Illinois Year in Review

Illinois Year in Review

TOP MALE ATHLETES

1. Justin Parr, baseball. Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American taking sweet swing to pros.

2. Jesse Delgado, wrestling. Sophomore Big Ten champion became first Illini to win an NCAA title at 125 pounds.

3. Fred Hartville, gymnastics. Proving Big Ten vault title was no fluke, freshman repeated feat at NCAA Championships.

4. Thomas Pieters, golf. Illini will miss reigning Big Ten medalist and 2012 NCAA champion, who’s joining the play-for-pay bunch.

5. Stephon Pamilton, men’s track & field. Junior transfer from Bethune-Cookman won Big Ten indoor and outdoor 400-meter titles, becoming sixth Illini male to sweep the event in same year.

6. Brandon Paul, basketball. Senior guard’s scoring average of 16.6 points was program’s highest in 10 seasons.

TOP FEMALE ATHLETES

1. Ashley Spencer, track & field. Sophomore already a two-time NCAA champ in outdoor 400 meters.

2. Alina Weinstein, gymnastics. A perfect 10 in vault, first-team All-American holds two other school records as well.

3. Karisma Penn, basketball. Honorable mention All-American ended career as program’s all-time blocked shots leader, No. 2 in rebounds.

4. Vanessa DiBernardo, soccer. Junior poised to become first Illini in her sport to earn coaches’ All-America honors three straight years.

5. Rachael White/Melissa Kopinski, tennis. Can’t separate these doubles partners, who became program’s first All-Americans since 1993.

6. Stephanie Richartz, track & field. Has won Big Ten’s last three pole vault titles and is league’s first female to capture consecutive outdoor crowns in the event.

TOP AREA ATHLETES

1. Alyssa Petruzzello, swimming. Centennial grad helped 200 medley relay team set second-fastest time in program history.

2. Ben Dodds, track & field. Champaign native and St. Thomas More grad scored three team points in Big Ten javelin.

3. Brandon Noe, track & field. Monticello native and St. Thomas More grad scored two team points in Big Ten discus.

4. Zebo Zebe, track & field. Unity grad led off 3,200 relay that finished second at Drake Relays.

5. Adam Acheson, wrestling. Redshirt sophomore from Champaign Central went 6-4 with one major-decision win.

6. Jade Ackerman, track & field. Rantoul native and St. Thomas More grad placed second in Section B 200 at LSU Alumni Gold Meet.

TOP FRESHMEN

1. Fred Hartville, gymnastics. Fifth Illini — but first freshman — to win an NCAA vault crown.

2. Morolake Akinosun, track & field. Big Ten Indoor Freshman of Year a two-time All-American.

3. Kevin Duchene, baseball. Big Ten Freshman of the Year set program record for wins by freshman pitcher with nine.

4. Jared Hiltzik, tennis. NCAA qualifier and Big Ten Freshman of the Year notched four wins against Top 25 foes.

5. Joey Peters, gymnastics. Newcomer from Pennsylvania extended Illini’s streak of at least one All-American in the all-around to five consecutive years.

6. Charlie Danielson, golf. First, Madison native Stricker. Now, this All-American from Osceola, Wis. Illini should recruit Dairy State more.

7. Jocelynn Birks, volleyball. Big Ten All-Freshman Team pick took on heavy hitting load and was up to challenge.

8. Mason Monheim, football. Linebacker led Illini with 86 tackles, by far the most among Big Ten freshmen.

9. Nicole Breece, soccer. Big Ten All-Freshman Team pick ranked second for Illini in points and produced two match-winning goals.

10. Remeny Perez, softball. Recorded highest slugging percentage (.514) and on-base percentage (.431) of any freshman in program history.

11. Thomas Detry, golf. In first Big Ten Championships, Belgium native tied for eighth.

12. Giana O’Connor, gymnastics. All-Big Ten second-teamer scored 9.9 in floor exercise at Big Ten Championships.

13. Mike Svetina, football. Just like fellow Ohioan in Monheim, linebacker made key contributions at key times when called upon.

MOST PUBLICIZED

1. John Groce, men’s basketball. Comes with the territory of being coach of Illini’s most popular — and scrutinized — program.

