The Champs 2002-03
Most likely, tennis isn't the most popular sport on the campus of the University of Illinois. But in 2003, Fighting Illini men's tennis head coach Craig Tiley put all of the pieces together and led the Illini to the triple crown of the NCAA team title, the NCAA singles championship (Amer Delic) and the NCAA doubles championship (Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram). The team won their seventh straight Big Ten regular season title. Tiley was also named 2003 National Coach of the Year, the second time he won that award (1999).
Tiley can add one more accolade to his list, because he is the first-ever Illiniboard.com Illini of the Year. While this award is handed out based on accomplishments that occurred during the past year, Tiley could be given a career achievement award for the work he's done since he took over the reigns of the tennis program eleven years ago.
This past season, Tiley's net men were an undefeated 32-0. The 32 victories are a school record for most wins in a single-season. Along with their spring championships, the Fighting Illini won their first National Indoor title in 2003.
Tiley has won numerous Big Ten Coach of the Year titles (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003) and ITA Regional Coach of the Year honors (1996, 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003).
The Fighting Illini were at the top of the Midwest rankings all season long. Illinois jumped from No. 2 nationally to No.1 after they won the national indoor title. Tiley and crew never looked back.
Tiley can only do so much as the coach and he has recruited some of the best talent to Champaign-Urbana. Tiley has coached one or more All-Americans at the U of I since 1998. At the top of the list is singles ace Delic (2003) and doubles stars Cary Franklin and Graydon Oliver (2000) and Wilson and Ram (2003).
Former Illini Brian Cook
Brian Cook: In 2003, the headlines were often dominated by the scandals in college sports. Brian Cook is everything that is right about college sports. The soft-spoken Cook was the main man for the Illini during a terrific season that ended too early. Cook was named the Big Ten's Player of the Year by the conference coaches and media. He was also the guiding force as the Illini won their first ever Big Ten Tournament.
Always backed up by his number one fan, his mom Joyce, Brian overcame adversity and never complained. He just played his game and made Illinois fans on and off the court. After an injury delayed his start, the first-round draft pick has begun to play for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.
If it weren't for the success of the Illinois men's tennis team in 2003, Brian Cook would have been the runaway winner of this award.
The Fighting Illini men's tennis team
Even though Tiley won the award, he is only as good as the players he puts out on the court. Tiley can get the guys on campus and set the match ups, but if the players don't perform, no national titles can be won. Amer Delic, Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram all won NCAA championships and helped their coach bring notoriety to the University of Illinois.
The Fighting Illini volleyball team
Expectations were not very high for the volleyball team in 2003. Coach Don Hardin's team exceeded everyone's expectations, except for their own. The ladies finished with an overall record of 26-7 and a Big Ten record of 15-5, which was good enough for a second place finish.
After wins at Huff Hall over Murray State and Louisville in the NCAA tournament, the team traveled to Honolulu to play the 2nd-ranked Hawaii Rainbow Wahine in the Sweet Sixteen. The dream season ended on the islands in three games.
Lisa Argabright, Erin Virtue and the rest of the squad provided the U of I with its winningest volleyball season since 1992.
Congratulations to all of the people named in this story. You've all had a great 2003 and we hope you have an even better 2004 as you represent the members of Illini Nation.
Brian Cook with mother Joyce Cook