The dark days that clouded the start of Annie Stritzel’s high school basketball career have given way to constant sunshine.
The future is bright for the Nazareth junior.
The present isn’t too shabby, either.
Stritzel, a 5-foot-11 guard, is one of the top players in Illinois. She holds scholarship offers from 30 Division I schools, including most of the Ivy League and Patriot League.
College coaches saw her potential early, with DePaul and Wisconsin-Milwaukee offering her before she even started high school.
“Recruiting is crazy,” Stritzel said. “The fact that I have so many choices is just unbelievable.”
The journey Stritzel and her father, Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel, has taken is hard to fathom. She began her career at Trinity, where the elder Stritzel won 236 games in nine seasons.
But Eddie was forced to resign early in Annie’s freshman year. She spent most of the season unwanted on the bench as Trinity finished third in the Class 4A state finals.
Nazareth hired Eddie a few months later and Annie Stritzel transferred to the LaGrange Park school along with teammate Alyssa Geary. After sitting out a semester, Stritzel averaged 26 points in 12 games as a sophomore.
Stritzel is on fire this winter. She is averaging 28 points while shooting 65 percent from the field, including 38 percent from three-point range. She and 6-4 post Geary, a Providence recruit, led the Roadrunners to a 14-0 start before a loss to Mother McAuley in the quarterfinals of the Montini Christmas Tournament Dec. 28.
“It’s awesome,” Annie said. “I struggled my freshman and sophomore year, obviously.
“Now there’s nothing holding us back and it’s just so much fun being out there. It’s kind of like a team of second chances. Each girl in our starting five is coming from somewhere else, so it’s just nice to be able to play together.”
Indeed, a team stocked with transfers is thriving. Nazareth is a contender to reach the Class 3A state finals for the first time and the dynamic Stritzel is the linchpin.
“She’s really great with handling pressure and bringing the intensity and energy and I just think she’s a phenomenal scorer,” Geary said. “She definitely helps us a lot on the offensive end and off the court she’s just a great best friend.
“I’m so lucky to have her. We have a lot of fun together and she brings a good, positive energy on and off the court.”
Sitting on the bench at Trinity fueled Stritzel’s desire just as much as playing against three older siblings did. Her brother, Matt, plays for Carleton College. Her sister, Patricia, helped St. Francis to the NAIA national semifinals last season.
Annie now plays with an uncontained passion, which was evident Dec. 27 in Nazareth’s 67-37 rout of Batavia in the opening round of the prestigious Montini Christmas Tournament. She tallied 30 points, six assists, five steals and five rebounds.
“It’s hard when you coach your daughter; you can’t give too many compliments out, but she’s a heck of a player,” Eddie Stritzel said. “We thought with the better players like Geary and [6-2 senior Marissa] Metz being eligible this year, her average would go down.
“It’s actually gone up because there are better players around her.”
Annie Stritzel is more than a great shooter and scorer. She can distribute, too.
“The difference from last year to this year is now I have other amazing players in my starting five,” Annie said. “So I think I’ve done a much better job of getting my own but still getting my teammates involved.”
Annie Stritzel expects to make her college commitment in the coming months, but right now the honor student is focused on something else.
“Our whole team has one common goal,” she said. “[Winning state] is what we want and it’s really exciting to see each girl put forth their best effort.”