Non-mainstream teams climb to great heights

  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 11:10 PM

For the greatest success stories, fans often had to deviate off the beaten path. There, they found plenty of success.

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The Gophers’ Emily West beat Wisconsin goalie Alex Rigsby on a penalty shot in the first period of the NCAA title game last season.The Gophers finished 34-5-2 and are off to a 20-0 start this season.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

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The end of 2012 is quickly approaching ; as such, we have compiled a list of the top 12 Minnesota sports stories -- positive or negative -- from the year. We'll be counting them down every weekday from now until Jan. 1, when the top story will run. Here is No. 11:

This year wasn't as bad as 2011 for a lot of our major pro sports teams, but it still wasn't great. The Twins suffered another 90-loss season. The Wild missed the playoffs again. The Timberwolves started out promising (as they are again this year), but their 2011-12 season was derailed by Ricky Rubio's injury.

For the greatest success stories, fans often had to deviate off the beaten path. There, they found plenty of success.

At the top of the list is the Gophers women's hockey team. The 2011-12 squad won the NCAA title in March, finishing 34-5-2 and knocking off Wisconsin in the championship game as an extra bonus. This year's team is even more dominant, going 20-0 to start the season while outscoring opponents by a whopping 114-12 margin. Of note: Ridder Arena is the site of the Frozen Four in March.

If volleyball is more your speed, take note of this: St. Thomas won the Division III national title, Concordia (St. Paul) won the Division II national title and the Gophers nearly reached the Division I Final Four. The championship for Concordia was its sixth in a row, tying a volleyball record for all divisions.

Football? Minnesota State Mankato made the Division II semifinals. St. Thomas reached the championship game of Division III before falling to Mt. Union this past weekend, while North Dakota State -- with a bevy of Minnesota natives playing key roles -- reached the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game again and will look to defend its national title on Jan. 5.

We surely are leaving out other teams and individuals worthy of mention -- which only underscores how much success there was locally outside the mainstream.

MICHAEL RAND

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