For a week in March, everything was uncertain.
Illinois fired women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant and for eight days the Illini didn’t know who would coach them next season.
“It was really bittersweet,” Illini forward, and Huntley grad, Ali Andrews said. “We were sad to see him go, but I think it was a good change for the program to get something new going, a new philosophy throughout the program.”
On March 22, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman introduced Nancy Fahey as the new head coach. Fahey won five Division III national championships as the coach at Washington University in St. Louis over 31 years.
Like Andrews, Fahey has a McHenry County connection, having coached the Johnsburg girls basketball team for four season in the 1980s.
“She’s awesome,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had her for long, but so far it’s been really good. We’ve had a couple workouts already this summer and it’s exciting getting to know her.”
The 6-foot-2 Andrews spoke from Champaign, where the Illini began summer workouts Monday. The 2016 Northwest Herald Female Athlete of the Year just completed her freshman season in orange and blue. Illinois finished 9-22 overall last year and 3-13 in Big Ten play.
Andrews averaged 20.2 minutes per game in 31 games played. She averaged 6.3 points per game and made 39.8 percent of her 3-point attempts and 90.9 percent of her free throws.
When Fahey came in, she had a sit-down meeting with every player on the team to get to know them. Andrews admits that one thing she needs to work on is her rebounding.
“Rebounding is really big for our team, especially me, in general, to help get the boards and keep the bigger girls off the boards,” Andrews said. “I really struggled with that last year.”
Andrews averaged 2.5 rebounds per game last season.
In one game at Northwestern in February, a number of girls from the Huntley basketball program and the feeder program went to watch Andrews play, sporting red and black Raiders gear.
“It was awesome seeing them all out there supporting us,” Andrews said.
In her four years at Huntley, Andrews set McHenry County’s all-time scoring record with 2,548 points. She was a first-team All-State selection as a junior and a senior. Huntley won four regional titles and three sectional titles in her four years on varsity.
The Red Raiders won a school-record 30 games her senior season in 2015-16 and lost in an IHSA Class 4A supersectional.
Now the task is to help turn around an Illini women’s program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2003. Andrews said she returned home for about a month before heading to Champaign last week for summer workouts.
“We’re really excited with Coach Fahey and the new program, with all the new coaches and all the freshmen coming in,” Andrews said. “We just want to keep up the pace and win some games. [We have to] play together as a team. That’s something we really need to work on.”