The Other Sports
I tell you what. As each year goes by, I care more and more about non-revenue Illini spots and less and less about my professional teams. By the time I retire, I'm going to be that guy going to a swimming and diving meet while the World Series is on. Do they have swimming and diving in October? I need to research this.
On Twitter, I usually follow the official Twitter feed for a sport during the season and then unfollow once the season is over (I like to keep my Twitter nice and tidy). But lately, I find myself remaining with the Twitter feed for the full year. Offseason softball news? Don't mind if I do.
I purchased BTN+ early this fall so I could watch some volleyball and soccer. Might keep it around so I can, I don't know, watch a softball game or two. Who needs the AFC Championship Game when there's a wrestling dual on BTN+? My Golf Channel obsession is in serious jeopardy.
Maybe I'll just list some of the Illini sports I've started to obsessively follow.
It reached "can't go to bed without knowing the score" status last year. Went crazy refreshing my phone when we beat Washington to make it to the Sweet 16. And this year, obviously, what a year.
And let's be honest - we all needed that. We needed to cheer for an Illini team in the Final Four. We needed to dream of an actual national title. After getting this far in only his second season, it feels like it might happen for Chris Tamas. I wrote about the future rosters earlier in the week, so yes, the future looks really bright.
I have to say, though, I'm not good at watching. I get so nervous. I don't understand what's happening and "they touched the net" calls infuriate me so I mostly just watch in a total and complete panic.
Golf is my TV sport (Golf Channel is really all I watch - I get so excited when something like the Australian Masters is live at midnight on a Thursday), so it's only natural that I obsess over Illini Men's Golf. When Charlie Danielson's putt did a horseshoe and came back to him in the national semifinal against Oregon a few years ago, I was crushed. The push to the final in 2013 was so exciting (but the 4-1 loss to Alabama was not).
What does the future hold in store for the golf team? This coming spring will be a down year with no seniors, although "down year" means "probably the 20th best team in the country". Next year everyone returns and it should be another push back into the top-10. And the future is bright given the recruiting. Mike Small has essentially secured a 5-star recruit in four consecutive classes:
- 2017 - current sophomore Brendan O'Reilly was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country.
- 2018 - current freshman Adrien Dumont du Chassart (ADDC for short) from Belgium is currently the #142 amateur golfer in the world. If I recall correctly that's the fourth-highest ranking for any NCAA freshman (and highest ranking on the current team).
- 2019 - Mike Small has signed Jerry Ji (yes, another Jerry Gee in Champaign), who is the #197 player in the world amateur rankings. Translation: another top-10 recruit.
- 2020 - Small has already secured a verbal from one of the top rising juniors in the country, Piercen Hunt from Wisconsin. He already had offers from basically everyone, took visits to Auburn, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Illinois and picked Illinois.
Feels like I need to emphasize how good it is that both ADDC and Ji are ranked in the top-200 (remember, golf rankings are 15 times more accurate than basketball or football rankings because they just enter every "who beat who in what tournament" into the system and it spits out which players are the best). All college golfers show up in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, and ADDC and Ji would be the second and third best players in the Big Ten just with their rankings this year.
So yeah, golf will eventually win one. Also,the women's golf team is currently ranked higher then the men and they're led by freshmen. So yeah, that practice facility is paying off.
I'll just put this here so that I can point back to it if it happens or you'll forget about it if it doesn't: the next national title could come from men's tennis in 2020.
Here's my case: the player rankings are out for the spring, and Illinois has five players ranked in the top-100. They're the only team to have that (not even perennial Big Ten champ Ohio State has that). The list:
Alex Brown (SO) #10
Aleks Kovacevic (JR) #44
Keenan Mayo (FR) #71
Noe Khlif (JR) #90
Zeke Clark (JR) #92
Did you notice that I listed no seniors there? And I didn't mention redshirt sophomore Gui Gomes, who was ranked in the top-100 as a freshman but missed all of last season, taking a redshirt. And I didn't mention Caleb Chakravarthi, who was 18-14 as a true freshman last year. And there are other highly ranked freshmen besides Mayo. And junior Vuk Budic is a doubles specialist who was ranked in doubles last year. And did I mention there aren't any seniors?
My guess: They'll be something like preseason #9 this year and make a real push for the Final Four. And then a year from now they'll be preseason #2. And then they'll go on to win the natty. Remember where you heard it (but if it doesn't happen, don't).
Tyra Perry just signed a two year extension, keeping her in Champaign until at least 2024. Her first three seasons as Illini softball coach:
The two seasons before she arrived? 24-26 and 26-27. So she's made a fairly big impact on the program already, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
This year's squad, with eight seniors, has the potential to be Perry's best team at Illinois. She returns her top four hitters, all of her pitchers, and even gets a key player back from injury this year (Annie Fleming who missed all of 2018), so mark your calendar for the return of Annie Fleming's Hair Bun.
It's also the fourth year, which is when a new coach's recruiting really starts to show. I would expect that the softball team pushes past the 40-win mark this season, especially if Perry gets contributions from what is supposed to be a very solid freshman class.
I could go on here - I follow baseball much closer now, especially when Ben adds articles here in the spring. Women's tennis and women's golf will both likely be ranked in the spring. Honestly, it's a really good time for The Other Sports.
Now if we could just fix the Big Two.