The Daily Illini

Wittinger balances playing on team, school

Back to Article
Back to Article

Wittinger balances playing on team, school

By JJ Kim, Staff writer

Following another hard- fought game, senior forward Alex Wittinger headed to the locker room to call her father.

He was her first coach and is still a key figure in her life, always going over the game and discussing what adjustments to make going forward. After a frustrating loss, Wittinger has to decompress for a short time before calling, but she always finds time to talk.

After finally snapping a nine-game losing streak by defeating Wisconsin, Wittinger’s post-game call was probably much happier.

Wittinger led all scorers with 24 points and 12 boards, giving her another double-double. She shot an efficient 11-16, including 7-7 in the third quarter where she torched the Badgers defense with her smooth jump shot.

Her shots weren’t falling early and after going for a rebound, she got drilled in the nose. After a timeout, she came back on the floor with two cotton balls in her nostrils. As she walked into the press conference with both her ankles wrapped in ice, she explained the situation.

“I got a little elbow caught: the (usual),” Wittinger said, laughing.

After the cotton balls went in, Wittinger played with more of an edge, and her shots began to fall. Much like she has her entire career, Wittinger came up huge when the team needed her most. In the third quarter, Wisconsin simply would not go away, making tough shot after tough shot, but the Badgers couldn’t find an answer for the star forward.

Time and time again, Wittinger finds answers on the court, something which reflects across her whole collegiate experience. As a systems engineering major, she faces a challenging course load on top of meeting the demands of a Big Ten college athlete. According to Wittinger, she had always been good at STEM subjects in grade school, giving her an idea of what she wanted to study in college.

However, the inspiration to take the leap into engineering came from her brother.

“Both my brother and my dad are mechanical engineers,” Wittinger said. “I’m a pretty practical thinker, so logically this would be a good move because I can get a good job right out of college.”

Head coach Nancy Fahey has only kind words to share about Wittinger’s focus across the two aspects of her life that are equally demanding.

“Being an engineer here at one of the top engineering schools in the country and playing basketball, the rigor of all that takes some dedication and some really high intellect to do both.” Fahey said. “I credit her with that, and I think she’s a student of the game works really hard at it, I imagine it’s the same as a student in the classroom.”

While Wittinger has set herself up for a life after basketball, she has her sights set on the next step in her athletic career.

“I would love to continue playing basketball, “Wittinger said.” If I’m good enough I would love to play (in the WNBA). If not, either way I think I’ll play overseas.”

Wittinger almost certainly has a future in professional basketball considering her consistent numbers in all facets of the game. Last season, Wittinger finished 13th in Big Ten in scoring, fourth in rebounding, eighth in field goal percentage and fourth in blocks. This season, she isn’t far behind. The senior ranks top 15 in scoring, 11th in rebounding, fifth in field goal percentage and third in blocked shots in the conference.

Her steady stream of production has been something other players can lean on. For guard Brandi Beasley, it makes life a whole lot easier.

“The thing about Alex is that it’s tough to defend her, she draws a lot of attention and it opens up other stuff for other people to stay aggressive,” Beasley said. “It’s exciting to see any teammate play like that.”

As her career comes down the home stretch, Wittinger is close to multiple school records.

On the defensive end, she’s second all-time in school history for offensive rebounds, just 22 shy from tying Cindy Dallas’ mark of 410. She’s had the second and third best single-season block totals in school history and is only 13 blocks away from taking sole possession of the most career blocks currently held by Karisma Penn.

If she can eventually vault to the top of those categories in the record books, the program will surely see it as a well deserved reward for the hard work and attitude she has had throughout her career.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment