Illinois Year in Review: Part I
Top Male Athletes
1. Jesse Delgado, wrestling. Back-to-back national champion at 125 pounds first to do so in Illini history at that weight class. Best news? He still has a year of eligibility left.
2. Jordan Valdez, gymnastics. National champion in high bar makes it four straight years Justin Spring’s program can boast having one of the country’s best in a particular event.
3. Brian Campbell, golf. Latest in long line of standouts to emerge from Mike Small’s team, California native broke the single-season stroke average en route to claiming Big Ten Player of the Year accolades.
4. Farris Gosea, tennis. Constant improvement from Wales native, who served as key linchpin in singles and doubles play this year while winning Big Ten Player of the Year.
5. Nathan Scheelhaase, football. The bowl wins he accumulated his first two seasons didn’t materialize his last two, but he led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,272) before garnering second-team All-Big Ten honors by the media.
6. Rayvonte Rice, basketball. Homegrown talent simply took control of Illini’s offense this season, averaging 15.9 points and receiving honorable mention All-Big Ten notoriety in first season wearing the Orange and Blue.
7. Charlie Danielson, golf. The sophomore played second fiddle to Campbell most of the season, but it was a good one, capped off by sharing medalist honors at the Big Ten Championships.
8. Tyler Jay, baseball. Currently pitching for the USA Collegiate National team, hard-throwing left-hander became dominant closer for Illini, recording 10 saves in 10 opportunities while garnering second-team All-Big Ten recognition.
9. Vanier Joseph, track and field. Senior was a second-team All-American in the 60-meter hurdles during the indoor season and then proceeded to win a Big Ten title in the 110 hurdles for the second consecutive year.
10. Jared Hiltzik, tennis. Sophomore from Wilmette put together a 31-11 record in singles play, mostly against No. 1 foes, to give Brad Dancer a solid 1-2 punch at singles.
Top Female Athletes
1. Jannelle Flaws, soccer. Knee injuries sidelined Glenview native for two seasons, but that didn’t hinder her last fall. The Big Ten’s Forward of the Year established single-season record with 23 goals in breakout campaign.
2. Jocelynn Birks, volleyball. Unanimous All-Big Ten selection at outside hitter led Illini with 500 kills, the second straight season she achieved that milestone.
3. Alex Booker, softball. Eichelberger Field will look different in 2015 without Booker in left field. Current Chicago Bandit hit career-best .371 with three home runs and team-high 27 RBI this spring.
4. Jesica Ejesieme, track and field. Lone Illini at outdoor NCAA Championships, Texas native finished with second-team All-America honors in 400-meter hurdles for second time in career.
5. Amber See, gymnastics. Kim Landrus will have hard time replacing See. Three-time All-Big Ten pick wound up with first-team accolades this season and was consistent point producer in multiple events.
6. Ember Schuldt, golf. Senior from Sterling found herself in the mix at virtually every tournament during the fall and spring seasons for Illini, culminating with her trip to NCAA regionals.
7. Liz McMahon, volleyball. Easy to spot on the court with her height (6-foot-6) and her skills, Big Ten has taken notice of outside hitter and Ohio native each of her three seasons so far with Illini.
8. Amber Moore, basketball. Only remaining member of highly touted 2009 recruiting class, Moore averaged team-high 15.3 points and leaves 12th all time in career scoring with 1,449 points.
9. Kylie Johnson, softball. Best hitter Terri Sullivan had this season. Sophomore right fielder ended with a .383 average, tops on the team, to go along with 14 RBI and second-team All-Big Ten distinction.
10. Alyssa Schneider, cross-country. Bartlett product was dependable contributor last fall, becoming first UI women’s runner to reach NCAA Championships since 2009 after she placed fifth at NCAA Midwest Regional.
Top Area Athletes
1. Kandie Bloch-Jones, women’s track and field. Former Argenta-Oreana standout kept up production in first season, winning the high jump at the Big Ten indoor meet before placing second in the event at the league’s outdoor meet.
2. Rayvonte Rice, men’s basketball. Picking apart the Big 12 during prep career at Centennial was just a preview of what he did against Big Ten competition.
3. Casey Fletcher, baseball. Oakwood native and third-generation Illini was an instant hit in first season, walloping a team-best six home runs to complement his .308 average and 27 RBI.
