Oak Creek — No one would have blamed Oak Creek's Angela Rodriguez had she cashed in the chips on her senior basketball season following a painful ankle injury in mid-January.
After all, the four-year varsity player had already secured a Division I college scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, had locked down a spot in among the school's top-five all-time leading scorers and had accomplished more than almost every other girl in the program's history.
But Rodriguez's desire to lead her Knights back to the state tournament, where she capped her sophomore season with what she called the best experience of her life, and her love of the game, wouldn't allow her to quit.
Not fit to quit
She played on and off with the injury for about a month before shutting it down for six straight games. She returned just before the postseason and helped her team reach the sectional final, where the Knights lost to eventual state champion Pius XI. It was short of Rodriguez's ultimate goal, but she had no regrets.
"Sitting out killed me," Rodriguez said. "I didn't even want to go to the games because I couldn't stand not playing. I wanted to be out there so bad, and I really liked my new coach. I thought we could go far (in the postseason). I didn't want to be watching the games anymore. I had to be playing."
Rodriguez finished the season averaging 14.2 points per game, just ahead of junior teammate Ashley Luke's 14.0. Rodriguez was a first-team all-Southeast Conference selection and Luke was a second-team choice, and the pair became the first set of Oak Creek teammates to make the NOW All-Suburban Girls Basketball Team in the same season in the team's 21-year history.
Rodriguez's injury kept her from becoming just the third girl in school history to score 1,000 career points. She finished with 932, good for third all-time behind Jean Vallier's 1,481 and former teammate Stephanie Running's 1,320.
"It was really difficult," Rodriguez said of her injury-plagued campaign. "Me being the only senior, I wanted to have a cherry on top of my four years. I wanted to lead my team and be there for them, but with me being out, I could only be a vocal leader. I've never gotten hurt like that. It makes you think about things and my team did a really good job without me."
First-year Oak Creek coach Steve Hluchnik was impressed with Rodriguez's effort to rehab the injury and return late in the season and was glad to coach her this winter.
"She's a true basketball player, a player that does everything," he said. "She's a leader that understands the game. All those intangibles you can put on a kid, she has them all. A lot of kids can score and play, but she can do all the little things."
Luke's growing maturity
When Rodriguez was out of the lineup, the remaining Knights were forced to grow up quickly, and few were more impressive in doing so than Luke. After averaging 9.5 points per game during a breakout season as a sophomore, Luke raised her average by 4.5 points and grabbed 10 rebounds per game to be the only player in the NOW area to average a double-double.
"AAU (summer basketball) really helped and I really worked on what I could do better that could benefit the team," Luke said. "There was a period of two months (from June to August) where I played basketball every day. The repetition, doing all those post moves, running and going to camps - I've always heard from people that I had a lot of potential, but no one gave me the title of a great player. I wanted to work toward that and show everyone that I could be a great player and use my potential and go somewhere with it."
That "somewhere" could eventually be a DI college. Though she has no scholarship offers yet, Luke is being recruited by multiple Horizon League schools, other mid-major programs and even Iowa University, according to Hluchnik.
Hluchnik often assigned Luke to opposing team's best offensive players, including Nicolet's Ashley Green and Muskego's Katie Ellerson, and was pleased to see Luke foul out of only three games after doing so more than half the time as a sophomore.
Luke said she hopes to work on her ball-handling skills and 3-point shot this offseason, and was glad to play with and learn from Rodriguez the last two seasons.
"She's such a good leader and role model," Luke said of Rodriguez. "When she was gone, I tried to think of what she'd say and what she'd do and try to motivate players for the game like she did. Her fluidity on the court is something I try to strive for. I know we play different positions, but I think anyone could learn something from her."
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