PEORIA — Andrea Gorski already holds a proud place in Bradley women’s basketball history.
The former player and head coach became part of the program’s past on Tuesday when she stunned the hilltop with her retirement from the game.
“After 25 years, I am officially retiring from coaching,” Gorski said. “It has been the honor of a lifetime leading Bradley women’s basketball and representing my alma mater and this great university for the past six years … but my heart is pulling me in a different direction.
“I love this place and everything it represents. I especially love and cherish the players and staff that I have been so very fortunate to coach and work with. This game has given me far more blessings than I deserve.”
And so closed the most successful era in the program’s history, a six-year run under Gorski that saw consecutive 20-win seasons and its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Why Andrea Gorski is leaving
Gorski has a daughter and a granddaughter in Jacksonville, Fla., and she is moving there to be with them.
“I just have an opportunity to move closer to family,” Gorski said. “I feel like I’ll regret it if I don’t take it.
“I’ve missed things with them. I’ve coached my whole life. To do this job the right way it’s 24-7. Coaches can say they have a work-life balance but it’s not true. Who knows, maybe I’ll get into commentating. But I want to be close to my family.”
A path from player to coach
Gorski was a star guard at Bradley from 1988-92 and was inducted into the Bradley Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996. She became head coach in 2016, and inherited a program that had failed to reach double-digits in the win column in any of the previous three seasons.
But in her six years at the helm, Gorski’s Braves became the first program in Missouri Valley Conference history to produce an improved record in five consecutive seasons and she produced the winningest four-year stretch of conference play (39-33 MVC record from 2017-21) in Bradley’s 39 years of league affiliation.
The Braves posted consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in program history in 2018-19 (20-10) and 2019-20 (22-7) and then Gorski led them through the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season to their first MVC Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance.
That brought the first banners to Renaissance Coliseum, where they hang today as a symbol of her legacy.
Gorski went 88-90 as Bradley’s head coach. BU finished 4-24 overall and 1-17 in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2021-22 with the youngest team in the Valley among all men’s or women’s programs.
The Braves had 12 first- and second-year players on their 16-team roster, and lost fifth-year star guard Gabi Haack to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 1.
But Gorski’s teams produced eight all-Missouri Valley Conference first-team selections in her six seasons, including stars like Haack, Chelsea Brackmann and Lasha Petree.
Haack set the program’s all-time scoring record (1,811 points) and the MVC record for career 3-point field goals (314)
What will she remember the most?
Gorski was asked for the best memories she’ll take from her Bradley days.
1. “The kids who came in here and took a chance with us when we were just starting out,” Gorski said. “Seeing them win a championship and how they believed in something. That’s a great memory.”
2. “Being able to put a first trophy in our trophy case.”
3. “Taking the program to postseason play, which had never been done here.”
4. “Beating Drake and Northern Iowa in the same weekend a couple years ago and seeing the look on our players’ faces in the locker room. It’s why you coach. No one can ever take away from what we accomplished.”
5. “Sitting in this office, talking to staff members and players as they drop in. I’ll really miss that.”
Retiring was very difficult
Gorski spent spring break reflecting on where she was at in her life. On Saturday, she made her decision to retire.
The players and staff returned from break on Monday. She informed Bradley vice-president for intercollegiate athletics Dr. Chris Reynolds of her decision, then met with her players (“Oh, it was terrible, so hard,” she said).
“First and foremost, I want to thank Coach Gorski for all that she has done for Bradley University and our women’s basketball student-athletes,” Reynolds said. “Her news certainly was unexpected, but she has always had her priorities in the right order and I support her decision as she explores a new chapter in her life.
“Coach Gorski proved Bradley women’s basketball can win championships, and we will continue to strive for the highest levels of achievement, on and off the court.”
View from the team
Bradley assistant coach Leti Lerma played for Gorski as a senior in 2016-17 and has been on her coaching staff since 2019.
“Right now I’m still in shock that the Coach G era is coming to an end. From playing for her, to coaching beside her, I couldn’t ask for a better mentor. She is the most selfless, hard-working individual who has pushed me to be better in all aspects of life. The game is losing one of the best and I am sad to see her time come to an end at Bradley …”
Bradley star guard Haack had this reaction on social media:
The importance of a family tree
Gorski retires at 194-149 in 11 seasons overall as a collegiate head coach, including a stint at Division II Concordia University in Michigan. She says she will help Bradley with a coaching search that starts immediately.
And in addition to her legacy, she leaves behind one more thing.
The team put a bamboo tree in its locker room at the start of the 2021-22 season. It won’t produce a sprout for five years. But the players take turns caring for it in a lesson of faith and patience.
“That tree is not retiring,” Gorski said. “It’s staying there. The players keep you young. I told them, I’m staying in your lives, I’ll always be there, too.”
The Andrea Gorski file
The year-by-year record for Bradley women’s basketball under Andrea Gorski, who on Tuesday announced her retirement from coaching. Includes overall and Missouri Valley Conference records.
2016–17: 12–19 (7–11)
2017–18: 13–18 (6–12)
2018–19: 20–10 (10–8)
2019–20: 22–7 (13–5)
2020–21: 17–12 (10–8)*
2021-22: 4-24 (1-17)
Overall: 88-90 (37-61)
* — NCAA Tournament appearance
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: NCAA women’s basketball: Bradley coach Andrea Gorski retires