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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Uncharted Waters

     What a season this has been for the spring sports teams at the University of Illinois.  From the historic season that the baseball team is having, to both the mens tennis and golf teams once again achieving elite status in the NCAA Tournament, it truly has been an enjoyable few months on campus.  Well, almost, but more of that later after the good news.

     Heading into the 2015 baseball season, there was some kind of a sense that this Illinois team would be better than in past years, mainly due to a stellar pitching staff combined with a veteran lineup that has been together for a few years.  They have not disappointed in either category this season thus far, as they have compiled a 45-6-1 record to date, including a 21-1 Big Ten mark and a school record 26 straight wins dating back to April.  Much of the success during this record-setting streak can be attributed to the starting pitching of Kevin Duchene, Drasen Johnson and John Kravetz, not to mention the exceptional relief pitcher in Tyler Jay.  After a rainout last Friday evening, the Illini welcomed Rutgers to Illinois Field for a Saturday morning/early afternoon doubleheader, and once again, the Illini did not disappoint, sweeping the Scarlet Knights 5-4 and 6-2.  Highlighting the afternoon as hitting stars was catcher Jason Goldstein and outfielder Casey Fletcher, who continued their good hitting on the season.  Former Big Ten player of the week David Kerian was also instrumental in the sweep, as was brothers Ryne and Reid Roper.  In the series finale on Sunday, nobody expected to see what they did.  After Illinois fell behind on two separate occasions by 4 runs, Dan Hartleb's squad exploded for an 11 run eighth inning to destroy Rutgers 28-13, the most runs scored by an Illini team since the 2004 season (a 32-0 win).  The Illini continued their homestand to close out the regular season by hosting Nebraska in what amounted to a pair of games.  The final game of the series against the Cornhuskers was finally called due to rain on Saturday afternoon.  Four innings were played before the rain came and eventually amounted in a cancelled game.  Illinois will begin the Big Ten Tournament as the top seed and will face eighth seeded Nebraska on Wednesday evening at 5:00 pm from Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  All signs point toward Illinois hosting an NCAA regional, which would be next weekend at Illinois Field in Champaign.

     Mike Small and the Illinois mens golf team is also having a spectacular season, and are fresh off a tie for the regional crown at the Sagamore Club in Noblesville, Indiana last weekend.  The quintet of Nick Hardy, Thomas Detry, Brian Campbell, Dylan Meyer and Charlie Danielson finished four under par, which was good for a first place showing alongside SMU.  Illinois, who needed to finish in the top 6 to ensure themselves a spot in the NCAA field, did much better than that in bringing home the hardware.  The NCAA championships will be held May 29th - June 3rd at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.

     Not to be outdone was the mens tennis team, who qualified for the NCAA team championships by winning their own regional over both Louisville and Drake.  Unfortunately for coach Brad Dancer, the dream of a national title fell short as they were defeated in the semifinal round by North Carolina in Waco, Texas.  The Illini were seeded #4, but were upended by the #13 Tar Heels, thus ending their season a bit prematurely.  The Illini return a nucleus of players back next season, so the prospects of an Illinois team making a return trip to the tournament seems very likely.

     Just four short seasons ago, the University of Illinois mens track and field team was in a downward spiral and had just lost Tonja Buford-Bailey, who took her talent south to the University of Texas.  Buford-Bailey, who was the Illini womens coach, also helped out with the mens team, and her absence was thought to be a huge loss.  But Mike Turk has turned this program around and this past weekend, captured the Big Ten title in East Lansing.  This win by the track team has capped off an unbelievable spring sports season, boasting four conference championships.  The track team is led by senior D. J. Zahn, who won an individual title in the 400m.  The NCAA Championships will be held in Eugene, Oregon, with the West Prelims to be staged May 28-30 in Austin, Texas.

     As much good news with all of the success of the spring sports teams comes with some not so good news, dealing primarily with the football and women's basketball teams.  Last week it was revealed by former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic that there was some mistreatment in the medical staff, specifically dealing with his injury that ultimately ended his season.  Cvijanovic broke the story last Sunday via Twitter, and since his allegations, there have been several other former players come forward with similar concerns.  There is an ongoing investigation into the matter to determine whether or not there were any rules broken.  Then, exactly a week later, it was reported that several families of former Illinois womens basketball players have accused head coach Matt Bollant and other assistant coaches of misconduct as it pertains to injuries.  Taylor Tuck, Amarah Coleman and Taylor Gleason are the main focus in this particular investigation.  As a result, assistant coach Mike Divilbiss has mutually agreed to part ways from the program, and effectively resigned as a result.  These two instances are casting a very encompassing shadow on a very bright sports season.  Who knows what will happen with either of these situations, or who is right or wrong?  One thing is clear however, in that this will probably not go away any time soon.  Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.