Illinois Public Media News
Fans of the U of I women's volleyball team came to Willard Airport Sunday to welcome the team back home, the day after their NCAA national title loss to UCLA on Saturday.
That loss capped a year in which the Illini team had the most wins since 1992, their first NCAA semifinal appearance since 1988, and their first championship game ever. A tired Michelle Bartsch couldn't pick a particular moment of the season that stood out for her. But Bartsch, who was named to the All-Tournament Team along with fellow Illini players Colleen Ward and Annie Luhrsen, says she remembers when she first realized she was on a team ready to compete for the championship. Bartsch says she knew it last January, when they first started training for the season.
"I switched positions", explains Bartsch. "We had people filling different roles. And I know that we had a team that could go really far. And with our freshmen coming in, it kind of solidified. Our freshmen are awesome, and they make us better every day in practice."
Coach Kevin Hambly agrees, saying that they had a great recruiting class with a lot of talent this season, and players who came expecting to compete for the national championship.
But if the players were charges up, so were the fans. Hambly says their response this season has been overwhelming.
"We sold out more matches this year than we have in the past", says Hambly. "And our attendance went way up. But what I think more important was just the amount of support from the community just walking around town, and the amount of emails and calls and everything. It's been overwhelming."
As for Michelle Bartsch, she plans to take the spring semester off to play volleyball professionally. But Hambly says the senior will be back at Illinois in the fall as part of the coaching staff.
Illinois's first trip to the NCAA finals in women's volleyball ended in defeat Saturday night. The UCLA Bruins won the match in four sets (25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16) at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Coach Kevin Hambly says the Bruins played hard, and made the plays they needed to make at key moments, especially in the fourth and deciding set.
As for his own team, Hambly said, "I've never been around a group of people that were more committed to each other, more committed to the process, and more committed to just being, not just great volleyball players, but great people. It's truly been a pleasure to work with this group."
It was the final game for senior Colleen Ward, who earned First Team All-American honors earlier in the week. Afterwards, an emotional Ward fought back tears as she looked back on her time with the Illini.
"I couldn't have picked a better team, better coaches, betters support from my fans", said Ward. "I'm really thankful for what we had here and what we accomplished this year. I'm really proud of my team."
Illinois won the 2nd set by two points, and lost the 3rd by two points. Ward said it was difficult coming out of that close third-set loss into the final set. Michelle Bartsch had seven kills in the first set and seven more in the third, en route to a match high 22 kills on the night. Rachel Kidder had a team high 20 kills for the Bruins. Illinois finished the season with a record of 32-5.
The Illini's Ward, Bartsch and junior setter Annie Luhrsen were named to the All-Tournament Team. Luhrsen had 47 assists and six kills.
A fan welcome reception was planned for Sunday for the Illini volleyball team at Flightstar at Willard Airport --- the team was expected to return around 12:15 PM.
Unlike other schools, The Fighting Illini volleyball team can boast that most of its players come from Illinois.
For example, Penn State won four straight national championships before this year. But that's largely due its recruiting beyond the border of Pennsylvania.
Heading into Saturday night's title match, Fighting Illini coach Kevin Hambly doesn't feel he needs to go too far to lure high-quality volleyball players.
"We're fortunate that the University of Illinois is close proximity to some very good recruiting bases," he said. "Ohio, the Chicago area, the St. Louis area, and Indianapolis. Most kids, especially with the nature of how early recruiting is going, want to stay closer to home."
Illinois will take on UCLA at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Fighting Illini are attempting to win their first national title in women's volleyball.
Authorities say they are not searching for a suspect in the deaths of five people found in a home small eastern Illinois town.
Livingston County Sheriff Martin Meredith says first responders found the five people dead in Emington after dispatchers received a call Friday afternoon. Meredith says residents are "safe from any harm'' and authorities are "not looking for anyone in this crime.''
The sheriff said Coroner Michael Burke would release the names of the victims once relatives are notified.
