Top male athletes
1. Andrew Riley, track & field. Look for four-time NCAA champ to represent native Jamaica in Olympics.
2. Thomas Pieters, golf. Reigning NCAA champion can expect hero’s welcome in native Belgium.
3. C.J. Maestas, gymnastics. Fab frosh first Illini ever to win NCAA title in still rings.
4. Paul Ruggeri, gymnastics. Nissen-Emery Award (top senior male gymnast) snags his fourth NCAA individual title.
5. Whitney Mercilus, football. Consensus first-team All-American taking his sack act to Houston.
6. Luke Guthrie, golf. Third Illini ever to repeat as Big Ten Championships medalist.
7. A.J. Jenkins, football. Senior’s 90 receptions were third most in single season in Illinois history.
8. Dennis Nevolo, tennis. Second Illini ever to earn All-Big Ten men’s tennis honors four times.
9. Jordan Blanton, wrestling. Redshirt junior placed fourth at NCAAs for second All-America award.
10. Jordan Parr, baseball. Redshirt sophomore first baseman led Illini in seven hitting categories.
Top female athletes
1. Vanessa DiBernardo, soccer. Super soph training almost as much with USA Soccer as she is with Illini.
2. Ashley Spencer, track & field. What a way to celebrate 19th birthday; won NCAA 400 meters
3. Colleen Ward, volleyball. Two-time All-American capped career with 44 kills, 35 digs at Final Four.
4. Alina Weinstein, gymnastics. Second NCAA regional all-around champion in program history.
5. Jenna Carosio, soccer. Big Ten Defender of Year only Illini to play every minute last season.
6. Michelle Bartsch, volleyball. Two-time third-team All-American led NCAA runner-up team with 557 kills.
7. Kelsey Joannides, gymnastics. Program’s first two-time Big Ten champ after tying for balance beam crown.
8. Melissa Kopinski, tennis. It was telling that freshman was elevated to No. 1 singles for Big Ten tourney.
9. Pepper Gay, softball. All-Midwest Region second-team pitcher needs 22 wins to tie UI career record.
10. Karisma Penn, basketball. Third-team All-Big Ten pick needs 32 blocks shots to match UI career record.
Top area athletes
1. Alyssa Petruzzello, swimming. Centennial grad rose to No. 6 on UI’s all-time top individuals list in 50-meter butterfly.
2. Brandon Noe, track & field. Freshman from St. Thomas More won discus at Arkansas’ John McDonnell Invitational.
3. Kyle Moe, gymnastics. Senior from Champaign Central scored career-best 15.150 in still rings during Big Ten team finals.
4. Jade Ackerman, track & field. Rantoul native and St. Thomas More grad won 200 meters at Missouri’s Tom Botts Invitational.
5. Zebo Zebe, track & field. Sophomore from Unity led off 1,600 relay that ran season-best time at Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
6 Kyle Dooley, wrestling. Redshirt junior from Monticello placed second at Loras Open.
1. C.J. Maestas, gymnastics. Big Ten all-around champ swept league's Gymnast, Freshman of Year honors.
2. Ashley Spencer, track & field. Indianapolis sprinter swept Big Ten’s indoor, outdoor Freshman of Year awards.
3. Jesse Delgado, wrestling. Went 4-1 in first NCAA Championships to place seventh, earn All-America honors.
4. Donovonn Young, football. With Jason Ford struggling, Illini needed a pick-me-up from talented Texan.
5. Melissa Kopinski, tennis. First-team All-Big Ten pick led Illini in singles (23) and doubles (23) wins.
6. John Kravetz, baseball. Winningest freshman pitcher in Illini history with 8-3 record.
7. Liz McMahon, volleyball. In first NCAA tournament, ranked third in kills for national runner-up team.
8. Tim Kopinski, tennis. Won eight of 11 Big Ten dual meet singles matches.
9. Brandon Stryganek, track & field. In first Big Ten indoor meet, placed second in 200 meters.
10. Stephanie Pouse, soccer. Defense went into lockdown mode when defender entered starting lineup for final 14 matches
11. Alison Meng, swimming. Broke school record in 50-yard backstroke and contributed to school-record-setting 200 medley relay.
