1. Kevin Hambly’s intense speech to his Illini volleyball team after it lost the first two sets to visiting Michigan on Nov. 6. With its postseason hopes seemingly evaporating, Illinois responded and dug deep to pull out a 3-2 win in the season-turning match.
2. All appeared lost as the Illinois women’s soccer team trailed Portland 2-0 at halftime during its NCAA tournament second-round match in Lincoln, Neb. But Illinois rallied and won 4-3 in overtime to reach the Sweet 16.
3. Rayvonte Rice probably wasn’t the only Illinois fan running around with a surge of emotion after the Illini beat Missouri 65-64 on Dec. 21 at Scottrade Center to lay claim to the Braggin’ Rights trophy for the first time this decade.
4. Casey Fletcher hit an opposite-field single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for his second straight walkoff hit as the Illinois baseball team beat Michigan State 10-9 on May 4 at home.
5. Illinois volleyball reached the Sweet 16 for the 14th time in program history after downing Marquette 3-1 in an NCAA second-round match on Dec. 7 at Huff Hall.
6. The Illinois women’s basketball team trailed Seton Hall by 20 points with less than nine minutes remaining Dec. 9 before a stunning rally unfolded and the Illini won 71-70.
7. Perhaps sparked by the crowd of more than 2,000 at Huff Hall, the Illinois women’s gymnastics team accumulated a team score of 197.100 to establish a school record in a win against Lindenwood.
8. The Illinois men’s track and field team shared the team title with Arkansas at the prestigious Drake Relays on April 26, with Vanier Joseph winning the 110-meter hurdles.
9. Michigan softball has dominated the Big Ten recently and advanced to a Super Regional this spring, but Illinois surprised the fourth-ranked Wolverines with a convincing 10-2 win April 25 at Eichelberger Field.
10. The Illinois football team went straight to the north end zone to belt out the school song after a surprising 45-17 win against Cincinnati on Sept. 6. The Bearcats went on to finish 9-4, making it Tim Beckman’s most impressive win so far.
1. Maybe only Michigan State knew how good a football team it had. The Spartans pummeled Illinois 42-3 on the Illini’s homecoming, the only game all season Illinois didn’t manage a touchdown.
2. Anticipation was high before the Illinois volleyball team took to the floor at State Farm Center ahead of a Sweet 16 match against Purdue. But Illinois fell flat in a season-ending 3-0 loss to the Boilermakers on Dec. 13.
3. A sellout crowd at State Farm Center witnessed abysmal offensive basketball, with Ohio State pulling out a 48-39 win Feb. 15. The two schools combined for more points in their football meeting (Ohio State 60, Illinois 35) earlier in the school year.
4. Playing on the UI Turf Fields because so much rain had fallen at Illinois Soccer Stadium, the Illini lost 5-3 to Indiana in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal match Nov. 6, seriously putting the Illini on the NCAA tournament bubble.
5. Perhaps it foreshadowed what was to come, but the Illinois women’s basketball team wasn’t supposed to lose its season opener at Bradley, like it did with a 98-92 setback Nov. 8. The Braves finished 8-22.
6. Inclement weather moved Illinois softball’s series at Minnesota to St. Paul, but the Illini didn’t take their offense with them. Minnesota swept Illinois 8-0 and 7-0 in a doubleheader March 29.
7. Win a few games at the Big Ten tournament and the Illinois baseball team could have possibly made the NCAA tournament. Michigan State put an end to those hopes with an 11-2 win May 23 to end the Illini’s season in Omaha, Neb.
8. Penn State went on to win the NCAA wrestling championship, and the Illini found out firsthand just how good the Nittany Lions were after dropping a 31-3 match on Jan. 24 in State College, Pa.
9. The Illinois men’s tennis team went into its Sweet 16 match against Baylor hoping to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007. But that thought quickly went away after a 4-0 loss to Baylor on May 16 in Athens, Ga.
10. The shot selection, and subsequent miss, Tracy Abrams had in the waning moments of the Illini’s eventual 50-49 season-ending loss at Clemson brought out hostile opinions of the junior point guard via social media.
1. Fred Hartville, men’s gymnastics. Knee problems hindered 2013 national champion in the vault all season.
2. Vanessa DiBernardo, women’s soccer. Suffered knee injury once Big Ten play started ,and two-time All-American midfielder wasn’t at full strength again until late in the season.
3. Kevin Duchene, baseball. Left-handed ace of Dan Hartleb’s staff coming into season missed considerable time because of forearm strain.
4. Jacqui Grant, women’s basketball. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Illini’s long losing streak to end season started when fabulous freshman was sidelined with mononucleosis.
