Slapdash - Spring Sports
I haven't done a Slapdash post in a while. Slapdash just means a haphazard post where I write whatever is on my mind - no outline, no format, no structure. As I say each time, when you don't know what to write about, just start writing. This one will center around the "other" sports.
Softball is now 7-2 and has beaten two ranked teams (Oklahoma State and Kentucky). They just swept the weekend, going 2-0 vs. Boston College and 2-0 vs. Georgia Tech. They jumped into Others Receiving Votes last week and might be ranked this week? It's Tyra Perry's Year Four, and Year Four is usually when a coach has her own squad of her own recruits who are ready to make a big impact, and that might be what we're seeing.
I was looking at their schedule last night, and it seems like the first two weekends were much tougher than these next two weekends (early-season softball for northern teams like Illinois is a lot like baseball - southern schools set up a weekend tournament of some kind). The first weekend included a split with #22 Oklahoma State and a win over #13 Kentucky, and the second weekend was the "Big Ten/ACC Challenge" with two games each against BC and Georgia Tech, and now it's two weekend tournaments against smaller schools like Nicholls State and Tulsa. It's a ball-and-bat sport, so they won't be expected to sweep both weekends (the Orioles won 47 actual games), but I'm thinking that two weeks from today, the softball team will be something like 15-4. And ranked.
Same for the baseball team. First off, if you messed Ben's four-part preview, you can check it out here and here and here and here. The baseball team also swept the weekend including a win over #20 Wake Forest (at Wake Forest). Pitching was the story (I think I read something about the pitching on this website...), as the starters put up a 2.35 ERA and the bullpen a 0.00 ERA.
Updated polls will come out soon (today?), and after showing up in the "receiving votes" section of the preseason polls, there's a chance we could see the baseball team ranked. As I recall they were 29th in one of the polls, and when you're 29th and you go 3-0 while knocking off the #20 team, you should be ranked, right? You should be ranked.
My point: maybe watch the schedules and once the snow melts, head down Kirby/Florida to the baseball/softball complexes this spring. You might see two ranked teams.
My dad tried to get that license plate back in the 1980's (without the question mark) but it was already taken. That's the end of that story.
The #14 men's tennis team had an interesting week. Four ranked opponents, two wins, two losses. On Wednesday they beat #7 UCLA, and then, at the indoor championships, it was a loss to #6 Texas on Friday night, a loss to #4 Florida on Saturday, and a win over #19 Tulane yesterday.
The Texas match was the difference between a great week and just an average week. And I was obsessively following it on my phone Friday night. Texas won the doubles point and then quickly won two singles matches to nearly put it away. But the Illini came back to win three consecutive matches to bring the match even at 3-3. It came down to a third-set tiebreaker at #2 singles, and the Texas dude won the tiebreaker 7-5. Mathematically, you cannot get any closer than losing 7-5 in the tiebreaker of the deciding match.
I still feel good about where this team is headed. There are no seniors, so this is a "rebuilding year", but they're a top-10 or top-15 team right now with one player (Aleks Kovacevic) playing out of his mind so far (he's undefeated and has moved past Alex Brown into the #1 singles spot which is... the hardest place to stay undefeated). They've also gotten a boost from a true freshman (Sipho Montsi) at #6 singles. So this will be Brad Dancer tinkering with things over the next year-plus, trying to find the right lineup (and the right doubles pairings). By this time next year, hopefully, it's a top-5 team.
But don't forget the women's tennis team. They had a rough start to the season, losing to three ranked teams (Kansas, Virginia, and Duke) but they've rebounded to win four straight (Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor). The lineup consists of one senior, four sophomores, and a freshman, so expect an improving team each of the next three seasons.
Could both be ranked in a few months? I think so. Which would mean we might see baseball ranked, and softball ranked, and men's tennis ranked, and women's tennis ranked, and...
Quick - which golf team is ranked higher right now - men's or women's? Did you say women's? Because you would have been right. In the two coaches polls right now, the women are ranked 18th and the men ranked 25th.
Yes, men's golf, ranked 25th. Lowest ranking since... 2008/09 I think? Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy graduated, and Mike Small is looking to the three juniors (Bryan Baumgarten, Michael Feagles, and Gio Tadiotto) to step forward and take control of the team, and thus far, he hasn't really gotten it. The reason the golf team has been a perennial top-10 team the least decade has been the upperclassmen stepping forward and claiming their team. Langley and Guthrie graduate? Now it's Pieters and Campbell's team. They're gone? Now it's Danielson and Detry. They graduate? These next two years are the Meyer and Hardy teams. They're gone? Time for someone to step up.
The top five this spring seem to be set. The three juniors listed above plus sophomore Brendan O'Reilly and next-in-the-Belgian-pipeline freshman Adrien Dumont de Chassart (ADDC). These spots aren't set in stone, especially with the juniors not running away with their spots, so there are openings for the one other sophomore (Varun Chopra) and the three other freshmen (Luke Armbrust, Noah Gillard, and Tommy Kuhl). And then next year they'll all be pushed by maybe Small's best recruit in years, first-in-the-Netherlands-pipeline Jerry Ji. And then the year after that, another top-25 recruit (current high school junior Piercen Hunt). So Small has it set up recruiting-wise. Now it's time for these juniors to go take it and run with it.
Because if they don't, they'll be getting smack-talked by the other team that shares the Demirjian Golf Practice Facility, one which is currently ranked higher than them. The women's team is lead by one senior (Bing Singhsumalee) and one junior (Tristyn Nowlin), but again, the bulk of the contributions come from the freshmen. So, uh, heads up men's team.
I think I should have called this "Slapdash - six ranked teams?" because it's certainly possible that all six teams could finish the spring in the top-25. Men's tennis and women's golf for sure, and men's golf pretty much has to get there, but yes, it's possible all six could eventually be ranked.
So, uh, heads up, football and men's basketball. You haven't been ranked since October 2011 (football) and December 2014 (basketball), but it's possible all SIX of these teams will be ranked this spring. So, uh, your turn.