Back in May of this year, Andrea Zulich wasn't anywhere close to 100 per cent sure of what the fall might hold in store.
A graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School and four year member of the Laurentian Voyageurs women's basketball team, Zulich had completed her studies within the Sports Administration program at L.U.
Her love of basketball remained, but it was offset, on her opposite shoulder, with that little voice suggesting that it was perhaps time to move forward in search of a career.
In the end, the 22 year old three point specialist compromised, although it spells an end to her time at Laurentian.
Zulich has opted to join the Durham Lords of the OCAA for one year, obtaining a graduate certificate in Sport Business Management, taking advantage of the second semester co-op curriculum to hopefully make some in-roads in the GTA sports market, all while utilizing her fifth and final year of post-secondary eligibility.
Not all bad for a young woman who was hardly a certainty to crack the Voyageur starting lineup when she joined the team in the fall of 2015.
That said, it wasn't as though Zulich was unaware of the mountain she was attempting to climb. "I started practicing with the Laurentian girls when I was in grade nine or ten," she said. "Getting a feel for that level when I was that young was a real eye opener."
"The girls were obviously so much stronger than me, pushing me around, so that kind of motivated me, a little bit. It pushed me to step out of my comfort zone."
Still, the reality checks kept her grounded. "I knew, as a rookie, I understood the expectations that I was going to be on the bench," Zulich acknowledged. "Rookies stay on the bench - I knew that coming in."
"Practice was my court time, so I could always try my hardest in practice."
And work she would, but not before watching and learning, identifying that specific skill-set that would allow her to fill a void, as one graduating class after the next would depart, leaving minutes up for grabs for that next wave of talent.
"I'm a small guard, so it's not going to be the same as high-school, where you can just buzz around everyone," stated Zulich. "Coming into my first year, I was just starting to shoot threes, and that three point line is far, so I knew I had to work on that."
"I had to expand my game a little bit, expanding my range. Now, I would consider myself to be a pretty decent three-point shooter."
It's one thing to develop the muscle memory to sail a basketball, with some degree of consistency, from beyond the arc. It's a whole other matter to do so without those nagging second thoughts that fear the inevitable misses. We are, after all, talking about a distance from which nailing three of ten, game in and game out, is not at all bad.
"You have to be confident enough in yourself that you believe that you can play, that you're part of the team," said Zulich. "You gradually develop a little more freedom, knowing when there is an opportunity to shoot the ball, even if you're not at the end of a play."
Over time, that poise and belief in one's self cannot helped but to be noticed by teammates and opponents alike. "I remember the first time people started closing out hard on me, that they were aware that I was a shooter, that was a pretty good feeling," said Zulich.
Reaching that point, however, was hardly a walk in the park.
"Being a go to player in high school to a bench player here, that was a huge challenge for myself," she admitted. "Your fellow rookies are in the same boat as you, so you have a support system. You have to remember that it's not you, you're just young."
"You've got to push through it. You will get the opportunities, and when you get them, try not and be nervous. Everyone is going to make mistakes, and your coach knows that."
Sounding very much the part of the well-aged wisdom laden veteran, Zulich was appreciative of the seven win season, in her final year at L.U., a new personal high that followed campaigns of three, four and five victories respectively.
And back in the spring, she knew that this might be the end of the line, basketball-wise. "I love playing basketball, but I don't want to come back just to play basketball," she said. "There is a point in time where you have to say this is it, moving on in my personal life."
"My friends and I have talked about coaching together, and our kids could play basketball together, it could be awesome," she added with a laugh.
That will have to wait, just one more year, as Andrea Zulich uses the 2019-2020 season to close the book on this particular chapter of her life.