At the end of every year, sports publications -- most notably Sports Illustrated -- highlight the sportsmen of the year. But almost without fail, those lists or appointments overlook the accomplishments of female athletes and difference-makers in sports (with the exception of espnW, but that is mainly their purview).
That's where this list comes in. 2014 was, by all accounts, a banner year for women in sports. The WTA was just granted a record TV contract, the WNBA playoff TV ratings were up 90 percent and the LPGA had one of its most exciting seasons yet. From the Little League World Series to the Winter Olympics, female athletes simply stole the show. Additionally, we saw female sports journalists gain exposure, and female coaches and executives make huge strides in the front office.
When taking everything into account -- sportsmanship, athletic achievements and societal impact -- here are the 10 sportswomen of 2014:
10. Diana Taurasi (WNBA Finals MVP)
There were a lot of stand-out players in what was a banner season for the WNBA, from Brittney Griner to Maya Moore, but none impressed in the clutch as much as Diana Taurasi.
At 32 years old, Taurasi had one of the best years of her Hall of Fame-worthy career, leading the Phoenix Mercury to their third WNBA title. Along the way, Taurasi became the leading scorer in WNBA finals history with 262 points and was named finals MVP. She didn't have the highest-scoring season of her career, with 16.2 ppg compared to her career average of 20.1, but a lot of this was because of how much she got the ball to her teammates, especially Griner. Taurasi really took her game to the next level in the playoffs, averaging 21.9 ppg, and when Griner was injured in the third game of the WNBA finals, Taurasi scored 24 points -- 14 in the fourth quarter -- to help her team beat the Chicago Sky, 87-82, and claim the title.
Taurasi was also an integral member of the USA women's team that won a record ninth FIBA World Championship gold. Luckily for us, Taurasi shows no signs of slowing down.
9. Lydia Ko (LPGA Rookie of the Year)
If you're not familiar with the world wonder that is Lydia Ko yet, it's time to get with the program. The 17-year-old has been making waves for years now as an amateur -- even winning two LPGA titles before she could accept a paycheck -- but she solidified herself as the real deal in her first full season on the LPGA.
This year, Ko had three LPGA wins, finished third in the Women's LPGA Championship, and was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People -- Annika Sörenstam even wrote her introduction! She capped off her season by winning the Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in a playoff to win both the $1 million bonus awarded to the season's points leader and the $500,000 winner's prize. That made her the recipient of the biggest payday in LPGA history.
The LPGA is doing very well right now, with Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park establishing a great rivalry at the top of the game, and popular stars Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson winning majors in 2014. However, right now, the future of the LPGA belongs to Ko.
8. Amelie Mauresmo (Coach of Andy Murray)
Despite the fact that the WTA is the biggest and most profitable women's sports league in the world, very few women's tennis players have made the transition from player to coach. This year, Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo showed that it can be done when she filled the most high-profile tennis coaching vacancy to become two-time Slam champion Andy Murray's coach.
A lot of credit goes to Murray for thinking outside the box and hiring a woman despite the ridiculous and predictable sexist feedback the appointment received. But it's Mauresmo's talent as a two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 and her knowledge from previous coaching partnerships (she's France's Fed Cup captain and has worked with Frenchman Michael Llodra) that made this possible.
Murray had a rough time coming back from back surgery, but he found his game at the end of last season, winning three titles after the U.S. Open with Mauresmo by his side.
Already, this decision has opened up opportunities for female coaches in tennis. Lindsay Davenport teamed up with rising American star Madison Keys, and Polish player Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 6 in the world, hired the legend Martina Navratilova as her coach. Spain has also named a female Davis Cup captain, much to the chagrin of the players.
"I got goose bumps when I read Andy Murray's press release on Mauresmo," Lindsay Davenport told Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times. "It seems like the door needed to be opened for it to become OK."
7. Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor (Bobsled pioneers)
These two bobsled greats are hard to separate, particularly when they're both pioneering opportunities for women in their sport together. Humphries and Meyers Taylor are without a doubt the best two-woman bobsled pilots in the world, a fact they proved once again in Sochi when they repeated their gold-silver performance from Vancouver. Now, the Canadian and American duo are proving that women can drive four-man bobsleds, and even compete against the best male bobsledders.
In September, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (FIBT) announced that four-man bobsled would become a gender-neutral discipline, something Humphries and Meyers Taylor had been lobbying for. In a span of just six weeks, both Olympians beat out their countrymen in four-man in team trials to earn the right to drive sleds in international competition. They then competed five lower-level international bobsled races on three different tracks to qualify for the World Cup. This weekend, they'll both make their World Cup debut.
The goal is to eventually get a four-woman discipline added to bobsled, and when it eventually does happen, it will undoubtedly be because Humphries and Meyers Taylor paved the way.
6. Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach)
At the end of the 2014 WNBA season, 37-year-old Becky Hammon retired after a 16-year WNBA career that began with the New York Liberty and ended with the San Antonio Stars. But Hammon wasn't unemployed for long.
In August, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich hired Hammon as a full-time assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, making her the first full-time, salaried female coach in the history of the NBA. Hammon interned with Popovich when she was recovering from injury during the 2013-14 NBA season, and impressed Pop with her knowledge of the game, ability to speak her mind in meetings and camaraderie with the players.
