Tate: Oops! '18 can't get here soon enough

Tate: Oops! '18 can't get here soon enough

Good riddance, 2017.

You won't be mourned by Illini fans. Not a lot worked out as planned.

The big item: football. You'll recall that continuity was an expressed goal in handing Lovie Smith a six-year contract, but here we are, once again, starting over on offense with the ouster of coordinator Garrick McGee.

Since Smith specializes on the defensive side, it means that the UI's young attacking unit will fall into new hands and a new approach.

But today's Illini Top 10 will concern just the contests, not the hirings and firings, hockey speculation, recruiting talk (Illini signs Jeremiah Tilman! Oops!), planned construction or Chief Illiniwek.

Following in reverse order are 10 successes of 2017, and all the "oops" that followed:

No. 10: Annie Fleming popped an opposite-field double to left field against Minnesota's sensational Sara Groenwegen for a 4-3 home win over the powerhouse Gophers.

Oops! These runaway Big Ten champions were 53-3 when they bumped the NCAA-bound Illini, 6-5, in the Big Ten tournament.

9: Isaiah Martinez won his third straight Big Ten wrestling title and charged through the NCAA tournament competition last March to reach the finals at 165 pounds.

Oops! Falling behind Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph, two-time NCAA champion Martinez overreached and was pinned. He was part of another "oops" in Iowa City on Dec. 1 when his bonus points helped Illinois to a 17-9 lead, only to see the Hawkeyes rally for an 18-17 dual victory.

8: Illinois edged defending NCAA baseball champion Coastal Carolina, 7-6, last spring and rode Ty Weber's no-hit pitching into the eighth inning of the second game.

Oops! A two-out bunt in the eighth broke up the no-hitter and, with Weber removed, two ninth-inning homers felled the Illini, 3-2. Shaky pitching led to a 23-28 season for Dan Hartleb's team.

7: Illini gymnastics was spotlighted at State Farm Center by Big Ten championship performances by Alex Diab (rings), Johnny Jacobson (parallel bars) and Brandon Ngai (pommel horse).

Oops! You'd assume that three individual stars in six events would carry Illinois to the seven-team title but, a day earlier, that went to Ohio State, 418.6 to 416.4.

6: With Illini fans cheering him on, Aussie Aleks Vukics overwhelmed the nation's top-ranked tennis player, Denmark's Mikael Torpegaard of Ohio State, 6-1, 6-3.

Oops! Even though Illinois captured the doubles point and led, 3-0, the Buckeyes — the eventual Big Ten champions — rallied for a 4-3 decision here.

5: Illini volleyball reached December on a roll under new coach Chris Tamas. Specialists Jordyn Poulter and Brandi Donnelly were brilliant in setting up their teammates, and the Illini posted nerve-wracking five-set wins over Hawaii and Washington in their NCAA outings in Seattle.

Oops! Rallying within a single point of a fourth consecutive five-set match, the Illini bowed out against Michigan State, 3-1, in the NCAA regional semifinals.

4: Dylan Meyer opened with a course-record 63 in Baltimore as the UI's men went on to capture their eighth Big Ten golf title in nine years. Advancing through the Purdue Regional, Mike Small's team drew a large following in the NCAA Elite Eight at Sugar Grove, where three 1-up wins by Nick Hardy, Edoardo Lipparelli and Giovanni Tadiotto repulsed Southern Cal 3-1-1 in the quarterfinals.

Oops! Illinois, in the semis for the third straight year, bowed to Oklahoma's eventual national champs, 3-1-1, in the grueling afternoon clash.

3: Riding in the NCAA basketball bubble on March 1, Malcolm Hill scored 22 points and the Illini registered their fourth consecutive win, 73-70, over Tom Izzo's power-packed Michigan State team at a raucous State Farm Center.

Oops! The follow-up trip to Piscataway, N.J., ended in a 62-59 disappointment, and coach John Groce was fired after a 75-55 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.

2: Mikey Dudek returned from a two-year absence in the Illini football opener, sparking a 24-21 win over Ball State with a 16-yard TD catch and a game-turning 52-yard punt return to set up the winning score. Illini tackle Jamal Milan blocked a 54-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

Oops! After a follow-up 20-7 win over Western Kentucky, the Illini suffered 10 straight losses, nine of them by double figures.

1: Last Saturday's win in St. Louis receives a No. 1 ranking chiefly because it is most recent and didn't seem likely throughout the dreary autumn. Brad Underwood's athletes provided Christmas cheer as they raced to a 42-22 halftime lead and defeated Missouri 70-64. It was the UI's fifth straight win in the Braggin' Rights basketball series.

Oops! Hold on, there isn't any. Not yet. But the Big Ten campaign looms, and four of the next five conference games are on the road (beginning Wednesday at Minnesota) ... followed by No. 2-ranked Michigan State here. Big Ten road games have been troublesome, the Illini losing 20 of the last 27.

Loren Tate writes for the News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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Moonpie wrote on December 31, 2017 at 8:12 am

What a silly, rambling, mumbling column, as usual.

But as I said. Ancient Tate is gearing up to toss Lovie Dovie Debacle Man under the bus this coming year.

zuppke wrote on December 31, 2017 at 11:12 pm

New Year's Resolutions for 2018:

1.  Pray for Moonpie's lost soul.

2.  Be thankful for graduating from the University of Illinois and support those individuals who make the sacrifice to represent our school on the playing field.

3.  Never allow those intent on tarnishing my second resolution the satisfaction of succeeding.

Happy New Year - Go Illini!


JimOATSfan wrote on January 01, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Perhaps a site like gaiadotcom can provide moonblossom with something to be positive about, or even something to really wail against, besides 80+ year old sports writers who love the Illini.

All the best to Illini Nation in 2018 & beyond!