For a college basketball player, few events can trump the drama of "Selection Monday."
It's the women's version of "Selection Sunday," when deserving teams gather in front of the TV and await their postseason tournament fate via the revelation of the brackets of March Madness.
Audrey Bauer has been through the goosebumps-inducing process three times already. The former Lake Zurich standout is hoping for a fourth "Selection Monday" party in a couple of months.
But before that happens, Bauer will attend another "selection party" of sorts. At the end of January, she'll make a selection that will not only bring on the goose bumps, it will affect the rest of her life. That will happen on "Ship Selection Night."
Bauer is a senior basketball player at the U.S. Naval Academy, which has won the last three Patriot League tournament championships to earn automatic berths into the NCAA tournament.
Near the end of their senior year, students at Navy are asked to select their top choice for the ship they'd like to be assigned to upon graduation, for the first of their five-year military commitment.
"It's like a draft and the seniors go up to this big board and pick a ship they want to be on. It's televised online and everything," Bauer said. "I've been doing a lot of research about the different ships and my options and which one would be best for me. It's a pretty big decision."
It's not unlike the monstrous decision Bauer made four years ago to take a leap and sign on with Navy.
"There's no military background in my family, so everything from a military perspective was very new," Bauer said. "I had to do a lot of research on it, and I was nervous.
"But with the academics at Navy and the opportunity to play college basketball and with the opportunity to serve, I just couldn't see myself letting this opportunity go by."
Bauer, who teamed up with her sister Lydia to help Lake Zurich to some of its best seasons in girls basketball history, including two sectional appearances, has made the most of every opportunity she's had at Navy.
She has made the Superintendent's List (3.4 grade-point average or higher) four times and will graduate in May as a surface warfare officer.
On the basketball court, she has started for the Mids since her sophomore year. This season, she's third on the team in made 3-pointers (31) and is averaging 9.4 points per game. Navy, fresh off a win over rival Army, is 13-3 and favored to win the Patriot League.
"I've learned a lot since my freshman year," said Bauer, who averaged around 15 minutes per game as a rookie. "I've developed my shooting and other skills. I've gotten used to the physicality of the game, and I've learned a lot about leadership, with the team, and just by being at the academy."
As a freshman, Bauer was on Navy's first Patriot League championship team. Navy drew DePaul in the first round, and the Chicago girl in Bauer loved the coincidence.
"I grew up with an autographed DePaul team poster in my bedroom," Bauer said with a laugh. "I went to some of their games when I was younger and would get player autographs. And (DePaul head coach) Doug Bruno recruited a lot of the girls from my Illinois Hustle AAU team. So I knew him, too.
"It was weird to play DePaul. I was a little star-struck. But it was fun, too. It was pretty awesome to be a part of that first NCAA team for Navy."
Bauer is ready for a double shot of overwhelming in the months ahead.
She'll be emotional for her last basketball game, and at Navy's famed graduation ceremony in June. And she's going to be nervous about the outcome of "Ship Selection Night."
This year, she's also in the midst of planning her wedding. She is engaged to Luke Talbot, a Navy alum who is two years older and stationed in New York while training. The couple is feverishly trying to figure out a way to be placed on the same ship once Bauer graduates.
"It's a lot, but one of the reasons I decided to go to Navy was to challenge myself. I like to be challenged," Bauer said. "I'm just excited for everything coming up, with basketball and with my ship.
"I'm excited to get out there and I'm sure a deployment is in my near future. That's what I've been preparing to do."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw