JOHN KOVACH | Colleges Vlajkovich stars at Grove City

GROVE CITY, Pa. -- Andy Vlajkovich of Canfield saved the best for the last in his basketball career at Grove City College.
"The ultimate of my career was winning the PAC title at Thiel," said Vlajkovich, a 6-foot senior guard, recalling the Wolverines' recent 60-59 win over the Tomcats for their first Presidents' Athletic Conference tournament championship since the 1998-99 season.
But, "The highlight of my basketball career is the opportunity to go to practice every day and get better and compete in games and try to win the championship."
A three-year starter and two-year captain, Vlajkovich averaged 7.6 points and three rebounds per game this season, helping Grove City to an 18-9 overall record, including 7-3 in the PAC to share regular-season honors with Thiel
The PAC title qualified the Wolverines for the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament, but they lost in the first round at home to Newman College.
78 starts, 759 points
Vlajkovich, who started the last 78 games for Grove City, including all 27 this season, climaxed an outstanding career with 759 points, including 105 3-point goals that rank No. 2 in school history. He played in 99 total games.
But for all his success, all did not go well this season. In fact, "It was a tale of two seasons for me," said Vlajkovich, explaining that he encountered a cold-shooting streak from the outside. "I struggled offensively earlier in the season, [but] I came on pretty good toward the end of the year."
His late-season shooting comeback helped Grove City to jell as a team under fifth-year coach Steve Lamie.
"I was able to open up the offense. It was my job to open things up on the inside. I was shooting the ball better from the outside. Earlier, I was just taking it to the basket," said Vlajkovich. "I'm at my best when I mix it up shooting from the outside and inside."
His improved accuracy attracted the defense and helped to free Grove City's big men near the hoop.
"We had a very big team," he said referring to 6-7 Nate Mauer, 6-5 Tanner Prosser and 6-8 Phil Bushre.
Mauer tops in PAC
"Last year, I was our leading scorer with about a 12-point average, but this year we were so balanced especially with the emergence of Nate Mauer."
Mauer, a sophomore forward, averaged a team-best 21.0 points with 5.9 rebounds, and was named PAC Player of the Year.
"Mauer is so skilled, he is really position-less. When you are that big and skilled at this level, you are going to score a lot of points," said Vlajkovich.
Prosser, a junior forward, led the team in rebounds (6.5), assists (111) and steals (24) while averaging 11.2 points.
Bushre, a junior center, was the team's top rebounder (6.0) while averaging 10.1 points.
The other starter was Mike Lukcic, a 6-0 sophomore guard who transferred from Community College of Allegheny County. Lukcic contributed 5.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 94 assists.
Other scoring reinforcement came from J.D. Collar (6.5) and Ryan Eller (6.2).
Vlajkovich wound up 71-for-173 from the field, including 30-for-92 from 3-point range; and 33-for-46 from the foul line.
Players are friends
Vlajkovich credits the team's success to experience and good chemistry.
"We are a close-knit team and it shows on the court," said Vlajkovich. "We all live together in the same hall. We are buddies off the court. The coach does a good job of running the program."
Vlajkovich also enjoyed playing against area rivals like A.H. Davis (Thiel from Boardman), Mike Majzun (Bethany from Struthers) and Greg Foster (Westminster from Ursuline), among others.
"It is kind of nice playing against Youngstown-area guys in college. We know each other and see each other and we talk about the games and so forth."
Now Vlajkovich will be ending a long playing streak.
"I have been playing organized basketball since the third grade," he said.
New challenges
But he also is looking forward to new challenges.
Majoring in secondary education with a 2.9 grade-point average, Vlajkovich is planning to graduate next December and become a teacher and coach.
"I hope to be somewhere on the [basketball] bench in the Valley coaching next year," he said.
The son of Connie and Tom Vlajkovich, Andy played three years of basketball at Canfield under coach John Cullen.
Another area player with Grove City is Eric Tinstman, a 5-10 freshman guard from Laurel High and New Castle. Tinstman played in 11 games and scored 10 points.