By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
It came up early in the interview as a side comment, so it had to be clarified later.
Yes, Elizabeth Lutz said, her teammates sometimes call her, “Grandma.”
“They do, unfortunately,” the Western Illinois fifth-year guard said, smiling.
Lutz was born in September, 1999, a date that seems so long ago to her teammates.
“They’re like, ‘You were born in the ‘90s,’” Lutz said. “I mean, technically, yeah. Three months left in the ‘90s.”
Five years in college basketball can seem like a long time, and Lutz has made the most of it.
She graduated with degrees in sociology, anthropology and communications, and is working on her master’s degree in economics before heading to law school. She was a recipient of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate Award in 2021-22.
Oh, and she’s a 1,000-point scorer.
“She’s just a good example for the other players,” Western Illinois coach JD Gravina said. “It helps us, not only in the community but around campus. It helps the faculty respect what we’re doing as a program, as an athletic department. Just seeing that our athletes are high achievers.”
It’s why, when Lutz had plenty of choices of where to go for her final season of eligibility, she chose to stay at Western Illinois.
“I think a lot of players these days kind of see their current school or future school as a stepping stone to kind of move up or go into bigger leagues,” Lutz said. “But I’ve just found a lot of contentment in Macomb and a lot of joy. I never came in thinking I would leave. So I think it’s just been kind of a teaching moment for me outside of basketball, of just being able to really establish roots and enjoy my present moment, not necessarily thinking that the grass is greener on the other side, but just making my grass green here where I’m at.”
That’s why getting to 1,000 points — Lutz has 1,076 heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at home against North Dakota State — was a milestone for her.
“It’s a great honor for me,” said Lutz, who has started every game this season. “And I take even more pride in the fact that I’ve been able to get all of my 1,000 points at Western. I just take a lot of pride in Macomb. I love Western, and being here and kind of sticking through everything during my five years is something that I’m proud of. And I’m proud to have started and finished at the same school, which is sometimes an anomaly that you see these days.”
Lutz grew up in California, Missouri and had numerous college choices, including a chance to go to the United States Military Academy. In the end, she said, she narrowed the choices to West Point and Macomb, and Macomb won.
“I come from a military family,” she said. “So I kind of had a little bit of a divided household about where to go. But I think that Western just felt like home, it felt safe. And it felt like I would be able to really establish roots here. Even though I was meeting people for the first time, it felt like I had known them for a long time. I ended up just kind of following my gut and haven’t looked back since.
“Best decision I ever made.”
Lutz kept her decision quiet for a while.
“I just called JD and told him, and I called the West Point coach and told him as well,” Lutz said. “And then I just waited on the news for a few days and didn’t tell anyone. I felt really comfortable with it being my own decision and kind of following my own passions.”
“From the get-go, she had a really good head on her shoulders with recruiting,” Gravina said. “Not that going to West Point would have been a bad decision. I think she just vibed with the coaching staff, and the players who were here at the time. I think that was critical for her, because she’s smart enough to realize it’s about the people you’re around.”
Gravina has been impressed with Lutz’s personality.
“She’s one of those kids who never gets flustered,” Gravina said. “She’s been through some really good runs. She’s been through some challenges. But she’s very level-headed.
“She brings such an appreciation for what we have here at Western.”
The coach also appreciates Lutz’s on-court intensity.
“On court, it’s her feistiness, her competitiveness, her scrappiness,” Gravina said. “Really, for being such a nice kid, she’ll be that kid who scratches you in practice, and will get physical, and will not call a foul on herself. But we need a little of that.”
“I take a lot of pride in that,” said Lutz, who ranks eighth in the Summit League in steals. “I know that it’s annoying to be on opposing teams, because even my teammates in practice will get really tired of me scratching them or pushing on them or whatever. I try to kind of use basketball as a way to express a lot of emotions, I guess, and play with a lot of passion. And so, I take a lot of pride in it. And I I feel like you’ll never see me quitting. You could find me doing a lot of things, but I don’t give up very easily.”
Lutz has embraced the days with the Leathernecks, and where she’s spent them.
It’s why she doesn’t look far ahead.
“I’ve kind of tried to have the opposite approach, and just try to be present in every moment, in the day-to-day experiences of it,” Lutz said. “So that will definitely come. And maybe I should have more specific goals or more concrete ideas of how I’d like things to end, but I’m really just trying to enjoy the moment right now and embrace still being a college athlete and having my teammates all around me getting to do the fun parts of a being an athlete and the not-so-fun parts.
“I’m just kind of trying to enjoy it as much as I can, get it out of my system, because I know once the last horn sounds, it’s all said and done.”
Photo: Western Illinois guard Elizabeth Lutz added her name to the program’s 1,000-point scoring list earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of WIU Athletic Communications)