Grab some popcorn and park yourself on the couch––the biggest sporting award ceremony in the world is finally here.
Ah, the ESPYs. A time of celebration, buzz, and apparently, messy controversies surrounding the network behind the whole affair. ESPN’s special event provokes an interesting question for fans and journalists alike: what makes an athlete “the best” in their cohort? Luckily, we at She Plays decided to puzzle through that question––and good god, it was not easy to choose. Of course, we can’t predict the real winners, but we can choose a few favorites ahead of the ceremony. So we’ve gone through all the nominees from the women’s sports categories (and half of the co-ed ones) to create our personal dream winners list. Here are our ideal winners for every major 2022 ESPY award involving women’s sports.
Best Athlete, Women’s Sports – Suni Lee is our pick for possessing all of the factors that can make an athlete’s year successful: Olympic honors, cultural impact, and stellar performances in her domestic league. Shout out to Candace Parker as well, who is a close second in our book.
Best Breakthrough Athlete – The choice between Trinity Rodman and Eileen Gu entirely depends on individual preference. Should an athlete that tore up their domestic league receive the honor? Or someone who impressed in her sport’s most important worldwide competitions? One can’t go wrong either way…but we’re leaning towards Gu since her breakout moment came on an international stage.
Best Record-Breaking Performance – Making fans pick between Jocelyn Alo and Allyson Felix is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, ESPN. Felix takes this one, with sentimental value being the tiebreaker. Because to us, the narrative of a GOAT breaking a record before retiring is slightly more appealing than a young superstar lighting up college sports.
Best Championship Performance – Julianna Peña is the only woman to be shortlisted for this award, and the nod is well-earned. She entered a bantamweight title fight against Amanda Nunes––the GOAT in MMA––and managed to beat her against all literal odds. Award-worthy stuff.
Best Comeback Athlete – Hmmm…another category where only one female athlete is nominated. Weird. Anyways, Diamond DeShields’ resurgence is the stuff of legend. Leaving a team due to a lack of opportunities is a massive risk on its own. But doing so just a couple of years after a battle against a spinal tumor? It’s practically unheard of, which makes her solid 2022 season (with a 12.5 PPG average) even more impressive.
Best Play – Good lord, Megan Rapinoe. Good lord.
Best Team – While the Chicago Sky is a more-than-worthy candidate for this award, the Oklahoma Sooners (NCAA Softball) achieved a level of dominance in their sport that will put them in “GOAT” conversations for years to come. They’re our favorite nominee based on that fact alone.
Best Olympian, Women’s Sports – Oh gosh, this is getting hard. All of these athletes were incredible at the Games, but Oksana Masters comes out on top thanks to her insane medal count in Beijing.
Best Game – UConn’s double OT win over NC State in the NCAA D1 Women’s Basketball Tournament is best understood as one crucial step in the Huskies’ surprising––and thrilling––tournament run. Controversy aside, it’s hard to deny that the match was heart-attack-inducing in the best possible way.
Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports – All of the nominated athletes were superstars in their respective leagues, so choosing one amongst them is basically splitting hairs. We’ll give this one to Aliyah Boston since she became an outstanding presence in her league before even becoming a senior. Where is her ticket to the ceremony, ESPN? Where is it?
Best International Athlete, Women’s Soccer – Alexia Putellas. There’s a reason why she won two of soccer’s biggest individual awards in 2021, and it’s because she’s Brilliant with a capital -B––and is the anchor of an even more brilliant team. Here’s hoping that she has a swift and smooth recovery from her recent ACL injury.
Best WNBA Player – We’re not gonna make the mistake of passing up Candace Parker twice on this list. Her homecoming Championship win with the Sky was nothing short of mesmerizing, and speaks to her legendary status in the WNBA.
Best Athlete, Women’s Golf – Minjee Lee’s been dominant as of late, but we’d be remiss to forget Ko Jin-young and her stellar 2021 campaign. She came alive during the latter half of the year, ending the Tour with the most wins, the Rolex Player of the Year award, and the CME Group Tour Championship.
Best Athlete, Women’s Tennis – Assuming that the ESPY eligibility period is flexible enough to include events in 2022, Iga ?wi?tek is our pick here. Ash Barty may have won more Slams recently, and both Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez set the Tour alight with their success in the US Open. But in our opinion, it’s hard to argue against a 37-match-long unbeaten streak.
Best Athlete, Women’s Action Sports – Eileen Gu stands out to us here, since the case for her as a “Breakthrough Athlete” winner can be made just as strongly for this award. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is also a good pick due to her excellent campaigns at the Olympics and Winter X Games.
Best Athlete With a Disability, Women’s Sports – Once again, Oksana Masters’ medal haul and versatility prove too impressive to ignore. But besides her, Brenna Huckaby deserves immense kudos for the fact that she won two Paralympic medals in the LL2 impairment class.
Help @OksanaMasters get her first career ESPY! ?— U.S. Paralympics Cycling (@usparacycling) June 30, 2022
Oksana is the FIRST Para athlete EVER to be nominated for Best Athlete! She is also up for ESPYs in Best Olympian/Paralympian, Women's Sports, and Best Athlete with a Disability, Women's Sports.
??: https://t.co/0Jpf2RGsa6 pic.twitter.com/3vqKNml7EW
Best NWSL Player – If you’re looking for a reason why we’re partial to Jess Fishlock in this battle, OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said it best: “If you speak to most people around the league and ask the coaches if they could take one player from our team, it would always be [Jess].” You know you’re at the top of your cohort when even your competitors see you as a valuable asset.
Best WWE Moment – The official winner of this award will be decided by an ongoing bracket…and unfortunately, every single female nominee was already voted out from contention. So instead of picking our favorite for the honor, we’re gonna remind you of the moment when 2022 nominee Ronda Rousey re-entered the ring like an absolute boss to win this year’s Royal Rumble.
With that, it’s time to look forward to the ESPYs tonight. Happy award-watching, everyone––and regardless of who wins, don’t forget to celebrate the accomplishments of each and every nominee.
Information on how to watch the 2022 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly awards can be found here.