2. Brandon Paul, men’s basketball. Senior guard’s importance to team put his every game under microscope.

3. Nathan Scheelhaase, football. Junior QB often put in tough position of being player spokesman for struggling program.

4. Justin Parr’s 33-game hitting streak. Once center fielder’s program-record streak entered the late teens, it — and he — was in spotlight for weeks.

5. Matt Bollant, women’s basketball. Inherited program that had lost the interest of fans and instilled it with energy and hope.

DESERVED MORE PUB

1. Alex Booker, softball. Junior left fielder hit .352 and was 20 of 21 in stolen-base attempts en route to All-Big Ten second-team honors.

2. Jennifer Beltran, volleyball. Junior libero a cinch to break school career digs record in final season.

3. Mark Perry, wrestling. Jim Heffernan’s right-hand man named Division I Assistant Coach of Year by Amateur Wrestling News.

4. Women’s 800-meter crew. How deep are the Illini in this event? At the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, Samantha Murphy, Ahlivia Spencer and Amanda Duvendack finished 1-3-5.

5. Hugh Thornton, football. Colts showed real value of All-Big Ten second-teamer by drafting offensive lineman in third round (86th overall).

6. Allison Falkin, women’s tennis. Junior earned All-Big Ten first-team honors for second year in row.

7. Anna Dorn, volleyball. Middle blocker named to three all-tournament teams, hit .383 to rank 19th in nation.

8. Graham Morris, track & field. In second meet as an Illini, Eastern Illinois transfer broke 22-year-old school record in the mile. Morris finished in 4:00.47 at the Indiana Relays to barely eclipse previous mark by 0.9 second.

9. Alison Meng, swimming. Sophomore broke school records in the 50- and 100-yard backstrokes at the Big Ten Championships.

10. Cameron Rogers, gymnastics. Junior was Illini’s Mr. Consistency en route to first Big Ten event finals of career. In fact, Rogers earned the team’s Yoshi Hayasaki Consistency Award after hitting 30 of 34 routines.

11. Adrian Wheatley, men’s track & field. Illini newcomer named Midwest Region Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year by U.S. Track and Field/Cross-Country Coaches’ Association.

ALL-INTERVIEW

1. Tonja Buford-Bailey. Three-time track Olympian deserves a gold medal for interview responses.

2. John Groce. Not sure how the men’s basketball coach does it, but at news conferences, he addresses all questioners by their first name.

3. Justin Spring. In good times or bad, men’s gymnastics coach never at a loss for words.

4. Alexis Viliunas. Just don’t call the freshman setter Lexi. After her coach was quoted doing just that, she quickly set media straight on her first-name preference.

5. Alex Golesh. Always honest, always thorough, the Illinois football recruiting coordinator is well-schooled when dealing with the media.

6. Hugh Thornton. The gregarious offensive lineman, words not usually associated with the position, is at ease with a microphone in his face.  

BEST MOMENTS

1. Fans flooding the Assembly Hall floor seconds after Tyler Griffey’s buzzer-beating layup to celebrate stunning upset of No. 1 Indiana.

2. A missed 9-foot putt by California’s Max Homa on the 20th hole, giving Thomas Pieters a 1-up win and Illini a 3-2 victory against No. 1 California in the NCAA Championships semifinals.

3. Illini women’s 1,600 relay finished year with three straight school record-breaking performances, the last to earn All-America honors.

4. End of UI’s 12-day marathon as host of the NCAA Tennis Championships. Holly Stalcup and her crew could take satisfaction in a job well done ... before collapsing.

5. Final buzzer of Jesse Delgado’s thoroughly decisive 10-4 win against Iowa’s top-seeded Matt McDonough for the Big Ten 125-pound title.

6. When Adrienne GodBold regained eligibility. After sitting out first semester for academic reasons, senior guard was a difference-maker for Illini women’s basketball team, which stunned No. 6 Georgia in her debut and went 13-9 after her return.

7. For the Illini men’s distance medley relay team, looking at the clock and realizing an 18-year-old school record had fallen. The foursome of Kyle Engnell, Stephon Pamilton, Ryan Lynn and Graham Morris clocked a 9:29.40 at Notre Dame to break the previous record of 9:36.33 that had stood since 1995.

