Mid-semester blues hit Illini sports teams

Fair warning, this column is going to seem depressing. Students are in the midst of exams, the weather is getting colder and many Illinois teams are slumping.

The University’s got that mid-semester blues.

It’s no longer the beginning of the school year and students are starting to remember why they were so excited for summer a mere five months ago. Everyone is stressed. Walking across the Quad you hear sentiments like, “maybe grad school isn’t such a good idea,” “how important is going to class anyway?” and even the occasional “If Steve Jobs can be successful without a degree I can, too, right?”

A fog of monotony has hit Illinois, and hit it hard.

Sports teams are following the same trend, much to the dismay of the players, coaches and fans.

Soccer was down in the dumps. The Illini have been riddled with injuries, and beating Wisconsin on Saturday was their first win since opening conference play with a narrow victory over Iowa two weeks ago. Yikes. But the Wisconsin win is nothing to scoff at. The No. 20 Badgers were a worthy opponent and Illinois hung on to clinch a 3-2 victory. A bright spot in an otherwise dismal October so far.

Volleyball is also in desperate need of a pick-me-up. It’s lost seven of its last 10 games. Granted, six of those losses came to teams ranked in the top 25. The schedule is strong, and that counts for something, but with the exception of a 3-2 loss to then No. 2 Texas, the Illini struggle to take sets from good teams.

Looking at the results, you see a lot of 3-0 or 3-1 losses that don’t account for how competitive each set was — maybe the Illini kept it close until the end and then couldn’t close — but it doesn’t look good.

A 3-0 win over Indiana this weekend helped to soften the blow. But Indiana has now lost eight in a row, and is winless in the Big Ten. So while it always feels good to sweep a team, anything less would have been embarrassing for the Illini.

Though football had a bye week, a bad taste lingers from last week’s disappointment at the hands of the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had his worst performance of the season, amassing only 135 yards passing. A far cry from the 300-yard, 40-point games of the not-so-distant past.

When reading recaps of games from each weekend it seems like loss after loss after loss. There are exceptions, of course, and excitement every once in a while, but for the most part, Illinois is in desperate need of a spark; something to ignite campus and transform it into the vibrant, lively community it was only weeks ago.

Ah, September. The good old days.

Now I’m just being dramatic.

The great thing about sports is there’s always hope. Underdog status means nothing. Once the whistle blows, the number of W’s in a teams win column proves pointless. Florida Gulf Coast embodied the Cinderella story during March Madness last year. Illinois basketball did it when they upset No. 1 Indiana. Hell, I just watched Missouri’s football team beat Georgia in Athens.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Florence and the Machine taught me that one. Harvey Dent also said it in “The Dark Knight,” but I try not to speak of old Two-Face.

I think the same sentiment holds true for Illinois sports. We’re in a rough patch, but brighter days are ahead.

The football team had time to regroup so they can surprise Wisconsin under the lights at Memorial Stadium. Soccer is focused on getting players healthy and proving to the Big Ten that they shouldn’t be taken lightly. And volleyball? Volleyball is primed and ready for a big win. No. 5 Penn State comes to town next weekend and I think head coach Kevin Hambly and his team have had this match circled on their calendar since the beginning of the season.

So let’s not despair. Right now, I think we’re experiencing a midseason slump, but hopefully, mercifully, the fog will lift. Midterms will end, Champaign will reawaken and Illinois athletics will get a big victory to soothe our souls.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @arynbraun.