DI Sports Staff picks: 2022 athletes of the year

By Sports Staff

Talent breaking out before our very eyes on a college campus doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did in 2022. A Heisman candidate, a 2x All-American center, a NCAA championship qualifier in two different running sports and more all had their best seasons in orange and blue. You would think we are talking about an Southeastern Conference school.

What we saw some athletes achieve wasn’t just fun to watch, but also unbelievable. While there were many candidates, here are our staff picks for Illinois’ men’s and women’s athletes of the year.

Women’s athlete of the year: Olivia Howell (Cross Country, Track & Field)

Senior Olivia Howell slows down towards the finish line during the Illini Invite for track & field on Apr. 23.
Howell finishes her cross country career for Illini, placing in 208th for this season. (Sydney Laput)

Olivia Howell was unanimously chosen by our staff as the number one athlete to grace this campus over the past year. For anyone unfamiliar, Howell is a distance runner for track & field and women’s cross country who had an incredible and record-setting year.

Starting off indoors in the 2022 track & field season, Howell earned fifth place in the mile at NCAA Indoor Championships. She became an All-American in this event after finishing with a time of 4:36.86. Three months later, she placed ninth at the outdoor NCAA championships in the 1500m with a time of 4:12.22. Incredible times, but she wasn’t done then.

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In the women’s cross country season this fall, she earned another trip to the NCAA championships after winning two of four regular season meets and placed first at the NCAA Regional meet with a time of 20:02.9 in the women’s 6K.

After a year of incredible placings and record-setting course times, Howell was an All-American in both of the events she ran in track & field and she placed at the NCAA championships in cross country.

Men’s athlete of the year: Chase Brown (Football)

Junior running back Chase Brown celebrates his second touchdown during the last home game of the regular season against Purdue on Saturday. (Sydney Laput)

Chase Brown’s contribution to Illinois football will be felt for generations to come. A Heisman candidate until the team hit a rough patch, Brown’s regular season was spectacular.

The Canadian led all Power Five rushers in total yards for the entire season and ended as the second highest rusher in all of college football. He ran for 100+ yards in 10 of his 12 games in 2022 and averaged 5.01 yards per carry. These performances were good for recognition as a Doak Walker finalist (top three running backs in the country) — the first in Illinois history.

While there were many other candidates for men’s athlete of the year, Brown’s performance this season will have a lasting impact on Illini football. He is a large part in the way Bret Bielema has built his program to succeed in the future. He was truly irreplaceable.


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