A picture-perfect day. A newly renovated stadium. Dozens of former players returning to take part in the Renaissance Celebration. And, oh yes, there was football. This was all part of the re-birth of Memorial Stadium, and fans in attendance did not go away disappointed. The Illini defeated Eastern Illinois 47-21 to notch their first victory of the season, even though they may not have played their best football. A win, nevertheless, is a win, as Juice Williams continued his dominance as a dual threat on offense. Williams ran 16 times for 174 yards and scored two touchdowns, and completed 16 of 25 passes for 124 yards and another score. Even though Juice is making some mistakes (he threw 2 more interceptions), he is still doing what is needing to be done in order for the Illini to have success. The near sellout on Saturday is a testament to the shift that the program has gone through in the last few years since the arrival of Coach Zook. The stadium looks unbelievable, and it almost seems as if you are in a different stadium altogether with the changes that have been made. The old press box seemed like a trailer compared to the new edifice that adorns the west stands now. It certainly looks different from Florida Avenue as well, and in the future, the horseshoe will be re-done, as will some things on the east side. With the Illini now even up on the season at 1-1, they look toward their next game, which is against the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette (11:00 am Saturday, Big Ten Network). This is the first ever meeting between the Illini and the Cajuns, who may be more commonly known as Southwestern Louisiana, which they were called for many years. There was speculation that the Cajuns would be coming to Illinois early to beat Hurricane Ike, but they have since revamped those plans and will make the trip as scheduled. The Cajuns are coached by Ricky Bustle, who coached with Zook at Virginia Tech. Lafayette features another good quarterback in Michael Desormeaux, who threw for just over 1400 yards last season. The Cajuns also feature another good tailback in Tyrell Fenroy, who hit the 1000 yard mark in rushing last season. Desormeaux also eclipsed that mark last season, making him a dual threat, much like Williams, his counterpart on the other side. Lafayette was defeated by Southern Mississippi in their opening game on August 30 51-21, and was on a bye last week, bringing them into the contest at 0-1. According to Coach Zook, this should be a pretty good game, but ultimately one that the Illini should come out on top in. We shall soon find out.
Speaking of legends, there will be an abundance of them at the Assembly Hall on Saturday evening, as the basketball program welcomes back several former players for the "Night of Legends" event. Among the returnees will be 4 of the 2005 Final Four team, led by U.S. Olympian and current Utah Jazz superstar Deron Williams and Dee Brown, who is attempting to get back in the NBA after playing in Turkey last season. Roger Powell, who is in camp with the San Antonio Spurs is also expected to attend, as is current Houston Rocket Luther Head. They will match skills against the other final four team in recent years, the 1989 squad. Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson and others are expected back in what should be an unbelievable night. After the basketball is finished for the night, a ceremony honoring 30 former players having their jerseys raised to the Assembly Hall rafters will take place. It is about time that something like this is being done to honor past players. Coaching the teams will be Lou Henson, who coached the Illini for 21 years and is the winningest coach in Illini history, and Jimmie Collins, who was an assistant for so many years for Henson. One honor that needs to be given is to name the court at Assembly Hall after Lou Henson. This is way overdue. Are you listening, DIA?
The women's volleyball team came away from the Billiken Invitational with a 2-1 record, defeating St. Louis and William & Mary, but falling to Stanford, who is ranked #3 in the nation in the AVCA rankings. This week, Don Hardin takes his squad down to Knoxville to compete in the Tennessee Comcast Classic, which will feature Dayton and Gardner-Webb, in addition to the host Volunteers. The Illini currently stand at 5-1 on the season.
As the volleyball team arrives in Knoxville, the women's soccer team had just come from there, splitting a couple of matches in the Lady Vol Classic. The Illini defeated Washington State 2-1, with the goals coming from freshman Marissa Mykines and sophomore Cory Steigerwald. The Illini then fell to the host Volunteers 1-0 in the title match, as both teams went scoreless until Tennessee broke through in the 60th minute of the contest. The Illini are 4-1 on the season and will head south this weekend to face Florida on Friday night, before finishing up their Sunshine State road trip with Central Florida on Sunday.
Enjoy the legends, folks!