La Velle E. Neal III
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Day 1, 2022. The beginning of a new year. And beginnings are awesome.

No one knows what will transpire in 2022, but everyone hopes the new year will be the best year ever. The possibilities are intoxicating.

Going from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 is just one day, yet it represents a mental exit ramp onto a road with a better destination. We want a better year, and to better ourselves. There's a reason health clubs make a killing as soon as the champagne bottles are emptied.

Sports might provide the best platform for the flipping of the calendar. "Wait until next year" is here. Teams that stunk in 2021 have another chance to make things right. Teams that were close to glory can dream of taking that next step.

As we put 2021 to bed and wake up to a brand new 2022, today is a day for optimism. You, your favorite athlete, your favorite team all could have a big year.

Need a boost in building up your optimism levels? I want to help. I'm offering up here three sources of optimism from the Minnesota sports scene, to inspire us, to help us create our own hope for the new year. I picked a player, a team and a sports leader who I predict will provide excitement, glory, a feel-good moment or just plain, old-fashioned inspiration in the year ahead.

The player

Napheesa Collier has been called a top rookie, an all-star, an Olympian — and she’ll add a new label in 2022: Mom.
Napheesa Collier has been called a top rookie, an all-star, an Olympian — and she’ll add a new label in 2022: Mom.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Napheesa Collier, Lynx

In one way or two ways, Napheesa Collier will win big in 2022.

The Lynx star forward already is a two-time WNBA All-Star in just three seasons in the league. She plays for a team that annually competes for a championship. The Lynx finished last season on a 17-3 run but were knocked out in the first round of the postseason, so there's a hunger to take things a step further.

"We're going to just continue to get better, especially with the team that we have," Collier told me this week. "We have some really great pieces. And it's about building that team chemistry. We had a lot of injuries, and it was hard for us to catch our groove there for a second. Having the majority of our team back is going to be a huge advantage for us because we can continue to build on what we had last year."

Basketball, however, will be knocked down a notch this year on her priority list. Collier, 25, recently announced that she and her fiancé, Alex Bazzell, are expecting a baby girl in May. That means Collier will miss at least the start of the upcoming season.

She's prepared to take on this work-life balance challenge, and she said she wants to have more than one child. Having a smooth pregnancy is the highest priority now, so her playing career will be paused for the time being.

In the last collective bargaining agreement with the league, the players association made sure maternity provisions were part of the deal, so Collier is protected there and can return to the court whenever she is ready.

"I'm trying to figure it out," Collier said. "There's a lot of moving parts between me and my partner, Alex. So we're trying to do the best we can and trying to figure out what's best for both of our careers and our growing family."

She'll be Mom at home and, when she's ready to return, Phee on the home court. That's Collier's winning double-double for 2022.

The team

Wild General Manager Bill Guerin delivered a message to his team before the season. It was received, loud and clear.
Wild General Manager Bill Guerin delivered a message to his team before the season. It was received, loud and clear.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Minnesota Wild

On Sept. 23, the Wild met on the first day of training camp. General Manager Bill Guerin gathered the team for a meeting.

"What's this all about?" Guerin asked his team before directing the question to Jared Spurgeon. "Playing hard and having fun," Spurgeon said.

Guerin shot back: "It's about winning," while including a spicy adjective.

The scene is featured on the "Becoming Wild" television series. What we didn't know at the time was how much the team would emulate Guerin's simple, declarative statement.

Guerin has shaken up the roster, parted ways with stalwarts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, watched Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman flourish, found a reliable goaltender in Cam Talbot and locked up wunderkind Kirill Kaprizov to a multiyear deal.

Until this recent four-game losing streak, it had been all about bleeping winning for the Wild. Sitting on a 19-9-2 record as it prepares to play St. Louis in the Winter Classic at Target Field, the Wild looks like it might be a pain in someone's keister in the postseason.

Guerin was asked a week ago about his message when training camp opened.

"Guys took that to heart," Guerin told me. "I think guys want to hear that. We're trying to win. There's no participation medals. We don't pay guys to play. Anybody can play. We pay guys to win."

It doesn't matter who gets things done with the Wild. Victor Rask could be a healthy scratch one night, then pop up with a three-point game the next. Hartman, with 14 goals, is on pace to shatter his career high of 19 in a season. Marcus Foligno is second on the team in goals and first in penalty minutes as he proves he can light the lamp and light up opponents who cross the line.

And they have done this despite injuries, COVID concerns, a slow goal-scoring start by Kaprizov (who still leads the team in points) and early struggles by Kevin Fiala.

The fan base is energized. The league has taken notice. The Wild is one of the best teams in the NHL and is set up for a special second half.

The leader

Andrea Yoch is one of the leaders of a new Minnesota soccer club that will be fully women-led in 2022.
Andrea Yoch is one of the leaders of a new Minnesota soccer club that will be fully women-led in 2022.

Photo by Kelly Kamish, provided to Star Tribune

Andrea Yoch, president and co-founder of Minnesota women's soccer team

Drafts of the league schedule for the upcoming inaugural season of the United Soccer League (USL) W-League are out, and Andrea Yoch has been examining them closely.

Yoch, president and co-founder of the Minnesota women's pre-professional team so new it doesn't yet have a name, keeps crossing out May 20, which might be opening weekend, as a possible home game. That's when her son, Ben, graduates from Boston College.

Mom went to Boston College as well, becoming the first female sports editor of the school's newspaper. Yoch dreamed of a career as a sportswriter then, even falling under the mentorship of Boston Globe legend Jackie MacMullan.

Yoch found out that sports writing can make family building challenging, and she gave up that dream while remaining in sports. "So I moved over to the business side," Yoch said, "and soccer became part of my consciousness."

Yoch has worked in radio, television, marketing and promotions. She worked the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome and was on a committee for the 2018 Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium. She spent three years as an executive with Minnesota United shortly before that club jumped to Major League Soccer. She also helped promote international soccer matches that came to town.

Meanwhile, her two sons played soccer and her husband followed the English Premier League. They enjoyed the atmosphere in the stands as fans.

"I loved how different the sport was and how different the crowds were than the other sports I had traditionally supported, like baseball and football and hockey," she said.

Her life's work — and life as a fan — has brought Yoch to this point. The USL W-League will debut in May, and a franchise led by Yoch and other women in Minnesota will be a part of it. College players can participate in this pre-professional league without affecting their eligibility. Tryouts will be held next week.

Later in January, the team name will be announced and the group will continue to finalize plans for a home-field venue. And there's the matter of that schedule. Yoch can't miss her son's graduation.

"I just hope," she said, "that May 20 is an away game."

Before and after May 20, Yoch will be leading the way for Minnesota's newest sports start-up. The club will be women-led, a first around here. Inspiring, indeed.