Illini Year in Review: The Lists


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Top male athletes

1. Bren Spillane, baseball. The third-round MLB draft pick was one of three position players nationally to earn consensus (all six) All-American honors.

2. Alex Diab, gymnastics. A national championship on rings for the Glen Ellyn native was Illinois' third on the event and 58th total.

3. Isaiah Martinez, wrestling. Martinez ended his illustrious career with a second NCAA runner-up finish to go with his two national titles.

4. David Kendziera, track and field. A pair of top three finishes at the NCAA outdoor championship made Kendziera a 10-time All-American for his career.

5. Aleks Vukic, tennis. The Australian earned his third ITA All-American honor and third All-Big Ten first-team honor in his final season.

6. Nick Hardy, golf. Hardy bookended his Illini career with another Big Ten title to pair with the one he won as a freshman in 2015.

7. Dylan Meyer, golf. Before his top-20 finish at the U.S. Open, the Evansville, Ind., native finished tied for fourth at the NCAA championships.

8. Jon Davis, track and field/cross-country. Davis joined elite company in January when he became just the 498th American ever to run a sub-4 minute mile.

9. Jonathan Wells, track and field. After redshirting the indoor track season, Wells ended up a two-time All-American outdoors in high jump and long jump.

10. Leron Black, basketball. Black was an All-Big Ten honorable-mention selection (his first) after leading the Illini in scoring and rebounding.


Top female athletes

1. Jordyn Poulter, volleyball. Poulter, a third-team All-American in the fall, proved this spring she's arguably the top collegiate setter in the country.

2. Ali Bastianelli, volleyball. Another third-team All-American for the Illini, Bastianelli ranked second nationally in total blocks and fourth in blocks per set.

3. Rae Balthazor, gymnastics. Balthazor's eighth-place finish on floor exercise at the NCAA championships made her Illinois' seventh All-American all time.

4. Grace Park, golf. The San Jose, Calif., native and All-Big Ten first-team pick finished her senior season with the program's best career stroke average at 74.59.

5. Jaclyn Switkes, tennis. A veteran presence on a young team, Switkes earned All-Big Ten first-team honors after going 18-11 at No. 1 singles for the Illini.

6. Kiana Sherlund, softball. The Illini center fielder led the Big Ten in hits and triples and ranked fourth in batting average as an All-Big Ten first-team pick.

7. Bing Singhsumalee, golf. The All-Big Ten first-team player had four top-10 finishes and posted the third-lowest single season stroke average in program history.

8. Carly Thomas, softball. Thomas bounced back from her medical redshirt season in 2017 to earn All-Big Ten first-team honors as a top hitter in the league.

9. Alex Wittinger, basketball. One of the best shot blockers in the Big Ten, Wittinger led Illinois in scoring and rebounding for the second straight season.

10. Nicole Choquette, track and field/cross-country. Graduate student had top-four finishes in the 800-meter run at the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships.


Top area athletes

1. Jon Davis, men's track and field/cross-country. Fithian native redshirted outdoor season after earning second-team All-American honors in indoor 3,000.

2. Taylor Edwards, softball. Despite taking brutal line drive to the face, Arcola grad matched her win total from 2017 with 14 in an increased role in the circle.

3. Michael Finke, men's basketball. The Champaign native increased his scoring and rebounding averages in what turned out to be his final season at Illinois.

4. Nicole Choquette, women's track and field/cross-country. The Urbana grad won the 800 at both the Jim Click Shootout and Illinois Twilight meets.

5. Demarius Smith, wrestling. The Rantoul grad went 2-1 and finished second in his Illinois debut and finished the year with a 7-7 record at 149 and 157 pounds.

6. Miranda Marry, women's track and field/cross-country. The Paxton native and Fisher grad got a win in the 600 meters at the Orange and Blue Open in February.

7. Alex Keeble, men's track and field/cross-country. The Mahomet-Seymour grad was the top Illini runner at the Walt Crawford Open and finished third in his debut.

8. Caleb Hummer, men's track and field/cross-country. Danville native finished a season-high fourth in the steeplechase at the Illinois Twilight meet.

9. Erin Walker, softball. The Tuscola native made nine appearances this spring and went 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA for the Illini.

10. Katie Witte, women's track and field/cross-country. Salt Fork grad competed unattached in the weight throw during the indoor season.


