Heather Zurich: Rutgers Forward Excited About Senior Season
C. Vivian Stringer once referenced a biblical passage in saying a "child will lead...perhaps the babes will lead; these are classy young women."
In nearly four decades as a coach, Stringer's own leadership has had a ripple effect on scores of her players. They in turn have served as mentors for both basketball recruits and other young women who revere them.
The main exemplar playing that role this year, in addition to helping the Rutgers Scarlet Knights try to win a national title, is forward Heather Zurich.
"I'm very excited," says Zurich, the 21-year old from Montvale, New Jersey. "Kia (Vaughn) and I are the only two seniors. So Coach Stringer looks to us...helping five freshmen on and off the court. Kia's trying to be a leader on the inside. I'm trying to be a leader on the outside."
With the 2008-09 NCAA Women's Basketball season about to tip off, Zurich is as eager as ever to help her team to a championship. She recalls the 2007 postseason, and making it all the way to the title game against the Tenessee Volunteers. Her hope for this year is to get back to that plateau and win.
"I'll never forget walking out on the court for that game," she says. "Winning that Duke game, moving onto the Elite Eight, and getting to the Final Four...that's what sticks with me." Zurich started in that April 3, 2007 affair that saw the Knights fall to Tennessee 59-46.
In the days that followed though, Zurich's pride, poise and leadership were renewed, as well as seen in a different light. She was asked by Stringer to be one of two spokespeople for the team at a nationally-televised press conference addressing an opprobrious remark made over national airwaves by media personality Don Imus.
"These are my teammates, my family," Zurich said on April 10th of last year at the event in which she, teammates and staff publicly responded to Imus' reference to them as 'nappy-headed hoes' on his former simulcast.
"We were insulted, and yes we were angry. Worst of all, my team and I did nothing to deserve neither Mr. Imus’ nor Mr. McGuirk’s deplorable comments."
"I think it was important that I did voice the opinion of our team," Zurich says today. "I felt really privileged."
Such grace under pressure is what has carried Zurich through three prolific seasons on and off the court at Rutgers. She started 24 games during the 2007-08 campaign. She averaged 4.6 points per game, 2.7 rebounds, and shot 42.1% from the field.
When Zurich isn't playing, her teammates and family are an even more sententious part of her life. The oldest of three children, her ability to lead is innate.
Her father George, mother Lorrie, brother and sister all still live in Bergen County, and make it to most of the Rutgers home games each year to see their shining star.
"There's nothing better than being here, playing in front of my home fans," Zurich adds.
With her final season approaching though, she says there's a wide range of emotions that come with it.
"It's bittersweet," says Zurich. "I've had a really good experience the past three years, so it's hard, you know, to know that it's going to be ending after this year."
Professionally, Zurich is already looking at a number of possibilities. She admits that she would be overjoyed with an opportunity to play in the WNBA. She is also entertaining thoughts of playing overseas. Next spring, there will likely be an internship awaiting Zurich, in which she'll test the waters of the work world.
"I'm really interested in sport marketing," says the sports management major. "I want to work for a professional organization like the NBA, or the Yankees. I'd like to stay on the east coast."
And no matter where the future takes this athlete, scholar and leader extraordinaire, Zurich is thankful to Stringer and everyone at Rutgers who helped her author a bright chapter in her life.
She's also glad to have been close to her roots for it all.
"I'm a Jersey girl!" Zurich says with a smile.
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