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Illinois Softball missed the tournament, but Tyra Perry has it on the right track

Inspired hire leads continued resurgence of upstart young program.

At least Mike Thomas hit a home run with one hire.

When the former AD of Illinois tabbed Tyra Perry as the leader of the Illinois Softball team, she had already made a name for herself as a player for the LSU Tigers and as a coach in both the MAC (Ball State) and the Sun Belt (Western Kentucky, where she left as the winningest coach in program history).

The two-time Sun Belt coach of the year had quite the list of accomplishments even before she stepped foot on Eichelberger Field.

What she's done since is equally as impressive, given that the direction of the program had tilted downward recently. Her predecessor, Terri Sullivan, had just retired after 16 successful years of building the program into a Big Ten contender. Sullivan definitely deserves credit for building a previously non-existent program in 2001 into a competitive entity early on. However, interest had waned by 2015, and Illinois hadn't been nearly as prolific as the more formative early going.

That's where Perry comes in. And she's done amazing work reshaping this team in her own image.

This year's inability to make the NCAA tournament shouldn't diminish what has been done in re-righting the ship. In three years in Champaign, Perry has guided Illinois back to the early days and created a winning culture that's permeated throughout.

Her first season in 2015 was proof positive, as she led that year's squad to a 36-23 record, the most wins since 2012 and the second-most overall since 2010's 45-8 season.

She's matched or exceeded the 35-win mark every year she's been at Illinois and made the postseason in 2017 with a 39-20 record (fourth-best in school history) and a regional berth in Lexington. Star player Nicole Evans had a season for the ages as well, setting records in career home runs, total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage.

This all leads back to the mentality Coach Perry has established. Play fast, play hard, leave it all on the field. The players have taken her teachings to heart and have embodied those lessons.

Most people have criticized Mike Thomas for his failings in the ‘hiring coaches department’ — and rightly so — but this one he got right.

The future looks bright with Tyra Perry at the helm.