Top freshmen

1. Bennett Williams, football. Of the 22 true freshmen that Lovie Smith played in 2017, Williams, who ended up an Freshman All-American, arguably was the best.

2. Trent Frazier, men's basketball. Frazier captured the attention of Illini fans before he even got to campus — something that didn't change in his first season.

3. Mia Rabinowitz, women's tennis. The New Jersey native went 28-9 in singles and 17-9 in doubles in her first season, earning MVP honors from her teammates.

4. Megan Cooney, volleyball. Cooney broke into the starting lineup at opposite hitter in the second week of the season and finished the year with 236 kills.

5. Bella Loya, softball. Loya played four positions — catcher, first base, third base and designated player — and led the Illini with 10 home runs.

6. Alex Brown, men's tennis. The Urbandale, Iowa, native was an All-Big Ten first-team selection after finishing the year 23-11 in singles and 26-14 in doubles.

7. Ricky Smalling, football. The Brother Rice grad was just the fourth freshman in program history to lead the team in receiving yards.

8. Nicole Biondi, women's gymnastics. Biondi won four event titles, including two in the all-around, and earned All-Big Ten second-team honors in her first season.

9. Caleb Chakravarthi, men's tennis. Teamed with Brown for the Illini's most consistent doubles team that clinched a team-best 10 doubles points.

10. Morgan O'Brien, volleyball. Former N-G All-State honoree slid into starting libero role during Brandi Donnelly's injury and finished third on the team in digs.


All-interview team

1. Nick Allegretti, football. A veteran on a strikingly young team in 2017, the Illini offensive lineman had insight only his experience could provide.

2. Jordyn Poulter, volleyball. The All-American setter is straightforward and speaks her mind — both on the court as a leader and in interview settings.

3. Blake Hayes, football. The Australian punter provided a new look into football given his first game as an Illini was the first he'd even seen.

4. Michael Finke, men's basketball. Finke inherited Malcolm Hill's title of go-to interview and was willing to be that guy at nearly every request.

5. Jonathan Wells, men's track and field. The Illini All-American is thoughtful and willing to go in depth about his process in his top field events.

6. Beth Prince, volleyball. The Illini's breakout outside hitter in 2017 brings plenty of energy to the court and is an engaging, easy interview.

7. Isaiah Martinez, wrestling. The two-time national champ's personality shines through in interviews — a mix of seriousness and humor.

8. Alex Wittinger, women's basketball. Postgame media responsibilities come with being a team's most consistent player, and Wittinger handles them well.

9. Dylan Meyer, men's golf. Meyer's confidence stands out more than anything. He knows, and will tell you, that he can compete with anyone when he's at his best.

10. Sarah Warren, soccer. Warren is equally as passionate discussing her Illini (soccer) and non-Illini (speed skating) athletic pursuits.


Top recruits

1. Ayo Dosunmu, men's basketball. The two-time state champion turned gold medalist ranks as the Illini's top recruit since Dee Brown.

2. Keenan Mayo, men's tennis. The 6-foot-5, five-star prospect out of Roseville, Calif., was ranked as the No. 25 recruit in the 2018 class.

3. Diana Brown, volleyball. Committed to Illinois since 2014, Brown joins the Illini as the No. 45 prospect in the country in the 2018 class.

4. Aidan Maldonado, baseball. Maldanado was Dan Hartleb's highest-rated recruit, with the right-handed pitcher ranked No. 166 by Perfect Game.

5. Calvin Avery, football. The defensive tackle out of Dallas was Lovie Smith's top commit in the 2018 class over a slew of Power Five offers.

6. Amaya Ellis, soccer. The early enrollee Illini midfielder played three years in Germany for FFC Frankfurt and has 16 international caps for Trinidad & Tobago.

7. Jacob Campbell, baseball. Like Maldanado, Campbell — the No. 5 high-school catcher in the nation according to — was a late-round draft pick in June.

8. Avrey Steiner, softball. The Fowler, Ohio, native finished her senior season with a .681 average that included a 35-game hitting streak and zero strikeouts.

9. Tevian Jones, men's basketball. Brad Underwood added another top 100 prospect in the 2018 class with Jones, who was ranked No. 86 by Rivals.

10. Verdis Brown, football. The Illini flipped the Chicago native from Florida State, giving them another four-star defensive tackle alongside Avery.


Top ex-Illini

1. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley. The former three-time All-American in volleyball has steadily become one of the top outside hitters for the U.S. National Team.

