The players and coaches will not admit it, but the Trinity High School girls basketball team is primed to make a run at the first state championship in school history this winter.
The Blazers return all but one of the key players from a team that went 27-5 and was two minutes away from a trip to the state semifinals before losing 72-68 to Homewood-Flossmoor in the Class 4A supersectionals.
“We try not to get too far ahead of ourselves but we have organizational goals and we want to achieve greatness,” Trinity assistant coach Jeff Krason said. “We know we have potential.”
More importantly, the Blazers have confidence they can beat any team in the state. They overcame a huge psychological barrier by beating defending state champion Whitney Young in the sectional final, thus ending the Dolphins’ 137-game home winning streak.
Of the players who appeared in that game, only head coach Ed Stritzel’s daughter, Patricia, graduated.
Starters Annie McKenna, Lauren Lee, Alisa Fallon and Kaitlyn Aylward return, as do key role players Daliyah Brown and Alex Fanning.
As has been the norm in recent years, the backcourt is especially strong with McKenna at point guard and Lee at shooting guard. McKenna, a 5-5 senior, is a four-year starter who averaged 15.5 points last season, while Lee, a 5-10 sophomore, contributed five points and two steals during a rookie campaign that didn’t start until January because of a back injury.
“They’re a unique, dynamic backcourt,” Krason said. “Lauren’s got the length and we’re expecting a lot of her. She was our lockdown defender. We put her on the other team’s best player and this year we want her to take a greater role in the offense.”
That will take some of the pressure off of McKenna, whose diminutive size belies a ferocious competitive streak. She can beat bigger defenders into the paint and rarely turns the ball over.
“It’s very difficult to press us,” Krason noted.
That’s due not just to the guards but the team’s versatility. Several players can play multiple positions, making it tough for opponents to decide who to focus on.
The two starting forwards – 5-11 sophomore Alisa Fallon and 6-0 junior Kaitlyn Aylward – are big enough to play in the post and athletic enough to shoot from the perimeter. Fallon averaged seven points and seven rebounds as a freshman, while Aylward averaged 14 points and eight rebounds last season.
“We are expecting Alisa to take a great role not only offensively but defensively,” Krason said. “We can use her all over in guarding perimeter players as well as post players.
“Kaitlyn is a very unique player. She’s a stretch 4 but we played her as a 5 last year.
“She can beat up weaker players in the post but she’s a very good ballhandler on the perimeter. We expect her to continue her dominating rebounding, but she also excels in the open court and can score a lot of easy baskets in transition.”
The fifth starting position is still up for grabs, but look for 6-2 sophomore Alex Fanning to play a lot of minutes under the basket. The most powerful player on the team could also be its most improved.
“She’s a true post player, which we haven’t had since Megan Podkowa,” Krason said. “She’s going to be vital when we play teams that have true big posts.”
The 5-8 Brown and 6-2 guard/forward Alyssa Geary are two sophomores who give the Blazers the ability to utilize small or big lineups depending on the situation. Brown, who averaged five points as a freshman, provides depth at guard, while Geary is yet another long-range gunner.
“Daliyah is a dynamic guard,” Krason said. “I call her a bull in a china shop. When she gets going she attacks the rim and you want to get out of her way.
“(Geary) is very thin but has unlimited range. She has the longest legs you’ve ever seen, so her first step is very dynamic, so we can play her in the post or on the perimeter, where her three-point range is unbelievable.”
The Blazers add yet another top freshman in Stritzel’s younger daughter, Annie, a 5-9 forward whom Krason is especially high on.
Annie Stritzel already has been offered by DePaul and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Her skill set is off the charts,” Krason said. “Her length and ability to get to the rim and finish with contact is amazing. The Fremd coach said she reminds him of (2015 Illinois Ms. Basketball) Haley Gorecki in that way.”
For all the excitement over the team’s potential, Krason said the Blazers are focused only on the season opener against Simeon on Nov. 16. They will play the first five games of their Thanksgiving Tournament without Ed Stritzel, who is serving a school-imposed 30-day suspension resulting from a recruiting violation.
Stritzel is scheduled to return Dec. 1. Assistant coach Mike Valente will run the team in the interim and Krason said he could not comment on the matter because of pending litigation brought by the family of a former player.
He did, however, endorse Stritzel.
“Ed is absolutely the classiest guy I know,” Krason said.