A look back at Chicago sports in 2022, a year defined by heartbreak

Chicago sports fans had high expectations for 2022, making the reality of what actually took place all the more crushing.

SHARE A look back at Chicago sports in 2022, a year defined by heartbreak
merlin_59514131.jpg

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Chicago White Sox’s Jose Abreu watches from the dugout against the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning of a baseball game, in Detroit. Now in his third season, Abreu will try to help his team rebound from a disappointing season. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) ORG XMIT: NY164

Paul Sancya, AP Photos

How much heartbreak can one person take?

It’s a question worth asking any Chicago sports fan after a year of mostly misery.

Let’s start with the team that was riding the biggest wave of success, the Sky. With a championship roster led by Candace Parker seemingly getting an upgrade in the offseason, coach James Wade’s team was all but guaranteed a return to the WNBA Finals. Instead, the Sky lost an 11-point lead in Game 5 of the semifinals to the Sun on their home court.

Does it get more heartbreaking than that?

Let’s ask White Sox fans, who bid farewell to the heart and soul of their team, Jose Abreu, after a season that started with postseason hopes but ended in disappointment. Think that can’t be topped? Consult the Bulls. Coach Billy Donovan’s team followed a playoff appearance last season by finding a home near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings to start this one.

Both teams proved the point that when it comes to love, there are few things worse than falling for someone’s potential.

While disappointment wreaked havoc in Chicago, a couple of sports figures with ties to the city gave fans some relief.

Dusty Baker became the third Black manager to win a World Series, and he did it after 25 seasons on the job, including four with the Cubs in 2003-2006. Former Sky No. 2 overall pick Sylvia Fowles enjoyed a farewell tour, celebrating her 15th and final season in the WNBA. The Sky said goodbye to the eight-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion who spent seven seasons in Chicago with a recliner, a framed jersey and a knitting kit.

There was no sports story more important than the 10-month detainment of Brittney Griner, who, after being arrested in February, was released from Russian detention Dec. 8.

Back to Chicago, the remedy for heartbreak starts with confronting the past. So before sports fans can look forward, here’s a look back at the 2022 sports landscape from our beat reporters:

Sky

Wade began the year with free-agency moves that eventually earned him his first executive-of-the-year honor. Signing Emma Meesseman, along with retaining his core group of Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, put the Sky in a great position to repeat as WNBA champions.

After setting a franchise regular-season record and tying the eventual champion Aces for the best record in the league at 26-10, the Sky’s back-to-back title hopes were dashed in an epic semifinals collapse against the Sun. Uncertainty surrounding the future of their three veteran stars, including whether Parker and Quigley will retire, is what awaits them in the new year.

Annie Costabile

Bulls

When executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas was introduced in April 2020, his first goal was to strip the existing product and return it to a playoff-caliber team. In 2022, Karnisovas and Co. checked that box, ending a four-year playoff drought. While losing the first-round series to the Bucks in five games wasn’t the goal, it was welcomed progress.

DeMar DeRozan has been better than advertised — on and off the court — but the Bulls only will go as far as Zach LaVine and his five-year, $215 million max contract will take them.

Anything resembling consistency has been elusive through the first half of this season.

Joe Cowley

White Sox

In 2022, Dylan Cease came within an out of pitching a no-hitter, worked a major-league-record 14 consecutive games with one or no earned runs allowed and finished second in American League Cy Young voting. But highlights beyond that were fleeting during an injury-riddled, disappointing 81-81 season for a team with realistic postseason expectations.

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa failed to get the most from what he had to work with, and his second managing tour on the South Side ended late in the season because of heart problems.

Pedro Grifol was hired in November to be the Sox’ third manager in four seasons, and former MVP Jose Abreu signed with the Astros after nine seasons in Chicago.

Daryl Van Schouwen

Cubs

The additions of Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman, the development of Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson and the emergence of Christopher Morel could do only so much to boost a rebuilding team.

During a 74-88 season, it became clear ‘‘intelligent spending’’ had done more for long-term plans than for 2022. Willson Contreras and Ian Happ earned All-Star selections as trade rumors, which never came to fruition, picked up around them.

Out of playoff contention, the Cubs pulled together to go 39-31 after the All-Star break.

After the season, the Cubs officially parted with Jason Heyward (released) and Contreras (free agency), making Kyle Hendricks the only 2016 World Series champion left on the roster.

The recent additions of Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Cody Bellinger and others undoubtedly have made the Cubs better.

Maddie Lee

Bears

What began as a year of change ended as the season of Justin Fields — with a lot of losses in between.

Fields set rushing records for a quarterback during a magical midseason run in which the Bears’ scoring doubled. His growth is vital for a rebuild under general manager Ryan Poles, who traded defensive stars Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn.

Poles and coach Matt Eberflus replaced Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy in January. President/CEO Ted Phillips announced retirement plans for early 2023 as the team prepares to close escrow on a stadium site in Arlington Heights.

Though Fields looks to have passed most of his tests this season, Poles has plenty of work ahead during the offseason.

Patrick Finley

Blackhawks

The Blackhawks entered 2022 in what they hoped would be a lengthy transition period into their next successful era. Unsurprisingly, the team lost far more games than it won this year.

On the ice, GM Kyle Davidson officially declared a rebuild, shipped out key players such as Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel and drafted potential future cornerstones Kevin Korchinski and Frank Nazar.

