Sullivan Steps Down: Illinois' Only Softball Coach Announces Retirement

Urbana, Ill. (via Illinois Athletics) - Illinois softball head coach Terri Sullivan has announced that she will retire after 16 seasons at the helm of the Illini softball program. The first and only head coach of Fighting Illini softball, Sullivan has made the decision to step down from coaching. She plans to move to Iowa where her husband, former Illinois associate athletic director Shawn Wax, serves as vice president at the University of Iowa.

“It has been a privilege to work at an institution like the University of Illinois for 16 years,” said Sullivan. “I have always said that, ‘People are what it is all about,' and the people whom I have been fortunate to meet here, past and present, are family and mean the world to me.

“It is never an ideal time to leave a place you love, but it was key for me to leave the program in a position of strength. Our coaching staff is strong, we have an outstanding nucleus of players returning, and the recruiting pipeline is firmly in place.

“It is time to make a change for my immediate family, however, and, in particular, get us in the same location as our daughter, Macy, begins kindergarten. While I am retiring as the head softball coach at Illinois, the Orange and Blue will forever be in my and Shawn's hearts.”

In 16 seasons as the Illini leader, Sullivan posted a 488-369-2 record with four trips to the NCAA Tournament and a pair of runner-up finishes in the Big Ten standings. The 2010 Big Ten Coach of the Year, Sullivan's Illini burst onto the scene in 2001, setting the record for most Big Ten wins by a first-year conference program while taking down four ranked opponents-with a team comprised almost entirely of freshmen.

As the inaugural class matured, the Fighting Illini quickly grew to national relevance, qualifying for the 2003 NCAA Tournament and ranking as high as No. 21 in the NFCA Coaches' Poll. In their senior year, Sullivan guided her first signing class even further, finishing second in the Big Ten and reaching the 2004 Big Ten Tournament title game, then advancing to the NCAA Regional Final and finishing the season ranked No. 17 in the nation.

The rapid success led to the signing of Jenna Hall, who would be named a First Team NFCA All-American in 2006. Sullivan's Illini were outstanding to watch the following season, as the 2007 Orange and Blue led the nation by hitting 84 home runs, then returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 after defeating five ranked opponents throughout the season. Danielle Zymkowitz concluded the year with an All-America selection, and would become the first two-time All-American in 2011.

Perhaps her most impressive campaign came in 2010, when Sullivan led the Fighting Illini to a remarkable 45-8 overall record, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, and a runner-up finish in the Big Ten standings with a 16-2 conference mark. After putting together a 14-game conference winning streak, Sullivan was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and six Illini earned All-Big Ten accolades, including First-Team All-American Meredith Hackett.

In 2012, Sullivan's crew became the first Big Ten team to secure two wins in Ann Arbor in 11 years, taking 2-of-3 from perennial powerhouse No. 22 Michigan. Sullivan's more recent teams have displayed extreme resilience, battling back from tough stretches against difficult teams, as the 2013 Illini finished the regular season on an 11-1 run, which included a 10-game winning streak, while Sullivan's 2015 squad erased an 8-20 start to the season by going 13-2 amidst the Big Ten grind to climb all the way back to .500 at the close of the regular season.

Despite the rough beginning, her final team would make its mark as the best offensive Illini squad in program history, setting new records for batting average and slugging percentage and ranking in the top 30 nationally in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles and home runs, averaging the fifth-most doubles in Division I softball. After her final season, Sullivan is confident that the Fighting Illini program is poised for continued success.

“The 2015 Fighting Illini softball team did some outstanding things this season,” said Sullivan. “On the offensive side, we were explosive and shattered many records. We are returning the core of that team for 2016. There are also some newcomers arriving in the fall who will have an immediate impact on the team, just as our underclassmen did this season.

“My staff, associate head coach Donna DiBiase and assistant coach Katie O'Connell, have worked tirelessly on the recruiting trail, and the future is going to be exciting for Fighting Illini Softball!”

Following Sullivan's departure, Donna DiBiase will take over as Interim Head Coach during which time the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will embark on a national candidate search.

“I would like to thank Terri for all of her contributions to the Fighting Illini and the softball program,” said Illinois director of athletics Mike Thomas. “She has been a huge part of our history and has touched many lives over the past 16 years. She built this program from the ground up, and her impact will be felt for years to come. I was saddened to hear of her decision, but wish her all the best as she takes this next step in her life.” 

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