12. Jess Perkins, softball. Infielder second on team in games started (52), third in batting average (.275).
1. Bruce Weber. Wore feelings on his sleeve during painful final weeks as Illini men’s basketball coach.
2. Mike Thomas. New AD making point to be seen and heard (except when searching for a new men’s basketball coach).
3. Ron Zook. Speculation abounded about end of football coach’s seven-year Illini tenure.
4. Meyers Leonard. Probably didn’t write enough about the soon-to-be lottery pick.
5. Nathan Scheelhaase. It comes with the territory when you’re starting QB.
6. John Groce. Masses wanted to be Smart (Shaka) or thought Butler did it (Brad Stevens); Our thought: Ohio U transfer was best choice.
7. Michael Hogan. Soon-to-be-ex-prez had year like Zook/Weber/Law.
8. Jabari Parker. Just think how much coverage he’ll get if he actually picks Illinois.
9. Jerrance Howard. He’s so popular, he might make this list next year as a TCU assistant.
10. Kevin Hambly. Good-guy volleyball coach second-tallest on this list (Meyers Leonard).
Deserved more pub
1. Thomas Pieters, men’s golf. First time we got him on the phone was a few days before he won the NCAA title. Sorry.
2. Men’s gymnastics. It took an NCAA title to get them out front; their latest Big Ten championship got Page 3 treatment.
3. Stephanie Richartz, track & field. First Illini woman to win a Big Ten title in pole vault.
4. Adrienne GodBold, basketball. Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the Year finished season with a rush.
5. Thomas Lindauer and Reid Roper, baseball. Keystone combo major reason Illini led nation in double plays.
6. Tavon Wilson, football. Like the rest of the world, we were surprised when the Pats took him in the second round.
7. Jennifer Beltran, volleyball. Libero has knack for making the spectacular dig look routine.
1. Vic Koenning, football. No coach in the history of college football has spoken more openly. North Carolina reporters must be giddy.
2. Justin Spring, men’s gymnastics. The loquacious one should be national spokesman for USA Gymnastics.
3. Tonja Buford-Bailey, women’s track. Does anyone smile and laugh and enjoy herself more during a Q&A than this Illini coach?
4. Luke Guthrie, men’s golf. Someday, he’ll be mayor of Quincy.
5. Roy Kalmanovich, men’s tennis. With a name like that, you learn early how to enunciate.
6. Meyers Leonard, men’s basketball. Always-sincere big guy wore emotions on (long) sleeve — and humorously referred to head coach as “Bruce”
7. Brad Dancer, men’s tennis. We appreciate men’s tennis coach’s frank responses; he doesn’t sugarcoat in tough times.
8. A.J. Jenkins, football. He did not, however, make Jim Harbaugh’s list.
9. Kevin Johnson, baseball. Also a member of our all-photo shoot team.
10. B.J. Futrell, wrestling. Two-time All-American might be the happiest guy in the history of his sport.
1. Volleyball team prevails in titanic struggle for final point against USC (18 volleys over net) to win NCAA semifinal match at San Antonio.
2. Vanessa DiBernardo scores OT goal against Penn State to give soccer team second-ever Big Ten tournament title.
3. On a game day in March, Meyers Leonard is brought to tears by a surprise visit from older brother Bailey Leonard, a U.S. Marine who had been deployed in Afghanistan since July
4. Swimmer Michelle Mehnert, a senior from Urbana University High, returns from January heart surgery to compete in Minnesota Challenge in early February.
5. Baseball team presents people of tornado-ravaged Harrisburg with 31,000 pounds of food and $10,319 on March 17 from fundraiser at Illinois Field.
