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Cuculick closes the book on his OUA career - a must read for post-secondary athletes
2024-03-19
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Tyrus Cuculick capped off his four-year career with the Nipissing Lakers men’s volleyball team in style.

Named as one of three co-captains with the squad this year that he first joined straight out of Lasalle Secondary School in 2018-2019, Cuculick would finish second on his team in kills (174 – 11th in OUA) and points (211), earning a second team all-star nod.

The talented multi-sport athlete would record 11 matches with at least 10 kills, including a season high of 17 against the McMaster Marauders, the top team in the OUA.

Yet it wasn’t always this way for the young man who accomplished pretty much everything he could possibly accomplish with the Lasalle Lancers, helping his team to three OFSAA appearances and a bronze medal at the 2015 all-Ontario high-school championship.

“To be honest, I thought I was going to get cut during my first year,” stated Cuculick, now 25 years of age. “I was at the bottom of the barrel, for sure.”

His is a cautionary tale that should be taken to heart by pretty much every single SDSSAA star who then makes the move to the post-secondary ranks.

“I didn’t really stick to my summer workouts because I was under the impression that I was good enough,” recalled the insightful young man who excelled in baseball, among other sports, in his youth. “I went home almost every single day for the first month of school completely upset. I hated it and did not want to play.”

Little surprise then that Cuculick should find himself as a first year redshirted athlete – a player who is on the team roster, will practice season-long with the team but will never enter a game in order to preserve their full eligibility as his new coach looks to bring him/her up to speed with the university game.

Thankfully, the support system he needed was in place, both at home and at school.

“I was very fortunate at Nipissing because the group of guys that we had made me feel welcome,” said the soon-to-be Business Administration graduate. “That really helped me push myself, having guys around me who were pushing themselves for the same thing.”

Very, very gradually, a glimmer of light appeared at the far end of the tunnel.

“There was a lot of grinding, just trying to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could hack in in the OUA.”

These self doubts were not areas that Cuculick had visited often, if at all, as he starred his way through secondary school campaigns.

“I thought I was going to be able to just seamlessly transition into a new program,” he said. “I got to training camp and realized very, very quickly that this was not what was going to happen.”

While progress could be seen in infinitely small steps forward, Cuculick recalled a second half practice where things were going well. “I was feeling good and hit a pretty good ball on the left side. The coach (Eric Yung) kind of stopped the practice, went up to the net and asked if maybe the net had been lowered.”

The light-hearted moment was but one in a series of moments that began to build the confidence necessary to earn his first ever start in year two versus the Western Mustangs. Still, Cuculick wasn’t completely out of the woods in terms of his ability to truly impact each and every game.

“I got a little stagnant in my third year,” he suggested. “We had a left-side (attacker) shortage and it got to the point where I was feeling that nobody was chasing me so I didn’t need to push myself as hard – and then my confidence struggled.”

It would eventually come around, propelled in part by his increasing understanding of the skill-set needed to excel at the next level.

“Patience becomes your best friend – especially as an outside hitter in the OUA,” stated Cuculick. “You are facing some huge blocks, so learning to use the block to your advantage, maybe hitting a 60% to 70% shot high off hands and getting a recycle to run a better play is important.”

“This was something I really didn’t do in high-school,” he added. “I was more of a block avoider. I just tried to hit over and around guys. Because I can’t do that here, it was all about learning to be really patient and waiting for a really good opportunity.”

“The patience is knowing that I am not going to score on every hit – so you try and get a ball back and run a better offense.”

The ups and downs of his years with the Lakers, and more specifically how he handled both, would make Cuculick a logical choice as a team captain this year.

“I’ve always believed that you don’t need to be labelled as a captain to be a leader on the court,” he stressed. “If you’re out there hustling, working hard each and every day, that’s infectious. People are going to notice that. I’ve always tried to be a leader without the label.”

“I couldn’t tell you for sure if I have been – but I’ve felt like I have been the past few years.”

And where some find it more than a tad difficult to move on from the highest level of sport that they will ever play to whatever life as an adult has in store for them, Cuculick shines of the benefits of perspective.

“I’ve been kind of lucky,” he said. “My girlfriend graduated from the women’s program last year and I’ve kind of had a glimpse of what life after school volleyball looks like.”

By the sounds of things, it will be different – but certainly not devoid of the sport that he loves.

“I’ve made some friendships with people who play in adult tournaments from time to time,” said Cuculick. “I’ll still be ripping up the men’s league volleyball; I’ll still be ripping up North Bay men’s league baseball every summer.”

“But I am kind of excited to take a seat and watch from the sidelines, to let my body rest a little bit, to wake up on a Sunday morning not super tired.”

Bottom line: Tyrus Cuculick is far more prepared for this next transition than the last

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