WORST MOMENTS

1. For Illini traditionalists, the day the Assembly Hall was officially renamed the State Farm Center.

2. Last out of season for Illini baseball team. Entering ninth inning with 3-2 lead, UI gives up four runs to Georgia Tech and is knocked out of NCAA tournament.

3. Buildup to WNBA draft strongly pointed toward Karisma Penn being selected. Instead, Illini senior MVP never heard her name called.

4. Less than six weeks on job, offensive line coach Jim Bridge leaves on first day of spring practice for same position at Purdue.

5. Tim Beckman getting bashed by some Big Ten peers for handling of Ryan Nowicki’s transfer from Penn State.

6. Louisiana Tech coming into Memorial Stadium and putting the smackdown on the Illinois football team in Week 4. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come the rest of the fall.

MILESTONES

1. Iconic Assembly Hall marks 50th anniversary with appropriate pomp during March 2 men’s basketball game against Nebraska.

2. Members of 2003 men’s tennis team marked 10th-year anniversary of their national title with reunion on campus during the NCAA Championships.

3. Pete Elliott, who coached Illini to 1964 Rose Bowl and went on to become executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 18 years, died Jan. 4 at 86.

4. Illini baseball family said goodbye to The Swami, Lee Eilbracht. The winningest coach in program history (515 victories in 27 seasons) died Jan. 2 at 88.

5. Illinois hosted first match-play event in NCAA gymnastics history, defeating Minnesota 21-9 at Huff Hall.

6. Men’s golf won first NCAA regional title in program history, beating runner-up Arkansas on its home course.

7. Women’s basketball team broke the Big Ten record for steals in a season with 417. The previous mark of 404 was set in 2000-01 by Purdue.

8. Vanier Joseph’s victory in the Big Ten 110-meter hurdles gave the Illini men four consecutive conference titles in the event. (Andrew Riley earned the previous three). Only one other league member (Wisconsin) has won the event as many as three straight times.

9. The Illini Networkers, the support group for UI volleyball, marked its 30th anniversary with a reunion weekend in May that included the return of former players and coaches to campus. Among them, members of the 1987 and ’88 Final Four teams.

10. Adrienne GodBold becomes first Illini to be selected Big Ten Defensive Player of Year in women’s basketball. Senior added award to her 2012 Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year honor.

11. Senior Pepper Gay set four UI career pitching records: strikeouts (592), opposing batting average (.213), starts (113) and complete games (68).

12. After nine seasons on Illini volleyball staff — and five NCAA tournament appearances — assistant Jen Oldenburg resigns to devote more time to her growing family.

TOP EX-ILLINI

1. David Kniffin, volleyball. Former Illini women’s assistant guided second-seeded Cal Irvine men’s squad to NCAA title. Staff included volunteer assistant — and ex-Illini All-American — Michelle Bartsch.

2. Andrew Riley, track & field. Four-time NCAA champ beat London Olympics gold medalist Aries Merritt — as well as silver and bronze winners — for 110 hurdles title at Drake Relays.

3. Steve Stricker, golf. Ranked No. 13 in world, he’s Tiger Woods’ go-to guy for help with putting game.

4. Deron Williams, basketball. Step aside, Ray Allen; this ex-Illini hit NBA-record nine three-pointers in one half last season.

5. D.A. Points, golf. Pekin native entered U.S. Open No. 9 in FedEx Cup points.

6. Bruce Weber, basketball. In first season at Kansas State helm, ex-Illini coach guided Wildcats to share of Big 12 title — program’s first since 1977.

7. Bill Self, basketball. After 31-6 season, former Illini coach’s 83.6 career winning percentage at Kansas is highest in legendary program’s history.

8. Kevin Anderson, tennis. Lanky South African’s current world ranking of No. 23 is highest of career.

9. Corey Liuget, football. Former first-round pick now chasing — and catching — QBs for Chargers.

10. Michelle Mehnert, swimming. Champaign native and Urbana University High grad won 2013 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship by more than a minute at Tempe, Ariz.

