When Gabrielle Bulic entered high school, she thought her future was all planned out.
She expected to focus on her studies and play basketball, which then would allow her to do the same for four more years in college.
Fate, however, intervened on the opening day of tryouts for Brunswick’s volleyball team.
“I was debating whether to even play volleyball as a freshman, but my best friend was trying out, so I went with her,” Bulic recalled. “After the first day, Coach (Mande) Pyzik told me to come back the next day to work with the varsity.
“Looking back on everything now, it’s incredible how far I’ve come.”
Yes, it is.
In four short years, Bulic has transformed herself from a virtual volleyball novice to one of the most powerful players in Medina County history — and the 2012 Gazette MVP in the sport.
As a senior, the 6-foot-5 middle hitter led the Blue Devils to the Midview Division I District championship and a berth in the Brecksville Regional semifinals. The latter marked Brunswick’s first trip to the Sweet 16 of the tournament since 1983.
Along the way, Bulic earned a plethora of awards, including All-Ohio honorable mention, first-team all-district, first-team All-Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division, and All-Medina County recognition.
Most importantly, she accepted a full athletic scholarship from the University of Michigan to play NCAA Division I volleyball.
“I seriously love that girl and am so happy for everything she has accomplished,” Pyzik said. “The thing that people don’t realize is Gabbie is not only a MVP on the court, she also is like a junior coach. That’s remarkable because she really didn’t start playing competitive volleyball until high school.
“She really is a sponge who learns so fast physically, and is so intelligent that she has a phenomenal mental game, as well.”
Bulic, who owns a 4.4 grade point average, used her fourth varsity season to show off the all-around skills that she developed during the past two Junior Olympic seasons.
She topped Brunswick in kills (school-record 348) and blocks (115), as expected, while unveiling a deadly jump-serve that allowed her to lead the county with a school-record 81 aces.
“Stats are important to a lot of people, and I understand that, but nothing mattered to me except helping our team win as many matches as we could,” said Bulic, who also shattered Colleen Dryja’s school career records for kills and blocks.
“That’s what made this year so much fun, being able to make regionals with such a great group of girls.”
Bulic was especially close to the other three seniors on the squad: outside hitter Morgan Ritchie, libero Paige Elias, and outside hitter Alex Fuldauer. They made it their mission to have a great season and did so with an 18-8 record, topped by the Blue Devils’ two biggest wins in nearly three decades.
On Oct. 23, Bulic uncorked 17 kills and three rejections as Brunswick avenged its 2011 postseason loss by beating Amherst Steele 25-17, 25-15, 25-22 in the Midview District semifinals.
Two nights later, she collected 14 kills and three aces as the Blue Devils stunned the local volleyball community by upsetting Avon Lake 26-24, 25-21, 29-27 in the Midview District final.
“That was an incredible feeling that I’ll never forget,” Bulic said. “We were all so excited, we used car paint to write “Volleyball district champions” on every door on the east wing of the high school. We wanted every single person to know what had happened when they walked in the building the next morning.
“We also wore our medals when we went out to eat because we were so proud, and me, Morgan and Alex all had a sleepover at Paige’s house because we didn’t want that night to end.”
Though Brunswick’s magical postseason run would conclude with a 27-25, 25-21, 25-21 loss to North Royalton at the Brecksville Regional on Nov. 1, the memories it made will last a lifetime.
They also should provide plenty of motivation for every underclassman and middle school player in the Blue Devils’ volleyball program.
Bulic said juniors Megan Anderson, Allison Evans, Erin Anderson and Caitlin Howard “have been with us forever, so they’ll be able to carry the torch,” while freshmen Ally Badowski, Jordan Verbiak and Gina Yurik were quickly brought up to speed on what it takes to be successful at the big-school level.
“That shows you why Gabbie is the ultimate team player because someone of her stature with her college scholarship in hand could have just looked out for herself, but she never did,” Pyzik said.
“After the first game in one match, she told me to start Ally in her place because Ally was playing better. She also accepted us spreading the sets around more this year because it made us a better team, and she honestly cheered more for her teammates than she did for herself.”
Pyzik was the main reason for that, according to Bulic, who inked her national letter of intent with the Wolverines last week. Instead of a standard coach/player relationship, the duo has developed a closer bond that is more like family than friends.
“Pyzik is the best coach we could have ever had, and I thank her so much for everything that she’s taught me,” said Bulic, who joined her teammates in sticking 3,000 post-it notes on Pyzik’s car during the week between districts and regionals.
“Alex, Ally and I eat lunch with her every day, and all of us seniors are trying to spend as much time as possible with her in school because we’re going to miss her so much when we’re gone.”
Before she reports to Ann Arbor in July, however, Bulic has more to accomplish at Brunswick. In addition to earning her diploma, she is beginning her fourth year as the starting center on the Blue Devils’ girls basketball team — and could leave the school as its all-time leading rebounder and shot blocker.
Bulic also plans on spending some time researching possible career paths over the next several months. She has applied to Michigan’s school of kinesiology and is eyeing a medical career, but doesn’t have to commit to specifics until her sophomore year.
“I really enjoyed getting to know the girls and coaches at Michigan during my official visit, and I can’t wait to start playing there,” Bulic said.
“But I’ll always love Brunswick and my four years at the high school. I’ll also always be grateful for all of the support my parents have given me, especially when I wanted to make crazy decisions with sports. No matter where my future takes me, I’ll always keep my family and my team in my heart.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.