CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When the Illinois softball team earned Braggin’ Rights in a neutral-site game on March 11, the Illini didn’t anticipate that marking the end of their season. The 2-1 victory over No. 23 Missouri would be the last sporting event of the year for the entire University of Illinois.
The Illini finished the season 11-11, including wins over ranked teams and SEC opponents. Fielding a young team with underclassmen in many key positions, the freshmen were able to get a feel during the 22-game season. However, they did not have the chance to play a game at home. Illinois was set to host the Fighting Illini Tournament March 14-15, as well as this year’s Big Ten Tournament.
While it is an unfortunate end, head coach Tyra Perry is looking to the future.
“There are going to be teams that respond in all kinds of ways,” Perry said. “Our response is choosing to use this as a time to gain, to lead, and to move ahead.”
Perry and her staff have been working to keep the team connected, despite the players being spread across the country. During this time, if allowed by the NCAA, they want to hold meetings via Skype or Zoom in order to talk about team philosophy and strategy. Another one of Perry’s goals is to utilize forms of multimedia to help her young team work on their softball IQ.
There were two seniors on this season’s roster: the program’s only four-year player Akilah Mouzon and junior college transfer Maddy Adams. After having nine seniors last season, this was a change in team dynamic and leadership.
“[Mouzon] played her role well, with dignity and class, and definitely was someone that players looked up to,” Perry said.
Adams recalled the bus ride home after the Braggin’ Rights game.
“We had just heard the Ivy League cancelled,” she said. “I remember getting up and I looked at my teammate Madison and I was like, ‘You know, let’s sing, let’s dance on the bus. This possibly could be our last bus ride home.’ We said it laughing and we were like ‘there’s no way that this is our last bus ride,’” said Adams.
While she’s thankful for that last bus ride, Adams also looks forward to the future of the Illinois Softball program. The NCAA is set to grant an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes, but she is unsure if she will use it. She hopes they use this time as an offseason to continue to work, improve their game and come back strong next year.
“I think this is a really good experience for the younger girls and a message to not take things for granted and go hard every day in practice,” Adams said. “You never know when your last game is going to be.”