TOP RECRUITS

1. Isaiah Martinez, wrestling. Ranked No. 2 overall in Class of 2013 by Amateur Wrestling News, three-time California high school state champion finished prep career with 205-7 record.

2. Chandler Eggleston, men’s gymnastics. Jamestown, N.C., native won vault, floor exercise at 2013 Junior Olympic National Championships.

3. Brooks Black, wrestling. Product of powerhouse Blair Academy program in New Jersey, this 285-pounder ranked No. 16 overall in Class of 2013 by Amateur Wrestling News.

4. Michelle Strizak, volleyball. Outside hitter from Cincinnati was the Gatorade Ohio Player of Year and an Under Armour first-team All-American.

5. Jerricka Boone, women’s tennis. Five-star recruit from Morgan Park Academy is a two-time state singles champ. Ranked 38th in Class of 2013 by Tennisrecruiting.net.

6. Malcolm Hill, men’s basketball. Four-star recruit from Belleville East, the 6-5 Hill projects as a 2 or 3 and has the scoring skills those positions demand.

7. Mary Jane Horth, women’s gymnastics. Akron, Ohio, native won uneven parallel bars at 2012 Level 10 Junior Olympic Nationals.

8. Aaron Bailey, football. Four-star QB from Bolingbrook an example of the in-state talent Beckman and staff need to land.

9. Amelia Schilling, women’s swimming. Two-event state champ as senior for Minnetonka (Minn.) named Class AA Female Athlete of Year by Minnesota Swim Coaches Association.

10. Alex Greer, baseball. NJCAA Division I third-team All-American from Iowa Western will be starting in Illini outfield ... if he doesn’t turn pro.

11. Taylor Gleason, women’s basketball. Michigan Miss Basketball runner-up helped lead Goodrich High to second straight Class B state title.

12. Allison Stucky, soccer. Midfielder from Brecksville, Ohio, ranked No. 47 in Class of 2013 — and No. 4 in Great Lakes Region — by Top Drawer Soccer.

13. Matsen Dziedzic, men’s track & field. Libertyville Class 3A champ’s winning shot put heave (61-111/4) was well more than 4 feet farther than runner-up’s toss.

14. Kandie Bloch-Jones, women’s track & field. Five-time state medalist from Argenta-Oreana has sights set on breaking Illini high jump record of 6-11/4.

15. Brandi Needham, softball. Dripping Springs, Texas, pitcher named Class 4A MVP in state’s District 25. Of right-hander’s 86 career wins, 39 were shutouts.

BEST CROWDS

1. It was a banner night in several ways for the Illini volleyball team in its 2012 home debut. With the largest home-opening crowd in program history on hand, 3,770 fans cheered the unveiling of Illinois’ 2011 national runner-up banner. Then they raised a racket as Kevin Hambly’s squad swept No. 15 Iowa State in three sets.

2. Illini fans had the House that Michael Built rockin’ when John Groce’s guys faced Auburn at the United Center in Chicago. The pregame projection was for a crowd of about 16,000. Instead, 18,136 fans showed and were rewarded with an 81-79 Illini win.

3. Doubt the local interest in gymnastics? Then consider this number: 2,316. That’s how many fans flocked to Huff Hall on a mid-February night to watch the Illini men and women duel against Iowa. The response to the Gym Jam promotion was an eye-opener.

4. Almost 1,000 paid to watch the men’s team quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships at Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. The actual number on hand, however, was considerably higher as other tournament qualifiers and their coaches swelled the ranks of interested viewers. A ceremony to honor the 2003 Illini men’s NCAA title team undoubtedly was a draw for local fans, too.

5. The Orange Krush made its presence felt far beyond its numbers — about 150 — during a mid-February trek to a men’s basketball game at Northwestern. The highlight: During a timeout, three Krush members participated in an on-court promotion wearing Wildcat-purple T-shirts. Immediately afterward, they revealed their true orange colors, drawing a huge cheer from Illini fans.

WORST CROWDS

1. Illini football came dangerously close to slipping below 40,000 in home finale. The paid attendance Nov. 17 was 41,974, but fewer showed up to see Illinois lose its eighth in a row — 20-17 to Purdue.

