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The Complete Review of Illinois Fighting Illini Athletics 2017-18

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So, how’d everyone do?

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it all started with this tweet on August.

Here’s a short recap of EVERY Illinois team this season with how everything went down, in alphabetical order of women’s sports then men’s sports.

Hopefully next year is better.

Women’s Sports

Basketball

Overall Record: 9-22

Big Ten Record: 0-16

Not that much good to talk about here in Nancy Fahey’s first year with the program. Illinois never won another game after a Dec. 16 date with Austin Peay, and Alex Wittinger and Brandi Beasley were some of the team’s only bright spots.

With Fahey in charge it should get better, but in the meantime, this isn’t ideal.

Cross Country

After finishing first out of five teams at the EIU Walt Crawford Open in September, the Illini never really had a good meet again, finishing 13th out of the 14 Big Ten schools at the conference championship.

Freshman Rebecca Craddock finished first on the team at nearly every meet and placed 40th at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Golf

Illinois finished the season ranked 20th and finished one spot away from qualifying for the NCAA Championships. The Illini’s season was highlighted by a first-place finish at the Lady Buckeye Invitational and second-place finished at the Big Ten Championships.

Grace Park and Bing Singhsumalee earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors, and this team has nowhere to go but up in one of its best seasons in program history.

Gymnastics

Hosting the Big Ten Championships at the State Farm Center, Illinois finished third out of 10 teams and 13th at the NCAA Championships. The Illini had a season average score of 195.620.

Sophomore Rae Balthazor finished in 13th place in all around competition at the NCAA Championships while representing the Illini.

Soccer

Soccer was the team that may have started the Illinois Athletics year, but it’s not the one to remember. Illinois finished 5-14 (2-9 Big Ten), one of its worst records in recent memory.

The Illini were shut out 10 times during the season, including the year’s last four matches.

Kara Marbury led the team with three goals over 15 games.

Softball

Tyra Perry is really growing Illinois Softball into a team to be reckoned with every single year, and while the team did not make the NCAA Tournament, the Illini (37-18, 13-8) were very good.

Firmly on the bubble, a quarterfinal loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Indiana did not do Illinois any favors and effectively ended its season.

Kiana Sherlund led Illinois with a .397 average and took home several postseason honors, while freshman Bella Loya had a team-high 10 home runs.

Swim & Dive

The only meet Illinois won all year was an October date with Indiana State. The Illini lost team meets to Michigan State, Rutgers, Northwestern and others and finished 12th out of 13 teams at the Big Ten Championships.

One name to know here is rising senior Ling Kuhn, a diver who finished 13th at the NCAA Zone Diving Championships.

Tennis

Head to head with volleyball for the most successful women’s sport season, the Illini had the best season in program history.

The Illini finished at 22-6 and fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 11 Texas Tech. Head coach Evan Clark was named Big Ten Coach of Year, deservingly so.

With so many freshmen on this team, the most successful team at Illinois next year might very well be Women’s Tennis.

Track & Field

Not really a banner year for the Illini, finishing 10th out of 13 teams at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in February and 12th at the Outdoor Championships in May.

A few notable performances include junior Emone Davis, who finished 1st in the 100m at the Illinois Twilight. Redshirt-junior Sara McKeeman finished first on the pole vault at the SIU Spring Classic and Illinois Twilight.

Volleyball

Despite being a young squad with a new coach, volleyball had one of the best seasons of any Illini team this year, putting together a 23-11 record, and a 12-8 record in the Big Ten.

While the Illini struggled initially against tougher competition, they had a strong end to the season, taking down a top-ranked Minnesota squad before heading into the NCAA tournament and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to Michigan State.

With a large portion of this team’s squad returning for next year, the Illini should be looking at another great season next year.

Men’s Sports

Baseball

The most disappointing to a finish probably had to be Illinois Baseball, who finished the season at 33-20 and missed the NCAA Tournament while teams like Indiana and Ohio State — with similar resumes — were included.

But it’s not even that. It’s that Bren Spillane had one of the great individual season in Illinois ATHLETICS history with 23 home runs, a .390 average and a toast of other accolades. Still a lot of talent on this team to make a run next year, but that team won’t have Spillane.

Basketball

Brad Underwood’s first year wasn’t pretty at times, and it was pretty tough for the team to inbound the ball sometimes. A first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament will not be tolerated anymore by Illini Nation, but there were at least some signs of culture change in BU’s first year, most notably hustle.

Trent Frazier quickly became a fan favorite as his sidekick Mark Smith dipped for Mizzou after one year. Kipper Nichols will be looked to carry the team as a veteran following Leron Black and Michael Finke forgoing their final year for other plans (professional and Grand Canyon, respectively).

