IMPACT10: Most influential women in Australian sport

It's been an historic year for Australia's female athletes, with the launch of the AFLW and Super Netball competitions, the incredible rise of the Matildas to No. 4 in the FIFA World Rankings, the national women's cricket team reclaiming the Ashes, and the Jillaroos winning the Women's Rugby League World Cup final. But espnW's IMPACT10 list looks at more than the athletes who have shaped female sports in 2017 to include the influencers behind the scenes such as Josephine Sukkar, who has played an integral part in the growth of women's rugby in Australia.

Here's our list of 10 women who have truly made the biggest impact on Australian sport in 2017.

Ash Barty

From securing her maiden WTA Tour title to breaking into the top 20 in women's tennis, it's fair to say Ashleigh Barty had a 2017 to remember; she herself described it to ESPN as a "hell of a year".

The 21-year-old Queenslander enjoyed her greatest season to date, having return to professional tennis after a 24-month absence in which she played Twenty20 cricket for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League.

The year began with Barty securing her first singles win at her home grand slam after receiving a wildcard entry into the 2017 Australian Open, and ended with the Aussie getting the better of Angelique Kerber and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the WTA Elite Trophy and claiming the Newcombe Medal.

In March, the then No. 158-ranked Barty hoisted her first WTA Tour singles trophy after winning the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur. She also claimed the doubles title, partnered with compatriot Casey Dellacqua, and earned a significant world rankings boost to No. 92. The pair claimed a further doubles title, in Rome, before they sensationally reached the French Open final in which they lost to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.

Barty really hit another gear later in the year. The Wuhan Open saw her defeat a quartet of top 10 seeds -- Johanna Konta, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko -- en route to another singles final and a world ranking of No. 23.

She improved her year-end ranking to No. 17 to all but guarantee a top-16 seeding for January's Australian Open with the withdrawal of world No. 12 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Australian Women's Cricket Team

They may not have recorded the exact results they were after, but Australia's women's cricket team will certainly look back on 2017 with a smile. Their semifinal exit at the Women's Cricket World Cup and a drawn Ashes series weren't the ideal returns from a massive year of cricket, but the role they have played in helping to boost women's sports Down Under is no small matter.

In helping to secure a record pay deal, which will see wages across the women's game grow from $AUS7 million to $AUS52 million in the new Memorandum of Understanding, Australia's female cricketers have blazed a trail the likes of their footballing counterparts will be desperate to follow. They have proven that women's sports is no longer an afterthought in Australia, and that it is possible to make a living doing something you love.

On the field, the historic day-night Ashes Test at North Sydney Oval was one of the premier sporting occasions of the year. Highlighted by superstar all-rounder Ellyse Perry's unbeaten 213, more than 10,000 people flocked through the gates over the first three days to catch a glimpse of the Aussie girls in action. No doubt there were many young girls in the grandstand, dreaming that they may one day grace a similar stage. They went on to retain the Ashes, albeit via a drawn series, but that should matter little against the impact Australia's women continue to have on not just cricket but also sport Down Under.

Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore

We know, we know, Australia's female surfers don't compete as a team; but after the huge year they had, with three of Australia's biggest names sitting in the World Surf League top five throughout the 2017 season, how could we pick just one?

Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore -- three of the biggest names in surfing -- proved why they're household names in 2017 with all three claiming at least one tournament win in finishing first, second and third on the World Series rankings list.

Ranked first, second and fifth heading into the Maui Pro early in December, the final leg of the World Series tour, all three could claim the World Series title, with Fitzgibbons hunting her first title, Wright fighting to go back-to-back, and Gilmore looking for her seventh world title.

In the end, Wright claimed back-to-back championships after she reached the semi-final, only to be ousted by Gilmore, who went on to win the final leg. Victory wasn't enough for Gilmore to claim the title, and she finished third, while Fitzgibbons was knocked out early by a wildcard entry and finished the season second.

Britteny Cox

There is simply no better freestyle mogul skier on earth than Britteny Cox.

