Where do Illini sports teams stand for 2009-2010 seasons?

MEN SPORTS

Baseball

Coach: Dan Hartleb

Record: 34-20 (16-8)

Big Ten Finish: Fourth

Plays at: Illinois Field

Recap: The highlight of the season came early when Illinois took two of three from then-No. 1 LSU, who went on to win the national title at the College World Series. But as the season went on consistency proved difficult. Key losses towards the end kept the Illini – who spent most of the season in contention for a Big Ten title – out of the NCAA Regionals.

What to expect: Starters Brandon Wikoff, Joe Bonadonna and Dominic Altobelli (who were drafted in June’s First-Year MLB Player Draft) will be difficult to replace. While Illinois will boast a talented incoming recruiting class, most of the load must be carried by the returning starters. If Illinois can improve pitching and boast consistent play—regardless of the opponent—then they will be that much closer to regular NCAA tournament appearances.

Basketball

Coach: Bruce Weber

Record: 24-10 (11-7)

Big Ten Finish: Third

Plays at: Assembly Hall

Recap: Illinois bounced back from one of its worst season’s ever and returned to the NCAA tournament in 2009, surprising just about everybody in the process. Huge early wins against Missouri and Purdue gave the Illini confidence for conference play. Positive developments in team chemistry and free throw shooting helped carry Illinois to a third-place finish in the Big Ten. Though the team made an early exit from the NCAA tournament to Western Kentucky while team leader Chester Frazier sat injured on the bench, the foundation for even more improvement was set.

What to expect: While last season’s starters were strong, they generally went into each game knowing they were going to start. Not anymore – the coaches are pushing a “nobody’s safe” mentality that has already resulted in harder practices and more improvement. With the arrival of the most highly-touted recruiting class in years, the competition for minutes will bring improvement across the board

Cross Country

Coach: Wendel McRaven

Big Ten Finish: Ninth

Recap: A young Illini squad struggled against stiff collegiate competition. On a 20-man team, twelve were freshmen. Nathan Troester and Hunter Mickow finished 33rd and 35th at the NCAA Regional Championships, which was the best for any Illini – both were freshman.

What to expect: A young team one year is an experienced team the next. Now the large group of freshman knows what to expect at the collegiate level. T Look for Jeremy Stevens to lead by example, as he will undoubtedly have some high goals for himself during his senior year.

Football

Coach: Ron Zook

Record: 5-7 (3-5)

Big Ten Finish: Sixth (tie)

Plays at: Memorial Stadium

Recap: The Illini made history as the first team since 1965 to follow up a Rose Bowl appearance with a losing record. Though Illinois stayed bowl eligible until the final game of the season, they came up flat against Northwestern and lost 27-10.

What to expect: While the Arch Rivalry games have been high scoring and exciting, they’ve caused Illinois to open the last few seasons with losses. That could change this year, as Missouri will be without quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin – the two most responsible for the high offensive numbers against Illinois last season. While the performances in 2008 will tell you that nothing is a sure thing, all indications are that Illinois will have a successful season. Look for Juice Williams to give Illini fans something to remember him by his senior year as Illinois goes “bowling”.

Golf

Coach: Mike Small

Big Ten Finish: First

Plays at: UI Golf Course

Recap: Illinois won its first Big Ten Championship since 1988 in a season that will be tough to top. Consistent play among the top-five players contributed to seven tournament victories as a team – the most of any team in the nation. Illinois topped the season off with an appearance at the NCAA Championships, where the team placed 21st. Coach Small was named both 2009 Big Ten and Midwest Regional Coach of the Year.

What to expect: A young but talented squad in 2007 grew to win a Big Ten Championship in 2008. This season, Illinois will return everyone from its line-up and will hope to meet, if not surpass, last season’s results.

Gymnastics

Coach: Justin Spring

Big Ten Finish: First (tie)

Plays at: Huff Hall

Recap: After serving as head coach at Illinois for 33 years, Yoshi Hayasaki decided to retire. His team sent him off on a high note after winning a share of the Big Ten Championship and finishing fifth at the NCAA Championships. Junior Paul Ruggeri spearheaded the individual effort, winning national titles in the parallel bars and high bar and Big Ten titles on floor and parallel bars.

