Women of the 2000s: Softball begins and a wave of star performers marks the start of the 21st century


By Mike Pearson


The long-awaited new millennium introduced an additional sport to the University of Illinois women’s varsity athletics lineup, but many other significant storylines unfolded in the first 10 years of the 21st Century.

About a year after softball’s debut in March 2000, Eichelberger Field has become home to a plethora of talented athletes.

Women’s golf got a big boost in 2004 when the construction of the Demirjian Indoor Golf Practice Facility was announced. A beautiful new tennis area, the Khan Outdoor Complex, followed three years later.

Individually, names like FĂ©licien, Alcia, Hunt, Mensah and Bizzarri made headlines.

Here’s a timeline rundown of many of Illini’s most memorable women’s moments from 2000 to 2009.

January 2, 2000: Women’s basketball defeated No. 5 Georgia, 82-65, at Assembly Hall.

March 11, 2000: UI’s softball team made its varsity debut, splitting a doubleheader at Coastal Carolina. Due to the lack of a home pitch, coach Terri Sullivan’s players were never seen by the majority of the Illini faithful.

March 17, 2000: Illini women’s basketball defeated Utah in an NCAA Tournament opener, 73-58.

April 15, 2000: Ground-breaking ceremonies for Eichelberger Field.

June 13, 2000: Sophomore Jessica Aveyard, Illinois’ first-ever swimming All-American, won the Dike Eddleman Award as IU’s top female athlete.

August 31, 2000: Karol Kahrs retired after 36 years of service.

Sept. 15-Oct. 1, 2000: At the Olympics, Illini swimmer Ilkay Dikman (Turkey) and Perdita Felicien (Canada) competed for their home countries.

November 8, 2000: Illinois football played and won its first-ever NCAA tournament game, beating Xavier, 2-0.

March 15, 2001: Illini’s women’s swimming and diving made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA championships, eventually placing in a tie for 35e square.

March 30, 2001: In its very first Big Ten games, coach Terri Sullivan’s Illini softball team swept Michigan State, 4-1, 10-2. Illinois finished with a 12-8 conference record.

April 27, 2001: UI’s 4×100 meter shuttle relay quartet of Jenny Kallur, Camee Williams, Susanna Kallur and Perdita Felicien set a world record (52.85) at the Drake Relays.

April 29, 2001: Illini’s women’s tennis stifled Northwestern for the Big Ten title.

May 1, 2001: Volleyball’s Betsy Spicer was named the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor recipient.

May 10-12, 2001: In Ann Arbor, Illini softball went 2-2 in its first-ever Big Ten tournament.

May 12, 2001: Illini Tennis beat Virginia Commonwealth, 4-2, to earn its first NCAA Tournament victory.

May 19, 2001: Perdita Felicien achieved the best time in the world in the 100 meters hurdles (12.75).

November 26, 2001: Don Hardin Named Big Ten Volleyball Coach of the Year; Senior Shadia Haddad was named the conference Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

December 28, 2001: Illini women’s basketball outscored No. 12 Michigan, 85-81, in Ann Arbor.

March 8, 2002: Sixty-meter hurdler Perdita Felicien won the first-ever NCAA indoor title in IU track and field with a college-best time of 7.90.

May 6, 2002: Jessica Aveyard of Illinois named Swimmer of the Year by the Illinois Swimming Association.

May 10, 2002: Shortstop Lindsey Hamma and outfielder LeeAnn Butcher became Illini’s first softball first-team All-Big Ten selections.

June 1, 2002: Perdita Felicien wins the NCAA 100-meter hurdles title.

October 12, 2002: Illini’s volleyball outscored coach Mike Hebert’s Minnesota Golden Gophers, sixth in the standings, 3-2.

November 7, 2002: Illini Football beat No. 11 Penn State and four days later No. 13 Purdue.

January 10, 2003: IU’s Allison Prather set the IU record in the one meter dive (270.85).

January 26, 2003: Illinois women’s basketball beat 10e-ranked Minnesota, 94-80, at Champaign.

February 23, 2003: The Illini women’s tennis team upset top-ranked Duke 4-3.

May 15, 2003: Illini’s softball team earned the program’s first-ever win at the NCAA Tournament, a 5-3 win over Georgia Tech.

June 14, 2003: Perdita Felicien won the NCAA 100-meter hurdles crown with a time of 12.74.

June 26, 2003: Illini athletes have won Jesse Owens Male and Suzy Favor Female Athletes of the Year awards from the Big Ten. NCAA tennis champion Amer Delic and wrestling champion Matt Lackey shared the men’s award, while NCAA hurdler champion Perdita Felicien took home the women’s award. The trio were named IU Athletes of the Year on June 4.

August 28, 2003: Perdita Felicien won the 100 meter hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics.

September 23, 2003: Former Illini great Tonja Buford-Bailey has been hired as UI’s assistant track coach.

November 9, 2003: Illini football prevailed over Michigan, 2-0, to win the Big Ten Football Tournament Championship Game, its first-ever conference title.

November 21-23, 2003: Illini pioneers, including some from the 1930s, gathered on campus for the 3D Celebration Reunion.

December 12, 2003: Illini soccer goalie Leisha Alcia was named an All-American.