4. Zebo Zebe, men’s track and field. Placed eighth in the 600-meter run during the Big Ten indoor meet, which came after Unity product won the 600-yard run during the Rod McCravy Memorial meet and the 800 at the Orange and Blue Open during the indoor season.
5. Michael Finke, men’s basketball. Recent Centennial graduate is on the way, and we expect big things from sweet-shooting forward who will wear No. 43 this winter for John Groce’s team.
6. Ben Dodds, men’s track and field. St. Thomas More graduate and Champaign native finished 10th in the javelin at the Big Ten outdoor meet and set a meet record for the UI at the Lenny Lyles/Clark Wood Invite in Louisville, Ky., with a toss of 202 feet, 7 inches in the javelin.
7. Brandon Noe, men’s track and field. Another local product who contributes in the throwing events for Illini, St. Thomas More product from Monticello was 20th in the shot put at the Big Ten outdoor meet.
8. Samone Thompson, women’s track and field. Shone in multiple events at Champaign Central. Sophomore won the 60-meter hurdles and the long jump during the Orange and Blue Open in the indoor season.
9. Nicole Choquette, women’s track and field. Just completed her freshman season. Urbana graduate was second in the 800-meter run and part of the winning 1,600 relay at the Orange and Blue Open during the indoor season.
10. Brandon Carrel, men’s track and field. Redshirt freshman from Urbana, who won a Class 2A pole vault state title in 2011, had two top-five finishes during the indoor season and placed 17th at the Big Ten indoor meet.
1. Chandler Eggleston, men’s gymnastics. The Big Ten offices should have renamed their weekly gymnastics award given out to freshmen in Eggleston’s honor. The Jamestown, N.C., native won the honor five times and won a Big Ten title in floor exercise before becoming a two-time All-American.
2. Kandie Bloch-Jones, women’s track and field. No obstacle seemed too high in her first college season. She already owns the fourth-best mark in school history in the high jump at 5 feet, 111/2 inches and was a second-team All-American during the indoor season.
3. Adam Walton, baseball. Recovered from a broken finger that derailed his 2013 season, redshirt product from Buffalo Grove led Illini in hitting with a .329 average and added a team-best 18-game hitting streak this season, all good enough numbers for him to become a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.
4. Kendrick Nunn, men’s basketball. Part of a five-man signing class, Nunn emerged during the second half of the season and became a fixture in the starting lineup. The Chicago Simeon product was a double-figure scorer once he became a starter, and his 19 points at Penn State in his first start helped end an eight-game losing streak.
5. Jacqui Grant, women’s basketball. Matt Bollant likely will tailor his offense around the forward’s multifaceted game. She didn’t play like a newcomer for long stretches this winter, averaging 13 points while displaying a soft shooting touch and a tenacity in the post.
6. Brandi Needham, softball. Became the unquestioned ace for the Illini. Texas native went 17-15 with a 2.86 ERA. The right-hander tossed five shutouts and threw 23 complete games while showing superb control.
7. Maddie Mayers, volleyball. A two-time All-Big Ten Freshman of the Week honoree and all-tournament selection at the Long Beach Mizuno Invitational, Mayers found herself a key component of Kevin Hambly’s rotation after redshirting in 2012.
8. Stephanie Miller, women’s golf. Elgin native qualified for an NCAA regional in the spring after she won the Diane Thomason Invitational last fall, becoming first Illini to win a tournament outright in more than two decades.
9. T.J. Neal, football. Favorite player is Ray Lewis, and fans wouldn’t mind seeing Pennsylvania product develop into a playmaker. Ended his first season with 38 tackles and finds himself in position to open 2014 season as a starter.
10. Erin Buchanan, women’s gymnastics. Virginia native left her mark in her opening season. Key contributor in the vault and floor exercise, Buchanan was a second-team All-Big Ten performer and three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, becoming first to accomplish the latter feat in program history.
1. John Groce, men’s basketball. Whether the second-year coach is dumping himself in ice baths, defending his players or praising the gritty nature he wants out of his team, Groce is bound to generate constant attention.
2. Nathan Scheelhaase, football. Despite all the losing he endured during his last two seasons in Champaign, quarterback always understood he would come under scrutiny and have to answer myriad questions involving the Illini.