2. Perhaps it was best that merely 159 showed up for softball team’s Big Ten opener at Eichelberger Field. Illini committed five errors that led to seven unearned runs in an 8-1 loss to Wisconsin.

3. Excitement over a new men’s basketball vibe under first-year coach John Groce wasn’t exactly evident in the team’s second home game. Maybe it was the who are they? opponent — St. Francis (N.Y.). Whatever, an 89-64 Illini walkover drew a season-low paid attendance of 11,640.

4. Home attendance made significant strides in Matt Bollant’s first season as Illini women’s basketball coach, so it was a surprise when a season-low 903 showed up for the WNIT opener against visiting Miami (Ohio).

5. Heavy rains in the morning didn’t help, but Tim Beckman was greeted to about a half-full Memorial Stadium for his Illinois coaching debut against Western Michigan. The paid attendance was listed at 43,441, but those numbers didn’t reflect the actual number of bodies in the stands.

BEST GAMES/MEETS

1. Men’s basketball: Illinois 74, Indiana 72. Illini had lost three of previous eight before this shocker against No. 1.

2. Women’s soccer: Illinois 1, Penn State 0. Illini ride freshman Nicole Breece’s goal and a stout defense to upset of top-seeded and third-ranked Nittany Lions in Big Ten tournament semis.

3. Men’s golf: Big Ten Championships. Illini hoisted fifth straight conference trophy after rolling to 9-stroke victory over runner-up Minnesota.

4. Women’s track & field: Big Ten Indoor Championships. Illini won first indoor conference title since 1996, finishing first in six events and edging runner-up Nebraska by three points.

5. Men’s tennis: Illinois 4, Duke 3. Three-set win by freshman Jared Hiltzik clinched upset of No. 5 Blue Devils.

6. Women’s basketball: Illinois 70, Georgia 59. Undefeated and No. 6 Bulldogs had no answer for inspired Illini on a late-December night at Assembly Hall.

7. Volleyball: Illinois 3, Texas 2. Visiting Illini outbattled a Longhorns team that went on to capture NCAA title.

8. Men’s basketball: Illinois 85, Gonzaga 74. Gonzaga was 110-7 in games at its home arena before Brandon Paul erupted for 35 points against the 10th-ranked Bulldogs. Win vaulted the program into the Top 10 for the first time since Dee Brown and James Augustine wore Orange and Blue.

9. Baseball: Illinois 3, Indiana 2. It was tense to the final out, but visiting Illini ended No. 16 Indiana’s NCAA-best 18-game winning streak.

10. Football: Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0. Yes, it was against a Football Championship Subdivision school that made Reilly O’Toole look like the second coming of Kurt Kittner. The Week 3 win was the last time Illinois enjoyed a victory.

WORST GAMES

1. Football: Northwestern 50, Illinois 14. A sad season comes to an end with a whipping at hands of in-state rival. What was that about Our State, Our Team?

2. Women’s soccer: North Carolina 9, Illinois 2. Trailing 2-1 at halftime, Illini were hit by a seven-goal Tar Heel deluge thereafter in NCAA tournament second-round rout.

3. Softball: Eastern Illinois 12, Illinois 1. Coming off a three-game series against Northwestern in which they were outscored 23-1, Illini are pummeled in five-inning run-ruled contest.

4. Men’s basketball: Wisconsin 74, Illinois 51. Illini shot 6 of 23 in the first half and were outrebounded 43-24 in an uber-ugly performance at Madison.

5. Wrestling: Penn State 37, Illinois 0. No. 1 Nittany Lions handed Illini their first shutout since Feb. 16, 1992. To Illinois’ credit, five defeats were by three or fewer points.

6. Men’s golf: Augusta State Invitational. Who would have guessed on April 7 that the Illini would go on to finish second at the NCAA Championships? Mike Small’s bunch finished 12th at the 15-team Augusta State Invitational, and Illini All-American-to-be Charlie Danielson placed 73rd.

7. Volleyball: Nebraska 3, Illinois 0. ESPN2’s cameras were on hand. So were 3,222 expectant fans. What unfolded at Huff Hall in this Sunday matinee was a shockingly lopsided 25-16, 25-23, 25-16 win by the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers against the Illini.