February 20, 2004: Ilkay Dikmen broke the Illinois 100 breaststroke swimming record (1:02.11).

April 3, 2004: Illini gymnast Cara Pomeroy posted the school’s first-ever perfect score, a 10.0 on parallel bars at the NCAA South Central Regional.

April 17, 2004: Illini Softball beat No. 9 Michigan, 3-2, to earn its first-ever win against a Top Ten team.

August 22, 2004: Susanna Kallur (Sweden) and Perdita Felicien (Canada), former students of Illini athletics, participated in the Olympics and qualified for the semi-finals of the 100 meters hurdles.

September 11, 2004: Coach Don Hardin’s Illini volleyball team upset top Southern California in five sets at the Illini Classic.

September 18, 2004: UI held groundbreaking ceremonies for its Demirjian Golf Training Center.

October 30, 2004: Cassie Hunt of Illinois won the Big Ten Individual Cross Country Championship.

December 2004: In December, Illini Women’s Basketball traveled to Louisiana State and beat the 21st-ranked Bulldogs 71-65, then followed that up with a 78-63 win over UCLA. No. 16.

May 3, 2005: Tennis star Cynthya Goulet won the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor.

May 15, 2005: Illinois won the Big Ten Women’s Track and Field Championships for the fifth time in its history. There were three individual championships and five second places.

October 30, 2005: Women’s cross country Cassie Hunt won the 2005 Big Ten title with a time of 21:00. As a team, the Illini placed second.

February 18, 2006: Illini swimmer Barbie Viney won the first IU Big Ten individual title in 24 years, posting a record time of 49.06 in the 100m freestyle.

February 26, 2006: UI’s Yvonne Mensah was named Athlete of the Competition at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.

April 6, 2006: Longtime Illini women’s golf coach Paula Smith has announced her retirement. On June 8, former Illini Renee Heiken Slone was named Smith’s replacement.

May 2, 2006: Soccer star Christen Karniski named female Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor winner.

June 1, 2006: Softball star Jenna Hall has become Illinois’ first-ever All-American. She finished her record-breaking season with a .481 batting average, .651 on-base percentage, and .847 hitting percentage, all UI records.

October 1, 2006: Two goals from Ella Masur rallied Illini Football to an upset win over No. 9 Penn State, 3-2.

March 22, 2007: In Theresa Grentz’s final game as Illini coach, host Kansas State defeated Illinois, 66-51.

April 20, 2007: Groundbreaking ceremony for UI’s Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.

May 11, 2007: Jolette Law, a longtime assistant coach at Rutgers, has been named head coach of the Illini women’s basketball team.

May 13, 2007: Illinois is tied for the Big Ten Women’s Outdoor Track and Field title, 129-129 with Michigan. Yvonne Mensah won four gold medals, winning the 100, 200 and triple jump, as well as the UI 4×100 relay victory.

February 16, 2008: Illini’s softball upset UCLA, 6-2, handing the Bruins one of nine losses they would have suffered that season.

March 7, 2008: Lori Bjork and Rebecca Harris’ clutch free-throw shot earned Illini Women’s Basketball 68-64 victory over top-seeded Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, qualifying the Illinois for the championship game.

April 4, 2008: Longtime women’s track and field coach Gary Winckler has announced he will step down. Tonja Buford-Bailey was named as Winckler’s replacement.

April 24, 2008: Allison Buckley became Illini’s first women’s gymnastics All-American.

April 25, 2008: Illini’s women’s tennis stunned Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship quarterfinals.

April 30, 2008: Illini shortstop Angelena Mexicano crushed her 24e home run of the season to break the Big Ten single-season record.

November 16, 2008: Illini Football defeated Missouri in Game 2 of the NCAA Tournament on penalty kicks.

November 24, 2008: Illini women’s cross country team placed 10e at the NCAA championships.

December 1, 2008: Volleyball coach Don Hardin has announced his retirement. Eleven days later (December 12), his coaching era ended with an NCAA Tournament third-round loss to California.

August 8-24, 2008: Susanna Kallur (Sweden) and Emily Zurrer (Canada) competed in track and field and soccer respectively at the Olympics.

January 8, 2009: Illinois named Kevin Hambly volleyball head coach.

April 16, 2009: Illini’s women’s gymnastics made its first-ever appearance at the NCAA Nationals, placing 12th. UI’s Bob Starkell was named the nation’s female coach of the year.

June 11, 2009: Illini soccer star Emily Zurrer won the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor.

June 13, 2009: Angela Bizzarri won UI’s first-ever NCAA title in a distance event (5,000 meters in 16:17.94).

August 6, 2009: Former Illini coach Gary Winckler has been inducted into the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame.

October 16, 2009: A crowd of 7,632 watched rookie coach Kevin Hambly’s 10e-ranked Illini beat former coach Mike Hebert’s No. 6 Minnesota Golden Gophers in Big Ten action at Assembly Hall.

November 23, 2009: Angela Bizzarri won the NCAA National Individual Championship, earning her National Cross Country Athlete of the Year honors (November 25) and the Honda Award (December 9).

December 16, 2009: Volleyball’s Laura DeBruler was named to the All-America First Team.