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updated: 12/30/2011 6:57 PM

Counting down the top womens' events of 2011

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  • DePaul coach Doug Bruno applauds during the second half against Penn State in a second-round NCAA women's college basketball tournament game Monday, March 21, 2011, in State College, Pa. DePaul won 75-73 to advance to the next round.

      DePaul coach Doug Bruno applauds during the second half against Penn State in a second-round NCAA women's college basketball tournament game Monday, March 21, 2011, in State College, Pa. DePaul won 75-73 to advance to the next round.
    Associated Press

  • Illinois' Jennifer Beltran, center, celebrates a point with teammates Colleen Ward, left, Annie Luhrsen and Liz McMahon, right, during the NCAA championship match against UCLA. The Illini fell 3-1 but finished as national runners-up for the first time.

      Illinois' Jennifer Beltran, center, celebrates a point with teammates Colleen Ward, left, Annie Luhrsen and Liz McMahon, right, during the NCAA championship match against UCLA. The Illini fell 3-1 but finished as national runners-up for the first time.
    Associated Press

 
 

It's New Year's Eve!

Time to party and time to reflect.

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Before we officially ring in 2012, let's look back at the top women's sports stories of 2011.

Happy New Year!

10) The old and the new: While DePaul basketball coach Doug Bruno completed his 25th season in the spring and inched up on his 500th career win, two basketball teams were enjoying major firsts. Behind star rookie forward Maya Moore, the Minnesota Lynx won its first WNBA title by sweeping the Atlanta Dream in a best-of-three series. Meanwhile in April, Texas A&M won its first NCAA title in school history. The Aggies took down Notre Dame in the championship game, 76-70.

9) Back to the Bandits: The NPF championship trophy is back in the hands of the Chicago Bandits, who earned their second league title in team history in August. The Bandits swept the USSSA Pride in the NPF's best-of-three championship series held in Sulphur, Louisiana.

8) Danica done with Indy: Danica Patrick announced in August she was leaving the IndyCar series to compete full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Patrick is the only woman to win in the IndyCar Series (2008 Indy Japan 300) and also holds the highest finish (third in 2009) of any woman at the Indianapolis 500.

7) Sky-lights: The Pokey Chatman Era began in Chicago this summer as Chatman, one of the most successful young coaches in the college and international game, was eager to try her hand at the WNBA. Although the Chicago Sky once again failed to make the playoffs, the team had many bright moments, including the play of center Sylvia Fowles. Fowles made a strong case for league MVP honors, and probably would have won if the Sky had reached the postseason. As it was, Fowles (2 bpg) was named second-team WNBA as well as the league's defensive player.

6) Summitt still fighting: It will be her toughest fight yet. But legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt is used to weathering the storm only to come out on the winning side. The steely-eyed 59-year-old eight-time national champion announced in August she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She immediately came out with a video assuring everyone she was still fit to coach her beloved Lady Vols. So far, so good. Tennessee is 7-3 and ranked seventh in the country.

5) Cup runneth over: For a few days this summer, Americans were into soccer. Women's soccer. The U.S. team made an exciting run through the FIFA World Cup and advanced to the championship game. People were tweeting about it, posting good luck wishes and updating Facebook pages. The hype was all over the place leading up to the title game, which didn't disappoint. The Americans had fans on the edge of their seats before finally falling to Japan in a penalty shootout. Japan became the first Asian team to win the World Cup.

4) Getting her due: Ten years into a career that has included multiple all-star designations, defensive player of the year awards and statistics that have been perennially among the best in the WNBA, Tamika Catchings finally received her ultimate crowning glory. Catchings, who starred at Stevenson High School in the mid-1990s, was named the MVP of the WNBA at the end of the summer. Catchings, a forward for the Indiana Fever, was the leader of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and ranked among the leaders in the league in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes.

3) Nothing lax about it: The championship hardware continues to pile up for the Northwestern lacrosse team. In the spring, the Wildcats again won the NCAA national championship. Amazingly, it was Northwestern's sixth national title in the last seven years. The one blemish? Well, it's hardly a blemish. In 2010, instead of finishing as the national champions, the Wildcats finished as the national runners-up.

2) Volleyball victors: The Illinois volleyball team didn't get the happy ending it wanted, but the ride was pretty darn good. The Illini advanced to the NCAA Final Four in December for the first time in 23 years and just the third time in school history by defeating Florida in a highly charged regional final on Florida's own court. Behind the stellar play of All-American Colleen Ward, Illinois then advanced to the national title game by defeating USC. However, the Illini couldn't finish the job and fell to UCLA 3-1. Still, the national runner-up finish for Illinois is the best in school history.

1. High-15: Give a high-five to the WNBA for 15 years of action. The league celebrated its milestone anniversary this summer, proudly defying the odds and lasting longer than any other women's professional sports league in U.S. history. The WNBA officially marked the occasion when the New York Liberty took on the Sparks in Los Angeles. In 1997, those two teams played the very first game in WNBA history, also in Los Angeles.

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