When the time came for Rachel Tecca to figure out where she would continue her basketball career, the Archbishop Hoban High School graduate chose to stay close to home and forge a path of success where there had not previously been one at The University of Akron.
And now, that path has become a trail to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, as the Zips will tipoff against the Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday afternoon.
"It's very special, just to be able to make history here at Akron and to be known as that first team to do this and go down in history as a team, it's just very special to me," Tecca said.
"We're just excited to be in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't matter who we play. We're just going to play our ball and see how it goes. We're a lot different than most teams. We push the ball and we have a specific fast-break that we run. We try to put a lot of points on the board, and I think that's very different than most schools."
After fighting through losing seasons in both her freshman and sophomore years, Tecca led the hometown Zips to the brink of the NCAA Tournament a year ago. And in her final year donning the blue and gold, she was not to be denied of her place in school history.
"This journey has been very special for me," Tecca said. "I've been through a lot of ups and downs, especially with injuries, but just to be able to persevere through a lot of that stuff and reach the ultimate goal at the end of my senior year, it means the world to me.
"When I started looking at schools, I realized Akron had everything I ever wanted in a college. To be able to share my college experience with all of my family and friends, that's the biggest reason why I chose to come here, and I'm so glad I did."
Like Tecca herself, Akron coach Jodi Kest was happy to see the 6-foot-1 forward sign a letter of intent to join the program. To Kest, signing someone who is as "special" as Tecca was in line with her recruiting strategy of pursuing local athletes first and keeping the talent in Summit County.
"I remember the first time I watched her play," Kest said. "She probably missed about 15 easy bunnies, and Rachel probably thought, 'Oh, my God. What just happened?' But I saw the potential. I saw that she ran the floor extremely well, which I liked. She was long. She could go left; she could go right. She was a little thin at the time and her range was limited, but I thought there was a lot of potential.
"As I watched her play in a couple more high school games, I saw how competitive she was, and she had great coaching in high school. He did a phenomenal job with her on things that a lot of high school coaches don't do. I really thought she could be pretty special here. Obviously, you don't recruit someone thinking she's going to score 2,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds, but when she came in, she's continued to get better and better."
According to Kest, it was competitiveness and drive that led Tecca to the success she has had in her four years at Akron.
"She's competitive, but you won't see that," Kest said. "She smiles a lot and she doesn't take things too seriously, and that's probably what makes her pretty special. She does have that internally and does whatever it takes to win."
And it is that intense desire within Tecca which has taken the Zips all the way to the NCAA Tournament.