2. Tatyana McFadden. The seven-time Paralympic gold medalist added to her marathon title haul with wins in Chicago in October and Boston in April.

3. Kevin Anderson. The 6-foot-8 South African is currently ranked No. 8 in the world and reached the finals of the 2017 U.S. Open before losing to Rafael Nadal.

4. Thomas Pieters. The former NCAA champion has four top-20 finishes on the European and PGA tours this season led by a fifth-place result in Abu Dhabi.

5. Dana Howard. The 1994 Butkus Award winner was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame in January and will be inducted in December.

6. Steve Stricker. The former Illini continues to yield good results, as he currently ranks seventh on the Champions Tour money list despite playing just six times.

7. Brandon Paul. After four seasons playing primarily overseas, Paul made his NBA debut this season after signing a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs.

8. Thomas Detry. Detry played his way from the European Challenge Tour to the full European Tour in less than a year and has four top-20 finishes this season.

9. Tavon Wilson. Wilson started nine of 10 games he played for the Detroit Lions in his sixth season in the NFL, finishing the year with 42 tackles.

10. Clayton Fejedelem. Five starts in 16 games for the Cincinnati Bengals was the next step for Fejedelem, who had 22 tackles and his first interception this past season.



1. No other Illini — and just 15 other wrestlers all time in the Big Ten — did what Isaiah Martinez accomplished with his four straight conference titles.

2. Among Bren Spillane's record-setting season was his status as the first Illinois baseball player with at least 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in the same season.

3. Alex Wittinger set two Illini women's basketball records with 125 offensive rebounds for the season and a single-game high of 11 blocks against Penn State.

4. Lovie Smith played 22 true freshmen in the 2017 season, with 16 of them combining for 87 cumulative starts to more than double the previous team high.

5. Aleks Vukic topped the 100-win mark during his final season, with his 108 career victories tying him for ninth all time in program history with Tim Kopinski and Jeff Laski.

6. Illinois' 45-16 loss at Iowa on Oct. 7 marked the first time in program history three true freshmen — Alex Palczewski, Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe — started on the offensive line.

7. Jon Davis' sub-4 minute mile (3:58.46) wasn't the only record he set. He also claimed the program's 3,000-meter record at 7:49.92.

8. Joey Gerber struck out two of the four Nebraska batters he faced on May 17 to tie Tyler Jay for the program saves record with 14.

9. Trent Frazier set a freshman record with seven three-pointers against Iowa on Jan. 11 and then matched it less than a month later against Wisconsin.

10. Jonathan Wells' Big Ten high jump title came with a program record mark of 7 feet, 5 inches — 1 1 / 4 inches higher than the previous record.


Most publicized

1. Brad Underwood, men's basketball. The ups and (maybe more) downs of Underwood's first season as coach were well chronicled.

2. Lovie Smith, football. Positive results remain few and far between on the field, but football is still at the forefront of all things Illini.

3. Josh Whitman, athletics. Facility upgrade announcements and a continuing groundswell of support for hockey kept the Illini athletic director busy.

4. Ayo Dosunmu, men's basketball. Each and every stage of the five-star point guard's recruitment was covered, with his commitment a high point for Illinois.

5. Quarterback shuffle, football. Four different quarterbacks — including walk-on Cam Miller — saw action in another jumble of a season under center.

6. Recruiting. Few things draw more interest from the fan base than the wild worlds of men's basketball and football recruiting.

7. Mark Smith, men's basketball. Landing The News-Gazette's 2017 All-State Player of the Year was notable. So was losing him less than a year later when he transferred. To Missouri.

8. Trent Frazier, men's basketball. Smith got the preseason hype from all corners, but it was the freshman from Florida who starred in 2017-18.

9. Freshmen, football. Smith made his intentions to rebuild his program from scratch cleary by playing 22 true freshmen during the 2017 season.

10. Mikey Dudek, football. A fan favorite, Dudek entered last season healthy, but as has become all too familiar, didn't end the season that way.


Deserved more pub

1. Alex Diab, men's gymnastics. National champ on still rings, Diab is the only three-time Big Ten champ in the event in Illinois' storied history.

2. Michael Massey, baseball. Bren Spillane generated most of the headlines, but Massey saw his error-free streak hit 60 games this spring and earned a Gold Glove.

3. Renee Slone, women's golf. The former Illini turned coach elevated her program to the national stage alongside Mike Small's men's team.

