Calling Illinois “the perfect fit,” longtime soccer coach Janet Rayfield isn’t about to leave a program she built into an NCAA tournament regular.
That’s a good thing.
Rayfield and Illinois have agreed on a five-year contract extension that soon will be made official.
“I see myself finishing my college coaching career at Illinois,” Rayfield said Friday when reached by phone during a recruiting trip in chilly Texas. “I don’t know how long I can keep running with 20-year-olds. But I don’t see myself building another college program. This chapter will end at Illinois.”
Rayfield’s current contract was to expire in August. Her new deal should allow Illinois to run with the big dogs of the sport.
This fall’s team has the potential to be Rayfield’s best. And like Bruce Weber’s basketball Illini of 2005, the setup isn’t bad, either.
Illinois will host the Big Ten tournament. If they’re good enough, the Illini could host as many as three NCAA tournament matches with an eye on the Final Four in Cary, N.C.
“Our sights are set on the Final Four,” Rayfield said. “The goal is to play as many home matches in the postseason as we can.”
The Illini have won two Big Ten tournament titles and reached nine NCAA tournaments in Rayfield’s 11 seasons. Her tenure is the fourth longest among Illinois head coaches behind golf’s Mike Small, softball’s Terri Sullivan and swimming’s Sue NovitskY.
“I can’t believe the time has gone by so quick,” she said.
Illinois does it right when negotiating with talents like Rayfield. Just as the school allows Small time to golf on the professional circuit, Rayfield complements her role at Illinois with coaching duties for the Under-20 U.S. Women’s National Team, which won the 2012 U-20 World Cup. It provides visibility for both coach and school.
“I have the best of both worlds,” Rayfield said. “Twelve years ago I was looking for a place that was a fit for me. Illinois was that place.”
And will be for some time.
— Like Rayfield, the marquee speaker at Tuesday’s Rebounders luncheon in Urbana — Brian Cardinal — knows how to entertain a crowd.
The former Unity High star, who went on to big basketball things at Purdue and in the NBA, should have plenty to say as the featured guest at the Paxton Chamber of Commerce’s annual get-together March 4 at Lakeview Country Club in Loda.
Price is $20. Get your reservations in by Monday by calling Candi Riecks at 217-386-2801.
— Speaking of Unity, the school has hired two former Illini as head coaches: Kylie McCulley (volleyball) and Kelley Wedel (softball).
You might remember McCulley as a two-time N-G All-Area Player of the Year at Clinton who later coached at Champaign Central.
Wedel took part in one of the neatest pictures of 2012 (below). With teammates looking on after an Illinois softball game, Wedel’s boyfriend proposed to her at Eichelberger Field.