Livingston County board member Bob Young says a man, woman and three children were found dead. He says the children include an infant, a first-grader and a fourth-grader.
A neighbor says he heard two rounds of gunshots before another neighbor called police. Ronald Groetsema lives a street away from the Livingston County home. He says he heard six to eight gunshots on Friday afternoon.
Groetsema says about three minutes passed before he heard another four to six gunshots. He says he saw first responders and a woman's body with children.
Groetsema says the children got off the school bus with his son. He says the children were excited because it was the last day of school before Christmas. His wife Tricia says the children were "sweet little kids.
With Illinois' new congressional map now intact, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois says Republicans from around Chicago will have the most trouble in next year's elections.
On Thursday, a 3-judge appeals panel threw out a suit filed by the GOP over a new map of congressional boundaries drawn by Democrats. Brian Gaines says the map was specifically rough on Republicans, but he said the party had to know the chances of having it thrown out were slim. The federal judges agreed that it was a blatant political move, but added that it wasn't illegal.
Gaines says Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana could have some problems in 13th district, where he's running this spring, since much if it is unfamiliar territory. But Gaines says Johnson, incumbent John Shimkus, and other downstate Republicans should not be the party's concern with March's primary approaching.
"The Republicans that lose their seats will the be Republican members in the (Chicago) suburbs who were newly elected last time, and have been drawn either together, so that after the primary only one of them will be left standing, or their residences were put into districts that were pretty tough for the general election."
But Gaines says even if the GOP wins the presidency, there's a good chance the party won't hold the 11 to 8 seat advantage it has in Illinois. As a result of the lawsuit, the filing period was pushed back to late this month. But Gaines says it's likely too late for newcomers to get involved.
"You never know if there's someone capabable of self-financing - someone sitting on a couple million dollars who's restless," he said. "But other than an extremely wealty candidate who can self-finance all the way, it's awfully late to be appearing now."
The filing period for the March 20th primary for Congress in Illinois is December 23rd through the 27th.
Health Dis. Won't Meet January Goal for Posting Restaurant Inspections Online
--- Reported by Dan Petrella, CU Citizen Access
Despite promises over the past four years to post restaurant inspection reports online, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will miss another self-imposed deadline to do so.
Renard Jackson has now been missing for nearly three weeks, and Champaign police are putting out another call for the public's help in locating him.
The 49-year old Jackson was last seen on the afternoon of November 26th , as he left his home just north of Judah Christian School to run an errand on his bicycle. His family reporting him missing two days later.
Champaign Detective Patrick Funkhouser says Jackson's wallet, some its contents, and the bike have all been recovered, all within a couple of blocks of his home in the 15-hundred block of Holly Hill Drive. The bike was discoverd last Friday. Funkhouser believes someone in the community has to know something about the man's whereabouts.
"You know, the holidays are fast approaching, his family is here, some family members have come down from Chicago, we really want to provide them with some kind of answers," he said.
A number of Champaign officers were seen canvassing Jackson's neighborhood Thurssday for clues to his disappearance.
"What we're looking for at this point is anybody that has any infomation about Renard Jackson, or anybody that knows 'Ray-Ray' personally that can contact us, and give us some more insight into him as a person," Funkhouser said.
Renard Jackson is described as a tall black male with a skinny build, 6-foot-1 and 154 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black-hooded jacket with fur trim. Police are asking the public for any information that might lead them in the right direction by calling Champaign Police or Crimestoppers. Information can be left anonymously.
Emergency personnel from Central Illinois say more communication on the local level is needed before the state even responds to a disaster.
Greater coordination in one region is a concern that came out of brainstorming sessions in a Homeland Security Town Hall meeting in Urbana Thursday. It's the second of eight the state is using to gauge strategies on how to handle disasters, as well as emerging threats.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathan Monken says the first such town hall, held in the Metro East area, focused more on the state's efforts to respond.
