Tate: Illini teams aren''t fishing for success

Tate: Illini teams aren''t fishing for success

Took out my fishing pole once as a kid. Got bored. Never saw the point.

Went boating in high waves off the coast of Florida about 35 years ago. Spent the day face down. Turned green. Never again.

Tried soccer Tuesday. Been avoiding it ever since Walt Cresap kicked me in the shins in the third grade. Tuesday''s running clock drew my approval, but forgot to bring something to read. Might do it again if they''d remove the person blocking the net.

Shame is, few of us old fogies will ever catch onto the world''s most popular sport.

So here we are, brooding knee-deep over another troubled Illini football campaign ... and there''s a whole different world out there (besides NASCAR). With the Olympics behind, it''s breaking out in World Cup qualifying action on five continents. The really big news is that English soccer players shunned the media because a goalkeeper named Calamity James was pictured as a donkey, that Scotland''s team was booed in Glasgow after a 0-0 tie with Slovenia and El Salvador''s fiery coach, Juan Paredes, has been dumped already.

And the soon-to-be-retired trio of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett, having won their second Olympics, will face Ireland on Oct. 20 at Chicago''s Soldier Field as part of a 10-match farewell tour.

And right here in Champaign-Urbana, the most underappreciated coach in Illini history, Janet Rayfield, has put together another superb defensive unit that blanked Kansas, 1-0, on Tuesday to reach 6-0 ahead of Big Ten action.

Defensive shell effective, boring

As in hockey, a 1-0 score can be close or lopsided. Some goals are pure luck, others well-conceived. In this case, a pressuring UI team scored on a feed from freshman Ella Masar (she''s a better athlete than you were, Terry) to an unguarded Tara Hurless. After that, with the wind against them in the second half, the Illini went into defensive mode. That''s when the 290 fans needed a good book. In the full 90 minutes, the Jayhawks got four shots on goal. With so few opportunities, it almost seemed a waste to have an All-American, Leisha Alcia, back there.

"With about 20 minutes to go, we began to adjust (into defensive mode)," Rayfield said. "That''s the great thing about getting an early goal. Caroline Smith is a terrific scorer for Kansas, and we kept multiple people on her.

"This win puts a target on our chest. That''s what we want."

Why, we continue to wonder, has Ron Guenther been able to piece together so many Big Ten contenders while the cash cow, football, struggles?

Two recent additions, softball and women''s soccer, made an impact in short periods. Imagine: When Ron Turner signed on as football coach late in 1996, the Illini never even had fielded a soccer or softball team.

Yet, while the gridders are mired in another streak of Division I-A losses and rank somewhere below No. 80, the league runner-up softballers finished at No. 17 nationally and the soccer team is driving hard for a Top 10 ranking ... just as the volleyball team is hurtling upward after dumping No. 1 Southern California.

First, let''s agree that football is a numbers game. They can bring in more athletes in one year (25) than other coaches get in total. Face it, Illinois is severely challenged on its home recruiting ground and is not matching the quality numbers annually attracted by rival football programs.

Basketball success, as an example, can be forged around a couple of playmakers (Frank Williams, Deron Williams) and a dominant rebounder. Baseball can be turned into a winner with a few strikeout pitchers (Jason Anderson, Andy Dickinson).

Recruiting a challenge

Chicago''s suburbs turn out loads of goal-oriented youths in Olympic sports, and they are easier to recruit to the state university than their football counterparts. This said, it must be noted that Craig Tiley is a tennis internationalist and Rayfield''s contacts up north will bring in another Canadian star, Emily Zurrer, in January.

"We have three Illinois kids up top," Rayfield said. "We could do that (recruit mainly in Illinois) for years and have a solid base. But we also attract from everywhere. Canadian players are looking to play in the States."

So are girls from Champaign (Brittany Ward) and Urbana (Masar). All the more reason to take a look. Yeah, you''ll get me out there again. But try to have the brats cooked and ready for the next noon event. Lunch is another hard-to-break, old-fogie habit.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached via e-mail at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Soccer
Categories (3):Illini Sports, Soccer, Sports

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