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Illinois' Jordyn Poulter (1) sets Ashlyn Fleming (12) during their semifinal match of the 2018 Division 1 Women's Volleyball Championship at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.

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Why she’s our top female athlete of the year:

Our third repeat winner since the award’s inception, Poulter was unquestionably the leader of Illinois volleyball’s fourth-ever Final Four team. Her production on the court also garnered All-Big Ten first-team, Big Ten Co-Setter of the Year and AVCA First-Team All-American honors.

In her words

We asked Jordyn Poulter five questions about her Illinois volleyball career and her plans for the future:

What’s the one moment that sticks out to you the most from last season?

It’s hard to name a single moment that sticks out from last season, but if I had to give an instance that stood out as a defining moment in the season it would be the win at Wisconsin. That stretch where we played Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin twice in a two-week span exploited some weaknesses that we were able to get away with in preseason and the start to Big Ten play. Being able to pull off a win at Wisconsin after losing to them at home was a turning point in our confidence that propelled us into the second half of a successful season.

Going into the year did you feel like you had a Final Four team?

To be honest, no, not really. I knew we had the potential to be very good, but as (Illinois coach Chris Tamas) had explained to me individually and to our team, a lot of things have to fall into place at the right times in order to make the Final Four. Luckily for us, we were able to secure a top-four seed, which allowed us to host the first two weekends and gave us a huge advantage.

What contributed the most to making it to the Final Four?

I think it was a two-year process from the time that Chris and the rest of the staff came in to the Final Four. We returned everyone except (libero Brandi Donnelly), and in the 2017 season we had solidified some key fundamental skills that we were then able to build off of and refine in the 2018 season.

What will you (or do you) miss most about Champaign?

Oh geez, I could write a book solely based around this question. I miss seeing my best friends every day, and I will forever associate Champaign with the great people that it brought into my life. I miss being able to ride my longboard over to Paradiso, laying out on the quad between classes, going to the ARC pool ... like I said I could go on forever, so I’m going to stop myself now before I get too sad.

Big picture, how will you remember your time at Illinois?

I will remember my time at Illinois as one of the best times of my life. I found so much joy in those short 3 1 / 2 years, and I will be forever grateful for what Illinois gave and taught me.

Women of wonder

A look at the previous Female Athlete of the Year recipients:

YEAR ATHLETE SPORT

2018 Jordyn Poulter Volleyball

2017 Nicole Evans Softball

2016 Jocelynn Birks Volleyball

2015 Stephanie Richartz Track and field

2014 Jannelle Flaws Soccer

2013 Ashley Spencer Track and field

2012 Vanessa DiBernardo Soccer

2011 Vanessa DiBernardo Soccer

2010 Angela Bizzarri Cross-country/track and field

2009 Angela Bizzarri Cross-country/track and field

2008 Angelena Mexicano Softball

2007 Yvonne Mensah Track and field

2006 Jenna Hall Softball

2005 Tara Hurless Soccer

2004 Lisa Argabright Volleyball

2003 Perdita Felicien Track and field

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).