It's almost time to ring in 2013!
But before we say goodbye to 2012, let's recap the top 10 national and local women's sports stories of the year.
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10. Big showing: What a great year it was for Big Ten volleyball. Although a conference team didn't win the 2012 national championship, the league did flex its muscles from top to bottom as the strongest in the country. An impressive seven teams earned spots in the 64-team NCAA Tournament. Six advanced to the Sweet 16 and four reached the Elite Eight. Penn State and Michigan made it to the Final Four earlier this month. With plenty of talent returning, 2013 looks just as bright.
9. No champ: In one of the oddest twists in a championship series, National Pro Fastpitch decided not to crown a 2012 champion. Rain was to blame. The Chicago Bandits were one game away from clinching their second straight NPF championship when it poured like crazy in Rosemont on game day in late August. It was the last day of the series and the league had not planned for a rain date. So the series and the season came to an abrupt end with no champion named. Ugh.
8. Shocking admission: It was tough to read the stories that came out last week about former Olympian and Big Ten legend Suzy Favor Hamilton. The 44-year-old long-distance runner admitted she'd been working over the last year for a Las Vegas escort service as a high-priced call girl. Favor Hamilton, who has cited depression as an explanation for her behavior, had been viewed as an all-American success story and had multiple endorsement deals before the story broke. Many of her partners, including Disney, have backed away. The Big Ten Conference, which named its female athlete of the year award after Favor Hamilton, has had no comment.
7. Bear-ly challenged: The Baylor Bears rolled to the NCAA women's basketball national title, and seemed to barely break a sweat in the process. They beat Notre Dame in the championship game 80-61 to wrap up the NCAA's first ever 40-0 season. The Bears also became just the seventh undefeated national champion in history. Of course, the talk of the NCAA Tournament was 6-foot-8 dunking center Brittney Griner, who will likely be the No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft.
6. Ring-a-ding-ding: Soon, Northwestern lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller will have more rings than fingers. The Wildcats won another national title in May by defeating Syracuse 8-6 in the championship game. That makes seven NCAA titles in the last eight years for Northwestern, which has quickly evolved from club team to perennial power over Amonte Hiller's 10-year career in Evanston. The Wildcats' seven titles rank second behind the 10 that Maryland won between 1986 and 2010. Interestingly, Amonte Hiller was in on some of those championships at Maryland as a player.
5. Fever pitch: One of the kindest and sportsmanlike athletes in professional sports got her just desserts in October. When the Indiana Fever defeated the Minnesota Lynx in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Chicago native and former Stevenson High School star Tamika Catchings got the first WNBA title of her otherwise illustrious professional career. Catchings was overwhelmed that her 12-year crusade for the trophy was over. "I just started crying, almost hyperventilating crying," Catchings said of stepping on the awards stage. "I mean, it's been 12 years. There have been ups and downs and trials and tribulations, and I just felt so excited to have this monkey off my back. This has been an amazing journey."
4. 40 years strong: In 2012, American women, especially female athletes, celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of legislation of our time. Title IX was the 1972 law that required both men and women receive equal opportunities for participation and benefits at all institutions that receive federal assistance. Although the original law didn't specifically mention sports, the positive effects of Title IX can be seen most prominently in the explosion of sports opportunities for women at the collegiate and high school levels.
3. Hear us roar: American female athletes so thoroughly dominated the Olympics in London this summer it's as if they comprised their own country. The U.S. women racked up 58 medals, better than all but three countries (China, Russia and Great Britain). Of those 58 medals, 29 were gold. And only China (38) and Great Britain (29) won more golds than the U.S. women. Also, the American women topped the American men in both overall medals won (58-45) and gold medals won (29-17). The American women were dominant in the pool, at the track and in the gymnastics arena. They also won gold in tennis, soccer, basketball, beach volleyball, water polo, judo, boxing and shooting.
2. Pixie dust: Perhaps no one captured the hearts of American Olympic watchers more than U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas. The sweet and smiley teenager won the all-around title and made history by becoming the first black gymnast to earn that distinction. Meanwhile, Gabby's teammates did their best not to be overshadowed as they helped the United States win the team gold medal. Aly Raisman won a total of 3 medals in London, the most by any American gymnast.
1. Stopping at the Summitt: The inevitable happened in April, but it was still a sad day for women's basketball when legendary coach Pat Summitt announced she was stepping down from her post at Tennessee. Summitt's retirement just weeks after the 2011-12 season ended put the wraps on a 38-year career that was highlighted by 1,098 victories and eight national championships. Just 60 years old, the iconic Summitt would likely still be clenching her clipboard today had she not been diagnosed in August of 2011 with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She announced back then that she was excited to continue coaching and was ready for the 2011-12 campaign. But the strains of the season wore on her and it became more obvious as the season progressed last winter that she had turned over most in-game responsibilities to her assistant coaches. Summitt's top assistant, Holly Warlick, was named Summitt's replacement in April and Summitt is now Tennessee's head coach emeritus. It's weird that Summitt no longer sits at the top of that program. However, her place at the top of the list of legends of the game is firmly cemented for eternity.