4. Devin Quinn, men's track and field. Two other All-Americans as teammates crowded the field for Illinois' top sprinter — an All-American in his own right — this spring.

5. Emily Oestreich, softball. The junior-college transfer pitcher had a big role to fill, but stepped in during her first season with a team-high 102 strikeouts.

6. Ryan Thompson, baseball. Joey Gerber might have tied Illinois' single-season saves record, but Thompson was the bridge — and a reliable one — to the ninth.

7. Evan Clark, women's tennis. An uptick in recruiting for the 2017 class saw Clark get his young team back to the NCAA tournament.

8. Megan Cooney, volleyball. The freshman developing into a top option at opposite allowed the Illini to put its best possible lineup on the court last fall.

9. Chisom Nwoko, women's track and field. Sophomore sprinter/pole vaulter ran multiple top-10 program times in the 400 meters in both indoors and outdoors.

10. Ling Kuhn, diving. Bloomington native was the first Illini diver ever to score in three events at the Big Ten championships.


Best moments

1. Making Lou Henson, the all-time winningest coach in Illinois basketball history, the centerpiece of the second HOF class was the right move.

2. The lasting image from Illinois' induction ceremony of its inaugural Hall of Fame class was Dick Butkus choked up by emotion during his speech.

3. Bren Spillane becoming the highest position player drafted in Illini history capped a historic season for the junior first baseman.

4. Plenty of top basketball recruits have told Illinois no in the last decade. Ayo Dosunmu's October commitment in downtown Chicago changed that.

5. Nobody had a better Braggin' Rights night than Leron Black. He dropped 20 points in Illinois' fifth straight win in the series and then got engaged.

6. Lovie Smith's third recruiting class started with the type of splash Illini fans have waited for with March commitments from two top 75 prospects.

7. No volleyball team had perhaps a tougher path in the NCAA tournament than Illinois, but the Illini knocked off Hawaii and Washington to reach the Sweet 16.

8. Wins against No. 11 Texas and No. 22 Washington lifted the Illinois women's tennis team to a program-best No. 5 national ranking.

9. Brad Dancer set the standard for scheduling. The Illini men's tennis team played eight straight ranked opponents, going 5-3, in January and February.

10. Day or night, good weather or bad, Illinois baseball knew what to expect from shortstop Ben Troike and his streak of 57 straight games reaching base safely.


Worst moments

1. The 2017 season was a step back for Illinois football with a 2-10 record and 10-game losing streak after going 3-9 in Lovie Smith's first season.

2. The men's basketball season wasn't much better. Schedule quirk or not, Illinois had its season end in February with a fifth straight missed NCAA tournament.

3. Overall improvement and key victories early in the spring weren't enough for Illinois baseball to get on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.

4. Josh Whitman watched in silence on the sideline as a Nebraska-heavy crowd chanted "Go Big Red!" in the final minutes of a 28-6 Cornhuskers win in Champaign.

5. Illinois had Maryland beat. Then an ill-advised alley oop from Te'Jon Lucas and inbounding issues cost the Illini a chance at their first Big Ten win.

6. Nancy Fahey had almost endless success in her 30-year career at Washington University. Her first season at Illinois ended in an 18-game losing streak.

7. A four-match scoreless losing streak to end the soccer season epitomized Illinois' main issue last fall — goal scoring, or more accurately, lackthereof.

8. Illinois athletics avoided negative off-the-field headlines until two football players were charged with theft of a deer statue this spring.

9. Illinois combined its men's and women's track and field programs this season, delivering matching 12th-place finishes at the Big Ten outdoor championships.

10. Chris Tamas' first season leading the Illini volleyball team ended fairly positively, but a 2-6 run in the heart of Big Ten play cast some doubt.


Best crowds

1. Diminishing Braggin' Rights crowds mirrored the level of play on the court. Last year's 21,289 fans at Scottrade Center marked renewed life in the rivalry.

2. The one and only sellout at State Farm Center meant 15,544 fans were on hand to see Leron Black score a career-high 28 points to beat Nebraska.

3. Brad Underwood's debut pulled the second-highest attendance mark of the season, with 14,637 at State Farm Center for a 102-55 win against Southern.

4. A sizeable contingent of Nebraska fans helped put a season-high 43,058 fans in the Memorial Stadium bleachers in late September.