5. Ryan Lankford, football. Wide receiver saw promising season end in a heap, suffering a dislocated shoulder against Michigan State on Oct. 26 that knocked him out for the year.
6. Anna Dorn, volleyball. Surgically repaired left knee hindered middle blocker from taking part in many practices this season and had Kevin Hambly keeping close eye on her health.
7. Stephanie Richartz, women’s track and field. Three-time Big Ten champion in pole vault was sidelined most of indoor and outdoor seasons with a foot injury.
8. Mario Gonzalez, wrestling. What didn’t ail the 197-pounder this year? Three-time NCAA qualifier dealt with rib and knee injuries most of the season.
9. Rayvonte Rice, men’s basketball. Adductor strain he suffered against Northwestern limited his ability against Wildcats and other opponents during two-week stretch.
10. Bryce Douglas, football. Neck condition derailed career of Bruce’s son as freshman defensive tackle won’t play a down at Illinois.
Plays Of The Year
1. After a scoreless first period against Cornell’s Nashon Garrett, Illinois wrestler Jesse Delgado earned an escape point and then secured a takedown to lead 3-0 before holding off Garrett to win 3-2 in the 125-pound national championship match March 22 in Oklahoma City.
2. Completing a near-flawless routine, UI men’s gymnast Jordan Valdez posted a score of 15.525 on the high bar to bring home a national title for the Illini on April 12 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
3. Casey Fletcher had himself a week, capped off by back-to-back walkoff singles against Michigan State on consecutive days in early May.
4. Catching an alley-oop from Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand rubbed off a Nnanna Egwu screen and then threw down a reverse dunk against Indiana on Dec. 31.
5. Showing resolve you want to see out of a fifth-year senior, Jon Ekey buried a deep three-pointer over the outstretched hand of Iowa’s Aaron White in the final second to lift Illinois to a 66-63 road victory against the Hawkeyes on March 8.
6. Jannelle Flaws netted her fifth game-winner of the season, and most significant one, when she scored in overtime to give the Illinois women’s soccer team a thrilling 4-3 win against Portland on Nov. 22.
7. Playing in front of a half-full Memorial Stadium, Steve Hull made perhaps the catch of the season by the Illini. Falling on his back, he hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass against Northwestern on Nov. 30.
8. Fletcher’s bat lands him on the list again. His three home runs against Southern Illinois on April 30 keyed a 10-1 win as he became first Illini to hit three home runs in a game since Willie Argo in 2009.
9. Nicole Evans kick-started a seventh-inning rally in the Illinois softball team’s Big Ten tournament opener with a solo home run before Illinois eventually beat Iowa 6-0 on May 8, with all six runs coming in the top of the seventh.
10. Backpedaling while catching a punt against Ohio State, V’Angelo Bentley made the entire Ohio State special teams miss en route to an electrifying 67-yard touchdown return against the Buckeyes on Nov. 16.
Coaches Of The Year
1. Mike Small, men’s golf. Illini fans should be relieved Danville native hasn’t left alma mater for greener pastures after UI reached NCAA quarterfinals.
2. Janet Rayfield, women’s soccer. Early exit from Big Ten tournament didn’t stop Illini from reaching Sweet 16 for fourth time in program history.
3. Kevin Hambly, volleyball. Season ended sooner than he liked in Sweet 16 at State Farm Center, but tough schedule paid off in the end.
4. Brad Dancer, men’s tennis. Just go ahead and pencil Illini in the NCAA tournament next spring as ninth-year coach keeps producing talented teams.
5. Barry Houser, Marching Illini. Charmed the folks at the Esquire last fall and does stellar job in keeping fans’ interest at football games.
6. Dan Hartleb, baseball. Tough, tough spring as he dealt with death of his father but guided Illini to brink of NCAA tournament appearance.
7. John Groce, men’s basketball. Led nine newcomers through tough Big Ten stretch to second straight 20-win season and into NIT second round.
8. Mike Turk, men’s track and field. Seventh-year coach keeps program moving in right direction with second-place finish at outdoor Big Ten Championships.
9. Jim Heffernan, wrestling. Illini placed 13th at NCAA Championships and produced individual titlist in Jesse Delgado during Heffernan’s fifth season.
10. Kim Landrus, women’s gymnastics. Slowly but surely, the third-year coach is building a program that contends for national honors each winter.
1. Tyler Jay, baseball. Reliever doubled his 2013 inning total in 2014 and racked up a 4-1 record with a 1.94 ERA while giving Dan Hartleb plenty of confidence when he was on the mound.
