By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – Liz Grzesk, wife of St. Norbert College men’s basketball coach Gary Grzesk, has carved out her own path playing and coaching college basketball at a high level.
Growing up in Ohio, Liz played collegiately at Youngstown State University (1993-97) and finished her stellar career with 1,468 points.
She earned all-conference honors three of the four years and was named the Conference Player of the Year her senior season.
After her playing days were finished, Liz was an assistant coach at Youngstown (1998-2002) before joining Kevin Borseth’s staff at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (2002-04).
Upon ending her coaching run at UW-Green Bay, she eventually stepped into the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball scene with the Purple Aces and began coaching her daughter Gracie, a Wisconsin commit.
Eight years later, you can add national champion to Liz’s coaching resume.
The Purple Aces U17 squad recently capped off a perfect 25-0 season en route to the USJN National Championship in Washington D.C.
“It was fun,” Liz said. “I had some good kids who worked hard — it was a good way to cap the end of it. Some of these girls have been with me all eight years, others for six years. It was a great group that got along well.”
The Purple Aces won the title game with a one-point victory over Illinois Elite.
“We had played (Illinois Elite) earlier this year in Chicago and beat them by five points or so,” Liz said. “The (USJN) championship game was hyped up as the rematch. It’s a similarly coached team to us and fundamentally sound. They have four kids going Division I — it was a back-and-forth battle. We made a few plays at the end to pull it out.”
The early years
Liz said when she began coaching the team during the girls’ elementary years, she wasn’t sure what she was getting into.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she laughed. “To see them develop over the years, it gets to the point where this year it was so much fun.”
The team had a local flavor to it, with Bay Port, De Pere, Green Bay Southwest and Notre Dame Academy all being represented.
Division I commits Ellie McDermid (Bradley University – Bay Port), Trista Fayta (Illinois State – Notre Dame Academy), Gracie Grzesk (Wisconsin – Notre Dame Academy) and Mya Nicholson (Northern Iowa – Janesville Craig) plus Division II commit Claire Bjorge (Duluth – De Pere) have all committed to play at the next level.
“Plus, Sydney Whitehouse (Notre Dame), Addison Pytleski (Southwest) and Paige Seckar (Oshkosh West) will all be going Division II as well,” Liz said.
Rounding out the roster are Brenna Gehri (Oshkosh West) and Kaia Waldrop (Notre Dame).
The end of the road?
With the end of the AAU season, Liz, who was assisted by Gary, said she’s not sure about her immediate coaching future.
“This was this team’s last summer of playing AAU,” she said. “More than likely, I’ll be done. I’ve been asked to coach and stay on, but this was my eighth year with the Purple Aces. I think I need a summer to think about what I want to do and have a summer to myself. We’ll be empty-nesters (next summer), so it will be a bit different for Gary and I.”
Liz said it’s also emotional not being able to coach her daughter anymore.
“We’ve had our moments,” she laughed. “To see how far she’s come and how much work she’s put in — to be a part of that, you can’t replace those memories.”
Notre Dame, coached by Sara Rohde, will be going for its fourth consecutive WIAA Division 2 state title next season.
“August is a good month to calm down,” Liz said. “It’s a chance for Gary and me to get away a bit before basketball starts again.”