As we turned a page on another year, it was customary to look back and consider the people, events and moments that shaped our shared experience. We try to rank and categorize those that we consider to not only have the best opportunity to stand the test of time, but to also give context to our current circumstances and where we are collectively heading.
Many historians are already calling the second decade of the 21st century the “decade of the woman,” for the advances women have made on many fronts, and that label is fitting when you look at the past decade through the prism of Minnesota sports.
Two of the past year’s top stories included the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory at the World Cup and the record-breaking dominance of gymnast Simone Biles. The accomplishments by female athletes in Minnesota, especially when compared to their male counterparts, have been equally striking and not just in 2019 either; this was a development, or a movement, that spanned the decade.
By many metrics, the Minnesota Vikings are the most popular sports franchise in the state of Minnesota. Over the past decade, the Vikings managed a pedestrian 81 wins against 71 losses and 2 ties. They also made four trips to the playoffs, but only managed to win one playoff game, and even that required a “miracle.”
The most successful male professional sports franchise of the decade was the Minnesota Wild. The Wild won 95 more games than they lost, but factor that over ten seasons, and you get a team that was barely over .500, managed six trips to the playoffs, winning two series and never approached winning a Stanley Cup.
The Minnesota Twins closed the decade with by far and away their best season, winning 101 games while losing just 61. But, even with that 40-win differential included, the Twins lost 90 more games than they won in the decade, making four tips to the playoffs, where they lost three series, and one wildcard game. Ugh.
The Minnesota Timberwolves? Truly hideous. In ten years, the T-Wolves managed to make just one trip to the playoffs, and of course they lost that series. They show no signs of being any more successful in the year ahead.
What about college sports you ask? The Gopher Men’s basketball team managed to produce 7 seasons with a winning record, but only one time did they have a winning record in Big-10 Conference play. They managed four trips to the “Big Dance”, but only advanced twice, and never beyond the third game. Oh yes, they were NIT champions in 2013-14, so, there is that.
The Gopher men’s hockey team, once one of the most successful teams in college hockey, moved to the Big-10 conference and skated into near oblivion. Playing in front of mostly empty seats at 3M Arena at Mariucci these days, they qualified for the ‘Frozen Four’ twice, losing in the National Championship in 2014.
The two bright spots on the men’s scene are the Gopher baseball program, who, despite playing in the most inhospitable climate, won three Big-10 championships, two Big-10 tournament championships, advanced to the NCAA regional three times and the Super Regional once. The other bright spot is the emergence of the Gopher football program under P.J. Fleck. After years of sub-par performances and a lot of unfortunate incidents, Fleck has guided the Gophers to three straight bowl game appearances, and the cupboard appears stock for future success.
As for the women, the obvious team of the decade was the Minnesota Lynx. Six WNBA finals appearances in seven seasons, winning four championships. Then, when Lindsay Whalen retired, Maya Moore took a sabbatical, Rebekkah Brunson was dealing with concussion issues and Seimone Augustus had knee issues, all Head Coach/GM Cheryl Reeve did was reshape the roster, draft the Rookie of the year in Napheesa Collier, and return to the playoffs. The Lynx may have been eliminated in the first round, but the fact that they even got these is truly remarkable and seals the deal as Reeve’s ascension as the top front office exec in the Twin Cities sports market.
You can find similar success across the board with the women’s teams over at the U of M. With apologies to gymnastics and soccer, the women’s basketball team didn’t have a great decade, but with the afore mentioned Whalen at the helm, the Gopher hoopsters appear to be heading in the right direction.
If you want sustained success look no further than the women’s hockey team. At one point, the Gophers played for the National Championship four times in five years. Over the decade, the Gophers won four NCAA Championships, finished second twice and won four WCHA conference tournaments.
In volleyball, the Gophers only missed playing in the NCAA tournament one time, and even in that season their overall record as 19-12. And while a national championship still eludes them, they have reached the NCAA Final Four three times in the last five years.
In softball, the Gophers have quietly never finished lower than third since 2013, and no lower than second in the Big-10 since 2015. They won the Big-10 in 2017, and have finished second four times.
Five former Gophers were on the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team that won the World Championship in 2017, and the Gold Medal at the 2018 Winter Olympic games at Pyeongchang, South Korea. But, it was UMD Bulldog Maddie Rooney from Andover, who backstopped the Gold Medal shootout win over arch-rival Canada.
As for the Athlete of the decade in Minnesota? I’ve heard a case made for Maya Moore, and it is strong, but the clear winner is skiing great Lindsey Vonn. Born Lindsey Kildow, Vonn cut her teeth at Buck Hill before moving to Colorado as a preteen. Over the last decade, Vonn has won the 2010 and 2012 World Championships, the Gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics and a bronze medal in the downhill at the 2018 games.
Vonn also won a record eight World Cup season titles in the downhill discipline, five titles in super-G and three consecutive titles. In 2016, she won her 20th World Cup Crystal Globe, surpassing Ingemar Stenmark who won 19 globes from 1975 to 1984.
Vonn retired this year due to numerous injuries, but while the sun may have set on her glorious career, it is clearly only rising on the age of women in sports. So, while we can only hope that the fortunes of our men’s teams improve in the decade ahead, we have no reason to expect anything but similar, if not better results for the women.