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Erin Lillis`24 named Midwest Conference’s Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year

The Midwest Conference awarded Erin Lillis `24 the Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year. Photo by Paul Hansen.

When Erin Lillis `24 was five years old, her parents put a ball in her hands and dropped her off at a recreational basketball league. She fell in love with the sport and continued playing through to college. This season, Lillis earned the award for Midwest Conference Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year. 

Lillis described this year as strange. After missing out on a year of college basketball due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lillis did not expect for the Grinnell’s women’s basketball team to be composed of mostly first and second years. The team composition led to uncertainty about the role of each player on the court. 

“I honestly had no expectations whatsoever. I wasn’t even sure I was going to get playing time going into the season,” said Lillis. “I just wanted to contribute in any way I could.” 

Since most of the team had never played a college basketball game before, the seniors collectively took on a leadership role and led by example. Lillis said that following their influence provided a foundation for her success on the court. Each senior had a strength Lillis could learn from, leading her to regard them as a guiding-force.

This season was not the time to be a leader herself, she said, but instead to absorb information and put it into practice on the court. Next year, she plans on using what she has learned to become a leader herself. 

Lillis has played a variety of sports throughout her life, but basketball was always her favorite. Because she grew up near Indiana University, Lillis would regularly attend the school’s women’s basketball games. She looked up to the players on the team, and they served as a source of motivation. 

“I wanted to be like them my whole life,” said Lillis. 

Lillis focused time and energy on her basketball throughout her life, and her parents were there supporting her through it all. Lillis shared that her parents were proud of her because they witnessed firsthand the work she put into the game throughout her life; her parents understand how dear basketball is to her. 

Lillis did not expect to receive this award at the start of this season, but she is proud to be among other notable Grinnell basketball players, such as Missy Sharer `91, a Grinnell College Hall of Fame entry in 1998. Receiving this award has not changed Lillis’s vision for the future that she shares with her team: to make it to the Midwest Conference tournament. 

The Grinnell College Women’s Basketball team lost against Ripon College on Jan. 4, 2022, but went on to beat them just weeks later on Jan. 22. Lillis said that the victory over Ripon was one of her favorite moments of the season. describing it as a game of redemption. 

“We play every conference team twice, and we lost to them by a fair amount the first time, and we came back, surprised everyone, and beat them. That was a big win for us.’

Lillis said that moments like that victory are just a precursor of what is to come for the team. To her, the Midwest Conference Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year award is more reflective of their success as a team than it is about her own. 

“I don’t really care as much about the individual honors. I just really want to find some success in the next couple of years,” said Lillis.  

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