What you may have missed over break in Illini sports

Welcome back, everybody.

While most of us students kicked back and relaxed during the holiday break, winter-sport athletes at Illinois played on. While you caught up with your favorite shows on Netflix, odds are an Illini wrestler was avoiding the Christmas dinner table to make weight. While you slept in past noon, the women’s basketball team practiced in the mornings.

Our Illini fandom was dragged through peaks and valleys over break, mainly becuse of the inconsistency of our school’s most recognizable program: the men’s basketball team. We had a merry Christmas and a happy New Year after beating Missouri and Indiana, only to have our pride shattered this past Sunday by lowly Northwestern. While you were mainly focused on John Groce’s squad from afar, you might have missed what else was going on in the world of Illinois athletics.

Here’s what you may have missed from Illinois sports this past month:

— The women’s basketball team struggled. The Illini dropped four of their last five games over a stretch that included an 0-3 start to Big Ten play. On the bright side, the State Farm Center crowd of more than 3,300 at last Sunday’s loss to Nebraska set a world record for the most people wearing paper crowns in one place. Let’s hope that doesn’t end up being the team’s most lasting highlight of the year.

— The wrestling team finished fourth out of 47 teams at the Midlands Championships in late December, as Steven Rodrigues and Jesse Delgado led the way with top-three finishes. The 10th-ranked Illini then fell short against No. 8 Ohio State. As usual, the loaded Big Ten will provide multiple high-profile matchups for the Illini during the rest of the regular season.

— Illinois men’s gymnast Chandler Eggleston was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after he captured titles in floor exercise and vault in last Sunday’s win over Illinois-Chicago. The Illini will head back to Chicago this weekend for the Windy City Invitational. The women’s gymnastics team used its third-highest beam total in school history to defeat Michigan State in its first meet of the season.

— Joe McAsey of the men’s track team was named Big Ten Co-Track Athlete of the Week on Jan. 13 after winning the 600-meter run at the Illini Open last Saturday. His time of 1:19:80 was the fastest 600m time in the nation this season. Nine members of the women’s track team took home titles in its opening meet of the indoor season.

— While you’re busy being sympathetic toward our athletes for having practice over break, don’t feel too bad for the Illini men’s and women’s tennis teams. Both are set to begin their spring seasons in a tropical location that is far nicer than Champaign in the winter. The men’s team will start their season Boston Red Sox-style, in Fort Myers, Fla. at the annual Illini Open on Jan. 17. Not to be outdone, the women’s team is in Maui for the University of Georgia’s Hawaii Tournament. The four-day tournament commences on Jan. 16.

— If you noticed that the area around State Farm Center looks a little different, it’s because construction crews have moved equipment in to prepare for the upcoming $160 million renovation of the 50-year old arena. Noticeable changes to the actual arena won’t take place until after this basketball season.

So buckle up for this semester. Last spring we saw Delgado and Ashley Spencer take home NCAA titles. The baseball and basketball teams went on to exciting late-season runs. What does spring 2014 have in store?

Stay tuned.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.