6. Men’s golf team holds up four fingers for Big Ten Network cameras after winning fourth straight conference title.
7. Kelley Wedel’s boyfriend, Matt Cervantes, proposes to her on one knee at third base following softball team’s final home game. She accepted.
8. Bruce Weber shows he’s a good sport, taking his team to Jarling’s Custard Cup moments after getting fired.
9. Andrew Riley blazes across finish line of 100 meters in 10.03 seconds, breaking 18-year-old school record.
10. Soccer players celebrate 1-0 win against Notre Dame, becoming first team in history of NCAA women’s soccer tournament to defeat defending national champs in opening round.
11. With all eyes on final remaining match, Roy Kalmanovich finishes off sixth-ranked Blaz Rola of Ohio State in third set to clinch Illini men’s tennis’ first Big Ten tournament title in seven years.
12. Coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, who helped set 1,600-meter relay school record 19 years earlier, watches her current foursome break long-untouchable mark.
13. Better late than never, members of 1975 Illini men’s track and field team receives Big Ten championship rings at a reunion on Jan. 21.
14. Seeded fifth, redshirt sophomore Mario Gonzalez clinches Big Ten wrestling 197-pound title with dominating 10-4 decision.
15. Jenna Mychko belts seventh-inning home run against Florida Atlantic, capping comeback from 6-1 deficit in a 7-6 softball victory.
16. On final day of Big Ten Championships, Courtney Pope, Kristen Manias, Jessica Holz and Brittany McGowan swim fastest 400-meter freestyle relay (3:21.83) in program history.
17. Release of final ITA ranking entering NCAA tournament; Illinois only school with both teams in top 20: men at No. 16 and women at No. 18.
1. In a football loss at Minnesota, Illini play like they’d given up in Zook’s final game at helm.
2. Meyers Leonard cries on the bench of a loss at Nebraksa. The disappointed sophomore center couldn’t hold back emotions any longer in midst of free-falling basketball team’s blowout.
3. While preparing for Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Illinois assistants threaten to boycott the game over pay dispute. After the game, offensive line coach Joe Gilbert approaches group of reporters and shouts, “Guess we weren’t a distraction after all, (expletive)!”
4. Illini men’s tennis hits bottom in 7-0 defeat at Ohio State, winning one set in singles.
5. Runner-up Illini volleyball team is forced to wait through lengthy postmatch ceremony on court for celebrating NCAA champion UCLA.
6. Mike Thomas’ morning meetings to fire Ron Zook, Bruce Weber and Jolette Law. When he got the call, Zook said, “I didn’t think he was inviting me over for breakfast.”
7. For third time in five years, Greg Gumbel & Co. exclude Illini men’s basketball team from Dance party on Selection Sunday.
8. With NCAA at-large bid still possible, Illini softball team goes 0-3 in final series at Northwestern.
9. Illini women set apparent school record in 1,600 relay at NCAA Outdoor Championships, only to be disqualified due to lane violation.
10. The baseball tiebreaking process goes three steps deep before Illini are eliminated from Big Ten tournament contention on final day of regular season.
11. Two transfers, loss of recruit won’t make new women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant’s task any easier.
12. Just six weeks into job, Illini hoops assistant Isaac Chew bolts for Marquette. Another blow to perception of program.
13. Soccer’s Stephanie Pouse, a Big Ten All-Freshman Team choice, decides to give up sport and transfer to Illinois State.
1. Men’s golf team wins fourth straight Big Ten title, joining Michigan (1933-36) and Ohio State (1976-80 and 1982-87) as only programs with as long of a streak.
2. Illinois football team wins bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first in school history.
3. Volleyball team sweeps season series against perennial power Penn State for first time.
4. Men’s golf team reaches NCAA Championships for school-record fifth year in row.
5. Willie Argo becomes baseball team’s all-time stolen base leader with 84th steal on March 27. Senior center fielder finishes career with 98, the fifth most in Big Ten history.
