By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Elizabeth Lutz can be a defensive pest.
The Western Illinois guard led the Summit League with 64 steals last season, and her aggressiveness carries over into practice.
“I’ve played against her and left with bloody forearms,” Western Illinois coach JD Gravina said.
Guard Jada Thorpe, who was sitting next to Gravina when he said that, nodded in agreement.
“Oh no, she gets me going every practice,” Thorpe said. “I’m like, ‘Where’s E? Where’s she at?’ I have to know where she’s at at all times.”
But it’s that aggressiveness that Gravina appreciates about Lutz.
“She’s this nice little kid from California, Missouri,” Gravina said. “She also is probably the feistiest kid I’ve ever coached.
“Every team loves to have that point guard leader who can do the little things. She really brings a competitiveness to practice.”
It was something Gravina noticed this fall, when Lutz had to leave practice early for a class.
“I felt like we deflated just a little when she left,” Gravina said. “That shows you how valuable that energy is.”
That aggressiveness has always been there for Lutz, who has come back for a fifth season. But it’s something that can get her in trouble — she led the Leathernecks with 86 fouls last season, and she fouled out of four games. She had 88 fouls and fouled out of six games in the 2020-21 season.
“I think defensively I’ve made a lot of strides, starting as not being an aggressive player and then getting a little too aggressive, and now trying to find a sweet spot in between,” Lutz said.
“She can honestly frustrate her opponents,” Gravina said.
The one sweet spot she has found is with the Leathernecks. Macomb, she said, is like another home for her, so taking advantage of the fifth year granted by the NCAA during the COVID-19 pandemic was an easy decision.
“I really never had any hesitation about coming back,” Lutz said. “I love Western, I love Macomb, the community, my teammates. We definitely ended the season last year like there was something left on the table, unfinished business. That was definitely motivation for me.
“I’ve just felt so much support here. It’s too much fun to pass up.”
Lutz needs just 121 points to become a 1,000-point scorer, and she’s coming off a season in which she averaged a career-high 11.6 points per game.
She has also excelled in the classroom, with a triple major of sociology, economics and communications. Lutz was Western Illinois’ recipient of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois’ Student Laureate Award. Lutz graduated last spring and is now working on a master’s degree.
“The professors are really great with being flexible with our really hectic schedule,” Lutz said. “The university is really accommodating to athletics.
“I have felt so much support. That’s given me a little bit of an opportunity to build a home here at Western. It kind of gives me a piece of California here in Macomb.”
Lutz has approached basketball with the same enthusiasm to learn.
“It’s been exciting getting to adjust, coming here and really becoming a well-rounded basketball player instead of just kind of a body that follows instructions drawn out on a whiteboard,” she said.
Lutz wants to appreciate everything about her final season.
“Just kind of enjoying the little things,” she said. “I think it’s been easy to find joy not only in the mundane, but also the things you wouldn’t think you would look forward to.
“For the team, I want to encourage an attitude by gratitude, because it really goes by quickly. It’s surprising to me I’m already in my fifth year. It doesn’t seem that long.”
Photo: Western Illinois guard Elizabeth Lutz is coming off her best scoring season. (Richard Carlson/Inertia)