Illini athletes unite at Stuff Huff



By Anthony Zilis

Illinois basketball assistant coach Jerrance Howard was rumored to have serenaded Illini fans with a chorus from Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” outside Huff Hall Friday evening. Chester Frazier donned football pads and a helmet for no apparent reason and Mike Tisdale and Calvin Brock dunked over Illinois students clad in orange, as Mike Davis and other Illinois athletes served food and mingled with members of the student body.

It was time for Stuff Huff, the unofficial kickoff to the University of Illinois sports season, and Illini basketball coach Bruce Weber knew it was important for his team to be there to support the Illini volleyball team against North Carolina.

“The Illini athletic department is a big family, and we all try to support each other whenever we can,” he said. “We’re all very busy and we’ve all got our own thing going, but … any (sport) we can go to we try to support.”

The idea that all Illini sports are a unit was the recurring theme of the day, as Illini athletes talked about the family atmosphere that they feel at the Illinois.

“I think that’s what’s really cool about our University,” senior softball player Lana Armstrong said. “It’s not just Illinois football pride, it’s not Illinois basketball pride, it’s Illini pride, we’re all here to support each other and it’s really that family atmosphere tradition of our campus.”

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As a former Illinois player, Howard knows just how important it is to have fun and connect with the fans to create this atmosphere at all sporting events.

“This is really important to our program, and it also goes a long way with the kids,” Howard said. “It means a little bit more when you have your fellow classmates and colleagues come out and supporting (other sports).”

Joe Hanley’s reaction to the basketball team’s appearance at Huff Hall proved that Weber’s team did their job from a public relations standpoint.

“It shows that they want to support the other athletes here,” the sophomore in AHS said. “It shows that they don’t just care about themselves; they care about the University as a whole.”

When the pregame festivities were over, it was time for the fans, basketball players included, to head into Huff Hall to watch their volleyball team kick off its season against North Carolina.

And from the time the starting lineups were announced, the student section known as the Spike Squad, with the basketball team standing in front, was as raucous as ever with the crowd of 3,129 orange-clad fans rocking with every Illinois point.

“This is my third time at Stuff Huff, and this is the most people I’ve ever seen. This is the best I’ve seen them play the first game of the year, so it’s awesome,” said Jeff Powers, the Illini Pride Executive Board volleyball chair and leader of the Spike Squad.

The team did not disappoint, winning the match in straight sets.

After his team soundly defeated the Tarheels, coach Don Hardin said the team owed a few points to the Illini fans. Senior setter Lizzie Bazzetta agreed that the team was fired up by the crowd.

“Its inspiring to have so many people come out there to support you, and they’re just so proud. I’m proud as a player to have people like that care so much,” she said. “This game wouldn’t have been the same without all those people there.”

Howard said that it’s this dedication that makes the University of Illinois the special place that it is.

“That’s what separates our fans, to me, from everybody else in the country … Look at all the orange, its just a good feeling.”