July 25, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Senior Female Athlete of the Year: Brunswick’s Gabrielle Bulic

When Gabrielle Bulic first walked the halls of Brunswick High as a freshman, she was a shy, athletically raw 6-footer who tried her best to blend into the background.

By the time she received her diploma last month, The Gazette’s Senior Female Athlete of the Year proudly stood front and center as one of the finest two-sport standouts in Blue Devils history.

It was a remarkable and thrilling transformation for everyone who joined Bulic on her journey.

Brunswick volleyball and basketball standout Gabrielle Bulic is the 2013 Gazette female athlete of the year. (PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

“When Gabbie was a freshman, she was so quiet, she never even spoke to me,” Brunswick volleyball coach Mande Pyzik said. “Watching her become our biggest leader and one of our most talkative players was a really fun process.

“Honestly, she was a straight-up assistant coach for us this year. We ate lunch together and talked volleyball every day. Now that she’s graduated, I am really going to miss her not being around in the fall.”

This fall, of course, Bulic will begin her NCAA Division I volleyball career with the Michigan Wolverines. But the 6-foot-5 middle hitter left behind plenty of memories for Blue Devils fans to savor for a long time.

As a senior, Bulic, who ironically lives next door to Gazette Senior Male Athlete of the Year Keith Yohman, led Brunswick’s volleyball team to the D-I regional tournament for the first time since 1983. She also earned All-Ohio status while setting Blue Devils season records with 348 kills and 81 aces — and their career marks in kills and blocks.

Later in the school year, the now-confident center became the sixth Brunswick girls basketball player to score 1,000 career points. Dramatically, she reached the milestone in the final minute of her final high school game by making her first 3-pointer.

After earning eight varsity letters — she was a four-year starter in both sports — it’s obvious Bulic not only lived up to her immense potential, she exceeded it.

“I really loved playing for the school and representing Brunswick every time I put on the uniform,” she said. “It’s funny because I can remember being a little kid at basketball camp and having (former Brunswick coach Paul Gerycz) tell me he couldn’t wait to coach me in high school.”

Bulic broke into laughter, adding, “When I actually started playing for Gerycz as a freshman, I was more scared of him than anything else. I knew he expected big things from me, and I didn’t want to let him down from all those years back.”

Fortunately for all involved, Gerycz and Pyzik took an immediate liking to their newest player. So did Blue Devils assistant girls basketball coach Halle Lengal, who would later take over the program, and another two-sport standout.

All-Northeast Ohio Conference basketball and volleyball player Mikaela Lengal was a senior when Bulic entered high school, and took it upon herself to help her adjustment.

“I really wanted to take Gabbie under my wing because she had so much potential and I knew she was going to be a difference-maker at Brunswick,” Lengal said. “She was really shy, so I tried to get her out of her shell.

“We even gave her the nickname Gibby, which has stuck over the years, but I’m proud to say she has become one of my closest friends, as well as an awesome volleyball and basketball player.”

In volleyball, Bulic helped Brunswick win NOC River Division titles as a freshman and sophomore, then took the program to the Brecksville Regional semifinals two years later.

Though every opponent designed its defense around stopping her, Bulic hammered kills over, between or through double-blockers. She also added an incredible jump-serve to her power game at the net.

“That shows you why Gabbie is the ultimate team player because someone of her stature could have just looked out for herself, but she never did,” Pyzik said. “At every practice, she kept working on becoming the best player she could be.”

The Blue Devils’ storybook tournament run included back-to-back upsets in winning the Midview District title. Bulic amassed 31 total kills as the Blue Devils swept Amherst Steele in the semifinals and Avon Lake in the finals.

The latter victory came by 26-24, 25-21, 29-27 scores and became the buzz of the Northeast Ohio volleyball community as news of it spread.

“That honestly was the most fun day ever, beating Avon Lake the way we did,” said Bulic, who won The Gazette MVP award after propelling her team to an 18-8 record. “Even now, I’ll be in a group chat with Pyzik, (fellow seniors) Morgan Ritchie and Paige Elias, and one of us will bring up — out of the blue — ‘Remember when we won districts? That was the greatest feeling.’ It really was, and reliving it will never get old.”

Though Bulic had already accepted her volleyball scholarship from Michigan, she never considered sitting out her final basketball season, citing her responsibility to the younger players in the program and her love for the sports.

She averaged 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while being named NOC River Division MVP for the second year in a row.

Thanks to Bulic’s leadership, Brunswick also posted the ninth-most wins in school history by finishing 17-7 and came within one game of sharing the conference championship.

The latter still stings, as does the Blue Devils’ subsequent one-point loss to Highland in the Medina District semifinals.

“Those were the only things about my senior year that really bother me,” said Bulic, who amassed 22 points, 20 rebounds and nine rejections in Brunswick’s sectional final win over Firestone.

“We just played awful against North Royalton when we could have won the league, and we didn’t play our style of game against Highland in the tournament. The Highland game was so disappointing, scoring my 1,000th point in it was actually the worst feeling.”

In hindsight, however, Bulic admits the circumstances surrounding point No. 1,000 added another chapter to her story. Though one of her feet was well over the 3-point line on the shot, the three game officials all missed it, allowing her to hit the magic number with 22 seconds left against the Hornets.

As great players are apt to do, Bulic removed any potential asterisk a mere split-second later by stealing Highland’s inbounds pass and laying it in to raise her final total to 1,002 points. She also set school records for career games (92) and blocks (422) while finishing second in rebounding (859).

“I’ve never paid attention to statistics while I’m on the court because wins are the only numbers that I’m concerned with,” Bulic said. “They’re nice, I guess, to look at when you’re done playing, but I don’t allow them to define me.”

Instead, the 18-year-old honors student plans on being defined by the person she hopes to be in the future.

Bulic has been accepted into Michigan’s school of kinesiology, and recently completed her high school senior project by shadowing a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist at Cleveland Clinic.

“Down the road, I want to be a wife and a mother, but my focus now is studying chemistry and biology in college, then going to med school,” she said. “I genuinely want to help people by interacting with patients on a daily basis.

“Playing volleyball at Michigan is going to give me an opportunity to get started down that path. I’m really excited about being part of the team, and I’m really looking forward to the future.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.