Big Season ahead for ‘Small’ Sports

Illini Soccer Team Big Ten Champs 2012

University of Illinois Soccer Team, 2012 Big Ten Champs. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Soccer.


Typically when someone thinks about college sports football and basketball are the first things that comes to mind. Those are the highest profile sports and seemingly define a schools athletic prowess.

The basketball and football teams at Illinois do not do the university justice, especially because of the high amount of success from the smaller sports.

Here’s a preview of some of the lesser-followed fall sports at Illinois. Be sure to check the schedules, and catch one of these matches when you’re in town for Illini football or basketball this fall!


Illini Men's Golf Big Ten Champs 2012

Illini Men’s Golf, 2012 Big Ten Champs. Photo courtesy of Fighting Ilini Golf.

Men’s Golf
The Illinois men’s golf team has seen a recent surge of success with four-straight Big Ten championships. Led by legendary head coach Mike Small who plays in PGA tours during his free time, Illinois golf has produced individual NCAA champions two of the past three years. Junior Thomas Pieters was the individual NCAA champion in 2012 and with two more years of eligibility is sure to stick out as an Illini leader.

Men’s Tennis
The Illinois men’s tennis team may have a small roster but it shows promises of success with a mixture of talented recruits and talented veterans. Head coach Brad Dancer assembled the No. 6 recruiting class in the country. Senior Bruno Abdelnour is set to lead the Illini, as he helped push Illinois to its first Big Ten championship since 2005. Talented seniors Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmaovich graduated last year, so this may be a rebuilding year for the Illini men, with major success in years to come.

Men’s Cross Country
Gavin Kennedy entered the Illinois program in 2011 with hopes to turn the men’s cross country program around. Two athletes, recent graduate Jim Riddle and senior Jordan Hebert qualified for the NCAA championships. The men failed to have team success in major events though, as they placed seventh at the Big Ten Championships and 12th at the Midwest Regional. The Illini lost a large group of seniors and it will be difficult for the team to make up that ground.


Men's Illini Cross Country Team

Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Men’s Cross Country and Track

Women’s Golf
Illinois women’s golf coach Renee Slone is the most renowned women’s golfer in Illini history. She has been working to build a golfer similar to herself and create a roster that can reach success on the national level. The Illini finished fifth in the Big Ten last season and received and at-large bid to regionals. They lost a strong senior class and will have to fill in the gaps and sophomore Michelle Mayer could be the golfer to do so.

Illinois’ soccer program has made the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and won the Big Ten Tournament this past season, proving itself as a strong force in the Big Ten. Last season was the most successful in the programs history with 17 wins and a Big Ten Championship. Junior Vanessa DiBernardo has made a name for herself during her first two years of play and will be the driving force for Illinois.

Women’s Cross Country
The future looks grim for the women’s cross country team as the Illini placed last at the Big Ten Championships last fall. The team returns its entire roster though which should bring leadership and experience and there is a strong recruiting class which may be enough to bring the team to a higher level.


Illini Volleyball Team. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Volleyball.

Women’s Tennis
In 2011, Illinois had some key wins early in the season and then failed to keep the momentum. Melissa Kopinski, the team’s singles wins leaders will be back to lead the Illini. It might not be the greatest season for Illinois women’s tennis but led by head coach Michelle Dasso, the team has the potential to move in the right direction.

The 2011 volleyball season was the Illini’s most successful in program history. After holding the No. 1 ranking for a considerable amount of the season, the Illini made it to the NCAA championship match where they lost to UCLA. The loss of two All-Americans, Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward, will hit the Illini hard this season. They entered 2012 ranked No. 7. Sophomore Liz McMahon, who played a huge part in Illinois’ recent success, will take the reigns as a stand out hitter.

About: Emily Bayci

Emily Bayci recently graduated with a B.S. in News-Editorial Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Orange and blue is in her blood, and she will be the fourth in her family to receive her bachelor and masters from Illinois as she is now pursuing her masters degree in Library and Information Science. She is an aspiring sports reporter and has covered Illinois athletics for The Daily Illini the past four years.