5. Taking on Wisconsin — with the addition of a good number of Badgers fans — meant an attendance of 42,101 for Homecoming.

6. Kevin Hambly's return to Huff Hall with defending national champs Stanford equaled a season-high attendance for Illinois volleyball at 4,152.

7. Alex Wittinger and Petra Holesinska had 18 points apiece, but Illinois fell to Wisconsin 70-61 in front of a "Pack the House" crowd of 3,237.

8. Illinois baseball's annual Bleacher Bum BBQ game pulled in the best crowd of the year at Illinois Field with 3,227 fans in attendance.

9. Tyra Perry's Illini softball team needed some wins in its final regular-season series and got one against Nebraska in front of 1,071 fans at Eichelberger Field.

10. Illinois soccer's Big Ten home opener drew a season-high crowd of 1,161 despite a 90 degree day in September, but the Illini lost 1-0 to Maryland.


Worst crowds

1. Illinois' annual game in Chicago used to be a draw. Not so much recently, with just 5,695 fans on hand for a 74-69 loss to New Mexico State at the United Center.

2. Nine straight losses heading into Illinois football's regular-season finale with Northwestern likely contributed to just 30,456 watching the 10th straight.

3. A midweek volleyball match against Northwestern passed quickly for the season-low 1,755 fans in attendance at Huff Hall for the 3-0 Illinois sweep.

4. Northwestern was the opponent — again — when Illinois soccer drew a season-low 286 fans. They missed a 1-0 Illini victory with Kara Marbury providing the goal.

5. Can't blame Illinois fans for not turning out for the baseball series finale against Iowa that drew 331 when it was just 36 degrees on April 1.

6. A cool October night and Illinois' struggles on the soccer field likely attributed to 314 fans showing up for the Illini's season finale loss to Iowa.

7. It was warmer a couple weeks earlier when the Illini played Cal State-Northridge, but a Wednesday baseball game drew just 256 fans.

8. A season-low 1,039 fans turned out at State Farm Center for an 80-72 Illini women's basketball loss to Nebraska in early January.

9. Illinois softball outscored Maryland 38-3 in a three-game sweep in early April. Only 121 fans — a season low — saw the first of those three wins.

10. Just 1,056 Illinois women's basketball fans saw Alex Wittinger's double-double (19 points, 14 rebounds) in a 66-56 win against Chicago State.


Best events

1. Wrestler Emery Parker lost his opening match at the NCAA championships before winning seven straight — including four against higher seeds — to place third.

2. A season-high in points and Bobby Baker setting a program record in the all-around helped Illini men's gymnastics win a Big Ten title.

3. Illinois gave beer and baseball a shot at Illinois Field in early May. It was an unqualified hit with the fans in attendance.

4. Four golfers with rounds in the 60s vaulted the Illinois men into first place after two rounds at the Big Ten championships leading into another title.

5. Illinois got home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the NCAA men's tennis championships and used it to sweep both Marquette and No. 22 Vanderbilt.

6. Two wins against Indiana in the Big Ten baseball tournament kept Illinois' NCAA tournament hopes alive before the Illini's bubble was burst.

7. Jacqueline Quade and Beth Prince combined for 40 kills in a November win against Minnesota that ultimately helped the Illini clinch an NCAA tourney berth.

8. What Kipper Nichols did in the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden — a career-high 31 points — is what Illinois will need more of in the 2018-19 season.

9. David Kendziera picked up a momentum-building victory against 110 hurdles world record holder Aries Merritt in April that led into his double All-American finish.

10. Illinois wrestling picked up an upset win against No. 20 Nebraska on criteria, 18-17, thanks to a pair of individual upsets from Parker and Mike Carr.


Worst events

1. It didn't officially count, but Illinois men's basketball dropping its charity exhibition at Eastern Illinois proved to be a harbinger of the rough season to come.

2. Illinois football's trip to Columbus, Ohio, to face No. 9 Ohio State ended with the Illini finishing their 52-14 blowout loss with just 105 yards of total offense.

3. A trip to Rutgers ended with the Illini women's basketball team held to just three second-quarter points in a 76-37 loss to the Scarlet Knights.

4. Illinois' offense ranked among the worst in the FBS — a fact never more evident than the season-low six points the Illini scored against Nebraska.

5. The Illini women's basketball team lost by wider margins, but perception matters, too. Dropping a game to in-state foe Western Illinois stings.

