PEORIA, Il.. — The year 2019 is winding to a close.
Time look back at the top sports stories in central Illinois for the past year. In our annual top ten list of the biggest sports stories, here’s a look at the top five.
- No. 5: Four area state golf champions were crowned on a Saturday in October. Led by a strong senior class, Peoria Notre Dame wins a team state championship. Peoria Christian freshman sensation Weston Walker birdied 5 of the last 6 holes to win an individual state title. Meanwhile in girls golf, Eureka’s Allison Pacocha dominated the second day of play to become a state champ, and the U-High girls place 2 in the top 3 overall to win a team state title.
- No. 4: A pivotal year for Lovie Smith and the Illinois football team. The Illini earn a 6-and-6 regular season record after marquee wins at home against sixth ranked Wisconsin and on the road at Michigan State. The Illini return to a bowl game for the first time since 2014 and hope to pick up a win against California in the Redbox bowl on December 30th.
- No. 3: 2019 was also a year of loss. Notre Dame football coach Sean Gillen passed away suddenly at the age of 32 in May. Legendary Washington high school boys basketball coach Kevin Brown passed away in June after a long battle with brain cancer. Known for his passion and ability to teach boys become young men, Brown was more than a coach to his players. Just one month later in July, Peoria’s first ever Mr. Basketball, Howard Nathan, passed away at the age of 47. The Manual standout is known by many to be the best high school basketball player the city of Peoria has ever produced.
- No. 2: Shaun Livingston hangs up his sneakers. The 15 year NBA veteran and 3-time NBA champion retired after the 2019 season. The Peoria High All-American was the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, and battle adversity early in his career. Livingston suffered a devastating knee injury in 2006, but remarkably made a full recovery. Livingston joined the Golden State Warriors in 2014 and helped the team to 3 championships in his 5 year tenure with the franchise.
- No. 1: And at number oner: Bradley’s return to the NCAA Tournament. The Braves entered the MVC tournament as an underdog, and trailed Northern Iowa by 18 points at halftime. But BU sparked a huge comeback in the second half to win the MVC Tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Bradley returned to the big dance for the first time since 2006, and nearly knocked off 2-seed Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Brian Wardle and the Bradley Braves bringing the magic of Bradley basketball back to Peoria is our top sports story of 2019.