ONE TO WATCH
6 p.m. Today at Syracuse
Tricia Taliaferro's Illini are off to a 2-0 start as they hit the road. No surprise there. In Illinois' three previous seasons as a varsity program, it opened up 4-0, 5-0 and 5-0.
The Illini defense has been stifling so far, having yet to yield a goal and allowing 12 shots. Meanwhle, the UI attack has scored six times on 50 shots.
The Illini might be catching Syracuse (0-2) at a good time. The Orangemen also got off to a slow start last season, opening 0-3-1 before going 12-3-1 thereafter. That spurt earned Syracuse its first-ever Top 25 ranking in its fourth year of existence.
ILLINI OF THE WEEK
The Illini freshman forward's favorite athlete is Mia Hamm, and Walker is doing a dandy impersonation of the U.S. Olympian. The Bellevue, Wash., native has scored half of Illinois' six goals so far, including the first two in the Illini's 4-0 rout of Kansas on Sunday.
"I expected her to come in and make an impact early," Taliaferro said. "She finishes chances that she's presented with."
An Illini of the Week honorable mention goes to junor forward Lisa Baldwin, who recorded assists on both of Walker's goals against Kansas.
"Lisa Baldwin is creating some great opportunities for Tiffani," Taliaffero said.
BACK IN RUNNING
Michelle Byrne's fourth Illini women's cross-country team opens its season today in the Sam Bell Invitational at Bloomington, Ind., confident it can't get any tougher than last season.
A freshman-laden group took its lumps a year ago, finishing 10th in the Big Ten meet. The Illini will be young again, with one upperclassman on a roster led by Cecelia Williams. The sophomore, who placed 29th in the Big Ten last year, has impressed Byrne with her drive to improve.
"She had a great summer (of training)" Byrne said. "I'm looking to see good leadership from her."
Among the newcomers is Becky Bullard, who placed seventh in Pennsylvania's large-school state meet last year. Bullard also was second in the 1,600 meters in her state's Class AAA track meet as a senior.
Today's meet will give the Illini an idea where they stack up against fellow Big Ten member Indiana. The Hoosiers are coming off a fifth-place Big Ten finish and return eight letter winners. One, Amanda Bell, placed sixth in the Big Ten a year ago as a freshman.
Two years ago, Lindsay Martin was one of the rising stars in Byrne's program. The then-sophomore was among the Illini's top three finishers in each of her six races and was their No. 2 in each of the last three meets, including the Big Ten and NCAA District V.
But Martin has encountered nothing but bad breaks – literally – since. Last fall, she suffered a stress fracture in her right leg, an injury that recurred in the spring as the Decatur native attempted a comeback in track.
Now, Martin is out for the season again with another stress fracture, this in her left shin. Medical tests also have revealed a potential problem in her right femur.
"It's devastating to her," Byrne said, "but I'm really proud of the way she's handling it. She's been positive around the other members of the team."
If Martin can resolve her injury problems by next year, the former all-stater from Eisenhower High has a final season of eligibility to use.
MEET THE ILLINI
Name: Kate Hill
Hometown: White Heath
High School: Monticello
Comment: Actually, for most readers no introduction is necessary. Hill's prep exploits as a former News-Gazette All-Stater and All-Area Player of the Year have been well documented. Insider simply wanted to remind folks that after sitting out last season as a transfer from Northwestern, the 5-foot-8 sophomore will be on the court for the Illini this fall. Look for Hill to be in the mix for playing time as a defensive specialist. Coach Don Hardin and his Illini know she's capable, turning in a strong performance against the Illini in 1998 when Northwestern visited Huff Hall.
The official numbers from the NCAA are in: the Illini ranked 11th in volleyball attendance last season with an average home crowd of 1,859. The figure was an improvement on the 1998 average of 1,828 and halted a two-year decline. Since 1985, the program has averaged home crowds of 1,882.