Of the 10 high school girls basketball programs in this county, Racine Lutheran is the only one never to have had a Player of the Year in the county.
That could be changing within the next few years.
Caroline Strande, the Crusaders’ 5-foot-11 junior guard, has made a verbal commitment to Bradley University, a NCAA Division I program in Peoria, Ill. Strande, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, said she is receiving a full athletic scholarship for when she enters the program in the fall of 2020.
She will not be able to officially sign with Bradley until next year at this time. Until then, Bradley coach Andrea Gorski is prohibited by NCAA rules to comment about her.
“I just felt it was a great fit for me right now,” said Strande, when asked why she made her decision early. “I fit in great with their style of play. They’re very uptempo and that fits in great with my skill set.
“I’ll be able to play right away and make an immediate impact. And also, they have great players in the program right now and a great coaching staff.”
Gorski, who is entering her third season as the Braves coach, has a 26-37 record at Bradley (13-23 in the Missouri Valley Conference). But the Braves showed substantial improvement last season, ranking among the top three in the MVC in scoring offense and defense.
“They said I could play the ‘1’ and ‘2’ position — point guard and shooting guard,” Strande said. “I like playing point guard, but I’m also comfortable being a shooting guard.”
Strande and coach Steve Shaffer arrived at Lutheran for the 2016-17 season and immediately helped turn the program’s fortunes around.
Becoming an immediate starter as a freshman, Strande averaged 16.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.8 assists. And Lutheran broke through with a 16-9 record after finishing 7-17 the previous season.
She took her game to another level last season, averaging 23.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.6 steals. And Lutheran finished 16-7.
“I think it’s huge for our program,” Shaffer said. “I think it brings a lot of credibility to our program. I talked from the moment I got there about changing the culture of Racine Lutheran basketball.
“I still remember five years ago (when he was an assistant at Prairie) when they did not have enough players for a JV team. We talked about making this team where people wanted to come out and be part of its success.
“Caroline is one who bought in, just as every other player has.”
During the last two seasons, Shaffer said he has witnessed enormous growth from Strande.
“She was extremely talented and I knew that,” he said. “It’s been a learning process and I think what I have enjoyed the most is watching her grow every season. Every season, she has taken one part of her game and made it better.”
Shaffer has something else to be encouraged about. During the 2019-20 season, he will have the luxury of two Strandes since Caroline’s 5-6 sister, Sarah, will be joining the program as a freshman.