6. A 20-point lead late in the first half wasn't enough for Illinois men's basketball as Iowa put together a comeback behind Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook to win in overtime.

7. Indiana's walk-off win in the second round of the Big Ten softball tournament ended any hopes for Illinois to make the NCAA tournament a third straight year.

8. The Illini soccer team was on the wrong end of the scoreboard 14 times last fall, but a 7-0 rout at Ohio State stands out among those losses.

9. Illinois baseball's NCAA tournament hopes took some damage with a series loss to Grand Canyon (final RPI of 124) with two losses in three April games.

10. Michael Finke's four-point play gave Illinois the late lead at Nebraska before James Palmer Jr. hit an off-balance, buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer.


Key injuries

1. Jake Hansen, football. Penciled in as a starting linebacker headed into training camp, Hansen missed the entire season with a knee injury.

2. Brandi Donnelly, volleyball. Illinois found a way through the time Donnelly missed with a knee injury, but was better defensively with her on the court.

3. Mike Epstein, football. A breakout freshman season was cut short in the fifth game of the year with a season-ending foot injury at Iowa.

4. Michael Finke, men's basketball. The Illini lost their starting "center" for four games in February with a concussion and won just one of them.

5. Mikey Dudek, football. It wasn't his knee this time, but Dudek still missed five games after suffering a rib-area injury against Wisconsin on Oct. 28.

6. Bren Spillane, baseball. Spillane stole 12 bases in 24 games before suffering a foot injury at Maryland and just four in the 23 games he played after that series.

7. Ra'Von Bonner, football. Bonner's season lasted slightly longer than Epstein's, but the Illini's second freshman running back missed five games with a concussion.

8. Bobby Baker, men's gymnastics. Baker battled through an ankle injury at the end of the season but still played a key role in the Illini's Big Ten title.

9. Jaelyne Kirkpatrick, women's basketball. Illinois played without its sometimes-starting point guard for seven games last season because of a knee injury.

10. Taylor Edwards, softball. The Illini pitcher only missed two practices after taking a line drive to the face, but the bruise to her left eye was gnarly.


Coaches of the Year

1. Justin Spring, men's gymnastics. The Big Ten champion Illini finished just 3.169 points away from the program's first national title since 2012.

2. Mike Small, men's golf. Another Big Ten team title. Another Big Ten individual title. Another trip to the NCAA championships. Small's program is still elite.

3. Chris Tamas, volleyball. Illinois got back to the Sweet 16 after a one-year absence in Tamas' first season as a head coach.

4. Evan Clark, women's tennis. Clark was named ITA Midwest Regional Coach of the Year after the Illini's 22-win season tied for the best in program history.

5. Renee Slone, women's golf. The Illini had their best season in the Big Ten since the late 1970s and also posted their highest NCAA regional finish ever.

6. Dan Hartleb, baseball. Two rough seasons after the 2015 run led to a 10-win improvement this spring and a spot back in the top four of the Big Ten.

7. Brad Dancer, men's tennis. It was a fairly typical season for Dancer and the Illini with a consistent national ranking before reaching the Elite Eight.

8. Nadalie Walsh, women's gymnastics. Walsh's first season at Illinois ended with six wins and the program's 14th individual All-American honor.

9. Tyra Perry, softball. The Illini actually had their highest winning percentage under Perry this spring. The only thing missing was an NCAA tournament berth.

10. Mike Turk, track and field. Turk now runs the entire track and field/cross country program — a move that brings the Illini in step with most of the NCAA.


Plays of the year

1. Take your pick of the plays Michael Massey made at second base. The best? A behind-the-back move by the Illini Gold Glove winner against Furman.

2. Lou Dorsey's introduction to the Illinois fan base was a one-handed snag in the season opener against Ball State — the first catch of his career.

3. The end of the Ball State game ended up on the highlight reel, too, with Jamal Milan blocking a field goal attempt to seal the 24-21 victory.

4. Goals were scarce for the Illinois soccer team last fall, but the best came on a header by Arianna Veland off a flip throw by Alicia Barker.5. Iowa ultimately beat Illinois in overtime, but the Illini at least had the opportunity for the win thanks to Trent Frazier's running, buzzer-beating three.

6. Bren Spillane's most memorable home run came when he crushed one of the longest home runs in TD Ameritrade Park history in the Big Ten tournament.