6. Women’s golf team twice breaks 54-hole school record.
7. Soccer team goes undefeated in 12 straight matches (11-0-1), a program record.
8. Men’s basketball guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul become 45th and 46th Illini to score 1,000 career points.
9. Women’s gymnastics team hosts an NCAA regional for first time in program history.
10. Senior Paul Ruggeri finishes career with 75 event titles, No. 3 on all-time UI men’s gymnastics list.
11. Softball team captures series at No. 22 Michigan, becoming first Big Ten team to win two games in Ann Arbor in 11 years.
12. Wrestling team finishes with 16-4 record in dual meets for most wins since 2005. Each loss came against a Top-five finisher in NCAA Championship.
Best former Illini
1. Steve Stricker, golf. Eight of his 12 PGA Tour wins have come in last four years.
2. Dave Diehl. football. Durable Giants offensive lineman now a two-time Super Bowl champ.
3. Deron Williams, basketball. Nets’ owner wants to know: Will free-agent All-Star guard stay or go? (Duh, go).
4. Kevin Anderson, tennis. Lanky (6-foot-8) South African has been ranked as high as No. 28 in world.
5. Brandon Lloyd, football. Well-traveled wide receiver has piled up 147 receptions and 16 TDs in past two NFL seasons.
6. Mark Johnson, wrestling. Have you seen the new YMCA in southwest Champaign? Well done, Coach.
7. Dave Downey, men’s basketball. Led a group of former Illini as charter members of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame. Congrats.
8. Ella Masar, soccer. After playing for pro team in France this year, four-time All-American will spend summer with Chicago Red Stars.
9. Tim Jankovich, men’s basketball. Just missed NCAAs, but got a sweet deal as SMU coach in waiting.
10. Bill Self, men’s basketball. For the second time at Kansas, played for the national title. He’ll have to wait for a second ring.
11. Steve Weatherford, football. Happiest punter in the NFL (see his celebration after NFC title game) finally has his Super Bowl ring.
1. Rayvonte Rice, men’s basketball. Former Centennial star finally playing for hometown team after two years at Drake.
2. Jared Hiltzik, men’s tennis. New Trier talent ranked nation’s No. 3 senior by Tennisrecruiting.net.
3. Nikko Reyes, wrestling. Two-time National High School Coaches Association champion from same high school (Clovis West in Fresno, Calif.) that produced Illini’s Tirapelle brothers.
4. Morolake Akinosun, women’s track and field. Waubonsie Valley sprinter an AAU Junior Olympics national champ in 100, 200.
5. Max Mayr, men’s gymnastics. U.S. Junior National Team member a two-time event champion at Visa Championships.
6. Alexis Viliunas, volleyball. Gatorade Illinois Player of Year is Illini setter of future (and maybe present)
7. Katherine Hepler, women’s golf. Illini need reigning Class 1A state champ from Normal U-High to contribute quickly after losing so many seniors.
8. Malcolm Hill, basketball. Versatile swingman recently invited to NBAPA Top 100 camp.
9. Jason Goldstein, baseball. Illini dodged bullet when highly-rated Highland Park catcher wasn’t drafted.
10. Teko Powell, football. Big man befriended Corey Liuget, who is happy to see his pal at his old school.
11. Thomas Detry, golf. If he’s anything like fellow Belgian Thomas Pieters, Illini have a blue-chipper.
12. Luke Carroll, track and field. Cross-country head coach Gavin Kennedy, a native of Ireland, lands one of England’s top distance runners.
13. Sam McLaurin, men’s basketball. Coastal Carolina transfer immediately eligible and will help fill void left by Meyers Leonard.
14. Dami Ayoola, football. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native ranked No. 18 tailback in nation by MaxPreps.com.
