Women’s basketball players anticipate exciting season

By Dave Fultz

“First of all, it’s great to be back,” said Illini women’s basketball head coach Theresa Grentz at the ’06-’07 Illini Basketball Media Day. “I think it’s a good group, and it should be a lot of fun this year.”

Grentz, back for her 12th season at Illinois (33rd season overall), has a much different group of players than she did last season.

Last year’s squad featured six freshmen and was billed as the “Season of Youth.”

This year, Grentz’s team boasts two returning seniors, and lots of experience, as well as two key additions.

Erin Wigley and Audrey Tabon, the team’s two seniors, will lead by example as the season gets underway. Wigley, a 6-2 forward, is the top returning scorer (11.2 points per game) from last season and has started all but ten games in her three-year Illini career. Tabon, a 6-2 center, has earned the team’s Most Improved Player Award for the last two seasons. For the Illini to reach their goal of making the NCAA tournament, the two seniors will have to get the job done on the court and off.

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“Experience, for (Tabon and I), will play a big role in us being leaders,” Wigley said. “Just being able to tack on some knowledge and show how things are done will definitely help us as a team.”

The rest of this year’s squad also returns with experience and depth at every position – with two returning juniors, five sophomores and two redshirt freshmen. The six-member freshman class that made up the “Season of Youth” saw a lot of minutes last season and during the summer.

“You can’t get anything better than experience,” Wigley said. “Having that big of a class get that much experience, whether they were on the court or not, will give them a certain swagger and allow them to come back with a certain confidence.”

The two newcomers to the squad are junior transfer Rebecca Harris and true freshman Jenna Smith. Harris, a junior college All-American point guard last season, transferred to Illinois from Rend Lake College where she averaged 23.6 points and 5.6 assists per game.

“It seemed like an obvious choice [to transfer to Illinois] when I came on my visit,” Harris said. “It’s been fun, a lot of work with school and playing, but this is what I want to do.”

Smith, the only true freshman on the team, is a 6-3 forward/center that comes to the Illini with many accolades. She won Minnesota’s Ms. Basketball and The Associated Press Player of the Year after leading Kennedy High School to a 30-2 record and the finals of the Class 4A State Tournament.

“These are all pieces,” said Grentz on Media Day. “Each player makes us a little bit different, but I think that they each bring something to the table,” Grentz said.

“We have size, we’ve got rebounders, we’ve got quickness, we’ve got athletes, we’ve got a point guard and we’ve got shooters,” Grentz said. “Now it’s a matter of putting it all together.”

The team kicks off the action with the Orange & Blue Scrimmage on Oct. 29, followed by a pair of exhibition games at home against Clarion University of Pennsylvania and Lewis University on Nov. 3 and Nov. 7, respectively.

Their first regular-season opponent, Butler, comes to town Nov. 12 and Big Ten conference play starts Dec. 28 when Penn State invades Assembly Hall.

“The goal is NCAA’s,” Grentz said. “That’s what I want to do, and I want to make some noise in the thing. And I want them to make some noise.”