7. Dorsey made another one-handed catch against Indiana, but it was his 77-yard touchdown reception that game that stood as the team's longest of the year.

8. Maddi Doane delivered a much-needed win for Illinois softball in the final series of the season with a walk-off single against Nebraska on May 4.

9. The 2017-18 season meant more dunks for Illinois, which Leron Black delivered driving through the lane with authority and finishing with a slam against Purdue.

10. Illini softball got another walk-off win thanks to an eighth-inning RBI single from Alexis Carrillo in a 6-5 victory against Iowa on April 21.


Most improved

1. Bren Spillane, baseball. Injuries held Spillane back in his first two seasons at Illinois. Fully healthy he was almost unstoppable this spring.

2. Leron Black, men's basketball. The Illini needed one of their veterans to take on a bigger role after Malcolm Hill's graduation, and Black came through.

3. Bryan Baumgarten, men's golf. Outside the rotation as a freshman, the California native tied for fifth at the Big Ten championships.

4. Beth Prince, volleyball. First season in a full-time role saw former top 50 prospect finish second on the team in kills with 376.

5. Zeke Clark, men's tennis. Sophomore went undefeated in Big Ten singles play and posted a 20-7 overall record in his second season.

6. Tymir Oliver, football. Philadelphia native went from special teams duty as a freshman to starting defensive tackle as a sophomore.

7. Grace Park, women's golf. Park's senior season was her best, as she shaved more than three strokes per round from her scoring average.

8. Mike Carr, wrestling. After redshirt season, Carr went 20-8 with a runner-up finish at the Big Ten championships and was an NCAA qualifier at 141 pounds.

9. Kelly Maday, soccer. Former Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois scored her first two career goals last fall as a sophomore.

10. Ali Andrews, women's basketball. The improvements were slight but came all across the board (scoring, rebounding, three-point shooting) for Andrews.


They said what?

1. "We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so I'm not really sure what the goal is there. I don't know what to do. I hear the food is good, so I'll try to take advantage of that." — Australian punter Blake Hayes

2. "I think a lot of the recruiting system is kind of flawed just in terms of it's all about stars. I'm not going to blow anybody away with my 40 time, but what I have is intangibles and a knowledge of the game I don't think many can measure up to." — Illini safety Bennett Williams

3. "We got totally, totally outplayed and out-hustled. We played pretty. We played like a finesse, pretty team, and that's not one thing I'm about. That's on me. I'll get it corrected." — Men's basketball coach Brad Underwood after Illinois' charity exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois.

4. "A lot of times, the quarterback is going to be the face of your program. You've got to make sure you've got the right one." — New offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

5. "It's an ambitious project. We don't hide from that. It's hard to imagine a project that's more complicated, more complex, in terms of the number of people sitting around that table." — Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman on possibility of adding hockey.

6. "Brad's calling us 'Wild Thing' right now." — Illini senior Aron Hiltzik on coach Brad Dancer's name for his, at times, all or nothing doubles pairing with Aleks Kovacevic.

7. "The Presidency of our United States, I think there's a certain level of respect and just how you assume that position would behave in every situation. That's not the case right now. For this many people to feel like they need to take a stand against it, something is wrong. Is it OK for someone to call another American those names? Is it OK? Is that what we believe? If it is, I guess make your opinion known. To me, it's not." — Football coach Lovie Smith on President Trump's pointed criticism of protesting NFL players.

8. "Those are big-time, legacy-defining moments. I don't think you ever truly get over those kind of things. I'll never truly get over it." — Isaiah Martinez on his 2017 NCAA title match loss to Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph, which was repeated in March.

9. "I chose to stay home. At the end of the day, I had a chance to build my legacy. I feel like I'm the best point guard in the country. I want to prove it in my home state." — Ayo Dosunmu on his commitment to Illinois.

10. "This is a big one. We think the world of the university and the community. I will treasure this forever." — Lou Henson on his induction into Illinois' Hall of Fame.

Headlines you'll see in 2018-19

—Whitman: Time to drop the puck

—Illini volleyball back in Sweet 16

—Massey is UI's next top draft pick

—More facility upgrades get green light

—Thomas gets Illini HOF nod


Headlines you won't see in 2018-19

—March Madness includes Illini

—Smith on hot seat

—Illinois hoops roster returns intact

—UI sheds 'golf school' moniker

—Underwood wears full orange blazer/pants combo

College/Prep Sports Reporter

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