Michelle Smith Feature: OSU's Gulich steps up to fill leadership role

When the season first began, there were some long silences among the Oregon State women’s basketball players, Marie Gulich said.

“People were trying to figure out who was going to speak up,” said the Beavers' senior center. The baton was being passed again, something that Oregon State players have gotten used to. Two years ago, two of the best players in program history, Jamie Weisner and Ruth Hamblin graduated after leading the Beavers to the Final Four, leaving a huge void in a now-elite program.

Last season, Sydney Wiese – the best 3-point shooter in Pac-12 history - and Gabby Hanson, graduated after another Pac-12 title and a run to the NCAA Sweet 16.

And this season, it became Gulich’s turn to become the heart of the program. The 6-foot-5 Cologne, Germany native, the team’s lone senior, knew it well going into the season.

“Coach talked to me in the offseason about what I was going to need to do. I was prepared for it,” Gulich said. She worked on her game, improving her defense and her post moves. And she improved her mind, her ability to be a vocal, assertive leader.

“I never felt any pressure to do it,” Gulich said. “I knew this was going to be my role with the team this year.”

Gulich, who is a finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award as the nation’s top center, has been a constant in a season of change at Oregon State. With young players like Mikyala Pivec and Kat Tudor taking on new, more substantial roles, Gulich has been a consistent producer.

She has scored in double figures in every game this season heading into the Beavers’ big weekend against the Bay Area schools, a set of games that is going to have a big bearing on the Pac-12 standings heading into the home stretch.

Gulich needs 38 points to reach 1,000 for her career, and ranks fourth in the school record books with 167 blocks for her career. She is also in the top 10 in career rebounds.

Gulich has come a long way from the young player who was flustered when Hamblin would block her shot during practice. Gulich was a first-team All-Conference pick last season, and the 23-year-old, who her teammates called “Grandma”, is on a similar path this season, averaging 16.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, both career highs. She leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at .658 (third in the NCAA) and blocks at 3.3 per game.

Gulich heads into Friday’s game against Stanford with six blocks in each of the last two games.

Rueck has called Gulich’s leadership this season “flawless.”

“I could talk for hours about the person Marie is as well as everything she does on the basketball court and within our program,” Rueck said. “She is a mature and dynamic individual and a fierce competitor. What she brings to the game is invaluable. Her leadership qualities and the way she approaches the games and practices are elite.”

Rueck said Gulich has improved every day and credited her work ethic.

“She provides an incredible example to everyone around her and she continues our strong legacy of first-class role models wearing the Oregon State uniform,” Rueck said. “I am not sure how I could be more proud of Marie.”

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