Illinois Year in Review: Making the grade

Illinois Year in Review: Making the grade

Baseball
Why a B: No repeat trip to NCAA tournament, but a solid Big Ten showing.
High point: Beating Indiana 2-1 April 26 at home to end Hoosiers’ 10-game conference winning streak.
Low point: Losing twice to Michigan State in three-day span at the Big Ten tournament, costing them an NCAA berth.
 Big Ten finish: Third
What’s next: A chance to overtake Indiana, which lost its head coach. Illini are loaded with experienced players and should find themselves among Big Ten favorites.

Football
Why a D+: Second consecutive losing season, only one Big Ten win and not a lot of faith from the Illini fandom. Bad sign when your coach winds up on the national hot seat.
High point: Drubbing Cincinnati and receiving votes in national polls. The win moved Illini to 2-0 and quieted Tim Beckman’s critics. For a week.
Low point: Overtime loss at Penn State, which changed outlook for the final month of the season. Illini went from bowl hopes to no hopes.
Big Ten finish: Fifth in Leaders
What’s next: Critical year for Beckman, who some think needs a bowl bid to stay in charge.

Men’s basketball
Why a C+: No NCAA bid. An early loss in the NIT. A long Big Ten losing streak. And a yearlong inability to score.
High point: Winning at Michigan State, a game few saw coming. Temporarily revived NCAA tournament talk.
Low point: A 49-43 loss in Evanston to the Wildcats, the second loss during an eventual eight-game losing streak. The offensive struggles were exposed.
Big Ten finish: T-eighth
What’s next: A fancy new building ... two years from now. Before that, John Groce will mix transfers with veterans in an attempt to return to the NCAA field.

Men’s cross-country
Why a B-: Big Ten finish just one spot lower than a year ago. There is plenty of open space in East Central Illinois, so this is a sport the school should be good at.
High point: Jannis Toepfer finished third at the NCAA Midwest Regional, the best finish for an Illini since 2007, and qualified for the NCAA Championships.
Low point: Finished fourth out of four Big Ten teams at the Boilermaker Invitational.
Big Ten finish: Fifth
What’s next: A chance to keep climbing in the Big Ten, but team needs to find a replacement for the talented Toepfer.

Men’s golf
Why an A: Mike Small’s national power was the talk of college golf again, earning a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals.
High point: Sparked by Brian Campbell’s 63, Illinois rallied to advance out of the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championships.
Low point: We are nitpicking here, but the final-match loss to Stanford was difficult to take. Illini had a chance to advance.
Big Ten finish: Second
What’s next: Five returnees makes Illinois one of the favorites to win the 2015 NCAA title.

Men’s gymnastics
Why an A-: Advanced to NCAA team final for 12th consecutive year and brought home a fourth-place finish.
High point: Jordan Valdez winning the NCAA high bar title, making him the first Illini champion in the event in five years.
Low point: Finishing fourth at the seven-team Big Ten meet. Team performed better at the NCAA Championships.
Big Ten finish: Fourth
What’s next: Justin Spring welcomes back key athletes C.J. Maestas and Chandler Eggleston. Should make another strong NCAA run.

Men’s tennis
Why a B+: Brad Dancer’s crew rebounded from disappointing 2013 season to reach the Sweet 16.
High point: Improbable home comeback to beat Memphis and advance to the Sweet 16.
Low point: Lineup card mixup cost the team a victory at Penn State. Illini won the match, but the result was later reversed. Only other Big Ten loss was to Ohio State.
Big Ten finish: Second
What’s next: Entire roster returns. The team is set up to follow Dancer’s plan and advance deeper into the NCAA tournament.

Men’s track and field
Why a B: Team produced best Big Ten finish at outdoor meet since 1994.
High point: Second-team All-American Joe McAsey earned honors in the 800 run at NCAA outdoor meet.
Low point: A year removed from second-place team finish at Big Ten indoor, Illini dropped two spots.
Big Ten finish: Second (outdoor), fourth (indoor)
What’s next: McAsey returns for what should be a big season, but Illini will have to replace two Big Ten winners in Vanier Joseph and Stephon Pamilton.

Softball
Why a D+: Near the bottom of Big Ten all spring after a promising 8-0 start in the nonconference schedule.
High point: Beating Iowa 6-0 for their lone Big Ten tournament win, all six runs coming in the top of the seventh.
Low point: Only had a winning record against one Big Ten team all season and lost their first seven series of the conference season.
Big Ten finish: Ninth
What’s next: Pressure on Terri Sullivan, who is the only coach in program history. All but two are scheduled to return.