What to expect: Illinois returns most of its Big Ten Champions, and will look to better its fifth-place finish at nationals. Coach Spring is capable of taking over where Hayasaki left off, so barring injuries, Illinois should impress as both a team and individuals on the national stage.

Tennis

Coach: Brad Dancer

Record: 23-9 (8-2)

Big Ten Finish: Second

Plays at: Atkins Tennis Center

Recap: Illinois and Ohio State played at a level above the other Big Ten competition throughout the season. So in the Big Ten Championship title match, it was no surprise that Illinois found itself matched against Ohio State, who defeated the Illini 4-1. At the NCAA Championships, No. 13 Illinoislost to Georgia 4-3 in the round of 16.

What to expect: If Illinois’ athletes can show up more consistently in doubles play than it did last season, it will be that much more dangerous against Ohio State and all the other Big Ten competition.

Track and Field

Coach: Wayne Angel

Big ten Finish: Seventh indoors, ninth outdoors

Plays at: The Armory, Track & Soccer Stadium

Recap: Illinois boasted some of the best athletes in the nation, but lacked the depth to finish high at the Big Ten Championships. The sprinting group carried the team, with the long distance and field athletes lacking consistent performances. Gakologelwang “Shoes” Masheto, Andrew Riley and Gary Miller led the team, and were involved in 43 of the 55 points that Illinois scored at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.

What to expect: Illinois will miss Masheto, who was Illinois’ most consistent performer. Riley could help fill the gap– he is already a two-time All-American going into his sophomore year.

Wrestling

Coach: Jim Heffernan

Record: 13-2 (6-2)

Big Ten Finish: Second

Plays at: Huff Hall

Recap: After receiving a 32-4 pounding from then-No. 7 Iowa, Illinois stepped its game up. The team followed the loss with a 29-11 victory against a ranked Purdue team and went on to win six of its final seven meets. The team placed a respectable second in the Big Ten Championships and eighth in the NCAA Tournament in Mark Johnson’s final season as head coach.

What to expect: Newly hired head coach Heffernan inherits six NCAA qualifiers. Volunteer assistant coach Mike Poeta will do everything he can to get one of his former teammates a national title.

Hockey

Coach: Chad Cassel

Record: 29-11-1

CSCHL Finish: Third

Plays at: Illinois Ice Arena

Recap: With the graduation of six seniors and addition of 13 new players, Illinois had tempered expectations a season after going undefeated. But with key injuries and the late-season loss of five players to the World University Games, the team faced more adversity than was expected. The team showed resilience that remarkably led it to its second straight national-title game, where it fell to Lindenwood 4-1.

What to expect: Last season, Illinois’ younger players showed they can step up and compete. Their experience, along with senior goaltender Mike Burda’s consistency, could take the Illini far.

WOMEN’S SPORTS

Basketball

Coach: Jolette Law

Record: 10-21 (5-13)

Big Ten finish: Ninth

Plays at: Assembly Hall

Recap: The graduation of seniors – as well as the premature departure of Chelsea Buher and Lori Bjork – devastated Illinois’ lineup. The highlight of the season proved to be Coach Law’s announcement of the 2009 recruiting class.

What to expect: Armed with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, Illinois is looking to make great strides. McDonald’s All-American Destiny Williams and highly-touted forward Karisma Penn will augment a returning group that only lost one senior. While Illinois’ chances of a quick return to the NCAA Tournament seemed bleak last season, the future is already looking bright.

Cross Country

Coach: Jeremy Rasmussen

Big Ten Finish: Fourth

Recap: Illinois advanced to the NCAA Championships for the fifth consecutive year. The team finished in tenth place, and in doing so joined Stanford as one of the only two teams to finish in the top-ten four years in a row.

What to expect: All-American Angela Bizzarri has already accomplished more than many do in a career, and she still has her senior season left. With many other contributors returning, Illinois will continue to aim high.

Golf

Coach: Renee Slone

Big Ten Finish: Ninth

Plays at: UI Golf Course

Recap: With seven freshmen on a team of nine, it was a rebuilding year for the Illini. The top performance at the Big Ten Championships was Nora Lucas’ sixth-place finish. Both Lucas and Sloan were freshman.

What to expect: With so many sophomores-to-be that have a season’s worth of experience under their belts, the team should be improved. Realistic goals include a middle-of-the-pack finish in the Big Ten.