2. Steve Hull, football. Played defense his first three seasons at Illinois before emerging as a go-to wide receiver by catching 59 passes for 993 yards and seven touchdowns last fall.
3. Rayvonte Rice, men’s basketball. Scored in double figures 31 times for Illini and led them in scoring in 20 games.
4. Danielle Davis, volleyball. By early October, freshman walk-on had become rotation fixture in back row.
5. Ashley McConnell, women’s basketball. Walk-on worked her way into the starting lineup in latter half of the season.
6. Jon Hauter, men’s golf. Had three top-10 finishes during the season after redshirt senior didn’t play many rounds in first three seasons.
7. Ivory Crawford, women’s basketball. Only Illini to start all 33 of Illini’s games, junior guard led team in rebounding (at 5-foot-10) and ranked second in scoring.
8. Logan Bradley, men’s gymnastics. Became one of 10 All-Americans Illini had after earning honor in pommel horse.
9. Jannelle Flaws, women’s soccer. Hard to exclude forward after knee injuries forced her to miss two seasons.
10. Corey Lewis, football. Right tackle started all 12 games after knee problems forced many agonizing moments for sixth-year senior earlier in his career.
They said what?
1. “Coming through that tunnel, I was ready to play again. I was looking forward to getting an alley-oop dunk or Kenny Battle going down the middle with a 360 dunk.” — former Illini Marcus Liberty in early January when he was back for a reunion of the 1988-89 Illinois team that reached the Final Four.
2. “I was just as shocked as you guys were. It’s disappointing that we continue to have the best players in the state go out of the state. It’s a sad moment for the state of Illinois, but it’s the kid’s decision. We’ve got to live with it and wish him the best.” — Chicago Curie coach Mike Oliver moments after his standout power forward Cliff Alexander acted like he was going to put on an Illinois hat before choosing Kansas in mid-November in a move that left many Illinois fans upset.
3. “So if anyone wants to know what place Illinois college hoops is in right now, it is in a great place. Not a good place, a great place.” — John Groce responding to Chicago Sun-Times headline the day after Alexander committed to Kansas.
4. “As we walked around the funeral home, over half the flowers were from Champaign. That’s from the department, friends, the community. The support’s been unbelievable.” — Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartleb, talking about response he received after his father, Dan, died this spring.
5. “I would have pulled my shirt over my head, but my body doesn’t look like his.” — Groce referring to Rayvonte Rice’s celebration after Illinois beat Missouri 65-64 on Dec. 21 in St. Louis.
6. “This isn’t about going to a bowl game and then taking three or four years off and then going to a bowl game. Ideally you’d like to sit here and say a bad season for us is a six-win season.” — Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas in early December addressing a second straight losing football season by Illinois.
7. “The other day he came home, I said, ‘We’re going to do some tutorials on how to change the toilet paper roll.’ He grew up as an only child. He was catered to in a sense. I grew up with three sisters, so it was a little different.” — Morgan Scheelhaase on husband Nathan’s cleaning habits.
8. “I thought it was going in. I had the utmost confidence in it, the floater. I’m real good at those shots, and it fell short.” — Illinois men’s basketball guard Tracy Abrams after he missed last-second shot during a 64-63 loss against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
9. “We’ve been on the bad ends of some breaks this year, and that was just plain, downright lucky. We were lucky to get through, and it feels good to be lucky.” — Illinois men’s tennis coach Brad Dancer after watching his team come from behind to beat Memphis 4-3 in a second-round NCAA tournament match in Urbana.
10. “I don’t get any, but I’ve had it many times. I don’t know how they’re going to travel with the cheese sauce, so good luck with that. I’ll go get mine fresh.” — Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt after some of his teammates received a horseshoe (Texas toast, cheese sauce and type of meat), a Springfield delicacy after Illini practiced there in April.
Headlines you might read in 2014-15
Lyle Lovett draws bigger crowd than Western Kentucky
All 60,670 Memorial Stadium seats going for $99
Trustees approve whiskey sales in north end zone
North end zone sold out
Tailgaters light up to protest smoking ban
Illini to play five games at ARC
AD buys golf team its own Learjet: “Air Small One”
Unit 4 studies site on Quad
First SFC act booked: Justin Bieber and friends
Headlines you won’t read in 2014-15
Commencement speaker: Stephen Bardo
Kilgore to sing national anthem
Fans happy with new seating system
UI athletes go hungry
Fashion guru: New uniforms rock!
Beckman OKs N-G helmet cam
Bollant declines interview
Groce: Finke needs to slim down
IHSA loves UI proposal
Marathon route includes hill