15. Katie Repole, softball. Infielder from San Antonio, Texas, area hit better than .500 during prep career.
16. McKenzie Piper, women’s basketball. Only 2012 signee, the 6-foot guard averaged 13 points, 5.4 rebounds for Class 4A state champ Iowa City West.
1. Lou Henson’s birthday bash at the Esquire. Downtown bar wouldn’t draw a bigger crowd if it offered 10 cent whiskey shots.
2. Standing-room-only crowd of 4,261 jams Huff Hall to see No. 1 Illini defeat Purdue in matchup of undefeated Big Ten teams. It’s second-largest attendance for a volleyball match in history of Huff and the third-largest home crowd in program history.
3. A turnout of 2,499, the seventh-largest in the 25-year history of Illinois Field, sees plenty of offense as Michigan State defeats the Illini 14-8 in the opener of a Big Ten baseball series.
4. Springfield Caravan. The folks in the capital city packed Erin’s Pavilion to say hello to Tim Beckman, Matt Bollant, Kevin Hambly and friends.
5. Illini treat 1,259 fans to doubleheader sweep of Penn State at annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate.
1. Ron Zook’s football team was 6-0, ranked No. 16 in the nation and playing traditional power Ohio State. And couldn’t fill Memorial Stadium. Maybe the fans who stayed away knew what was coming: a six-game losing streak.
2. In the season opener, 770 fans watched the women’s basketball team fall 71-52 to South Carolina at the Assembly. The Illini averaged 1,070 fans in 11 home games with fewer than 1,000 in the first six.
3. On Senior Day, men’s hoops had fewer than 2,000 in stands when Sam Maniscalco and Jean Selus were introduced.
4. Bitter temperatures (46 degrees at first pitch) and wind (16 mph) scared all but 353 fans away from baseball series opener versus Ohio State (no-shows missed a 9-1 Illini win).
5. Officially, the crowd was listed at 97,828. But it wasn’t close to that at Beaver Stadium for what would be Joe Paterno’s final game as coach. The fans who were there pelted the field with snowballs during Penn State’s 10-7 win. A week later, the whole world would be talking about a former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator who hadn’t worked at the school in a decade.
1. Volleyball team wins nationally televised five-set thriller versus USC to reach NCAA title match for first time.
2. Facing two-point deficit with two rotations left, men’s gymnastics team rallies behind school-record performance in pommel horse to overtake top-ranked Oklahoma for NCAA title.
3. Men’s tennis ends third-ranked Ohio State’s 92-match Big Ten winning streak with tense 4-3 victory for conference tournament title.
4. Men’s basketball knocks off No. 5 Ohio State 79-74 as Brandon Paul erupts for 43 points, third most in program history.
5. Wrestling team ends Cornell’s 19-match winning streak with 19-16 triumph to advance to the NWCA National Duals Final Four. With score tied at 16-16 entering final match, Illini 197-pounder Mario Gonzalez wins 8-2 in his first bout of season at heavyweight.
6. Women’s tennis team edges No. 9 Texas 4-3 on Longhorns’ courts, its first victory against a Top 10 team since defeating No. 1 Duke on Feb. 23, 2003.
7. Trailing by four points with 1:15 left, Illini offense marches 69 yards in six plays to pull out 38-35 football win against Northwestern.
8. Women’s golf team shatters school record for lowest 54-hole tournament score by 22 strokes while winning Westbrook Spring Invitational in Peoria, Ariz.
9. Women’s basketball team wins at Michigan State for first time since 2003, 71-62 in overtime. Adrienne GodBold’s putback with 9.4 seconds left in regulation and her basket on first possession of OT spark the Illini.
10. Baseball team knocks off No. 18 Oregon 2-1 on road behind Kevin Johnson’s complete-game four-hitter.
1. Sam Maniscalco’s chronic ankle injury cost Bradley transfer numerous games and left Illini in point guard lurch.
2. Redshirt sophomore Kersten Magrum hit in head during basketball game against Wisconsin, sidelined with concussion-like symptoms for much of second half of season.