Gymnastics

Coach: Bob Starkell

Big Ten Finish: Second

Plays at: Huff Hall

Recap: In the team’s first ever appearance at the NCAA Championships, it placed sixth in the preliminaries. Starkell was named National Coach of the Year and assistants Kim Landrus and Amy Kruse were named co-Assistant Coaches of the Year. Illinois also had five gymnasts make the second team All-Big Ten and finished the season ranked No. 12, the highest in school history.

What to expect: Illinois has improved or maintained its position in both the Big Ten and Regionals each of the last four years. With a solid core of gymnasts returning, Illinois has a good chance of continuing the trend.

Soccer

Coach: Janet Rayfield

Record: 12-9-2, (5-5)

Big Ten Finish: Fifth (tie)

Plays at: Track and Soccer Stadium

Recap: While Illinois was nearly unbeatable at home, the team went 4-8-2 on the road. Goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka came out big for the Illini, tallying nine shutouts. Illinois’ low-scoring style was evident during the NCAA Tournament, where the team advanced to the round of 16 off a goal in the second overtime against Memphis and a penalty kick shootout win against Missouri.

What to expect: A good mix of returning talent and solid recruits should help out the Illinois offense, though the schedule is tough. Kapicka will consistently give the team a chance, and could lead the Illini to its fourth Sweet 16 in six seasons.

Softball

Coach: Terri Sullivan

Record: 29-15 (12-7)

Big Ten Finish: Fifth

Plays at: Eichelberger Field at Martin Stadium

Recap: Going into the season, it was unclear how Illinois would answer the loss of five senior starters. As it turned out, the team responded by advancing to its first NCAA Regionals since 2004. Danielle Zymkowitz became the second All-American in Illinois history.

What to expect: Illinois will field plenty of returning offensive and defensive talent. Sophomore pitcher Monica Perry struck out a record 223 batters in her freshman year. This years’ Fighting Illini could move up from the middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten.

Swimming and Diving

Coach: Sue Novitsky

Big Ten Finish: Eleventh

Plays at: ARC

Recap: With the renovation of ARC, the team could host swimming meets for the first time in four years. A young Illinois team ultimately finished last in the Big Ten conference.

What to expect: After a last-place conference finish, Illinois has nowhere to go but up. The young team now knows what it will take to succeed at this level, though it may take more time.

Tennis

Coach: Michelle Dasso

Record: 19-8 (8-2)

Big Ten Finish: Third

Plays at: Atkins Tennis Center

Recap: The Illini tallied the best record during Dasso’s time as head coach. The team also accomplished its goal of winning a NCAA Tournament match by upsetting No. 19 Vanderbilt 4-3.

What to expect: With the loss of just one senior and the return of both Megan Fudge and redshirt junior Leigh Finnegan, Illinois looks to improve its standing on the national level. Aspirations of advancing further at the NCAA Tournament are not out of the question.

Track and Field

Coach: Tonja Buford-Bailey

Big Ten Finish: Fifth indoors, fourth outdoors

Plays at: The Armory, Track and Soccer Stadium

Recap: Illinois did not miss a step after the retirement of legendary coach Gary Winckler. Buford-Bailey led a balanced team with national-caliber talent.

Angela Bizzarri won her first Big Ten and NCAA titles in the 5,000 meters, while nearly every sprinter and hurdler achieved personal-bests. Illinois’ fourth-place finish at the NCAA Regional Championships was its highest in school history.

What to expect: Illinois returns its best distance and field athletes in Bizzarri and senior Aja Evans. Look for Illinois to maintain or increase its fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships.

Volleyball

Coach: Kevin Hambly

Record: 26-8 (15-5)

Big Ten Finish: Third

Plays at: Huff Hall

Recap: The Illini women must have wanted to keep retiring head coach Don Hardin around as long as possible, as they advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 2003. Though they fell to No. 8 California in the Sweet 16, overall the group sent Harding out on a high note. Laura DeBruler was named a Second Team All-American after leading the Big Ten in both kills (4.66 per set) and points (5.17 per set).

What to expect: Illinois has a tough schedule in store. With six returning starters, Coach Hambly saw fit to test the team early to gain some preparation for the Big Ten season, and eventually the postseason.

Illinois should be up for the challenge, which includes 14 matches against ten teams that qualified for the 2008 NCAA Tournament