Athletics News
Signing Day Rewind: New Illini Sign NLIs

Nov. 19, 2013

Fighting Illini Athletics added several members to the family recently, as the early National Letter of Intent signing period started on Nov. 13. Check out the future stars for Illini baseball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, softball, tennis and wrestling.

Illinois Baseball Signs Three to Letters of Intent

University of Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb announced the signing of three student-athletes to letters of intent for the signing class of 2014 on Wednesday, the first day of the National Letter of Intent early signing period.

At this point, the class is composed of middle infielder Zach Barnhart (Springfield, Ill./Springfield HS), IF/RHP Quinten Sefcik (Wauconda, Ill./Carmel Catholic HS), and C/OF Mark Skonieczny (Algonquin, Ill./Huntley HS).

"We are very pleased with the three members of our 2014 signing class," Hartleb said. "(Associate head) coach (Eric) Snider and (assistant) coach (Drew) Dickinson identified a group of athletic players and built relationships to fill out this class. We were able to bring in quality students and individuals, as well as outstanding baseball players to fill spots for the future. All three players are excited to represent their state and to have an opportunity to play at a championship level while at the University of Illinois.

"This group will be a great addition to our Illini baseball family and will be assets for our program once they step on campus."

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Men's Basketball
Black and Finke Sign With Illinois

University of Illinois head coach John Groce announced Saturday the signing of Leron Black and Michael Finke to national letters of intent.

Black is a 6-7 combination forward from Memphis. A consensus top-50 recruit, he attends White Station High School, where he averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last year as a junior. Black earned Class AAA All-State honors by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association and was a Best of the Preps selection by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Finke is a 6-9 forward from Champaign, Ill. He averaged 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds as a junior, earning first-team All-State honors by the Associated Press and Champaign News-Gazette. Finke also was named All-Area Player of the Year by the News-Gazette after leading Centennial High School to a 22-9 record and IHSA Class 3A Sectional Final appearance.

"We are excited to officially welcome Leron and Michael to the Fighting Illini family," Groce said. "These are two talented players who fit our system and share our vision for the program. They also are tremendous young men of the highest character who come from great families and will serve as first-class representatives for the University of Illinois."

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Women's Basketball
Bollant Adds Second Top-25 Recruiting Class

University of Illinois women's basketball head coach Matt Bollant announced the addition of three players to the Illini squad for the 2014-15 season. Chatrice White, Amarah Coleman and Brooke Kissinger all signed their national letters of intent with the Illini today.

The Collegiate Girls Basketball Report has the class ranked 23rd overall in the NCAA, with two top-100 recruits. The class is also ranked third in the Big Ten, only behind Ohio State (1) and Nebraska (2).

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Men's Golf
Small Signs Three to National Letters of Intent

Illinois men's golf coach Mike Small, who has led the Fighting Illini to five-consecutive Big Ten championships, announced the signing of Nick Hardy (Northbrook, Ill./Glenbrook North), Dylan Meyer (Evansville, Ind./Evansville Central) and Colin Proctor (Anderson, Ind./Pendleton Heights) to national letters of intent. All three golfers will join the Illini in 2014-15 following successful junior careers.

Meyer is ranked ninth nationally and Hardy 18th in the 2014 class by Golfweek Junior Golf Rankings, while Proctor is ranked as one of the top five players in the state of Indiana.

"This class as a whole adds athleticism, along with a national competitive ranking and a ton of potential to our program," Small said. "There is a lot of upside. All three players bring something different with their style of play, but all three bring the intangibles that you look for. This group fits in well with our returning players and follows a similar path as the last several classes. They all are accomplished junior players, great people from quality families. I'm excited about this class's potential, as they have the record to back it up."

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Women's Golf
Coach Slone Inks Four for 2014-15 Season

University of Illinois head women's golf coach Renee Slone announced the addition of four golfers for the 2014-15 season.

Over the course of the week, Dana Gattone (Addison, Ill. // Saint Viator), Grace Park (San Jose, Calif. // Cupertino), Chayanid (Jan) Prapassarangkul (Bangkok, Thailand // Shrewsbury International) and Pailin Ruttanasupagid (San Diego, Calif. // Torrey Pines) signed their national letters of intent to be part of the Fighting Illini program.

"We are extremely excited about the four student-athletes that have joined the Fighting Illini family," coach Slone said. "Dana, Grace, Jan and Pailin are tremendously committed and hard-working individuals.

"Each is highly motivated to do everything she possibly can in the coming months to be fully prepared to make an immediate contribution to our teamís success when she steps foot on campus in August. They understand the vision of our program and are excited to assist in making those goals a reality.

"All four student-athletes have enjoyed great success at the national level and are terrific students. They share our core values and standards and will be wonderful ambassadors for our program, athletic department and the University of Illinois."

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Men's Gymnastics
Spring Announces Signing Class

University of Illinois men's gymnastics head coach Justin Spring announced the signing of five gymnasts to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday morning. All five men in the class will be freshmen with four years of eligibility.

"I couldn't be more happy to talk about this recruiting class," Spring said. "It's a really well put together class. Talent aside, they're very driven athletes. They're excited to be Fighting Illini. If you add in the talent they have with those two characteristics, that's a great triple threat for our program."

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Women's Gymnastics
Landrus Adds Two Gymnasts for 2014-15 Season

Women's gymnastics coach Kim Landrus and the Fighting Illini women's gymnastics staff announced the addition of two gymnasts for the 2014-15 season.

