Illini's Cattenhead ready for next step in life

Illini's Cattenhead ready for next step in life

CHAMPAIGN — She joined the program that was full of hope and promise.

Coming off a 19-14 season and an appearance in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, the Illinois women's basketball team seemed to be on a winning track.

And Kennedy Cattenhead, a top-rated player from Bolingbrook, figured to be a part of the resurgence under then-coach Matt Bollant.

"When talking to the coaching staff, they really wanted change and they wanted to build a winning program," Cattenhead said. "I really believed in it.

"I was very hopeful. With the work ethic of the team I saw when coming to practices, I could believe we could achieve something great."

On the court, it hasn't worked out the way Cattenhead wanted.

Illinois (9-20, 0-15 Big Ten) completes its regular season today against Minnesota at State Farm Center.

The Illini are looking to avoid the first winless conference finish in school history.

Cattenhead and fellow senior Alli Ball will be honored before the 2 p.m. tip.

In Cattenhead's four seasons on the court, the team has won just 11 Big Ten games.

Other issues have surfaced. In 2015, an investigation into the women's program ordered by the university led to the firing of assistant coach Mike Divilbiss. Player transfers and a lawsuit threw the summer of 2015 into one of scandal for the Illini.

"We just went through a lot of adversity throughout the program," Cattenhead said. "It was growing pains. We adjusted and are going in the right direction now."

Cattenhead dealt with personal adversity. She tore the ACL in her right knee during a summer workout before her freshman season. She was forced to redshirt.

And the coach who signed her, Bollant, was fired after her junior year.

"It was hard," Cattenhead said. "We had to move on and adjust."

Looking ahead

Despite the struggles, Cattenhead remains optimistic about the team's future.

"Like any program, you're going to go through those bumps in the road," she said. "I was expecting some and we handled it as a team."

Cattenhead has enjoyed finishing her career with Nancy Fahey as coach. Fahey took over after a long, distinguished career at Division III Washington University.

"It's been great," Cattenhead said. "She is definitely somebody that gets on you, but you know it comes from a place where she just wants you to get better. She actually is very genuinely caring about everybody on the team and everybody around her and the family we are trying to create here."

Cattenhead has learned lessons from Fahey she plans to use in her own coaching career.

"It's not only been on the court things, but off the court.," Cattenhead said.

Cattenhead expects the program to win again.

"She'll do great things," Cattenhead said.

Strong support

Cattenhead never considered leaving.

"I wanted to stay true to who I was," she said. "I committed to the University of Illinois and I was going to stay here. I wanted to come out with a degree from the University of Illinois."

Her family was a big help.

"My mom has always been a firm believer in never quitting," Cattenhead said. "That was one thing I always remembered when I went through hard times, whether it was me battling my injuries or me battling something in the classroom or on the court."

Off the court for Cattenhead has been a different story. The sports mangement major is working on her master's in higher education.

"School's been great," Cattenhead said. "That's been an outlet when things haven't gone my way."

Cattenhead wants to go into coaching, preferably in college. Sports administration is another option.

Next on her to-do list: Land a graduate assistant position.

Looking back on her five seasons at Illinois. Cattenhead tried to keep a positive mindset.

"But I had my days," she said.

In recent years, Cattenhead got more involved in school beyond basketball and classwork. She was on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

"I want to be able to help people," Catenhead said. "I don't want to just be a mentor when it comes to basketball. I want to be a mentor when it comes to life. I feel like I've handled a lot of things."