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  • Writer's pictureEvalynn Booth

Natalie Kolb Has Her Balance At Franklin And Marshall

What am I going to do? How am I going to make this work?

These questions raced through the mind of basketball-loving Natalie Kolb.

And it didn't make sense. She had figured out what to do. And how to make it work.

But the questions returned.

Her head began spinning.

And she completely lost her balance.

Growing up

Natalie began playing basketball at age 5, often practicing with her father, brother, and twin sister, Mia, in their Philadelphia neighborhood alley or at the local YMCA.

Natalie never turned away a chance to improve her skills. She always took advantage of opportunities to shoot around with her coach after practice or games. She spent some of her summers as a camp counselor helping coach younger players. In sum, her life revolved around basketball.

Growing up with a twin sister who played the same sport meant that the two would spend most of their time together. This did not bother Natalie, as she considered her sister her best friend.

Her father and Mia often describe her as a "selfless athlete" because, during high school seasons, she focused on her defense, allowing others to score.

She is tenacious–perfectly fitting for someone whose favorite animal is a shark.

"She's one of those players who does all the little things," Mia said. "That's something I can't say for most basketball players."

Natalie claimed many awards during her high school career. She lettered four times in basketball, served as a team captain, led her team to the 2018 PIAA State Championship, and received the school's Richard Stetler Award, which recognizes a senior who has excelled in athletics, leadership, and academics.

Finding a School

Natalie's love, dedication, and talent for basketball fully paid off during her senior year when she began to receive offers from some Division 3 schools in Pennsylvania. She looked at different colleges, such as Dickinson as well as Franklin and Marshall. None of the places she visited seemed a good fit for her. There was something off, something she could not wrap her head around.

She loved playing hoops, but a part of her wanted to experience college as a student, not as an athlete. Natalie did not understand. Up until this point, she prioritized basketball. She knew she loved the sport, but why, suddenly, did she want a change, and what did this change look like?

Her priorities had changed.

She realized that at this point, she wanted a school where she could still make basketball a part of her life, but a small part. Natalie needed to begin focusing on her future: a career in business. She believed that she could only achieve her desired success if she became a full-time student, not a student-athlete.

She had to look at other colleges to find one where basketball could be a smaller part of her life. She ruled out playing for any Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3 schools because of their laborious schedules.

Mia, however, had made her decision: attend Dickinson with a major focus on hoops. Natalie and Mia knew they did not want to go to the same college because they thought it would keep them from making new friends.

Natalie's options became limited and now she had to rule out Dickinson College. She began to apply to some Division 3 schools, even though this would not give her the ideal balance she craved.

Her goal to make basketball a lesser part of her life began to seem impossible.

She delayed making her decision until the end of her high school season. She began to look more closely at Villanova University, her dad’s alma mater; it ranked high academically and would not be too far from home. The problem: she did not want to play on a Division 1 team. So how could this possibly work?

She contacted Villanova's coach to see if she could join the practice team.

After a while, the coach finally responded. She opened the email nervously, praying she could finally commit to a school. Natalie instantly felt relieved. The coach told her she could try out for the practice team.

Everything began falling into place. Natalie could finally attend a college where she could focus almost completely on academics but keep basketball as at least a little part of her life. Villanova University would provide her with the ideal balance between school and sport. This balance would give her exactly what she wanted. There was, of course, one little issue, she had to make the team.

Life at Villanova

After graduating high school, she spent most of her summer improving her game. She did workouts with her sister, lifted weights, and practiced her game. Eventually, the day came. Tryouts. Natalie began to fill with fear.

"That was the first time I've walked into a gym without my sister by my side."

She was alone. The coach had never seen her play. What if she ended up having an off day? This was her only chance. She saw other taller and stronger players. In addition, she considered herself a mere defensive player, almost always choosing not to take her shot. Natalie shook with terror, then did her best. What would she do if she did not make the team?

The next day, her phone rang. She recognized the coach's number. A million thoughts raced through Natalie's mind. What if she did not make the team? How would she have basketball in her life? She put her thoughts aside and picked up the call.

Almost instantaneously, a smile formed on her face. Natalie made the practice team.

After she heard the great news, she knew she had to change her playing style, a defensive player would not suffice. "That's when I really focused on becoming a better player individually because now I wasn't on this team with my sister, with my best friend, now I kind of had to figure out who I was as a player by myself."

