By now, you've probably figured out that I'm a big advocate for women and equality. Let's stick with that theme, shall we?
As we reflect back on the year that was, particularly in sports, one overarching theme comes to mind: the success that women had both on and off of the field. In this article, I would like to highlight the best moments, from January through this last week of December, and shed light on the few not-so-great instances.
Syracuse Women's Basketball Advances to Round of 32
For the second straight year, Quentin Hillsman's Syracuse squad advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament. They further proved that this team is here to stay. If not for another season-ending injury to Brittany Sykes, they may have gotten even further, but that's life.
Before her bout with Holly Holm, there was no denying who the queen of the fighting ring was. Ronda was absolutely dominating the field, with her signature finishing move that drove a lot of interest to the sport. Not only was she handling her competition well, Rousey was a poster girl for being fit without being super thin. She graced several magazine covers and showed girls of all ages that it's cool to be tough.
Her message was one that had been lacking from our society and was a definite welcome sight. Body image is a huge issue that women, particularly preteens and teenagers, face on a daily basis. In an interview with the NYT earlier this year, Rousey said that she's happy to represent a more "normal" body type than what's usually plastered all over the place as to what is considered beautiful. Embrace yourself and your confidence will grow.
With all of this good, I cannot forget to mention that she basically went out of her way to avoid any attention after Holly Holm shocked the world and brought her unbeaten streak to a close. I certainly don't blame her, but I'm glad that she's finally come out of hiding now, it seems.
Syracuse WLAX's Continued Success
Kayla Treanor and Halle Majorana led the way as No. 4 Syracuse captured their first ACC Tournament Championship and made their way to their fourth-straight Final Four before losing to No. 1 Maryland.
For the past three years, Treanor has proved that she is a catalyst for Syracuse's offensive attack. She scored five game-winning goals, two coming in double-overtime against Boston College and UNC on their way to the ACCT title. Both she and Majorana are set to return for their senior seasons this year.
Head coach Gary Gait has built a force to be reckoned with. A trip to the Final Four has become expected, and anything less is considered a failure. The new stalling rule won't be put into effect until 2017, but the Orange certainly have a great chance to rise above the final threshold and become the champions they were meant to be this year.
U.S. Women's National Team: Capturing a Nation
Even if it was for only a month, the USWNT was, for the most part, the center of attention. First, they conquered the "Group of Death," with wins over Australia and Nigeria and a tie with Sweden to advance to the elimination round. They then beat Colombia and China before facing Germany in the semifinals. A 2-0 victory setup a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan. Carli Lloyd was not going to see her team fall again, scoring three of the first four goals within the first 16+ minutes of play. The U.S. would go on to win 5-2 and capture their first World Cup title since 1999.
Abby Wambach's Legacy
After 15 years as a part of the USWNT, Wambach decided that she is ready to move on. Her illustrious career includes 249 international caps, 183 international goals (highest all-time scorer across FIFA), four World Cups, plus the National Championship she won with the Florida Gators in 1998. She has been awarded as U.S. Soccer's Attacker of the Year six times and was the first female in 10 years to receive FIFA's Player of the Year award in 2012. Wambach also paved the way for her fellow female players in the WUSA, WPS, and NWSL, the three national women's soccer leagues.
Not only has her time on the field been legendary, but her time off of it as well. She's an avid supporter of the Epilepsy Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Mia Hamm Foundation. Abby is also an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a non-profit focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Wambach tells us in her commercial to "forget" her, but I don't think that that's humanly possible.
Alex Lamontagne and Stephanie Skilton
In Syracuse news, sophomore forward Alex Lamontagne was recently selected to play for Canada's U-20 National Team for the CONCACAF U-20 Women's Championship that began on December 3rd. She had the opportunity to make the final roster after the NEX pre-tournament camp held from November 24-30 in Sunrise, Florida.
Junior forward Stephanie Skilton competed with New Zealand's National Team in a two-game series against Brazil earlier this month.
The younger Williams sister continued her domination of the tennis circuit this year. Serena won five titles, including three-straight Grand Slam tournaments to complete her second "Serena Slam." This means that she won all four Grand Slams in-a-row within a calendar year. She was named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsperson of the Year" as well as "Female Athlete of the Year" by the Associated Press. She continues to amaze and inspire year-in and year-out.
Syracuse Field Hockey Wins National Championship
Last season, head coach Ange Bradley took her team to the brink of NCAA greatness, but fell short to UConn in the Championship game. This year was different. After a stellar undefeated, 16-0, regular season, the ladies found themselves in a rematch against the Huskies, but in the semifinals. This time, the Orange prevailed and set up another rematch facing UNC in the title game.
It was quite a back-and-forth battle from start to finish. In the end, Syracuse was left standing tall as the victors. Not only had they just won their first NCAA title, but the first ever for a women's team at SU.
Alyssa Manley Wins Gold
Before becoming a National Champion, the senior captain and midfielder, and recent Honda Award recipient, helped Team USA secure a spot in next summer's Olympic Games in Rio. She scored to help the team advance to the Pan Am championship game in a 3-0 victory over Canada and helped them to keep a clean sheet for the majority of the tournament.
Syracuse Women's XC Excels
Last, but certainly not least, I can't forget to mention the stellar season these ladies had. Led by seniors Margo Malone and Shaylyn Tuite, the team had their second-best finish in program history (12th), after their 10th-place finish in 2010.
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It has truly been an amazing year, from start to finish. Here's to an even better 2016!