Former star Laura Bush enjoying Illinois’ return to NCAA semis, Minneapolis

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Laura Bush, Chris Tamas, Illinois, Fighting Illini
Laura Bush visited with Chris Tamas, middle, and Alfred Reft last week after Illinois beat Wisconsin to advance to the NCAA national semifinals in Minneapois

MINNEAPOLIS — Laura Bush has enjoyed back-to-back reunions.

Last Friday and Saturday, she went back to her alma mater to root for Illinois in the NCAA regional as the Illini beat Marquette and Wisconsin.

Now, the former Illinois All-American has her team in her town for the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship.

What’s more, it was 30 years ago that Bush and Illinois played in the NCAA final four. That season the Illini won the Big Ten, going 18-0, and ended up 30-4 overall after losing to Hawai’i in the national semifinals.

“Three decades since the Illinois competed in the final four,” Bush said. 

“The excitement of ‘what if Illinois returns to Minneapolis to compete in the Final Four’ is now a reality. Now the excitement is about Illinois volleyball trying to with the national championship.”

Bush, the former head coach at Marquette and Auburn, finished her college coaching career at Minnesota, going to work for her old coach, Mike Hebert. When he retired and Minnesota hired Hugh McCutcheon, Bush filled in as head coach for the 2011 season while McCutcheon finished his tenure with the U.S. Olympic team before coming to the Twin Cities.

She then stayed with McCutcheon as an assistant for three seasons before getting out of college coaching. Among other things, Bush is an analyst for Big Ten Network volleyball broadcasts.

And while she was at Minnesota, among her co-workers was current Illinois head coach Chris Tamas and assistant Alfred Reft, which makes this week even more special.

But back to the 1988 Illini.

Laura Bush
Laura Bush attacks for Illinois

“Mary Eggers, Sandy Scholtens, and Chrissy Schwarz were the star seniors on our 1988 team,” Bush said.

Eggers was the 1988 Honda Award winner and a three-time first-team All-American.

Illinois had won 22 matches in row before losing to Hawai’i 15-1, 12-15, 15-13, 15-13.

Hawai’i went on to lose to Texas in the NCAA title match.

“We had a tough first set against University of Hawaii,” Bush recalled.

“The talented Wahine had All-Everything Tee Williams. We lost not only the match but three seniors who had been a large part of the backbone for building Mike’s Illinois program into national recognition.”

The next year, Bush was a second-team All-American.

“Preparations for the 1989 season began soon after that loss,” Bush said, “just the way it should be. It wasn’t just shoes we had to fill, we had an entire wardrobe to re-assemble.”

She has fond memories of that time and is excited about this year, especially now that Minneapolis is home.

“Minneapolis provided a wonderful experience for the lone Big Ten team in 1988,” Bush said. “The University of Minnesota athletic department clothed us in Minnesota hats and mittens, which we proudly wore and needed to wear in the frigid Minneapolis temperature.”

She laughed.

“Who knew how well maroon and gold paired with orange and blue —NOT!

“But we felt very supported.”

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