Janet Rayfield, longtime women's soccer coach at the University of Illinois, said Wednesday that the Chicago area, including the suburbs, is key to the success of the school's program.
"This area is a great producer of soccer talent," she said, later adding that she considers Illini junior Vanessa DiBernardo, a Naperville native, to be "one of the best (young) players in the world."
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Rayfield made her comments in front of fans and Daily Herald premium subscribers at Meridian Banquets in Rolling Meadows. The event was part of the Illini Caravan, an annual statewide tour featuring coaches and athletes from the university.
Men's basketball coach John Groce, women's basketball coach Matt Bollant and men's gymnastics coach Justin Spring joined Rayfield in Rolling Meadows. Daily Herald Sports Editor Tom Quinlan moderated the discussion.
The coaches talked about their teams' most recent seasons and what lies ahead for them.
"People say to me, how's your team? I tell them we're not a team yet," Groce said, referring to the fact that next season's squad will feature many new faces. He said he looks forward to working with the newcomers when they arrive on campus in June.
Bollant and Spring, who like Groce are relatively new to the university, said they've been impressed by the culture and excitement on campus. Bollant added that the university's stellar academic reputation has helped recruiting efforts.
"It's what I hoped for," he said.
Rayfield encouraged suburban alumni and fans to talk up the university.
"Your excitement and passion helps us recruit," she said.
This is the second consecutive year that the Daily Herald has partnered with the Illini Caravan tour.