanisha Wright, who helped guide the Aces to the team’s best record in franchise history a year ago. In addition, Tonya Holley, who served as the Aces director of business operations during their first season in Las Vegas, is rejoining the team as its director of basketball operations.
“Vanessa is a great teacher of the game, with coaching experience at all levels including the WNBA and internationally with USA Basketball” said Laimbeer. “She and Tanisha both bring a passion to the game, as well as the perspective of playing and competing against the best in the world. Last season, Tanisha’s impact on our WNBA Finals run was immeasurable as we navigated the challenges of the bubble, and I’m looking forward to working with both of them as a staff in 2021.”
Nygaard played in the WNBA in Cleveland (1999), Portland (2000-01), Miami (2002) and Los Angeles (2003) where she posted career averages of 4.6 points and 2.3 rebounds, while connecting on 36.0 percent of her three-pointers in 107 games. Her best season came in 2000 when she averaged 7.9 points and 3.8 rebounds for the expansion Fire.
“I am honored and excited to join the Las Vegas Aces coaching staff,” said Nygaard. “Coach Laimbeer is a proven winner and General Manager Dan Padover has assembled a championship-caliber team. I am prepared to do whatever I can to assist with the team’s success.”
Nygaard was originally drafted by the New York Liberty in the fourth round (No. 39 overall) of the 1998 Draft, but injuries prevented the 6-1 forward from playing that season.
Prior to turning pro, Nygaard was a four-year standout at Stanford, where she helped lead the Cardinal to three Final Fours. Stanford went 113-14 in her four years in the Bay Area, including 69-2 in Pac-10 play, and she earned All-Conference First Team honors as a senior.
Nygaard began her coaching career during the 2003-04 WNBA offseason, joining the women’s basketball staff at Long Beach State. She would go on to coach at Pepperdine the following year, and later helped lead the San Antonio Silver Stars to the 2008 WNBA Finals as a member of Coach Dan Hughes’ staff.
She returned to the west coast in 2009 as the assistant girls coach at Windward School in Los Angeles. Since taking over as head coach prior to the 2012-13 campaign, Nygaard has won 84 percent of her games, while taking home five CIF Southern Sections Championships and two state titles. She capped off the 2019-20 season by being named Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
The Scottsdale, Arizona native helped USA Basketball to gold medals as an assistant coach for the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, and Nygaard was a court coach at the 2013 USA Women’s U16 National Team Trials.
Tanisha Wright joined the Aces coaching staff prior to the 2020 season after a 14-year WNBA playing career, helping the team to a franchise-best 18-4 record and its second WNBA Finals appearance.
Although she retired as a player after the 2019 season, her path to a career in coaching began in 2017 when she joined the Charlotte 49ers’ staff. Charlotte improved its win total from 14 to 18 to 21 over Wright’s first three seasons, and earned a berth in the WNIT in 2018-19. The 49ers 2019-20 campaign came to an end when COVID-19 canceled the Conference USA Championship as the team was preparing for its quarterfinals game against Western Kentucky. This season, Charlotte earned a trip to the WNIT.
Wright earned WNBA All-Defensive Team honors on seven occasions during her career (First Team—2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014; Second Team—2015, 2016), and her 457 games played are the eighth most in league history. She has also handed out the 10th most assists in WNBA history (1,422), and ranks 29th all-time in career steals (427).
The Brooklyn native played her first 10 seasons with Seattle after the Storm made her the 12th overall pick of the 2005 WNBA Draft. Wright helped lead Seattle to nine straight playoff appearances, and was a member of the 2010 Storm team that won the WNBA Championship.
Her best seasons statistically were from 2009 through 2013, when she averaged 10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
Wright signed with the Laimbeer-helmed Liberty, ultimately playing for three seasons in New York (2015-16, 2019). She also spent one season with the Minnesota Lynx (2018).
Prior to turning pro, Wright was a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Penn State. She led the conference in scoring as a senior averaging 19.3 points per game, and was named a First-Team USBWA All-American.
Tonya Holley is a 17-year veteran of the WNBA who worked for the Aces during their inaugural season as the team’s director of business operations. Prior to that, she worked for the San Antonio Stars as the team’s athletic trainer and director of business operations. She joined the Stars in 2006 after five years in a variety of capacities with the Charlotte Sting.
Holley has worked as an athletic trainer at Temple and as a performance enhancement instructor in New Jersey. Prior to joining the WNBA, Holley was an assistant athletic trainer at Winthrop University. She spent the 2012-13 offseason in Russia working with the Spartak V MR basketball team that employed WNBA players Becky Hammon, Seimone Augustus and Candice Dupree. She also served as head athletic trainer for Russia’s CSKA Moscow during the 2008-09 off-season.
A native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Holley earned her bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College where she played softball and basketball before graduating in 1997.