When looking back at the last 12 months in sports – locally and nationally – it’s been filled with plenty of highs, championship parades, and communities celebrating championship glory for the first time in a generation.
That being said, here are my top five sports moments – locally and nationally around New England – over the last 12 months.
5. UMaine women’s basketball repeats
Amy Vachon has created a winning culture that her own college coach – Joanne P. McCallie – implemented in Orono.
The Black Bears have made Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center the best home-court advantage in America East, and the Queen City has had a front-row seat to Maine winning conference titles the last two winters.
While this year’s Black Bears have been ravaged by injuries, that does not diminish what the program has accomplished the last several years.
4. See ya, Kyrie
Kyrie Irving was a cancer in Boston.
For all the talent that the guy has, leadership is not his best quality.
And the Celtics are better off now that Kemba Walker is running the show on Causeway Street and the embattled Irving is toiling in Brooklyn.
The day Irving signed with the Nets was a beautiful one for Celtics fans. He essentially quit on the team in the playoffs against Milwaukee last spring.
Good riddance, Kyrie. In the words of T.J. Lavin, host of MTV’s “The Challenge,” “take care and hope to see you never.”
3. The U.S. Women’s soccer team wins again
If you want to talk about empowerment, look no further than our women’s soccer team.
While I’m not a huge soccer fan, what these ladies have done on the pitch is inspiring to athletes everywhere.
And whether you like it or not, team captain Megan Rapione represents the voice that we should be teaching our children to have.
She backs up her talk on the field. She doesn’t care what Donald Trump thinks. She goes out there and plays the game and represents all that a well-rounded athlete should be.
That’s why she was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Person of the Year.”
Rapione and her teammates ran through the competition and showed they were the best team in the world. And they deserve to be paid as much if not more than our mediocre men’s squad.
2. Patriots complete the “Blitz for Six.”
Everyone counted out the 2018 New England Patriots. Except the Patriots and their fans.
The Pats reinvented themselves late in the 2018 season, and the result was a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
They did it the old-fashioned way, with stingy defense and efficient offense, becoming just the second team in Super Bowl history to not allow its opponent to score a touchdown (1971 Cowboys).
Now-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski wrote a poetic ending to his Hall of Fame career by making an outstanding back-shoulder catch to set up the game’s lone touchdown. Boy is he missed this year.
1. Caribou boys bring home the gold.
High school basketball is a big deal in Maine. We all know that. We see entire towns venture to Bangor in February.
And Caribou’s first state championship since Mike Thurston threw in the “shot heard round Maine” a generation ago is a no-brainer for No. 1.
Caribou’s Aroostook County cousins – mainly Presque Isle and Central Aroostook – have had lots to cheer about on the hardwood in the 21st century, but this blue-collar band of Vikings deserved this.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Caribou. It’s my mother’s hometown. I’ve had many meals at Burger Boy before covering soccer games there. I was even invited to go on a long run with the cross country team one August when I showed up to do some interviews. It’s a community that deserves that gold ball.
Cheers to a great year in sports. Hopefully 2020 brings us more great memories.
BY RYAN MCLAUGHLIN