Wisconsin Illinois Volleyball

Illinois middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming (12) celebrates with outside hitter Jacqueline Quade (7) after a point during the fourth set of the Elite 8 match of the NCAA 2018 Division I Women's Volleyball Championship against Wisconsin at Huff Hall Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.Women's Volleyball Championship against Wisconsin at Huff Hall Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

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We hand out final grades for each Illini sports team from the 2018-19 school year:

Volleyball: A+

Why an A+: OK, the Illini did lose in the national semifinals to Nebraska, but they were able to re-establish themselves among the Big Ten elite with their Final Four run.

High point: There might not have been a higher point in all of Illinois athletics than this team beating Wisconsin in front of a sellout crowd at Huff Hall in the Elite Eight.

Low point: Getting swept at No. 3 Minnesota on Oct. 12 was a third loss in four matches to a top-six team in the nation.

Big Ten finish: 2nd

Last year’s grade: A-

Women’s golf: A

Why an A: Ranked regularly throughout the season? Another runner-up finish at the Big Ten championship? Just missing out on match play at the NCAA championship? Best. Season. Ever.

High point: Take your pick from the fall slate. Renee Slone’s squad won three of the five tournaments it entered, including consecutive weekends in October.

Low point: The Illini’s return to the course in February was a difficult one, as they finished 14th (out of 16 teams) at the UCF Challenge in Orlando.

Big Ten finish: T-2nd

Last year’s grade: A-

Women’s tennis: A

Why an A: This spring marked a second straight NCAA tournament appearance for Illinois under Evan Clark — a first for the program since appearances in 2008-10.

High point: The Illini capped their 14-win regular season by taking down No. 18 Ohio State on Senior Day for their first win against the Buckeyes since 2014.

Low point: Drawing Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA tournament was a challenge, and Illinois went down 4-0 to the Sun Devils to end its season.

Big Ten finish: 4th

Last year’s grade: A

Baseball: A-

Why an A-: The motivation of being left out of last year’s NCAA tournament proved pretty potent, with the Illini notching five top 25 wins to get back to the postseason.

High point: A two-game sweep of then-No. 19 Coastal Carolina in early April at Illinois Field proved this Illini team was for real on the national stage.

Low point: Illinois led 4-0 in the seventh inning against Jacksonville State in an NCAA tournament elimination game. The Gamecocks rallied. The Illini’s season was over.

Big Ten finish: T-3rd

Last year’s grade: B+

Men’s golf: B+

Why a B+: Another Big Ten title and another NCAA regional title sort of dispel the “rebuilding” narrative, but consistency was an issue most of the season.

High point: The Illini were the only team under par on the final day of the Big Ten championship, fending off Purdue for their 10th title in 11 seasons.

Low point: Illinois’ season came to an end during stroke play at the NCAA championship, with the Illini tying for 27th overall, 63 shots behind then-first-place Oklahoma State.

Big Ten finish: 1st

Last year’s grade: A-

Men’s gymnastics: B+

Why a B+: The Illini made the NCAA team finals — again — but a fifth-place finish after multiple falls was a letdown for a team with higher expectations.

High point: Senior Day at Huff Hall was rather momentous with Illinois taking down No. 5 Minnesota and No. 2 Stanford (the eventual NCAA champs).

Low point: Illinois bounced back to finish second at the Big Ten championships, but four straight losses to end the regular season was a rough stretch.

Big Ten finish: T-6th

Last year’s grade: A

Men’s tennis: B

Why a B: Making the NCAA tournament is the yearly expectation for Brad Dancer’s team. Losing in the second round — at home no less — wasn’t part of the plan.

High point: A mid-February win against then-No. 7 UCLA stood as Illinois’ best of the season, with sophomore Caleb Chakravarthi clinching the 4-2 victory in Chicago.

Low point: That NCAA tournament loss stung. California took the doubles point by winning two matches in a tiebreaker, and the Golden Bears cruised to a 4-1 win to send Illinois packing.

Big Ten finish: 2nd

Last year’s grade: A-

Softball: B

Why a B: Illinois got back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years under Tyra Perry. Even with fewer wins and a worse Big Ten record than last year’s tourney miss.

High point: Tough to match the opening day of the season where Illinois took down No. 22 Oklahoma State and No. 13 Kentucky in an impressive twin bill.

Low point: Ohio State scored in every inning of the series opener in Columbus, Ohio, to hand Illinois its worst margin of defeat of the year in a 9-0 loss.

Big Ten finish: T-8th

Last year’s grade: B-

Soccer: B-

Why a B-: Falling in the Big Ten semifinals probably cost the Illini an NCAA tournament berth, but the six-win improvement from 2017 was a serious jump for Janet Rayfield’s squad.

High point: Taking down No. 3 Duke in Durham, N.C., in the second match of the season (with Katie Le delivering the winner) was an early indicator this season would be different.

Low point: The turnaround after beating the Blue Devils meant a trip to Chicago to face DePaul. The eventual eight-win Blue Demons handed the Illini a 3-1 loss.

Big Ten finish: 6th

Last year’s grade: D

Women’s gymnastics: C+

Why a C+: The Illini were better in the Big Ten championship compared with a year ago but failed to reach the NCAA championship after making it as a team in 2017.

High point: A runner-up finish at the Big Ten championship came thanks to a season-high team score and sixth-year gymnast Mary Jane Otto’s second Big Ten bars title.