Off the ice, the Kyle Beach sexual-assault scandal — which dominated the Hawks’ 2021 news cycle — faded from the spotlight, hopefully never to be repeated. Meanwhile, new leadership overhauled the front-office staff and structure.

Near the end of the year, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane celebrated their 1,000th game together — Game 1 was Oct. 10, 2007 — but their futures with the Hawks remain uncertain.

Ben Pope

Fire

After making an offseason splash by signing attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, the Fire finished the season in familiar fashion — on the outside of the playoffs looking in for the fifth consecutive year.

First-year coach Ezra Hendrickson led the team to a 10-15-9 record and entered the offseason with clear questions to answer before his second season at the helm. Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina — a local product — signed with Premier League team Chelsea, leaving the Fire in search of his replacement.

Club owner Joe Mansueto picked up the options on sporting director Georg Heitz and technical director Sebastian Pelzer, who have failed at building roster depth or success during their three-year tenure.

The Fire’s future remains as uncertain as ever.

Annie Costabile

Red Stars

The introduction of Chris Petrucelli as their new coach kicked off the year. But try as they might to carry on with business as usual, two investigations loomed over the Red Stars and the National Women’s Soccer League as a whole.

The findings of U.S. Soccer’s investigation into abuse and sexual misconduct in the league, led by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, were published in early October. Yates’ report exposed systemic abuse in the league and highlighted three clubs that failed to cooperate fully, including the Red Stars. Reports of emotional and verbal abuse by former coach Rory Dames went ignored by majority owner Arnim Whisler.

Before the findings of the second investigation — this one conducted by the NWSL and the players’ union — were published in December, Whisler began the process of selling his stake in the club.

Annie Costabile

NCAA football

‘‘We know how to win and compete at championship levels here,’’ Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said after a 31-28 upset of Nebraska in Week Zero in Dublin, Ireland. Eleven losses later, the Wildcats — the lowest-scoring Power Five team in the country — entered another long, dark offseason.

It’s much brighter at Illinois, 8-4 and bowl-bound. The highs: no touchdowns allowed in the first four home games; a midseason winning streak against Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska; and running back Chase Brown’s magnificence. The lows: the deaths of coach Bret Bielema’s mother and father-in-law, six days apart, in November.

Notre Dame’s 8-4 doesn’t look nearly as good because, well, it’s Notre Dame. Rookie coach Marcus Freeman has vital work to do.

Steve Greenberg

NCAA men’s basketball

Illinois and Loyola — both in Pittsburgh — went down in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in March. The Illini said goodbye to Kofi Cockburn and, with much promise, hello to a rebuilt roster of terrific veteran transfers and impact freshmen. The Ramblers said goodbye to the Missouri Valley and hello to the Atlantic 10, a hard-earned step up.

DePaul’s women returned to the NCAAs, something its men’s program — moved on from Dave Leitao, thank goodness — only can imagine.

And how’s Chris Collins doing up in Evanston? Same old, same old as Northwestern tries to avoid a sixth losing season in a row since its Big Dance breakthrough.

Steve Greenberg

NCAA women’s basketball

DePaul coach Doug Bruno was announced as a headliner for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, along with Becky Hammon and Penny Taylor, to kick off the year.

A few weeks later, Bruno’s team lost to Dayton in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, spoiling its return to the Big Dance after a two-year absence. Illinois State was the only other state team to qualify for the tournament and was bounced by Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the first round.

Northwestern’s Veronica Burton was drafted with the seventh overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Wings after earning her third consecutive award as the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year and being named an AP All-American.

Annie Costabile

High school football

Mount Carmel dominated the 2022 season. The Caravan were a perfect 14-0 on the way to the Class 7A state championship and went wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the Super 25.

Prairie Ridge quarterback Tyler Vasey had a historic season, setting records for rushing yards and touchdowns in a season.

Two weeks after the season ended, John Holecek stepped down after 17 years at Loyola. He led the Ramblers to the Class 8A title in 2022. It was his third at the school. The Ramblers played in seven finals under Holecek and made the playoffs every season he coached.

Michael O’Brien

High school basketball

Glenbard West’s undefeated season in the state and dominant playoff run to the Class 4A championship was the high school basketball story of 2022.

The Hilltoppers — Braden Huff, Caden Pierce, Ryan Renfro, Paxton Warden and Bobby Durkin — opened the season with 26 consecutive victories. Their only loss came in front of a sold-out crowd at Wintrust Arena on ESPN to Sierra Canyon, California, which featured Amari Bailey and Bronny James. That was a buzzer-beater.

There was major offseason news in August when Michigan State recruit Jeremy Fears Jr., a top-30 player in the national class of 2023, returned home to Joliet West from La Lumiere, a prep school in Indiana.

Michael O’Brien

The Latest
Late Friday, officers responded to a call of shots fired in the 4700 block of North Troy Street and found two men shot in the east alley, Chicago police said.
Even with shifting priorities, the school district says it has successfully maintained the funding it provides to schools overall.
A vatican statement avoided an outright confirmation that the pope had indeed used the term, but it also didn’t deny that Francis had said it.
The footage appears to show the victim of an attack trying to flag down a police SUV around 11 p.m. Monday. As he tries to evade at least three people, he is apparently stabbed in the middle of the road.
MLB
Josh Gibson’s .446 batting average for the 1943 Homestead Grays is now the best in MLB history, eclipsing Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy (.440) in 1894, who dropped to third. Gibson’s .974 slugging percentage in 1937 shatters Barry Bonds’ .863 mark in 2001.