Whether it was Petaluma National's 10-run comeback in the Little League World Series, Levi Leipheimer's testimony against Lance Armstrong or Kim Conley's surge to capture a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, athletes with North Coast roots fueled national story lines in 2012.
Following are the Top 10 local stories of 2012, as picked by The Press Democrat's sports staff. You can vote for your favorite in a poll at pdpreps.com.
1. PETALUMA NATIONAL'S LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES RUN
For the better part of August, the Petaluma Nationals stirred the passions of their hometown, Sonoma County and the Bay Area with a run of nationally televised Little League World Series games in South Williamsport, Pa. The contest no one around these parts is likely to forget featured a 10-run rally to force a seventh inning against a powerhouse team from Goodlettsville, Tenn. Though Petaluma's team of 11- and 12-year-olds went on to lose 24-16, they picked themselves up and beat a team from Panama for third place. The Nationals returned to a massive victory parade, visits with the A's and Giants, a meeting with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and the most incredible memories.
2. LEVI LEIPHEIMER COMES CLEAN
After a strong 2011 that saw Santa Rosa-based cyclist Levi Leipheimer win races in Switzerland, Utah and Colorado, 2012 brought a stunning reversal. Hit from behind by a car while training in Spain in April, Leipheimer suffered a broken leg. He finished sixth in the Amgen Tour of California and struggled in the Tour de France. Later, he withdrew for consideration for the U.S. Olympic team. In October, persistent rumors Leipheimer was a key figure in the Lance Armstrong doping investigation proved true, as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released hundreds of pages of testimony from Leipheimer and other former Armstrong associates. Leipheimer came clean to Press Democrat columnist Bob Padecky about why and how he cheated, the toll his choices took on him and his deteriorating relationship with Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins. Leipheimer was suspended from competition for six months and fired by his pro team. Despite his tribulations, he presided over a successful GranFondo charity ride and was the subject of a flattering documentary called "The Levi Effect."
3. EMPIRE ATHLETES LIVE OLYMPIC DREAM
Former Empire prep stars Kim Conley and Silas Stafford saw their dreams realized this summer when they landed spots on the U.S. Olympic team. After racing to an early lead in the 5,000 meters in June's U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Conley fell all the way back to eighth place and appeared dead on the track. But the former Montgomery and UC Davis star tapped into some hidden reserve, surged into contention and lunged at the finish line to land a trip to London by 0.04 seconds. Stafford, a track star at Santa Rosa High, rebounded from a broken rib to secure his berth on the rowing team. The last two cut for eight- and four-man boats, Silas and his partner, Tom Peszek, won three two-man races in three days to qualify for London. The pair finished eighth in the Summer Games.
4. LONGTIME PREP FOOTBALL COACHES RETIRE
In his 33 years coaching Montgomery High's football team, Jason Franci became so synonymous with the program, the school named its field for him during a September game against Casa Grande. Over in Sonoma, longtime football coach Mick O'Meara retired after 34 years on the Dragons' sideline. Top assistant Mike Mulas, another three-decade fixture, also called it a career. The three Sonoma County football icons' departures came on the heels of Tom Kirkpatrick's retirement from Healdsburg's gridiron program after the 2011 season.