Current and former Illinois athletes have success

By Alex Roux

Athletic performances unfold on the field of play. It’s those performances, however, that lead to accolades and recognition away from the arena. Awards get you noticed, and the recognition athletes receive from their achievements can end up elevating them to the highest level of the sport.

The accolades and good news rolled in last weekend for several current and former Illini athletes. The men’s and women’s gymnastics programs had successful meets, headlined by the awards their freshmen athletes received Monday. Chandler Eggleston of the men’s team received his second-straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor for his performance at the Windy City Invitational on Saturday. Eggleston won a title in floor exercise and finished third on vault. His efforts helped the Illini tie Ohio State for second place at the meet. 

On the women’s side, freshman Erin Buchanan helped the Illini win its tri-meet at Huff Hall, capturing a title in floor exercise in the process. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the first time in her career. 

Senior Vanessa DiBernardo of the Illinois soccer team was drafted fourth overall on Friday in the National Women’s Soccer League College Draft by the Chicago Red Stars. The two-time NCAA All-American is the highest-drafted player in school history, and the Naperville native now has a chance to play professionally roughly 30 miles from where she grew up.

“I’m excited and honored to be drafted by the Chicago Red Stars, especially because it’s my hometown,” DiBernardo said in a press release.

The Chicago Red Stars are a member of the nine-team NWSL, a league in its second year of existence. Its teams feature some of the most recognizable names in women’s soccer, including National Team members Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.

DiBernardo wasn’t the only Illini to receive exciting news over the weekend. Former Illinois track athlete Aja Evans was named to the U.S. Olympic Boblsed team on Sunday. She will compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February.

Evans took up bobsledding in March of 2012 following a decorated career at Illinois. She was a five-time All-American and three-time Big Ten Champion at Illinois as a thrower and sprinter. She wasted no time becoming a force in her new sport, as she was named USA Bobsled’s Rookie of the Year. Now she will compete in the Olympics less than two years after taking up the sport and less than four years after graduating from Illinois.

Not a bad start to the semester, huh? DiBernardo and Evans both had dominant careers at Illinois, so it is hardly a surprise that their success has continued after their college careers came to a close. Headlines and awards accompanied their performances at Illinois, and their good fortune at the next stage of their careers is impressive but expected. The best athletes move to the top.

The honors received by Eggleston and Buchanan may be a sign of things to come. Maybe a Freshman of the Week award will turn into a Player of the Year award. We can only hope. But we should be proud of the positive recognition our athletes receive, at this level and the next.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.