3. Tim Beckman, football. Every decision he makes, on or off the field, seems to garner either praise or scorn. About to enter his third season with the Illini, coach understands pressure is on for him to win.
4. Mike Thomas, athletic director. The renovation project at State Farm Center consumes time nearly every day for the 54-year-old, who wants nothing more than to talk about Illinois football coming off a bowl game appearance this season.
5. Rayvonte Rice, men’s basketball. Questions about how he would produce after making the move from Drake were quietly answered as Rice became face of the program this winter.
6. Wes Lunt, football. Highly anticipated debut will likely happen for quarterback during season opener against Youngstown State. The Oklahoma State transfer with the strong arm had to sit out last season.
7. Bill Cubit, football. If mayoral elections were held last September, offensive coordinator, who lives in Urbana and showed off a high-octane offense, might have given Laurel Prussing a run for her money.
8. Dan Hartleb, baseball. Always accessible and always willing to talk about his team, ninth-year coach endured difficult and trying spring with loss of his father, but he kept Illini near top of Big Ten all season.
9. Mike Small, men’s golf. With so much success from his team, along with the notoriety of having four former Illini on the PGA Tour, Small finds himself in the spotlight more and more.
10. Tracy Abrams, men’s basketball. Love his style of play or grimace at it, point guard was bound to cause some type of stir, but he always handled himself in dignified and classy way.
Deserved More Pub
1. Jordan Valdez, men’s gymnastics. The way Illini churn out national champions every year, it’s easy to take for granted what an incredible accomplishment Valdez had in winning a high bar national title.
2. Jesse Delgado, wrestling. One of the best wrestlers in the country resides in Champaign-Urbana, yet could probably walk around campus almost unrecognized.
3. Alex Booker, softball. First Illini to hit for the cycle when she managed the feat against Creighton, and she didn’t commit an error all season.
4. Farris Gosea, men’s tennis. Untouchable during Big Ten singles play, Gosea can find his name linked with Kevin Anderson because he won program’s first Big Ten Player of the Year since Anderson did so in 2007.
5. Jennifer Beltran, volleyball. Kevin Hambly could count on California native to supply steady defense, which libero did in breaking career’s all-time digs record this season.
6. Alyssa Schneider, women’s cross- country. If she keeps improving the next two years, has chance to make more noise at NCAA Championships.
7. Jason Goldstein, baseball. Catcher held together strong pitching staff and contributed with his bat, hitting .316 with four home runs and 28 RBI, good enough stats to rate him a second-team All-Big Ten pick.
8. Amber See, women’s gymnastics. If Illinois hoists an NCAA team title trophy in the next few years, how See handled herself and competed is a key reason.
9. Jannis Toepfer, men’s cross-country. Academic All-Big Ten selection wasn’t too shabby on the course, either, last fall for Illini.
10. Josh Ferguson, football. Versatile Ferguson didn’t let injury bug bite in rushing for 779 yards and setting single-season record for receiving yards (535) by a running back.
1. Nathan Scheelhaase, football. It’s rare for athletes to go around, shake reporters’ hands, look them in the eye and thank them after conducting an interview. That’s what the former quarterback did to a room full of media after the last game of his career. If he goes into politics, he’ll be a hit.
2. Ross Guignon, men’s tennis. Fiery player never one to shy away from a microphone or recording device. Personable and energetic nature comes across every time he talks.
3. Jon Ekey, men’s basketball. Only played one season with Illini, but instantly turned into a delight.
4. Chatrice White, women’s basketball. Still waiting to score her first point in Illini uniform, but Nebraska native shed insight on her time at McDonald’s All-American Game in early April.
5. Bill Cubit, football. Candid and thoughtful and can poke fun at himself, while doling out morsels of information.
6. Liz McMahon, volleyball. The 6-foot-6 outside hitter eloquently shared her feelings about (and pride in) her height.
7. Ryan Castellanos, baseball. Brother of Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos already big league caliber in his interviews.
8. Nick Allegretti, football. Hasn’t played a down yet for Illini, but center from Lincoln-Way East gladly shared his experiences at U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
9. Janet Rayfield, women’s soccer. When veteran coach speaks about the sport she loves, you listen.
10. Alex Golesh, football. 30-year-old recruiting coordinator for Tim Beckman personable and knowledgeable about his craft.