Volleyball
Why a B+: Returned to the Sweet 16 after missing the NCAA tournament in 2012.
High point: Beating eventual NCAA runner-up Wisconsin in Madison.
Low point: Losing at Duke, part of a four-match skid before the start of Big Ten play.
Big Ten finish: T-fourth
What’s next: Final Four (Oklahoma City) or bust. The team has a fancy new court and a plethora of returning talent. That’s why you see Kevin Hambly smiling all the time.

Women’s basketball
Why a D-: Year two of the Matt Bollant era didn’t live up to the success of his first season.
High point: The rare 84-point win against Alcorn State.
Low point: Almost any Big Ten game. They went 2-14 in league play.
Big Ten finish: 12th
What’s next: It’s going to get better. Maybe in a hurry. Only lost one senior, and the incoming recruits provide help immediately.

Women’s cross-country
Why a D: Fourth straight year the team finished ninth or lower in the Big Ten.
High point: Won the Illini Challenge.
Low point: There were only two teams competing.
Big Ten finish: Ninth
What’s next: A move up in the Big Ten. The top runner is just a sophomore.

Women’s golf
Why a C: Steady improvement throughout the season for Renee Slone’s team. Not like the men, but they are on course.
High point: Sending two players to the NCAA regionals.
Low point: Finished 15th out of 19 teams at a Florida tournament in early April.
Big Ten finish: Fifth
What’s next: Seven of eight letter winners return in 2015. But they will miss Ember Schuldt.

Women’s gymnastics
Why a B+: Kim Landrus has vaulted Illini onto the fringe of the national scene.
High point: Finishing 11th at NCAA meet in Birmingham, Ala.
Low point: Missing a top-three finish at the Big Ten meet by five-hundredths of a point. Ouch.
Big Ten finish: Fourth
What’s next: Losing Amber See will hurt, but Illini have promising young talent.

Women’s soccer
Why a B: Regular season struggles forgotten thanks to NCAA tournament run.
High point: Jannelle Flaws breaking the school record and leading the nation with 23 goals.
Low point: Big Ten tournament quarterfinal loss at home against Indiana, which put team on the NCAA bubble.
Big Ten finish: T-fifth
What’s next: Team needs to replace Vanessa DiBernardo and give Flaws some scoring help if it wants to compete for the Big Ten title.

Women’s swimming and diving
Why a D-: There is good swimming in state high school programs, but it hasn’t helped the flagship university in the pool.
High point: Finished second at an eight-team meet at Miami, Ohio.
Low point: Teams competing included Denison, Emory and Urbana (not the high school).
Big Ten finish: 12th
What’s next: With Rutgers and Maryland joining the league, it is only going to get worse.

Women’s tennis
Why a C: Inconsistent play in the Big Ten caused team to miss NCAA bid for second year in a row.
High point: Close 4-3 win against Ohio State, which finished third in the Big Ten.
Low point: Dropping 4-2 decision to Purdue, knocking the team out of the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Big Ten finish: T-fifth
What’s next: With two departing seniors, Michelle Dasso has veterans back to end NCAA tournament drought.

Women’s track and field
Why a D: Program in rebuilding mode after defections of coach and top athletes to Texas.
High point: Kandie Bloch-Jones in the high jump and Ahlivia Spencer in the 800 took Big Ten titles at the conference indoor meet.
Low point: Never in contention at Big Ten outdoor a year after taking second.
Big Ten finish: 11th (outdoor), ninth (indoor)
What’s next: More rebuilding for Ron Garner. There is history and tradition here, so it is possible.

Wrestling
Why a B: Jesse Delgado won his second consecutive 125-pound NCAA title. He will go for No. 3 in 2015.
High point: Delgado’s run to the title in a loaded field. He became the school’s first back-to-back national champion in 56 years.
Low point: The Big Ten is a wrestling measuring stick, and the Illini got the short end of it with a sixth-place finish at the conference meet in Madison.
Big Ten finish: Sixth
What’s next: Delgado tries to make history, looking to become the school’s first three-time NCAA champion. It’s a good bet he gets it done.

Comments

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BruckJr wrote on July 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Nice analysis.  You were, however, much too generous when grading Women's Track.  Thomas really screwed this one up.  First, by trying to lowball Tonja, but compounding that by hiring Garner.  He clearly didn't check with any high school coaches in the area prior to the hire.  Garner alienated coaches all over the state in his first stint at the university.  What a self-centered, arrogant SOB.