Ellie Vazzana is taking her game to new heights. Literally.
An Incarnate Word basketball standout and lifelong aviation enthusiast, Vazzana announced July 7 she has verbally committed to continue her playing career at the Air Force Academy.
Just like her parents, Nick and Tracy, who graduated from the Air Force, Vazzana wants to soar at the Colorado Springs campus.
Her father and mother, who served for 24 and 20 years respectively before retiring from the reserves at Scott Air Force Base, are both commercial pilots.
She hopes to follow in their footsteps by being accepted into the Air Force's pilot training program. Vazzana would serve for 10 years in the Air Force if she gets into the program. Cadets not accepted for pilot training serve for a minimum of five years.
Before she shoots for the skies, she will hit the court for the Falcons. She chose the Air Force over Princeton University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Southeast Missouri State University.
“I was drawn to the Air Force Academy by the Ivy League level education, world-class aviation, the opportunity to serve and a coaching staff that fully supports all of my goals,” said Vazzana, who's verbal commitment is non-binding until she signs her National Letter of Intent in November.
Vazzana's goals go way beyond the hardwood. By the age of 11 she was longing to pilot an aircraft. She quickly stepped it up a notch, developing the desire to man "heavy" aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster and the KC-10 Extender by the time she was a sophomore. That goal remains stronger than ever.
“My long-term goals for academics are to graduate as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force Academy and be selected for a pilot training slot,” Vazzans said.
Vazzana has had a taste of life in the air. She piloted a Cessna 152 with an instructor alongside her last May and has also had a handful of experiences in a flight simulator.
Both experiences have stoked the fire for a career as a pilot.
“My parents have traveled all over the world and I have also wanted to do this for as long as I can remember,” Vazzana said. “Also, I have seen first-hand the community and family atmosphere that the Air Force fosters, increasing my desire to not only become a pilot, but simultaneously be a part of something that is bigger than myself.
Vazzana has already been part of something big.
The 6-foot guard/forward helped Incarnate Word claim back-to-back Class 3 state titles as a freshman and sophomore. She also played a pivotal role for the Red Knights last season before tearing her ACL at a shootout in Kentucky in January. The Red Knights finished 27-4 and reached the state semifinal round before the final weekend of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 16 games last season, Vazzana averaged 14 points and 4.3 rebounds. Five months post surgery, she is back on the court.
“My recovery has gone as smoothly as I had hoped,” Vazzana said. “All the time that I have had at home as a result of COVID-19 has actually been a blessing as it has given me so much extra time to work on my strengthening and rehabilitation."
With her return to basketball secure, Vazzana made sure she locked down her future as well by joining the family business.
“We are both so proud of Ellie,” Tracy Vazzana said. “Through all the ups and downs, basketball and aviation alike, it is so exciting to see her desire to be a part of the next generation of the military and the aviation community.”
But before she steps foot in the cockpit, Vazzana is aiming to close out her high school career with perfect marks.
“My biggest goal is to bring home another state title,” Vazzana said. “As for my personal goals, I really want to improve my mid-range game and recognize when I should pull up for the jumper instead of going all the way in and finishing at the rim, as well as getting stops on the defensive end — which is something that I think can always be improved. I want to continue to improve upon reading the other team and taking what the defense is giving me as well. I pride myself on constantly working to raise my basketball IQ.”
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