Both Bridget Hodan and Jordyn Givens signed their national letters of intent on Wednesday to become part of the Illinois family.

Hodan is a four-time Level 10 National Qualifier out of Brookfield, Wisconsin.

"I chose the University of Illinois because it offers a great balance of strong athletic and academic programs," Hodan said. "Both the coaching staff and the team were very welcoming and made me feel at home."

Givens is a 2013 Level 10 JO Nationals qualifier from Keller, Texas.

"The openness and honesty of the coaching staff during the recruiting process was phenomenal," Givens said. "The campus is so alive, the school has such tremendous academic programs and is so well respected, and the opportunity to become an 'Illini family member' is something I could not pass up."

Coach Landrus lauded the incoming student-athletes.

"While both of our signees are very different in nature, the qualities that each will bring to the table is truly exciting," Landrus said.

"Their goals align with the philosophy of our program and both are eager to come in and make a stamp on the program. They understand the true meaning of student-athlete and are eager to be an Illini in all aspects."

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Softball Signs Three for 2014-15

The University of Illinois softball team welcomes three signees for the fall of 2014, Carly Thomas, Kate Giddens and Leigh Farina. The incoming class features players from across the country, hailing from Georgia, California, and Illinois, respectively. The Illini bring in a shortstop, a pitcher and utility fielder, and an outfielder, all of whom have a strong presence on the field.

Head Coach Terri Sullivan looks forward to working with the newest class of Fighting Illini, having this to say about each incoming student-athlete:

"Leigh has some of the most exciting physical attributes a young player could bring to our team, as she is both fast and strong. She is a threat to hit one out of the park and to steal a base. Her quick hands are apparent on offense and defense, and she will jump right in as one of the most athletic players on our team.

"Kate is a powerful right-handed batter with an aggressive mentality at the plate. She is a versatile and well-rounded defensive player with the ability to contribute in the infield, outfield and in the circle. Kate has a contagious and outgoing personality, and we believe she will develop into a strong leader for our team.

"Carly is a pure left-handed hitter who shows power to both right field and left field. She has an even-keeled disposition at the plate, and this is why she thrives under pressure. Carly gets great reads on the ball in the outfield and is a fun teammate to play alongside of.

"Kate, Carly and Leigh are competitors on the field and in the classroom. We are proud to have them joining our Fighting Illini softball family and look forward to seeing them break several records wearing Orange and Blue!"

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Men's Tennis
Dancer Signs Aron Hiltzik to 2014-15 Class

Men's tennis coach Brad Dancer announced the addition of Aron Hiltzik (Wilmette, Ill. / New Trier High) to the Illini men's tennis family on Wednesday. Aron is the younger brother of sophomore Jared Hiltzik. gives Aron a five-star ranking. In addition, they rank him 19th overall in the 2014 class and the third best in the state of Illinois.

So far in 2013, Hiltzik has produced a 50-18 overall record in junior competition. Other notable career highlights include 2013 Midwest Closed Boys 18s Champion and the 2012 Easter Bowl Boys 16s Singles Finalist.

"I chose Illinois because I connected with the coaches and team really well," Hiltzik said. "The team has produced many pros in the past years and I believe that going to this school would help me reach that goal of becoming a professional tennis player.

I believe that this team can win another national championship in the future and I would love to be a part of it. I had a great relationship with the coaches Brad Dancer and Marcos Asse and they have a plan for the team and I to become successful. My brother is on the team and he is a great role model to be around. My coach Billy Heiser went to Illinois and he told me that it is a great school academically and the alumni are like a family. I am very excited to start playing tennis for the Fighting Illini next fall."

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Women's Tennis
Tapak Signs NLI to Join Illini in 2014-15

Five-star prospect Grace Tapak signed a National Letter of Intent to play her collegiate tennis at Illinois, head coach Michelle Dasso announced Wednesday. Tapak is listed as a five-star recruit by and is ranked No. 44 nationally.

"We are thrilled Grace Tapak is joining our Fighting Illini family," Dasso said. "She is solid off both wings, has excellent ball striking ability, and endless potential. We love having passionate players from our home state that embody such positive qualities both on and off the court. Grace certainly fits that mold. There is no doubt she will add to our overall team dynamics and represent our program with class."

Tapak, a Hinsdale, Ill., native, has reached as high as No. 25 in the national rankings and had a 2013 high of No. 29 at the end of February. She is 9-9 against other five-star players and is 18-2 against two-, three- and four-star recruits. She has picked up four wins against Blue Chip recruits. She will be a freshman with four years of eligibility remaining when she arrives on campus for the 2014-15 school year.

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Heffernan Signs Three to National Letters of Intent

University of Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan announced the signing of three student-athletes to National Letters of Intent on Tuesday. Jered Cortez of Carol Stream, Ill., Brock Ervin of Morganfield, Ky., and Michael Pixley of Blue Springs, Mo., will join the Illini wrestling program in the fall of 2014.

All three wrestlers are ranked as five-star recruits according to The Open Mat, and are listed as top-50 recruits for the senior class of 2014.

"We are extremely pleased with the three signings," Heffernan said. "All three fit our needs and have the type of work habits, competitiveness and goals that we are looking for. We are looking forward to having all three join our program and know they will all have a great deal of success with Fighting Illini Wrestling."

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