Looking back at the area's best sports moments of 2018

With 2018 coming to a close today, The News-Gazette sports staff spotlights the top 10 stories that defined the last 12 months of area athletics:

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Dec. 23, 2018

Of the 44 pairs of brothers who have earned varsity letters as members of the Illini wrestling program, the very first siblings — Joe and Allen Sapora — stand out above the others.

The natives of Renova, Pa., a small lumbering community 178 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, matriculated to the University of Illinois and had legendary collegiate careers.

What's on their wish lists?

Men's basketball

At the top of their wish list is ... another win over rival Missouri. The Illini seek six straight wins over the Tigers on Dec. 22. Mark Smith switching sides added some juice to what might have been an otherwise dull game. Mizzou is 6-3 but hasn't beaten anyone of substance, and Illinois (3-7) is off to a slow start.

Asmussen | Let's get ready to rumble

Sports I prefer outdoors: Baseball (though rain delays are a pain), football (no Ice Bowl in a dome), hockey (Winter Classic a genius move by the NHL).

So, why not wrestling? Au naturel.

Illinois plans to give it a try Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. And the forecast looks very permissible. Highs in the low 50s at 12:30 p.m. with a light breeze.

And no rain.

Heffernan rates extension

Illinois wrestling has enjoyed success under Jim Heffernan.

And Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman wants to keep that intact.

Illinois announced on Thursday morning a five-year extension for the Illinois wrestling coach, keeping him with the Illini through the 2023 season.

Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame

The Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame honored 21 new members during an induction ceremony at State Farm Center on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Sept. 2, 2018

Happy 24th Birthday to legend Isaiah Martinez, one of only four Illinois varsity wrestling alumni to win two NCAA titles.

Recruited by coach Jim Heffernan, Martinez traveled more than 2,100 miles to attend the University of Illinois from his home in Lemoore, Calif.

He was redshirted as a true freshman, then began a dominating run of his Big Ten competition in the 2014-15 season.

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: July 29, 2018

During every stage of his life, former Illini wrestler Eric Siebert has made an impact.

As a prep at LaSalle-Peru High School under his dad, Mark Siebert, Eric won the first state title in Cavaliers wrestling history (145 pounds).

Top of the Morning, July 20, 2018

DAVE REVSINE, the Voice of Big Ten Network, is hosting Tuesday's Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile.

Revsine, a former ESPN announcer, has been with BTN since its inception in 2007. He was the first one to speak on the channel:

UI athletics gets $1 million donation

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois athletics announced another seven-figure donation Tuesday, as the Bielfeldt Foundation has committed $1 million to provide updates to the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration Building and to help fund construction of the Football Performance Center.