Low point: Ranked No. 22 early in the season, Illinois got off to a slow start in January with a third-place finish behind Central Michigan and Arizona in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Big Ten finish: 4th

Last year’s grade: C+

Wrestling: C

Why a C: Jim Heffernan’s squad seems to be treading water. The Illini were good enough to send six athletes to the NCAA championships, but lost ground this season in the Big Ten.

High point: Emery Parker’s fifth-place finish at 184 pounds in the NCAA championships earned the redshirt senior his second All-American honor in a season where team wins were rare.

Low point: The Big Ten slate. Illinois opened conference play with a tight road win at Michigan State and then dropped its next eight Big Ten matches.

Big Ten finish: 13th

Last year’s grade: B-

Women’s cross-country: C

Why a C: A young team (all underclassmen) ran its best at the end of the year, with its fourth-place finish at the NCAA regional a 20-spot improvement from the year prior.

High point: The only home meet of the year at the UI Arboretum ended in an Illinois win. Grace Rogers’ ninth-place finish led the way, and all five top Illini were in the top 25.

Low point: While Rebecca Craddock and Allison McGrath finished in the top 50 individually at the Big Ten championship, the Illini still wound up near the bottom of the conference.

Big Ten finish: 12th

Last year’s grade: D

Men’s cross-country: C-

Why a C-: Last fall was a step back for the Illini after a fairly strong 2017, although not having Jon Davis certainly didn’t help their chances.

High point: The 2018 season got off to a good start with an Illinois win at the EIU Walt Crawford Open. Freshman Logan Hall paced the Illini with a fourth-place finish individually.

Low point: Illinois’ trip to Madison, Wis., and the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational didn’t go particularly well. Every Illini set a season best, but they finished 29th as a team.

Big Ten finish: 10th

Last year’s grade: B

Men’s basketball: D

Why a D: Brad Underwood hit on his 2018 class, signing both Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, but a tough schedule and inexperienced team led to a program-record 21 losses.

High point: Dosunmu’s dagger three-pointers late in the second half against Michigan State helped the Illini pull off the court storming worth upset of the No. 9 Spartans and the Illini’s first win against a top-10 team since they defeated then-No. 1 Indiana in 2013.

Low point: Pick your Iowa blowout. The Hawkeyes took down Illinois by 24 points in Iowa City in January and then ended the Illini’s season with a 21-point win during the second round of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center in Chicago.

Big Ten finish: T-10th

Last year’s grade: D

Men’s track and field: D

Why a D: Few highlights this season. Of course, Jon Davis only competing indoors and Jonathan Wells not at all this year hamstrung the program from a results standpoint.

High point: Pick anything Devin Quinn related. In a season where the Illini rarely posted a team score in the events they entered, the senior sprinter took home several titles.

Low point: The combined indoor and outdoor Big Ten championships continue to be a roadblock for Mike Turk’s team, as the Illini couldn’t escape the bottom two teams in the league.

Big Ten finish: 11th (indoor)/12th (outdoor)

Last year’s grade: C+

Swimming and diving: D

Why a D: This year’s seven wins was a bit of a step back during the regular season. A last-place finish in the Big Ten championship was the worst since 2013-14.

High point: The only Big Ten win of the year came at home in October against Michigan State — a 168-132 victory led by Jimena Martinez’s three individual event wins.

Low point: The Spartans were two points better than Illinois in the Big Ten championship, with the last-place Illini scoring 1,196 1 / 2 fewer points than league champs Indiana.

Big Ten finish: 13th

Last year’s grade: D

Football: D

Why a D: Offensive coordinator Rod Smith revitalized the Illinois offense (and Reggie Corbin’s career), but the Illinois defense was the third worst in the country and saw defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resign with a month left in the season.

High point: Minnesota went on to win the Quick Lane Bowl against Georgia Tech. Just less than two months earlier, though, the Illini stomped the Gophers 55-31 in Champaign.

Low point: Illinois gave up more than 500 yards of offense to six of its opponents. Iowa wasn’t one of them, but the Hawkeyes were the only team to hammer the Illini 63-0, the program’s worst loss in more than 100 years. And it happened on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium.

Big Ten finish: 7th (West)

Last year’s grade: D-

Women’s track and field: D-

Why a D-: Illinois used to regularly churn out top talent on the track. “Used to” being the operative phrase, as the Illini are mired in a five-year swoon.

High point: The 1,600-meter team (Chisom Nwoko, Briana Driver, Amira Aduma, Felicia Phillips) took first at the Drake Relays, propelling the Illini’s second-place team finish.

Low point: Two weeks after the strong showing at Drake the Illini finished last at the Big Ten outdoor championship — 107 1 / 2 points behind league champion Ohio State.

Big Ten finish: 11th (indoor)/13th (outdoor)

Last year’s grade: D

Women’s basketball: D-

Why a D-: Nancy Fahey did get her first Big Ten win (and then another), but a 10-win season isn’t exactly much different than last year’s nine-win campaign.

High point: That first Big Ten win in two seasons was a doozy. The Illini upset No. 12 Minnesota — at Williams Arena in Minnepaolis — with Arieal Scott’s late three-pointer sealing the victory.

Low point: Sacramento State also won 10 games in 2018-19, albeit in the not quite as tough Big Sky. Still, the Hornets beat the Illini 109-107 in late November.

Big Ten finish: 14th

Last year’s grade: D-