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Annie Stritzel drives to the basket against Fenwick. Submitted photo.

 

Stritzel on the rise

Freshman gaining attention despite turmoil

 

By Matt LeCren

 
Thousands of high school students graduate every year with college basketball scholarships.
 
Only a few can say they were offered a scholarship before they played high school ball.
 
Annie Stritzel is one of them.
 
Legendary DePaul University coach Doug Bruno offered Stritzel a scholarship before she began her freshman season in November at Trinity High School in River Forest. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee soon followed suit and since then several other Division I coaches have expressed interest in the 5-foot-10 guard.
 
“Obviously I’m very fortunate for that,” Stritzel said. “I’d like to think that I’ve worked hard, but it’s crazy that before I even played a high school game I was getting that much attention.
 
“Getting those offers definitely boosted my confidence a lot, and it helps me to continue through the year knowing that I get a lot of attention, that I’m wanted.”
 
Her father, former Trinity coach Ed Stritzel, was a 6-foot-3 guard who starred at Gordon Tech. He played one year at Loyola University before shattering his left leg in a car accident in 1988.
 
Doctors at first feared he would never play again, but following surgery and a lengthy rehab he went on to a successful career at Rosary College (now Dominican University), just blocks from the school he later coached.
 
Ed’s playing career and his perseverance are shining examples for Annie as she navigates through a crisis not of her own making.
 
Annie hasn’t always felt wanted at Trinity, which is embroiled in a feud with her parents, Ed and Julie. 
 
Ed, who guided Trinity to a 236-51 record over the past nine seasons, was suspended 30 days this fall by the school due to an alleged recruiting violation. He said he resigned the day before the suspension was due to end on Nov. 30.
 
Three Trinity assistant coaches, Dave Roselund, Nicole Rivera and Jeff Krason resigned in solidarity with Ed. Assistant coach Mike Valente was elevated to the head coaching position.
 
The controversy threatened to overwhelm what should have been a coming-out party for the youngest, and possibly most talented, of four basketball-playing Stritzel siblings. The situation has created some memories Annie would rather forget.
 
Annie was denied the opportunity to play for her father as sister Patricia had, and the controversy shone an unwanted spotlight on her.
 
“It’s been hard, but I’m just trying to do my best this year and hopefully just get through it,” Annie said. “I know this sounds kind of self-centered, but I just have to think of myself and what’s best for me, keep getting better like my dad wants me to even though he’s not coaching me and just do my best when I get a chance to.”
 
Despite the charged situation, Annie has not commented about it. The actions of Trinity High School administrators have included persuading a local newspaper to kill a feature story about the youngest Stritzel even after they were assured the article would focus on Annie’s basketball prowess.
 
“It’s been an incredibly difficult situation,” Ed said. “But she’s handled it like a trooper.”
 
It’s a situation no 14-year-old should have to deal with, but Annie remains intent on helping the team toward its goal while continuing to excel in the classroom, where she is a straight-A student.
 
“I think I learned a lot about mental toughness,” Annie said. “Obviously what happened has been really hard on me but I think that I’ve grown. I’ve become tougher.”
 
Many expect Annie to transfer at the end of the school year, though Ed said nothing has been decided. The family has received encouragement from people in the basketball community who are concerned for Annie’s well-being.
 
“There’s a lot of people who give me a lot of support and (to them) I just say 'Thank you,'” Annie said. “It means a lot knowing that people are worried about me and always looking out for me.”
 
You can count Annie's three siblings in that number -- Patricia and brothers Eddie and Matt -- who helped make her the player she has become.
 
Patricia, the oldest child of the clan, played for their father at Trinity and graduated in 2015 after helping the Blazers to a sectional championship. She now is a freshman guard at St. Francis.
 
Eddie, a senior, and Matt, a junior, play for the boys team at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles.
 
“I started playing when I was 5 years old, but I’ve always watched my brothers and sisters play and obviously I heard stories about my dad playing,” Annie said. “I’ve been playing outside with them on an eight-foot rim, and they’ve just been all over me. They’ve really helped me get stronger.”
 
Little sister doesn't get any slack.
 
“If she makes one mistake, they let her know,” her mother Julie noted.
 
As evidenced by the scholarship offers, that training combined with the family genes have given Annie the potential to be the best player in her family.
 
“No one could predict how good she was going to be but what we did know was that the youngest kid always gets the most opportunities,” Ed said. “She’s really good at finishing even with contact and that comes from playing with her brothers and sister and older kids.”
 
Though her game is still developing, Annie already shows impressive all-around skills that have made her one of the top freshmen in Illinois. She is a good outside shooter and goes strong to the basket. Defense, especially in the press, is also one of her specialties.
 
“She’s a real efficient scorer,” Ed said. “She’s 5-foot-10 but she’s got the longest arms so she plays like she’s 6-foot. You can put her at the top of the press or on the back of it.
 
“As her body matures and she gets stronger and fills out, she’ll be even better. She wants to be great.”
 

Stritzel gets aggressive on defense. Submitted photo.

 
She already is very good. One of Trinity’s top reserves, Annie plays 8-10 minutes per game and averages about 8 points to rank third highest on the team.
 
Many consider this edition of the Blazers (17-5) to be the best team in school history. They are chasing their first state championship, and Stritzel is doing her part.
 
For example, during a 60-47 loss to Downers Grove North on Jan. 27, Stritzel entered midway through the third quarter and made an immediate impact.
 
With Trinity trailing by 14 points, she made a steal in the backcourt and fed sophomore Lauren Lee for a layup. She did it again on the next possession, setting up another layup by Lee.
 
Stritzel made another steal in the final seconds of the quarter but missed a layup that would have brought the Blazers within 10.
 
Trinity, which sat three starters for the first half for alleged disciplinary reasons, trailed by 20 early in the third quarter and was never able to get closer than 10 points. 
 
Stritzel finished with four steals, two assists and two offensive rebounds in six minutes of action in front of a crowd that included the Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach.
 
“Right now I think my strong suit is scoring, being able to get to the basket using my length,” Stritzel said. “And also using my length on defense to get tips on passes and cause turnovers.”
 
She missed all four shots she took against Downers Grove North, but her father coached her how to deal with cold streaks.
 
“I haven’t really played for him a lot but he always tells me, ‘Don’t aim it, shoot it,’ to keep shooting even if I’m missing because I’ll get hot and make the next one,” Stritzel said. “(He also tells me to) always have a short-term memory, even if I miss it.”
 
Regardless of where Annie plays high school ball next year, college coaches will continue to follow her progress.
 
“Her recruiting process is blowing up right now,” Ed said. “I’ve been a coach for so long, and I know the recruiting process but when it’s your kid it’s a different feeling. It’s really humbling.”
 
The media exposure figures to grow too.
 
“ESPN just called,” Ed said. “They’re starting to rank the Class of 2019 and they want me to put together a highlight tape.
 
“Her future is bright.”
 
Indeed, the clouds the family sees today figure to dissipate in time. Like the song in the musical that bears her name says, "the sun will come out tomorrow." And when it does, it will undoubtedly shine brightly on Annie Stritzel. 
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