Hispanic student-athletes lead Illini in 2022

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The Daily Illini File Photo

Sophomore guard RJ Melendez looks to pass the ball during the game against Michigan on Jan. 14.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

NCAA research shows that only 6% of college athletes are Hispanic and Latino/a/x, despite making up 21.7% of U.S. undergraduates in 2019 and 19% of the U.S. population. With such few Hispanic student-athletes seeing this level of competition, it’s important to recognize their impact and dedication to Illinois Athletics, providing fans with role models in a competitive environment. Here are just a few Hispanic student-athletes to watch for in their respective seasons.

Gabi Robles: Utility – Sr.

Heading into her fourth year with Illinois, Robles has been instrumental for her team. Appearing in over 40 games in her last two seasons, she tallied 11 runs, eight hits and five stolen bases in her junior campaign in 2022. She also held a .938 fielding percentage with 28 putouts and two assists. An increased role is to be expected of the Minooka native in what could potentially be her final season in Champaign.

Alex Vera: Left-handed Pitcher – R-Jr.

Graduate of Joliet Catholic, Vera was one of the most sought-after recruits out of Illinois. After a shortened freshman season, he exploded out of the bullpen in year two. He appeared in 12 games in the 2021 season, earning a 3.94 ERA (16.0 IP, 7 ER), 7 BB and 12 SO.

RJ Meléndez: Guard – So.

Native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Meléndez made an important impact, helping Illinois become Big Ten co-champs and make a second round appearance in the NCAA tournament. He played in 22 games on the season, averaging 3.8 points and 1.7 rebounds. With a completely different team this upcoming season, head coach Brad Underwood has already made it clear Meléndez remains in his plans for the season.Maximo Renteria: 125 – So.

A former three-time California State Champion, Renteria has the potential to shine. Although not competing in any dual meets during his freshman season, he competed in various tournaments for Illinois and held his own. Although he’s currently competing with redshirt junior Justin Cardani, who was an NCAA qualifier, for the 125 start, head coach Mike Poeta told FloWrestling that Reteria has the potential to become a star at Illinois.

Miranda Gallardo: Infielder – Sr.

Illinois’ running go-to, Gallardo appeared in 25 games during her junior season, stealing two bases and scoring six runs in crucial moments for the Illini. Throughout her career, Gallardo has held a 0.939 fielding percentage, granting head coach Tyra Perry another viable option during long Illinois softball seasons.

 

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