Oh, and Matic. Good recruiting class coming in, though!

Cross Country

After appearing at the NCAAs last season for the first time in a quarter century, Cross Country wasn’t able to make it as a team in 2017.

However, the distance start of the Illini, Jon Davis, made a name for himself by being named the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Athlete of the Year. In January at the UI Armory, Davis made history by becoming the 498th American to run a sub four-minute mile.

Football

Lovie Smith’s second year wasn’t better than his first — it was actually worse. The Illini finished 2-10 and ended the season on a 10-game losing streak after wins over Ball State (barely) and Western Kentucky (who wasn’t as good as we thought).

A rotation of QBs did the team no favors, and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was fired after the season in favor of Rod Smith.

Hard to believe Littyville wasn’t even a thing during the season. How the times have changed with how we think of the Illini.

Golf

Illinois Golf made the NCAA Championships again and won the Big Ten Championship for the ninth time in 10 years, but the Illini did not qualify for match play at the NCAAs for the first time since 2012.

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy are graduating as two of the top golfers in program history, and there is a foundation laid for success to continue, but 2018 was definitely a disappointment. Still, #GolfSchool.

Gymnastics

The year didn’t end with a national championship, but it did include Men’s Gymnastics’ 28th Big Ten title and a third-place finish at nationals. Junior Alex Diab was the national champion on the rings, the third Illini to ever take the honor.

Illinois’ third-best performance of the season was at the national championship at UIC, but Oklahoma and Minnesota were just a touch better. Eight Illini gymnasts earned 12 All-America honors, and Bobby Baker was named the team’s MVP.

Hockey

Everyone is still talking about the feasibility study as the reality of hockey being an NCAA sport at Illinois continues to become realer, but the Division I ACHA team Illinois currently offers had its best year in a decade.

The Illini finished runners-up at nationals after lost in the conference championship to Lindenwood. If that doesn't mean much to you, that’s fine, but you should definitely check out a game at the Ice Arena next year because this Illini team is pretty good — and it’s fun.

Tennis

Brad Dancer runs one of Illinois’ most consistent programs with his Men’s Tennis team once again having a strong season and finishing in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini finished 24-8 and lost to No. 1 Wake Forest, 4-0, in the National Quarterfinals, the furthest the program has gone in recent years. Illinois took care of business in the first three rounds of the tournament, taking every single point.

Aleks Vukic finished his Illini career with a 108-19 overall record in singles, the ninth-most wins in program history. He also won 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year.

But the program is in good shape with rising sophomore Alex Brown and rising junior Zeke Clark, who both had 18 victories in singles and eight or fewer losses this past season.

Track & Field

The outdoor national championships are still ongoing for Men’s Track & Field, but we’ll just highlight three of the names who had quite incredible performances this season.

Any mention of Illinois Track needs to include Jon Davis, who became the 498th American to run a mile in under four minutes at the U of I Armory earlier this spring. Only a sophomore, Davis is a two-time All-American.

Then there’s redshirt-junior Jonathan Wells, a four-time All-American on the high jump and heptathlon. Wells was the Big Ten High Jump Champion, clearing a school-record heigh of 2.26 m (7-foot-5) and was runner up with leap of 7.71 m (25’3.5”).

And lastly, David Kendizera, a seven-time All-American, a three-time Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week this spring. The redshirt-senior even defeated 2012 Olympic 110m hurdle champion Aries Merritt to win the Mt. SAC Relays this year.

These guys can’t be human.

Wrestling

And any summary of the year in Illinois Sports must include the GOAT himself, Isaiah Martinez.

I-Mar’s exceptional, groundbreaking Illini career ended this year with his fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Championship, and his second loss. Martinez is a four-time Big Ten champion, and he was named an Illinois Wrestling Volunteer Assistant in early June after he announced he is staying in Champaign to continue his international-level career with the Illinois Regional Training Center.

From FightingIllini.com:

Martinez is currently preparing for his Final X, best-of-three series against reigning World Champion Jordan Burroughs on June 9 in Lincoln, Nebraska with a spot on the 2018 World Championships Team on the line.

It was also a tragic year for Illinois Wrestling after redshirt-sophomore Francis Edelen was killed following a car accident in Champaign County in March.

Redshirt-junior Emery Parker finished third in the NCAA Championships this season after losing his first match in the tournament.


Well, that’s a wrap. Thanks for sticking with us all year, and we can’t wait to cover another year of the Fighting Illini in the 2018-19 academic year.

If you want more coverage of sports other than football and men’s basketball, let us know. If you have any comments on how we did this year, feel free to let us know in the comments or reach out to us.

As always,

I-L-L...