Former RHS standout had an all-league year with Blue Jays.
Andrea Zalis is no stranger to championships.
She earned plenty of them as one of the finest pitchers/hitters in program history for the Rolla High School softball team.
Basketball? That has been a different story.
Until this winter.
When Zalis was an all-conference and all-district player at Rolla High School, on through her career at Westminster College, she has been a key component on her basketball teams while continually searching for a championship.
This season, she got that basketball championship.
Zalis is a 5-9 junior guard-forward for the Westminster Blue Jays, a NCAA Division III program in Fulton, Mo.
She has been a productive player for Westminster since her freshman season. But the 2015-16 campaign has been by far her finest.
And Zalis had her best collegiate season while helping the Jays capture the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) regular-season championship with a 16-2 mark. The ultimate goal was making the national tournament, and that didn’t happen, as Westminster was clipped by Greenville 66-63 in the SLIAC Tournament championship game Feb. 27, snapping a team-record 15-game winning streak and ending the Jays’ season one game short.
Westminster finished with an impressive 21-5 overall record.
“We had the same five starters back,” Zalis said. “It’s been a fun ride building on that, plus Coach (Tracey) Braden added key freshmen who really helped us. Our goal was being conference champion and going to the (national) tournament. We fell a little short going to the tournament.”
Zalis’ numbers reflect the improvement she’s made in her three years of college basketball.
As a freshman she started 11 games while averaging 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and helping the Jays finish 13-12 overall and 11-7 in the SLIAC. Firmly entrenched as a starter as a sophomore, she averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds as Westminster finished 17-8 overall and 14-4 in the conference.
And this season Zalis tied with teammate Krista Armontrout for the team lead in scoring with a 14.1 average, while averaging 6.5 rebounds. For her performance Zalis was named to the All-SLIAC Second-Team.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Zalis said. “This year was my first year being captain. When I first came to school we had great leaders above me who showed me how to lead a team and how to have that balance. And it’s nice to have girls around you that have that basketball IQ.
“When I came in as a freshman I started halfway in the season but didn’t have the experience and the drive I have now.”
That experience she gained through each season has made the biggest difference in her game.
“It takes some reflection after each season,” Zalis said. “You develop; you watch film. I still think about the last game we lost; I still think about that last play and what I could have done differently.
“My free throw percentage went up. I wanted to shoot over 80 percent (she ended up at 84 percent). I was a jump shooter in high school and in college I wanted to develop my three-point shot, and I think I led the team (39 percent). It’s just a cycle.”
Now she is thinking about her senior season.
“A SENIOR! I can’t believe it,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve always been able to say I got to continue my basketball career. But you can only say that so long. Now it’s only one more season. It’s crazy! And I’m excited. It went so fast. Your senior season is always exciting and I’m anxious to see who Coach recruits.”
An All-Academic SLIAC selection last season (this season’s academic team hasn’t been announced yet), Zalis is majoring in early childhood/elementary education.
She hopes to take that degree and teach at some point. And maybe coach. Later.
“Coaching, with being a teacher at a young age, would be difficult,” she said. “I think that will come when I miss playing.”
And what about softball? After exhausting her basketball eligibility a year from now, she still would have one year of softball eligibility left...
“Softball; I don’t think so. No,” she said. “I’m planning on getting my Masters degree. I don’t think softball will be in my future.
“Softball was fun. I learned a lot from both spots.”