Illini look to solidify spot atop collegiate rankings
March 14, 2021
On Monday, the Illini will have the opportunity to win their third straight tournament at the two-day Lousiana Classics in Lafayette, Lousiana. The last time Illinois started a year with three straight wins was when it reached the NCAA Championship Final Four.
In 2016 the Illini, led by a young Nick Hardy, followed up their 3-0 start with a Big Ten Championship, NCAA Regional Championship and a Final Four appearance.
This year the Illini have come out strong once again. Led by fifth-year senior Michael Feagles, the Illini have gone from unranked to fourth in the nation in just a month.
Illinois have moved up quickly in the rankings due to beating most of the preseason-ranked teams in its first two outings. The Illini’s wins have been a full team effort and, in many ways, resemble the 2016 team that almost won it all.
At the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate, the Illini had four golfers in the top-15. At the LSU Invitational, they had three. In 2016, the Illini had at least three in the top-15 for each of their first three wins. If they can come out with another dominant win, it may be time to start making bets.
This year’s team doesn’t just resemble the 2016 team in spirit; there are also a few familiar faces. Feagles was just a freshman that year, though he didn’t play like one. He appeared in every tournament that season, earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was placed on the All-Big Ten First Team.
Giovanni Tadiotto, another fifth-year senior, made an impact on the team that year as well. He took home an individual win in just his third collegiate tournament. Though his score did not count for the team, it showed his potential to stick around for a long time, which he has.
Back then, Feagles and Tadiotto were freshmen trying to learn the ropes and get on head coach Mike Small’s good side. Now, they are the old guys leading the pack.
So far this season, Feagles has earned Big Ten Golfer of the Week twice and was recently named a finalist for the Fred Haskins Award, which goes to the most outstanding male collegiate golfer of the year.
The return of Feagles and Tadiotto has been a blessing for the team. As the only holdovers from the 2016 Final Four team, other than Small, they are the only ones on the roster with experience in the NCAA Championship match-play round.
A win in Lafayette will solidify them as title contenders and potentially even title favorites.