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Ranking the 10 biggest Minnesota sports stories of 2023

From Kirk Cousins's injury to Napheesa Collier's comeback, 2023 had plenty for Minnesota sports fans.
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There was a lot to remember for Minnesota sports fans in 2023. From surprise free agent signings to rapid rises and even a playoff victory, life wasn't boring if you were a fan last year.

Here's a look at some of the biggest stories from the year that was and how they could shape Minnesota's sports landscape in 2023.

10. Napheesa Collier goes from mom to All-Star

Collier missed all but four games in the 2022 season after the birth of her first child in May of that year, but in her first full season back, she reached another level and re-asserted herself as one of the top players in the WNBA.

Collier had a career year in 2023, putting up a career-high 21.5 points to go with 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game to earn her third All-Star appearance. The 27-year-old also assumed a leadership role along with Kayla McBride as the Lynx made the playoffs while breaking in rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhàsz.

Entering 2024, the Lynx will have a few holes to fill but Collier appears to be the player that will take them as far as they want to go.

9. The Vikings say goodbye to several veterans

When the Vikings lost to the New York Giants in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, there was a clear need to rebuild the roster. While the Vikings didn't go to the length of the Chicago Bears' full-scale teardown, they still made some bittersweet moves to part with some fan favorites.

Eric Kendricks was the first player to go when he was released in February and Adam Thielen was also cut leaving a big hole at wide receiver. Dalvin Cook followed both players out the door in June and it gave the Vikings an entirely different look heading into the 2023 season.

The decisions have had varying results. The Vikings were able to replace Kendricks with the emergence of rookie Ivan Pace Jr. while Jordan Addison has filled Thielen's role in the offense. While Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler have struggled to fuel Minnesota's running game, it could be the beginning of more moves as the Vikings continue their "competitive rebuild."

8. Carlos Correa re-signs with the Twins

At the end of the 2022 season, it appeared that Carlos Correa would spend just one season with the Twins. That assumption grew stronger after Correa signed two mega-deals in the month of December but came back to the Twins in January after both contracts fell through.

The first year of Correa's six-year, $200 million contract didn't go smoothly as the 29-year-old hit .230/.312/.399 with 18 homers and 65 games while battling plantar fascitis but the money was well spent in the postseason as he hit .409/.458/.546 with four RBI in six playoff games.

With an entire offseason to get healthy and focus on baseball instead of a massive free-agent tour, Correa should be good to go and return to his All-Star form in 2024.

7. The Wild fire Dean Evason

Evason made his third straight playoff appearance with the Wild last spring but life comes at you fast as an NHL coach and his tenure came to an end when he was fired in November.

Evason posted a 147-77-27 record in five seasons with the Wild but he couldn't lead them to postseason success. After blowing a 2-1 series lead in back-to-back playoff appearances, the Wild got off to a 5-10-4 start before he was replaced by John Hynes.

Hynes has gotten more out of the Wild, leading them to an 11-5-0 record since taking over, but he'll need to solve Minnesota's miserable track record to win their first playoff series since 2015.

6. Brian Flores fixes the Vikings defense

One of the biggest stories of the year was Daniel Jones shredding the Vikings' defense in the Wild Card round, but Flores gave that chapter a better ending as he took over for Ed Donatell in 2023.

The Vikings' defense ranked 28th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed under Donatell in 2022 but Flores's new scheme helped them improve to ninth in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed ahead of Sunday night's loss to Green Bay.

While the Vikings have improved, it might be the only year that Flores will get to work his magic. Several teams could be interested in hiring Flores as a head coach in 2024, leading the Vikings to search for a new defensive coordinator in the coming months.

5. The Gophers fire Lindsay Whalen as women's basketball coach

Whalen is a Minnesota hoops hero as a Hutchinson native, Gophers and Lynx legend and Hall of Famer, but the Gophers decided to take a new direction by firing her as women's basketball coach last April.

Whalen's work on the recruiting trail was outstanding as she added Mara Braun, Amaya Battle and Mallory Heyer in her 2022 recruiting class but those efforts never made it to the court, compiling an 11-19 record last season and a 71-76 overall record in five seasons with the Gophers.

Dawn Plitzuweit was hired to replace Whalen and has led the Gophers to an 11-2 record as they dive into conference play and seek their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018.

4. Royce Lewis becomes a star after two ACL surgeries

Twins fans knew that Royce Lewis had potential after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft but he hadn't realized it thanks to a pair of ACL injuries.

Coming off his second ACL tear in a span of 15 months, Lewis finally made it to the big leagues for good in 2023, smashing a home run in his first game back and hitting .309/372/.548 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI in 58 games.

While Lewis suffered oblique and hamstring injuries, it appears his future is bright if he can stay healthy. That can be a good thing for the Twins as his four grand slams show a flair for the dramatic, which helped lead to...

3. The Twins finally win a playoff game

It had been 19 years since the Twins had won a playoff game but they finally did it with a win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series.

Lewis set the tone with a two-run home run in the first inning and a solo home run in the third inning while Pablo López, who donned a Johan Santana jersey before the game, tossed six shutout innings thanks to a ridiculous play by Correa to throw out Bo Bichette at home plate.

The Twins bullpen did the rest and Jhoan Duran ended the longest playoff losing streak in men's major North American sports by stepping on first base for the final out.

With the win, the Twins paved the way to win their first playoff series since the 2002 ALDS and raise expectations for 2024. Even with a reduced payroll, the Twins should contend for another division title and hope to take a step forward with a young nucleus.

2. The Timberwolves become the best team in the West

If you go back to last spring, there were a lot of people who wanted changes to the Timberwolves. Rudy Gobert had just punched Kyle Anderson. Jaden McDaniels broke his hand punching a wall. Anthony Edwards swung a chair in frustration and Karl-Anthony Towns was the subject of trade rumors.

A few months later, the Timberwolves are the No. 1 team in the Western Conference and appear poised to make a deep run.

Gobert looks like a different player in his second season with the Timberwolves while Edwards has taken another step toward superstardom. While Towns remains a mercurial asset, the Wolves seem to have shelved their inconsistencies and have found a way to win close games.

It remains to be seen if their hot start can lead to Minnesota's first playoff series win since the 2003-04 season but the Wolves are instilling hope for a fan base that hasn't had much of it throughout their team's existence.

1. Kirk Cousins tears his Achilles

It would be great if we ended this article on a positive note, but this is Minnesota sports. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't note the biggest story and that meant Cousins' Achilles' popping in the fourth quarter of an Oct. 29 win against the Packers.

Cousins was playing some of the best football of his career when he was carted off at Lambeau Field, throwing for 2,331 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions in the first eight games. With the improvement of the Vikings defense, Minnesota could have been set to go on a run in the wide open NFC – even with Justin Jefferson nursing a hamstring injury – but Cousins's injury spawned the birth of other storylines.

Josh Dobbs captivated Vikings fans with his rocket scientist background and a pair of early wins and Nick Mullens helped Vikings fans put on a show in front of their relatives by tossing four interceptions on Christmas Eve. 

Cousins is a pending free agent and his injury and contract situation could wind up being a key storyline in 2024.