8. Baseball: Eastern Illinois 8, Illinois 4. Certainly the worst inning. We’re referring to the top of the sixth, when Eastern Illinois scored all of its runs and Illinois committed all of its errors (three) in a Panther win at Illinois Field.

KEY INJURIES

1. C.J. Maestas, men’s gymnastics. Loss of 2012 NCAA all-around runner-up for entire season was crippling blow.

2. B.J. Futrell, wrestling. Two-time All-American was off to 19-1 start when neck injury ended season.

3. Kevin Johnson, baseball. Forearm strain cost Illini their No. 1 starter for all but one inning over final six weeks.

4. Jonathan Brown, football. Preseason All-America linebacker missed five games with injuries, including final three with shoulder ailment that continued to restrict him in spring practice.

5. Kersten Magrum, women’s basketball. Fourth concussion of career sent redshirt junior to sidelines for good.

6. Terry Hawthorne, football. Certainly one of the scariest. The cornerback was carted off the Camp Randall field in an ambulance after a violent collision with Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt in the third quarter. He missed the next game against Michigan with a concussion.

PLAYS OF THE YEAR

1. Who is The News-Gazette to argue with a gecko’s favorite insurance company, which picked Tyler Griffey’s layup as the 2013 GEICO Play of the Year?

2. A walkoff bunt? That’s how Illini baseball beat Nebraska 8-7 when Alex Lincoln laid down a suicide squeeze bunt with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

3. Video of Brandon Paul’s high-flying dunk on Trevor Mbakwe that left the Minnesota forward on the floor became an Internet sensation.

4. Ashante Williams provided the exclamation point to Tim Beckman’s debut as Illini football coach. The senior linebacker’s 60-yard interception return capped a 24-7 win against Western Michigan.

5. After sending his tee shot on No. 18 into the woods, Charlie Danielson salvaged par with a 20-foot putt to clinch a critical point for the Illini in their 3-2 NCAA quarterfinal victory vs. defending champion Texas.

6. Jessica Davis’ walkoff home run in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted the Illini to a desperately needed 5-4 victory against Indiana, ending a nine-game softball losing streak.

7. Joseph Bertrand dazzled the ESPN2 audience and Assembly Hall crowd with his gravity-defying layup against Georgia Tech, which found its way to the No. 3 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.

COACH OF THE YEAR

1. Mike Small, men’s golf. Should be national Coach of Year in his sport.

2. Tonja Buford-Bailey, women’s track & field. Has program firmly among Big Ten’s elite.

3. Mike Turk, men’s track & field. Has done remarkable job of reviving a once-deteriorating program.

4. John Groce, men’s basketball. Managed to pull his first Illini team out of serious January funk, when NCAA bid appeared in danger.

5. Kim Landrus, women’s gymnastics. Second-year head coach proving that both Illini teams in this sport are in good hands.

6. Matt Bollant, women’s basketball. Still much work to do but made major strides in debut season.

MOST IMPROVED

1. David Kerian, baseball. After hitting .192 as little-used freshman in 2012, first baseman batted .313 en route to earning All-Big Ten first-team honors.

2. Ivory Crawford, women’s basketball. Sophomore guard boosted scoring average to 12.5 points from 6.6 the previous season and ranked fourth in Big Ten in steals per game.

3. Nnanna Egwu, men’s basketball. Sophomore tripled his production from previous season in points (6.5 average) and rebounds (4.9) while leading team in blocked shots.

4. Shelese Arnold, softball. Year after pitching nine innings, sophomore right-hander won nine games and posted 2.75 ERA as No. 2 starter.

5. Alex Burge, men’s golf. Sophomore from Bloomington earned spot in lineup of Big Ten, regional and NCAA championships.

6. Corey Lewis, football. Five knee surgeries. Two missed seasons. Applying for a sixth year of eligibility. All the hardships haven’t stopped Virginia native from coming out of spring ball with the starting right tackle spot secure.

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IlliniMike05 wrote on June 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

You aren't a "traditionalist" if the Assembly Hall being renamed at the price tag of $60 million for much-needed renovations counts as the worst moment of the year in Illini sports for you. Or even a bad moment.


What you are, beyond any dispute, for multiple reasons, is a certifiable moron.