3. Fullback Zach Becker breaks leg in second game of season.
4. Key volleyball sub Jazmine Orozco never fully recovers from concussion.
5. Pitchers Bryan Roberts and Rob McDonnell discover Tommy John surgery can require more than one year of rehab.
Plays of the Year
1. Brandon Paul sinks an off-balance three-pointer with 43 seconds left, giving Illini a 74-70 lead en route to stunning basketball victory against No. 5 Ohio State.
2. Mason Jacobs’ chip-in for eagle on the 605-yard, par-5 18th hole at Big Ten Championships, propelling golf team to come-from-behind title win.
3. Nicole Denenberg’s back-heel pass to set up Vanessa DiBernardo for winning goal in Big Ten soccer tournament title match.
4. Trailing 4-1 in third set and 40-0 in sixth game, senior Marisa Lambropoulos storms back to win match and lift Illini to 4-3 women’s tennis win against No. 25 Nebraska.
5. Alexis Burke scores on layup with 3.2 seconds left, lifting women’s basketball team to 66-65 victory against No. 10 Ohio State — program’s first win versus a Top 10 team since 2003.
6. Terry Hawthorne’s 39-yard interception return for a touchdown late in third quarter sparks football team to 20-14 come-from-behind win against UCLA in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
7. With score tied entering final event of swim dual meet versus Michigan State, 400 freestyle relay unit of Erin Lamb, Kristen Manias, Brittany McGowan and Courtney Pope wins by almost four seconds.
Coach of the Year
1. Justin Spring, men’s gymnastics. At 28, he’s youngest to be named National Coach of Year by College Gymnastics Association.
2. Kevin Hambly, volleyball. First coach to guide Illini volleyball to an NCAA title match.
3. Mike Small, men’s golf. Program continues to be class of Big Ten and will return reigning NCAA champ.
4. Janet Rayfield, women’s soccer. Her program is 30-10-3 over past two seasons, including school-record 17 wins in 2011.
5. Brad Dancer, men’s tennis. Remarkable job of reviving team from April slump to produce Big Ten tournament champ, Sweet 16 qualifier.
1. Meyers Leonard, basketball. Towering soph center increased scoring average by 11.5 points, rebounds by nearly seven per game.
2. Matt Milroy, baseball. Hard-throwing junior reliever cut ERA from 6.03 in 2011 to 3.88 while striking out 65 in 531/3 innings.
3. Whitney Mercilus, football. Went from “Who’s he?” to first-round NFL pick in one season. He tied Simeon Rice’s single-season sack record along the way.
4. Nora Lucas, women’s golf. Senior improved scoring average by almost 2 strokes per round from previous season and won first collegiate title.
5. Jackie Guerra, soccer. Midfielder went from no starts in her college career to 23 as senior for a 17-win team.
6. Brian Campbell, men’s golf. Went from out of lineup in fall to Illini’s No. 3 scorer at Big Ten and NCAA regional tournaments.
Headlines you might read in 2012-13
Bollant on first win: Credit the Huff Hall crowd
IHSA basketball returning to C-U
Rayvonte scores 40 in Orange and Blue
Riley wins Illinois Marathon
Henson finally a Hall of Famer
Heat hires Self
Illini draw Wildcats in NCAA opener
Hambly to coach Olympic team
Shootout at the Hall moved to Groce’s back yard
City OKs Nancy Cantor Boulevard
Headlines you won’t read in 2012-13
Barnhart to Beckman: “I can’t hear you, Coach.”
Thomas-Weber win Two-Man Better Ball
Thomas-Zook finish second in Twin City Twosome
Thomas-Law place third in No. 2 doubles
Thomas-Trustees fourth in bowling tournament
Assembly Hall work starts
Zook: I miss Loren
Parker picks Illinois
Weather perfect for NCAA Tennis Championships
Fans OK after loss
Donor parking lot full