After arguing back-and-forth all week long with my co-sports editor Jake Sermersheim (over the phone of course), about the top five athletes who graced Illinois State University this year, the only way to settle the debate was to follow in his footsteps and create a ranking of my own.  

So many talented performers reside at ISU and discovering just how difficult it is to rank so many gifted athletes made me respect their work so much more. After changing my mind countless times, I finally present to you my top five Redbirds of 2019-and sort of 2020 season. 

Honorable Mentions 

Kierston Farley-Sepe | Swimming and Diving 

Sepe

Kierston Farley-Sepe took home the Redbirds' first MVC swimmer of the Year awards since 2004.

Kaylee Martin | Volleyball 

Volleyball Kaylee Martin

The Illinois State University volleyball team took on Loyola Chicago on Friday night in Redbird Arena. The team won the match 3-1 which puts it on a three-game win streak. Junior Kaylee Martin gets ready to serve the ball across the court during Friday night's game. The team is back in action 5 p.m. Saturday night against Valparaiso.

DJ Horne | Men's basketball 

DJ Horne Arch Madness 2020

The Illinois State University men's basketball team traveled to St. Louis for the annual MVC Arch Madness Tournament. The Redbirds took on Drake March 5 in the first round of the tournament and ended up losing 75-65. The loss ends the season for the Redbirds.

JuJu Redmond | Women’s basketball 

ISUvsUNI_women's basketball_ redmond shooting

While not a starter JuJu Redmond made a huge impact for the Redbirds.

5. Luther Kirk | Football 

Illinois State University Football tackle

Illinois State University wins against Northern Arizona University 40-27 Saturday night at Hancock Stadium. ISU senior Luther Kirk attempts a tackle during the first half of Saturday's game.

The defensive captain led the ferocious Redbirds against offensive heavy hitters such as South Dakota State and Arizona State. Also proving strong against other opponents, holding four teams to single digits. Kirk led the Redbirds in tackles with 89 on the season, 64 of which were solo tackles. Kirk’s shining moment of the season came against Missouri State on Senior Day, where he sacked quarterback Peyton Huslig for the win. Qualifying for the East-West Shrine Bowl, Kirk left with the defensive MVP honors after an interception and two-tackle performance. 

4. Stef Jankiewicz | Volleyball 

Volleyball vs Indiana State set

The ISU volleyball team swept Indiana State Friday night winning all three sets. 

Leading the No. 3 Redbirds to a historic win in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Jankiewicz was awarded tournament MVP for her stellar play during the team’s run. Earning an All-MVC First Team honor, the Redbirds made their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance behind Jankiewicz’s 1,329 assists, which placed her second in the Valley. The junior setter also asserted herself on all other parts of the court, racking up 311 digs and 105 kills throughout the season. In a match at Bradley on Oct. 4, Jankiewicz posted a 64 assist/21 dig match which were both highs for her season. 

3. Kate Del Fava | Soccer 

10022018_Soccer_ IUPUI_2.JPG

Kate Del Fava leaves ISU as the best soccer player in Redbirds history.

Del Fava accomplished just about all there is to accomplish as a soccer star in the Valley, only falling short in the MVC title game against Loyola-Chicago. Earning the honor of Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, Del Fava led the league in several categories. Booting in 17 goals as well as eclipsing 39 points, the senior midfielder left it all out on the field. Culminating to the point of being drafted by the Utah Royals with the No. 12 pick, Del Fava leaves Illinois State as arguably the greatest soccer player to grace Adelaide Street Field. 

2. Lexi Wallen | Women’s basketball 

ISUvLUC_women's basketball_ wallen defend

Illinois State played a heart racing game against Loyola-Chicago 7 p.m. Friday night at Redbird Arena. A career-high 35 points from Lexi Wallen (No. 25) led the Redbird women's basketball team to double overtime victory over the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, 86-85.

Coming off a four-year stint on the volleyball team, Wallen made the move to women’s basketball in dominant fashion. In her first year without volleyball, Wallen was able to prepare to be the prominent forward Redbirds throughout the winter. Wallen’s premiere performance came against the Loyola-Ramblers in double overtime on Feb. 14, where she scored 35 points, including a buzzer beating three to send the game to extra minutes. Wallen’s ability to perform to a captivating standard in two different sports in the MVC earned her my second spot. 

1. James Robinson | Football 

ISU Football senior James Robinson

James Robinson celebrating after scoring a touchdown.

Agreeing with Sermersheim, this was an easy decision. Robinson pulled through for the lacking pass offense that was the ISU football team. With already struggling quarterback Brady Davis going down with an injury, more responsibility was put on Robinson's back. Instead of cowering in the moment, big game James rushed for 489 yards through the first two playoff games against Southeast Missouri State and Central Arkansas. Robinson finished the 2019 season leading the MVFC in rushing yards (1,899) and 18 touchdowns, the ISU running back cemented himself as one of the greatest to ever grace the turf for Illinois State.  

JAKE FOGAL is a Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be contacted at vidette_jpfogal@ilstu.edu Follow him on Twitter at @jfogal5

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