Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Illini Year in Review - That's A Wrap!

     Now that summer is officially upon us, it is time to bid adieu to the sports season at the University of Illinois for the 2012-13 season.  It was a season of change, and also one of a lot of ups and downs. The fall season didn't go as well as one would have hoped, with the football team leading that downfall with a 2-10 record.  The speculation that first year coach Tim Beckman is on the hot seat quickly surfaced, and a major overhaul of the coaching staff was undertaken.  The major change on the staff was the hiring of Bill Cubit from Western Michigan to lead the offense.  Cubit comes to Illinois with a lot of credentials, and they seem to already be paying dividends with the adding of quarterback Wes Lunt, who transferred from Oklahoma State this past week.  Lunt earned the starting job for the Cowboys in his freshman year, but due to assistant coach Todd Monken leaving for Southern Mississsippi, caused Lunt to reconsider his future.  Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy restricted Lunt's available schools that he could transfer to, and it basically came down to the Illini and Louisville.  Lunt must sit out this coming year, but will have three years of eligibility starting in 2014.  Beckman all of a sudden has a stable of quarterbacks to choose from, with potential starter Nathan Scheelhaase competing with backup Reilly O'Toole and incoming freshman Aaron Bailey for playing time.  Beckman needs to have a better season in 2013 than his first season in Champaign, and even though the schedule doesn't favor success, the future all of a sudden got a little brighter.  It's a good problem to have.
     Coming off of a runner-up finish in the 2011 national championship, Illinois volleyball looked to be on the rise, but losing a lot of players from that team did not bode well for Kevin Hambly in 2012 as they finished 14-16 overall and missed the NCAA tournament a year after making their magical run.  However, things do look more promising for the volleyball team, as they have some talent coming in to complement the returning players, who will have a year of experience under their belt.  Could happy times return to Champaign?  We shall see.
     The Illini women's soccer team had a roller coaster season, finishing 10-9-4, which was good enough for an NCAA Tournament appearance.  Led by coach Janet Rayfield, the Illini advanced to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament and will look to build on the momentum that they closed this past season on.

     The winter sports season seemed to go quite a bit better for Illinois sports teams, as both the men's and women's basketball teams began the climb from obscurity with new coaches at the helm.  For the men's team, new coach John Groce led the Illini back to the NCAA tournament with a 23-13 record, and thrilled fans with several exciting wins during the season, including the infamous upset of #1 Indiana on a last second shot by Tyler Griffey.  The Illini will look markedly different next season, losing seniors D. J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Griffey, while Mike Shaw, Myke Henry and Ibby Djimde transferred out of the program. Groce has brought excitement and fun back to the Illini program, and with a cast of newcomers set to begin their Illini careers, success is closer than one thinks.
     On the women's side, new coach Matt Bollant revamped a program that was run into the ground by former coach Jolette Law, and even though the season didn't culminate in a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, a 19-14 record and a deep run in the WNIT gave Illini Nation hope that the women's program could once become relevant sooner than later.  With a good recruiting class coming in, and a couple of transfers set to become eligible, that might not be far off.

     The spring sports season was one that can be summed up in one word:  successful.  The Illini baseball team led the charge by finishing the season 35-20 and making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they were ousted by a good Georgia Tech team.  The Illini had several players that were drafted in the first year draft, and a few of those have already began their professional careers.  Coach Dan Hartleb seemed to have everything clicking for the Illini, and although he will have to reload next season, the future seems bright for the program.
     As far as the men's golf team goes, success is an understatement for what they did this season.  All Mike Small's team did was make a deep run in the tournament and finish national runner-up to eventual champion Alabama.  It is rather unheard of for a northern school to achieve the level of success that the Illini had, but Small proved that Illinois can be named among those schools that have the opportunity to play golf year round.  Also, with a stable of former players on the PGA Tour, that success doesn't appear to be scaling back anytime soon.
     Illinois track and field has been successful in the past several years, but there comes along an exceptional athlete only sporadically.  That athlete in the here and now is Ashley Spencer, who now has back-to-back 400M NCAA titles to her credit.  That Spencer is only a sophomore is incredible in itself, and she still has two more years at Illinois to earn some more hardware.  Like Andrew Riley on the men's side a year earlier, the Olympics beckon for Spencer in the not too near distant future.
     Coach Terri Sullivan's Illinois women's softball team may have not had the most successful season in the history of the program, but they made the end to the season one to remember.  The Illini finished the season 22-27, but won 10 out of their last 11 games to capture the #6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  Bigger and brighter things are on the horizon for Sullivan and the softball team, and building on this momentum certainly will not hurt.

     Before too awfully long, the annual Big Ten Football Media Days will be upon us in Chicago, which officially signals the start of the next sports season, and we do this all over again.  Until then, enjoy the summer!