Pre-Series Record: 17-9 Series Record: 12-6
End of Season Standing: T17, Eliminated in College Championships Pool Play
Coach: Walden Nelson (new in 2011)
2010 Tournaments: Trouble in Vegas, 2nd at Mardi Gras, 16th at Centex, 5T at Huck Finn, 1st at Central Plains Sectionals, 1st Great Lakes Regionals, T17 at College Championships
Illinois has qualified for Nationals six out of the last ten years, with its best finishes being ties for 5th in 2008 and 2003. While 2009 and 2010’s results on the big stage haven’t been particularly impressive (both ties for 17th), Illinois is a great example of a team that benefits from seeing the game’s highest level each year. Regularly being exposed to the top players and strategy in the country has kept Illinois at or near the top of the Great Lakes Region.
As a team that does not practice outdoors until after spring break, Illinois tends to underperform early. This habit, however, may have some hidden benefits, as a tendency to peak at Regionals is virtually built into the season practice plan. The first two and a half months of the spring at Illinois are spent in the weight room, on the track, and at the chalk board reviewing strategy. Once it warms up outside, Illinois’ A team starts actually playing together, and the rust begins to fall off.
In 2010, Illinois won the Central Plains Section (which required the team to bounce back after a Saturday loss to Purdue) and the Great Lakes Region over Michigan (9-8 in Semis) and Michigan State (15-10 in the Final). Once at Nationals, Illinois lost to Carleton, Harvard, UNC-Wilmington, and Iowa in pool play. Their lone win was over Kansas (14-13) in the 17th place game.
Roster Turnover and Offseason Club Experience:
Illinois graduated nine players from 2010, the most notable being captains Walden Nelson (First Team All-Region and Callahan nominee) and Brian “Phenom” Phelan (First Team All-Region). Each played mostly on the offensive line. The Illinois defense lost two handlers as well.
Returning this year are four offensive starters and Ryan Smith, a Second Team All-Region defender. Illinois’ junior class is considerable, and with most of them having played together since 2009, much of the team’s success will depend on just how ready they are to step in and fill the shoes of impact players that have graduated. Nelson is also staying with the team as a coach.
For club, many Illinois players suited up with FC Champaign in 2010. The team placed 4th at Sectionals, missing Regionals by one spot. Aside from FC Champaign, Lien played with Twin Cities mixed team Drag’n Thrust, who placed 3rd at Club Nationals.
Illinois has kept its strategy fluid over the past few seasons. In 2006 and 2007, much responsibility fell on lefty Brian Korbesmeyer to start the offense and break the mark on the goal line. More recently, Illinois has become a better-rounded team in the throwing department, allowing for offensive sets wherein deep cutters often moved into handler positions and handlers cut upfield to create mismatches for opposing defenses. Even in a vertical stack, Illinois frequently keeps three handlers in the backfield rather than the more traditional two.
Defensively, Illinois plays a lot of man. Zone defense is typically only used in windy conditions. In 2006 and 2007, the zone of choice was clam, but in 2008 and 2009, the team switched its focus to a more cup-based defense at the suggestion of a transfer student.
Like many schools, Illinois has yet to start picking up juniors Ultimate players; most of the team’s players have backgrounds in track, cross country, and other sports. For this reason, the fall is devoted to teaching fundamentals to young athletes. Illinois typically does not make cuts for its A team until the final week of its fall semester, and this year they were postponed until the first week of 2011.
This fall, Illinois went to Rivalry Reheat and Missouri Loves Company. At Rivalry Reheat, the team took 2nd place after two losses to Michigan, while at MLC Illinois took 5th place after losses to Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin along with wins over Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan.
Illinois intends to travel to Mardi Gras, Pres Day, Centex, and possibly one other tournament before the Series.
In previous years, Illinois has been plagued by injury, so it will need to stay healthy in order to contend in 2011. With Michigan and Michigan State remaining the biggest threats to Illinois’ regional title, the competition in the Great Lakes is largely unchanged.
As the defending champions, Illinois has the upper hand, and at least some of its focus will be on improving upon its disappointing finishes at Nationals in 2009 and 2010. Should Illinois make it back, two years of experience in Columbus and Madison should go a long way toward putting the team into the top ten.