"I was very interested to hear the conversation about how they can improve at the local level, at the regional level to say how we can be better to prepared for the first four to six hours of an event before the state can even get there," Monken said.
Richard Jahne, director of the Illinois Fire Service Instiute at the University of Illinois, says one area he wants to see upgraded is bringing in all the right responders. Jahne says emergency personnel have a wide range of capabilities, but he's still concerned with the way the skills are applied.
"Does the way we use them match the way we train to prepare people to use them," said Jahne. "And who's missing? Who isn't part of the team that needs to be included in training and preparation and exercises."
Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler says even for a small agency like his, it's important to stay in involved with other agencies, and further develop mutual aid agreements that are already in place.
"Obviously, a place like Mahomet, resources are one of those things that we're always looking for to improve our standing, coming with money for training and equipment.," Metzler said.
The Urbana meeting was also intended to bring in more people from the private sector, but only a couple attended. John Dwyer is Deputy Director of Champaign County's Emergency Management Agency.
"What they can bring to the table during disasters - they're an untapped resource - working with our local businesses to see what they can help us with," he said.
The state will gather input from six more town hall meetings in different areas to develop a response strategy at a final summit in Springfield next September.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday marks the return of Carle physicians to the Kirby hospital campus in Monticello.
Carle had a building on the old Kirby hospital grounds for years, until a business dispute between the two forced Carle to move into temporary buildings. But a new agreement was reached, and a new building next to the new Kirby Medical Center should be fully open by Monday. Carle Monticello medical director, Dr. Steven Sparenberg, says being neighbors with the hospital again will be a plus for their patients.
"The community's going to have the benefit from having everything in one location for both in-patient and obviously for out-patient services," he said. "It helps keep medical care closer to home, and we have the support of the radiology and lab services through Kirby Medical Center."
Sparenberg says the new Carle building offers twice as much room as the temporary buildings they used. And he says it provides room for visiting specialists, as well as additional physicians who could be hired as soon as 2012. The new Kirby Medical Center campus is located on the edge of Monticello, just off I-72.
(Updated with additional coverage from Greg Echlin)
The University of Illinois women's volleyball team will remember the Alamodome. It was at the Alamodome in San Antonio that the third-seed Fighting Illini (32-4) defeated top-seed USC(29-5) Thursday night, winning three out of five sets, (25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10) to qualify for the NCAA championship game for the first time.
The victory came on Illinois' third trip to the women's volleyball Final Four, and their first since 1988.
Senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had 27 kills and Michelle Bartsch added 22 kills for the Illini victory.
The drama intensified as the fifth set reached match point, with Illinois fans showing their anticipation with a chant of "One more point! One more point!"
That last rally turned out to be the most dramatic, and the crowd oohed and ahhed as each powerful spike was answered by an inspiring dig on the net's other side. It continued for a minute, seeming longer, until U-S-C's Katie Fuller committed an attack error. The match belonged to the Fighting Illini.
Liz McMahon, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Ohio, had five kills in that deciding set. After the game, she was soaking in the experience.
"It's a blast, I can tell you that", McMahom said of the win that ushered her team into the finals. "Yeah, it's just fun, but with this team and how far we've come."
The Illini's post-game celebration was subdued, with Coach Kevin Hambly reminding his players that they still had one more game. Nevertheless, Hambly spoke glowingly of what his team had accomplished.
"I'm proud of the girls", Hambly said. "You know our goal was to get to this match, the next match, and they stuck to that. Well, more than just get to the match. But I thought they were determined to make that happen."
Alex Jupiter had 32 kills for USC. The Trojans lost in the semis for the second consecutive year after being pushed to five sets for a third consecutive match this tournament.
Illinois will play UCLA in the championship match Saturday night at 7:30 PM Central Time. The Bruins defeated Florida State in three sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-21) in the Thursday night semifinals. Illinois is 0-and-9 in all-time play against UCLA in volleyball.
(Reported for Illinois Public Media News by Greg Echlin; additional reporting by the Associated Press)
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