RHS two-sport standout chooses basketball over softball.
Rolla High School senior Andrea Zalis was going to be a college athlete.
But for a long while she didn't know at what school...or at what sport.
And in making her decision she is, in a sense, keeping it in the family.
Zalis, a standout in both softball and basketball at Rolla High, has signed to attend and play for the women's basketball squad at Westminster College, a NCAA Division III school in Fulton, Mo.
And she'll have her big brother around to help her become acclimated to collegiate life, as Jay Zalis was a freshman for the Westminster men's basketball team this past season.
The decision to choose basketball over softball was not an easy one for Andrea Zalis. She was a four-year standout at both pitcher and as a hitter for the RHS Lady Bulldog softball squad. And as a senior in 2012 Zalis enjoyed perhaps the finest individual season ever turned in by a Rolla High softball player. She set several batting records as a senior, including a .636 average. She also had a 16-5 overall record in the pitching circle with a 1.55 ERA, with 144 strikeouts in 131 innings.
The RHS softball team finished 19-5 in 2012. Zalis and the rest of the seniors on that squad won more games over a four-year period than any class in program history.
"At the beginning of the year I was thinking (softball)," Zalis said. "Probably when it hit basketball season, when I started getting offers, I switched (to basketball). A (college softball coach) actually sent me an email last week. But once I decided to play basketball I let them know.
"I loved basketball since I was little. My family is so basketball-oriented; it came naturally. In softball I started with a traveling team at age 10 and kind of got into a routine – you had to commit to a team by the end of the summer for the following summer. I really didn't know how to balance the two (sports), especially pitching. But I don't regret any of it; it's been a good experience."
Indeed, being a quality softball pitcher demands of ton of time. Many are now very interested to see how Zalis develops in basketball now that she will be devoting full time to the one sport.
"I think Andrea has the tools to compete at any type level," said RHS girls' basketball head coach Bryce Swafford. "I think she will be a good addition to that team."
For the Lady Bulldogs Zalis was a 5-8 forward this past season, leading the team in scoring (15.3) and rebounding (8.0) while earning All-Ozark Conference and all-district honors.
And for the Westminster Blue Jays she figures to be a perimeter player on the wing as a off-guard or small forward type.
Tracey Braden, who is entering her seventh season as Westminster women's basketball head coach, said there were several reasons she wanted Zalis to be a Lady Blue Jay.
"No. 1 was her skill, obviously," Braden said. "She's talented. No. 2 was the fact that every time I watched her play she had that competitive intensity that I feel is vital. And the third thing is the leadership on the floor she displayed."
"Throughout her high school career she played out of position for us," Swafford said. "This past season she played down low. I think she'll be a good two-guard on the outside or a (wing). Her length is a benefit. She has a perfect athletic body for basketball."
"I love playing on the outside," Zalis said. "That's where I'm comfortable playing."
In addition to her brother, Andrea Zalis will know plenty of people when she gets on campus. Also on the men's team is former Rolla High standout Keegan Garner. And on the Lady Blue Jay squad is a former teammate at RHS in Megan McCaul, as well as past opponents Kayla Walters of St. James and Danielle Williams of Waynesville.
And Zalis will get to play in front of her hometown. The past several seasons Westminster has played a game in Rolla against Missouri S&T and are scheduled to do so again in 2013-14.
In 2012-13 Westminster finished 17-11, won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) championship and advanced to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
When Zalis decided on her collegiate sport, she then had to decide on the school. And the final two on her list were Westminster and William Woods.
"It was really hard," she said. "I got to meet one of the kids I was going to room with at William Woods and she was great. But the Westminster education program is great and that's what I want to do. And, of course, Jay is there."
She said she plans on majoring in elementary education and hopes to eventually become a teacher and coach.
Before basketball season begins next fall Zalis says she'll be working to improve her game.
"I'll work on my ball handling," she said. "A little more outside shooting. Shooting three-pointers and ball handling are up there on my list."
"I don't think there is any one thing she needs to work on; I think kids just need to be in the gym and have a basketball in their hands," Braden said. "I don't think anyone can ever put enough time in with ball handling. Just playing."
Zalis is the daughter of Aaron and Liz Zalis. Dr. Aaron Zalis is Superintendent of Rolla Public Schools.