Babcock McGraw: Top women's sports stories
Happy New Year! Before we get too far into 2015, let's take a look back at my list of the top women's sports stories in 2014.
10. Net dominance:
Big Ten volleyball dominated the national scene, with nearly half the conference ranked in the Top 25 all fall.
That's the way the season ended last month, with the Big Ten dominating. Six league schools made the NCAA tournament and four advanced to the Sweet 16.
Penn State capped off the Big Ten's impressive wire-to-wire run with a decisive victory in the NCAA national championship match on Dec. 20. The Nittany Lions rolled BYU in a 25-21, 26-24, 25-14 sweep. It was the seventh title overall for Penn State, which has won six of the last eight NCAA titles and two straight.
9. Real hero:
The inspiring story of the year goes to Lauren Hill.
She's the freshman basketball player at Mt. St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Two months after committing to play basketball for the Lions, the Indiana native got devastating news. She learned that a brain cancer called DIPG (diffuse intrinsic potine glioma) would kill her in less than two years.
Around November, doctors were afraid that the tumor on her brainstem had grown so quickly that Hill probably wouldn't make it to the end of December. She wanted to play at least one game for Mt. St. Joseph's. The team's season opener was moved up, carried on national television and held at Xavier's arena to accommodate a larger crowd. Among the high-profile figures in the women's basketball community to attend was Sky forward Elena Delle Donne. Hill, whose health has further declined, scored on the first play of that game. Her charity has raised more than $1 million.
8. Sweet win:
The most consistently successful college basketball program in Illinois continues to be the DePaul women.
Coach Doug Bruno's team recorded one of its best wins in school history in March when it upset host Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the second round of the NCAA tournament. That propelled the Blue Demons to the Sweet 16. DePaul continues to be one of the top teams in the country. The Blue Demons are currently ranked No. 25.
7. Jumping off point:
Veteran American ski jumper Lindsey Van and her contemporaries made history in Sochi in February, competing in the inaugural running of the sport on the Olympic program.
Despite requests from female ski jumpers since 1998 for inclusion in the Olympics, the IOC continuously refused to add ski jumping for females, citing that the sport lacked certain qualifications, such as a history of world championships.
One member of the IOC, Gian Franco Kasper, even said women should not be included in ski jumping because it "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
6. Magic moment:
In January, shock waves hit the WNBA when the Los Angeles Sparks laid off their front office staff and suspended operations. A marquee cornerstone of the league, the Sparks had lost $12 million since 2007, including $1.4 million in 2013.
In February, Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter partnered to buy the Sparks, saving the franchise, from relocation or contraction.
5. Health scare:
WNBA fans in Chicago were on Lyme disease watch all summer. Sky forward Elena Delle Donne, the 2013 rookie of the year, was headed toward a special second season when she was suddenly stricken with what her doctor called a flare-up of the Lyme disease that first hit her in Delaware shortly after graduating from high school.
Delle Donne played in only 16 of the Sky's 34 regular-season games, spending most of her time visiting doctors and staying hooked to IV's for hours at a time to keep her fluids up. Delle Donne did rebound in time to lead the Sky on a magical run through the WNBA playoffs.
4. Girl power:
One of the most talked about stories to come out of the summer's Little League World Series involved Mo'ne Davis, the first American girl to play in the event since 2004.
Not only did she "play," but she was a star pitcher for her team (Taney) from Philadelphia.
Davis, who could hit 70 miles per hour on her fastball, was the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. She is also the first Little League player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
3. Still going:
It seems like only yesterday they burst onto the professional tennis scene with their beaded braids, but now Venus and Serena Williams are the stateswomen of the pro game. Serena hit a couple of milestones in September when she won the U.S. Open.
After a stretch in which she struggled with illness and injury, Serena swept Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3 in a championship match that lasted only 75 minutes. The victory tied Serena with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam singles titles, the fourth-most in history.
Winning $4 million that day, Serena also became the first female athlete to top $60 million in on-court earnings.
2. Showdown of unbeatens:
There was added intrigue to April's NCAA national championship basketball game with Notre Dame and Connecticut. Both teams came in undefeated, the first time in history two unbeatens faced off for the national title. Notre Dame was 37-0 and Connecticut was 39-0.
There wasn't any drama in the game, however, as Connecticut trounced Notre Dame 79-58 to win its second consecutive title and its fourth in the last six years.
1. Sky high:
What an incredible ride it was for the Chicago Sky last summer.
Plagued with injuries that hit all five starters and kept those players out of 30 percent of the team's regular-season games, the Sky squeaked into the playoffs and then magically came together.
The Sky made an improbable but fun run all the way to the WNBA Finals. Phoenix swept the Sky 3-0, but the Sky's presence was a huge statement for the franchise in 2014.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw, and contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.