So you want to be an Illinois State University sports fan. It may seem easy: show up to the game, cheer a little and go home. Well, there’s a lot more to being a sports fan than just knowing the fight song. Here’s a quick rundown of all you need to know to be the big fan on campus this season.
Illinois State University is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in most sports. The MVC is a mid-major Division I sub-division. ISU offers 17 totals sports, 10 for women and seven for men. The football team plays at Hancock Stadium, while basketball and volleyball play at Redbird Arena.
Last season recaps
A solid 8-4 regular season that included a 27-18 upset over No. 4 South Dakota State in Brookings, South Dakota. Despite a solid record and a consistent season, the Redbirds were one of the last four teams in the FCS playoffs. ISU went into the playoff with a chip on their shoulder. Now-graduated running back James Robinson was key to the Redbirds’ success. Robinson led the Redbirds to upset wins over Southeast Missouri State and Central Arkansas for over 500 yards and a trio of rushing touchdowns. After the two upset wins, ISU was unable to take down the future National Champions and No. 1 North Dakota State.
ISU’s volleyball program continues to soar. The Redbirds fought their way to a 12-6 conference record with a 22-12 record overall. Before the MVC tournament, the Redbirds were red hot, losing just three sets in the final four wins of the season. That hot stretch continued to the MVC Tournament were the Redbirds lost just one match en route to earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In the tournament the Redbirds matched up with the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers where they were swept in Madison, Wisconsin.
ISU’s soccer experienced one of the biggest stars in the MVC in recent history. Kate Del Fava made waves for the Redbirds, taking home numerous MVC Player of the Week Awards and the MVC Player of the Year Award. This led to Del Fava becoming the highest drafted player in MVC history at No. 12 to the Utah Royals. But Del Fava’s great season was not enough as the Redbirds fell in the MVC Championship to the Loyola Ramblers. ISU finished the season 14-6.
The men and women finished the season sixth and fourth in the MVC, respectively. The men finished the season averaging an eighth place, while the women average a seventh.
Names to know
Brock Spack is in his 12th season of coaching football. He was hired by the Redbirds in 2009 as the 20th coach in Illinois State University history. Spack has led the Redbirds to five FCS appearances and two MVC Championships in that span.
Leah Johnson was named as the seventh head volleyball coach in ISU history in 2017. In such a short time frame, Johnson and the Redbirds have had great success in making the NCAA Tournament in two of her three seasons. Last season Johnson and the Redbirds became the first team to win the MVC as a No. 3 seed.
In his three seasons under the helm as head women’s soccer coach, ISU has never been below the .500 mark. Brad Silvey’s best mark came this last season as ISU went 14-6. He coached both Kate Del Fava and Kelli Zickert, who went on to play professionally.
Alums in the pros
In the 2015 MBL draft with the 131st overall pick, the St. Louis Cardinals took ISU alumnus Paul DeJong. By 2017, DeJong was in the Major Leagues making an impact as the starting shortstop for the Cardinals. In three seasons DeJong has already made an all-star game and was named a finalist for the Gold Glove Award.
Devonte Harris was drafted in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018. After being waived by Bengals, Harris has made his name with the Denver Broncos this last season as a cornerback. Last season Harris made 35 tackles.
As an undrafted free agent, Spencer Schnell managed to sign a practice deal with the Chicago Bears. After being cut by the Bears, Schnell found his way to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp where he eventually caught on to the practice squad. Schell was made active at the end of the season.