The Wodonga-born athlete carved a year on the slopes that many of her fellow competitors would be happy to achieve in an entire career -- a maiden World Championship triumph, seven World Cup gold medals and the season-ending Crystal Globe trophy, awarded to the athlete who wins the most points throughout the season in any of the five freestyle skiing disciplines.

With her seven World Cup victories Cox joined Australian winter sports legend and Olympic gold medallist Alisa Camplin as one of only two athletes to achieve the feat in a single season.

Not bad for someone who's only 23.

Yet despite her age, Cox is no stranger to making history.

She's the second-youngest Australian to ever compete for the country at the Olympic Winter Games after debuting as a 15-year-old in Vancouver, the first Australian woman to win a freestyle moguls World Cup medal, and the most successful Australian female mogul skier of all time at Olympic level thanks to a fifth-place finish in Sochi.

And all of Cox's record-breaking 2017 form has come at the right time, with the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea just around the corner in February.

She will almost certainly head into the Olympics as a title favourite, and given her penchant for rewriting the record books she could return home as the first Australian woman to win Olympic freestyle moguls gold.

Erin Phillips

It's hard to imagine anyone impacting women's sport on and off the field in 2017 the way Erin Phillips did. A two-time WNBA champion, Phillips effectively walked away from her lucrative basketball career to instead play in the inaugural AFLW competition.

As the new league took Australian sport by storm -- drawing impressive crowds and TV ratings -- so did Phillips. The daughter of former Port Adelaide and Collingwood footballer Greg Phillips, she dominated both through the midfield and up forward as she led the Crows to the premiership.

The Adelaide co-captain was crowned the league's best and fairest, was named All-Australian, won the Crows' best and fairest, and was named best player on the ground in the grand final. She also won Goal of the Year and was nominated for Mark of the Year.

Her impact was also felt away from the footy field. Pictures of her kissing wife Tracy Gahan -- with whom she has twin daughters -- to celebrate her AFLW best and fairest award inadvertently resulted in Phillips becoming a face of the same-sex marriage debate. She became a high-profile campaigner for the cause and was happy to be viewed as a role model.

The two-time Olympian, who won a world championship gold medal and an Olympic silver medal with the Australian Opals, will again juggle her two sporting loves next year.

While she has retired from playing duties, she'll remain with the Dallas Wings as director of player and franchise development as well as lining up for the Crows again for the second AFLW season.


Australia's Jillaroos not only celebrated back-to-back titles when they defeated New Zealand in the Women's Rugby League World Cup final; they also pushed their claim for the establishment of a professional women's competition to the point where it could no longer be ignored. Just four days later NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg announced a 2018 start date for the first professional women's league.

"The women's game has become an attraction in its own right and anyone who has seen the Jillaroos in action cannot help but be impressed by the skills and athleticism on display," Greenberg said. "The NRL is determined to provide the right channels for women to follow and play rugby league - and today is a great starting point for that program."

The World Cup showcased the big hits, skills and excitement that skeptics might not have expected from women playing one of the world's toughest contact sports. The thrilling end-to-end final capped a tournament that opened many eyes to the potential of a women's league.

The success of the Jillaroos encapsulates a fast-evolving development in women's sport in Australia. Rugby league is part of a growing number of team sports that Australian women are taking to in greater numbers, with overwhelmingly successful results.

Thanks to the Jillaroos, there will soon be a rugby league pathway for women -- taking them from junior competition all the way to international representation. The subsequent growth of the sport will provide young women with another option when choosing a sport that best suits their abilities; maximising their enjoyment, encouraging fitness and providing many with a potential career.

Josephine Sukkar

The only administrator to make the IMPACT10 list in 2017, Josephine Sukkar has played a major role in the growth of women's rugby for several years; but it was in 2017 that her work with the Australian Rugby Union / Rugby Australia resulted in the launch of Super W, Australia's first domestic women's rugby XVs competition.

President of Australian Women's Rugby and the director of the Australian Rugby Foundation since 2015, Sukkar, alongside her husband, Tony Sukkar, has poured thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into growing the women's game.

Their company, Buildcorp, is currently the naming rights sponsor for the Australian national women's XVs team (the Wallaroos), the women's XVs National Championship, sponsors of the Sydney University men's and women's teams. Sukkar also orchestrated the financial backing to take the Aussie women's sevens team to the Rio Olympics, where they later won the first women's rugby sevens Olympic gold.