When making the announcement, Popovich said, "Having observed her working with our team this past season, I'm confident her basketball I.Q., work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs."
Now 25 games into the NBA season, Hammon seems to have acclimated to her new role like a pro, and the newsworthy relationship has become just another footnote in a busy basketball season. That certainly sounds like progress to me.
5. Canadian Women's Ice Hockey Team (Olympic Champions)
This year, in the middle of a jam-packed Olympic schedule, the world stopped and gathered around their TVs to watch women play hockey. The highlights were two hard-fought games between Canada and the U.S., both of which were won by the Canadians despite the Americans being the favorites coming into the Games.
The gold medal game was one of the most thrilling hockey games of the entire Olympics -- the Canadians came back from an 0-2 deficit against the Americans, scoring the tying goal with 55 seconds left in the game and winning it, 3-2, in overtime. For a sport that is still trying to find an audience -- there are no pro women's hockey leagues that offer women a sustainable living -- this was a master-class showcase that proved how thrilling the sport can be.
4. Mo'ne Davis (Little League World Series star pitcher)
It's Mo'ne's world, the rest of us are just lucky to sit back and watch. The 13-year-old prodigy stole headlines when she not only competed in the Little League World Series, making her one of only 18 girls in history to participate in the competition, but became the first female to pitch a win and a shutout in the competition.
Davis' heroics in the LLWS had such an impact that her pitching in a semifinal game drew a 3.4 overnight rating for ESPN -- a record for the event -- and she even made it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, which is a location that females rarely grace unless they're bikini-clad.
For now, Davis is back in middle school where she's just your average eighth grader -- well, except for the fact that she's already playing on her high school's varsity basketball team.
It might be cliché to say that Davis is redefining what it means to "throw like a girl," but it's also true.
3. Michele Roberts (NBA Players Association Executive Director)
This summer, Michele Roberts made history when she became the executive director of the NBAPA, making her the first female in North America to head a major pro sports union. With a stellar resume as a trial lawyer, Roberts overtook the position vacated in 2013 by the disgraced and dysfunctional Billy Hunter when she received 32 of the 34 votes.
Roberts doesn't have a background in sports or labor law, but she's swiftly and publicly addressed all of the issues plaguing the NBA players, from the salary cap to age limitations, and although there will be no more labor negotiations until 2017, she already has the attention of commissioner Adam Silver and all of the owners.
She's also not afraid to address the elephant in the room -- her gender. Roberts is unfazed by the fact that she's now the leader of some of the most famous athletes in the America and will be battling many of the richest men in the world. As she told the group of 117 NBA players in July, "My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on."
2. Serena Williams (U.S. Open Champion, WTA No. 1)
It puts Serena Williams' greatness in perspective when you realize that this was a fairly subpar season by her standards, and yet she still won seven titles and $9.3 million. The younger Williams sister overcame the stigma of shocking upsets at the first three Slams of the year when she won the U.S. Open in September for the 18th Slam victory of her storied career. This tied her for second on the all-time list with Chris Evert and Navratilova.
She also finished 2014 as the year-end No. 1 for the fourth time in her career, moving her up to fourth all-time in weeks at No. 1.
At 33 years old and with 16 years of pro tennis under her belt, Serena shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. She does have a defined goal, though -- with the clock on her career ticking, she has her eyes clearly set on matching, and hopefully surpassing, Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slams. Count her out at your own peril.
1. Lauren Hill (College basketball player)
This list is filled with some of the best athletes, male or female, in the entire world. And yet it is a college basketball player for Mount St. Joseph's University who has played in only three games this season for a total of two minutes who is taking the top prize. That's because nobody else in the sports world has made the impact that 19-year-old Hill -- who is suffering from a rare form of cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) -- has this year.
Hill found out about her diagnosis in her senior year of high school, just two months after committing to play for Mount St. Joseph's. According to her website, her first thought when she was diagnosed was, "Can I still play basketball?"
Despite her deteriorating condition, and the fact that doctors told Hill she wouldn't see the end of 2014, she made it her mission to take the floor with her MSJ teammates and play in a college basketball game. That dream came true at the beginning of November, when she took the floor against Hiram College. The game was moved to accommodate Hill's travel restrictions, and it was worth it -- she took the floor and ended up scoring the first basket of the game with a layup.
Hill hasn't stopped there, though. She has continued to fight her disease, raise money and play basketball -- she has played in two other games, most recently on Dec. 13 when she was able to play in her first home game and score the opening basket. That's quite a feat for someone who is currently under hospice care.
Hill has raised over half a million dollars for DIPG research in hopes of bringing attention -- and eventually a cure -- to the cancer that has a survival rate of less than 10 percent. It's especially deadly in children, with 90 percent of kids diagnosed with the disease passing within 18 months. She wants to raise $1 million by the end of the year. (You can donate to The Lauren Hill Tribute Foundation here.)
Like the all-star athlete that she is, Hill said her focus was, "Playing to the final buzzer, not worrying about the last play or the play that's coming."
On Wednesday, it was announced that Hill would end her playing career, but will continue to work toward her fund-raising goal. She'll be honorary coach of the Mount St. Joseph's women's team.