Liana Ilutzi made an immediate impact upon the women's basketball program at Massacusetts Institute of Technology, scoring a team-high 12 points against Suffolk University in her college debut last November.
Several weeks earlier, Ilutzi, a former Hanover Park High School standout, accumulated votes instead of points, getting elected president of the freshman class.
"I'm taking college head on," said Ilutzi, one of the Hornets' captains as a junior and senior. "I think I've done a pretty good job so far."
Ilutzi, who started 12-of-25 games for the Engineers, certainly has. She balanced basketball, averaging 24.4 minutes, 4.2 points and 2.2 assists per game for the Engineers, who went 12-14 and qualified for postseason play for the first time in six years, and an intense academic workload.
Her desire to be involved off the court is nothing new. Ilutzi served as a student council representative all through high school and was president of the Future Business Leaders of America. She was also in several clubs.
"I met so many awesome people here that I wanted to be their president," Ilutzi said. "MIT is such a great place."
The basketball season concluded on Wednesday, Feb. 26 with a 62-46 loss to Wheaton in a NEWMAC Tournament quarterfinal. Although Ilutzi, a 5-foot-3 guard, was sad to see it end, she sees lots of promise for the future.
"Being in the tournament was exciting," she said. "It shows the program is on its way up. It's not stagnant. We're getting better every year. It's fun to be a part of it."
Ilutzi, majoring in brain and cognitive sciences and management science, said the transition from high school to college basketball was "huge."
She noted that the 3-point line is 20 feet, 9 inches - a foot longer than the high school distance. She said college is a more "team-oriented game."
"It's not one player and it's not two," Ilutzi said. "You need all five players. This is the first time I've been in a full defensive system. There are a lot of rules on defense."
Ilutzi made mention of another important aspect of college ball.
"Your spot is never reserved," she said. "You need to win it every day in practice. If you slough off, you get less minutes. That's why you have to fight hard every day."
MIT had a pressure-packed but thrilling end to its season, having to win three in a row to land a berth in the conference tournament. In a seven-game stretch beginning Feb. 15, the Engineers defeated Clark, Babson and WPI to qualify. Ilutzi had a pair of key free throws at 24.6 seconds in the 57-56 win over Babson.
"We were right on the cusp going into the last three games," Ilutzi said. "The teams we had to play were not easy. We hadn't beaten Clark in three years. We hit our stride at the right time. We played our hardest. It was like being in the playoffs but earlier. It was win or go home."
Being class president takes up much more time than basketball, according to Ilutzi, who relied heavily on the power of social media to get elected, including inviting the freshman class to the student center to meet her.
Since taking office, Ilutzi has been working with the MIT Class of 1967, the school's 100th graduating class, on networking and career development as well as a philanthropy event. The Class of 1967 was chosen because Ilutzi's graduating class will be MIT's 150th.
"There's a lot of planning," she said. "You're given power and a budget so you should try to do something good."
Ilutzi, who will be a researcher in a lab through the school's undergrad research opportunities program, said she owes a lot to her family and friends.
"I want to thank my family and my friends," Ilutzi said. "I also want to thank Coach (Doug) Wear and the teachers at Hanover Park. They prepared me for this and have been cheering me on the whole time."