But it was in 2017 that Sukkar took the incredible step to drop Buildcorp's sponsorship of the men's National Rugby Championship competition, the first time the company had ever dropped a rugby sponsorship, to protest the ARU failure to create a national women's competition; the 'fairy godmother' of rugby insisted Buildcorp couldn't support a competition that didn't offer the same opportunities to women as it does to men.

The action sparked the launch of Super W just months later, which will see women's teams linking with each Australian Super Rugby team and enjoying the chance to train in high-performance settings.

Sukkar announced also that she will play a vital role in RA's bid to host the Women's World Cup in 2021.

Sam Kerr

This has been a year filled with accolades for Sam Kerr. Asian Football Confederation Women's Player of the Year, Young Australian of the Year, and ABC Sports Personality of the Year are but a few of the awards the 24-year-old has received in recent months.

Beyond the silverware, though, perhaps the greatest achievement for Kerr has been her ability to ignite the imagination of her ever-increasing throng of adoring fans. Green-and-gold Australia jerseys with 'Kerr' emblazoned on the back now are commonplace in her homeland, seen in football stadiums to shopping malls, and across every gender and demographic.

This popularity stems from Kerr's exhilarating style of play. Blessed with extraordinary speed and agility, the Sky Blue FC and Perth Glory forward scores spectacular goals with relative ease and celebrates with backflips reminiscent of an Olympic gymnast.

The confidence within her is evident, but not a shred of arrogance pervades her aura. That's part of the reason Australia's national team has broken attendance records and sold out stadiums this year -- and that was just for exhibition games against Brazil.

Kerr is truly a rare and transcendent talent. Her influence extends well beyond traditional boundaries, shifting women's football squarely into Australia's mainstream and, in turn, transforming the world's most popular sport.

Sally Pearson

The past 12 months have seen something of a renaissance for Sally Pearson.

The 2012 Olympic champion seemed to be under a curse for the past two years -- a horror wrist injury derailed the best part of her 2015 season, before a torn hamstring ended her tilt at defending her Olympic gold in Rio during 2016.

But such was her disappointment that Pearson decided on the first day of the athletics program at the Rio Olympics she would coach herself from then on, painstakingly writing her own training programs and forging her own path back to the top of the athletics world.

And it was that same determination to take control of her own destiny that eventually led to fulfilling that plan - winning hurdles World Championship gold in London in 2017.

Pearson clocked 12.59sec en route to her second world title, and first in six years, edging her longtime rival Dawn Harper-Collins in the process. To add to the sense of occasion, Pearson's inspirational comeback was sealed at the venue where she broke through for Olympic gold in 2012.

The 31-year-old has achieved all there is in her sport, but will now get the chance to win gold on Australian soil when the Commonwealth Games roll into the Gold Coast, her home town, in 2018.

Regardless of the outcome at the Commonwealth Games, Pearson's comeback has been one for the ages and the hallmark of a champion.


'My first session, I absolutely hated it'

Tia-Clair Toomey, Australia's newly crowned world CrossFit champion, describes her journey to becoming the "fittest woman on Earth".

Tia Toomey

It's hard to imagine being declared the 'Fittest Woman on Earth', but Tia Toomey took the title after just three appearances at the Crossfit Games.

The first Australian to take the crown, Toomey started Crossfit just four years ago in an attempt to improve her sprinting. It wasn't long until she fell in love with the sport and steadily climbed the world rankings from No. 5954 in 2013 to claim the title at her third World Games.

The diminutive Queenslander shocked the Crossfit World in 2015, finishing second at her inaugural tournament, and she finished runner-up again in 2016 just weeks out from the Rio Olympics, where she would compete in the women's 58kg weightlifting division.

But it was a change of mindset after watching the title in 2016 slip from her fingers that saw the 24-year-old claim the title at the third time of asking. She was no longer satisfied with just being at the event, she wanted to win it and to make her mark.

To top off her amazing year, she broke the chin-up world record on live TV.