She played for Northwestern and now lives in Buffalo Grove, but she'll play for Italy in Olympics
A star softball player at Northwestern, Buffalo Grove resident Andrea Filler got the opportunity to play professionally in Italy after she graduated about five years ago.
She immediately felt at home.
Or, her stomach did anyway.
She was eating the same cappelletti (a pasta soup) and the same passatelli (small pasta made of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese) and the same tiramisu that she eats at home with her family for the holidays and special occasions.
The recipes were actually the exact same.
They were recipes from her great grandmother, who grew up in Italy.
While in Italy, Filler got to hang out with a large contingent of family from her mother's side. Filler's great grandparents migrated to the United States from Forno, Italy in the 1930s. But there are still many of her cousins and aunts and uncles who live in that area, which is located in the far northeast of Italy.
"All of our family traditions center around food," Filler said with a laugh. "Growing up, every big family event was at my grandparents' house and they really anchored our family with those Italian traditions."
These days, Filler's affinity for her Italian heritage goes well beyond food. Now, she's got a sports connection to the country as a representative for Italy in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
The 28-year-old Filler, who married former Stevenson and Northwestern baseball star Kyle Ruchim (now a lawyer in Bannockburn) in February 2020, got her Italian passport two years ago and is considered to have dual citizenship with both the United States and Italy. That Italian citizenship allowed her to compete for a spot on the Italian Olympic softball team.
Ironically, she found out that she made the team on America's birthday, July 4.
Filler, who works as the director of operations for the Northwestern softball and field hockey teams and played pro softball for the Chicago Bandits as recently as 2019, left for Tokyo with her new teammates July 9 and has been in Japan ever since, preparing for pool play, which begins with a tilt against, ironically, the United States on Wednesday (NBCSN).
The Italians enter the game as the defending European champions, and the Americans are one of the top teams in the world.
"That's going to be a fun game because I've played with and against a lot of players on the U.S. team either in college or with the Bandits," Filler said. "I think we will be a very competitive team in Tokyo. We did really well at the European championships. We are the best in the Europe."
Filler, who grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., says that there are several players with dual citizenship on the Italian softball roster. She has earned the starting spot at second base. And sometimes she'll slide over to shortstop, her main position at Northwestern, where she was an all-Big Ten player.
"Our team captain is a dual citizen from California, and we have others and that really helps," Filler said. "It helps because our captain understands what it's like to be an American on a team from a different country.
"There is a little weirdness with that. You don't know anyone, and basically, you're taking a spot from someone (from Italy). That can be hard to deal with socially, but we all get along great now."
Filler says that she never intended to vie for a spot on the Italian Olympic team when she first arrived there to play pro ball.
In fact, she had never thought about the Olympics at all, including playing for Team USA.
"I was never really involved with anything through Team USA growing up," Filler said. "Sure, I would love to represent the United States if I could. But it's not like I ever said to myself, 'Oh, I didn't make Team USA, so now I'm going to try to play somewhere else.' I never even thought about that.
"I got to Italy and some people talked to me about trying to make the national team there and it really became about my heritage for me. My family values it so much and I knew they would be so proud for me to represent my family and Italy at the Olympics."
Filler is proud, too.
She's loved the Italian side of her upbringing. It's been a focal point all through her life.
"It was so interesting when I was visiting my family over there," Filler said. "All of the traditions I noticed in the home, the style of living, having long dinners and then sitting and talking for an hour or two after the meal is finished, was so familiar to me. It's what my family does. It's what I learned growing up and it made me feel like I was in the right place. I'm just so proud of being Italian. My whole family is."