On the plus side, she got to practice and learn from watching the talented Division 1 players. But, the practice team met only twice per week and scrimmaged against the varsity for a mere portion of the time. The Division 1 squad had the majority of the court, leaving Natalie’s team with little space. During the team's drills, the practice players would either be done for the day or have to sit on the side. No stats kept. No true competitive spirit.

She, therefore, decided to join the club team to have more basketball in her life; however, the team did not meet as often as she would have liked. She only began to crave more. She tried to think of something else she could do to surround herself more with the sport she loved.

In her free time, she began to watch college games online to feel the atmosphere, but this only made her itch for more. She thought about what she could do to fill the void.

With Dickinson nearby, she started to attend Mia’s games. She thought this would be perfect to try to share her sister’s game-day mindset.

That did not work either.

Attending Mia's games made her ache to be part of a truly competitive league. She had tried everything, and now she was out of ideas.

And that’s when her head began spinning. And she completely lost her balance–the balance she worked so hard to find.

"She was seeing through the eyes of her sister, and I think it was killing her, but I think she was looking at that saying, 'I want this,'" Natalie's father, George, said.

Natalie feared continuing her time at Villanova University would not bring her true happiness. She began to research different colleges where she could have the same experience as Mia.

But at Villanova, Natalie had already found her friend group, performed well in school, and felt comfortable. She did not know if it would be worth sacrificing all of the good so she could have basketball become a bigger part of her life.

Over Christmas break, Natalie made a brave decision. She told her parents that she wanted to transfer to Franklin and Marshall so she could play on a Division 3 team. Luckily, her parents were very supportive, so she reached out to the coach at Franklin and Marshall to figure out her next steps to transfer.

She previously met the coach when she and Mia were looking at schools. She took a deep breath in and began drafting an email.

Just then, her thoughts returned. What would she do if she could not transfer? Would she have to find another school? Would she even be able to transfer schools at all?

Natalie took another deep breath in and sent the email. Waiting patiently for a response.

She refreshed her inbox and there it was, the email determining her future.

She opened it immediately, swallowing down every emotion.

The coach offered her a spot on the team.

Life at Franklin and Marshall

Natalie had finally found what she believed to be the right balance of school and hoops. After much angst and decision-making, she was part of a competitive basketball team again.

Then the pandemic hit.

The team had practices and lifts with the coaches, but she could not scrimmage against the other players because of COVID "no contact" rules. She had yearned for the true competitive nature of a Division 3 basketball team, but because of COVID, she had been playing even less than she did at Villanova University.

Natalie tried her best to practice as much as she could. She hung out with her team to try to add to the group dynamic.

No one knew how long the pandemic would last and if it would be possible to have another season. Just when Natalie had decided to transfer schools and leave all her friends behind to make basketball a bigger part of her life, she couldn't even get the full experience.

Finally, during her junior year, she had her first season as a Division 3 player.

Before the initial scrimmage, coach Brianna Spector announced she would be reading off the starting five.

All of that hard work.

The decisions, the transferring.

Come on.

And then she heard it - “Natalie.”

Ahh. Relief.

She had found her place.

As Natalie’s favorite singer, Beyoncé says, she finally found the “good in goodbye.”

"It's the best decision I ever made. Going to practice every day and just being in an environment around all kinds of athletes doing the same thing. It's just I love this school. I love my team. I think it's the best decision."

Not only can Natalie balance basketball with academics, but she can excel at both.

One of her favorite memories was a game against Swarthmore her junior year.

Franklin and Marshall ranked lower than Swarthmore and lost their previous match to the Phoenix, but the Diplomats brought their best game. The team’s went back and forth, and the score tied with only a few seconds left.

No chance the teams would not go into overtime.

But, there were still those couple seconds and the Diplomats were determined to win. One of Natalie’s teammates shot the ball and boom… a buzzer beater! Franklin and Marshall bringing home the dub!

This past season she led her team in steals and assists, and scored an impressive 18 points versus Muhlenberg. This resulted in her being named All Centennial Conference Honorable Mention. She also made the conference's Sportsmanship Team and, for the second straight year, its Academic Honor Roll.

“She’s a tremendous leader, she has a work ethic that is oftentimes unmatched,” Coach Spector said.

Natalie does not struggle to manage schoolwork during basketball season because she schedules time to study in her busy schedule.

Her schedule not only consists of basketball and school, but she also involves herself in organizations on campus. Even with Natalie’s packed schedule, she still finds time to improve.

“She finds a way to get into the gym and work on her game individually. She's got the balance I think she was looking for that she didn't realize she needed right away,” Coach Spector added.

Her father believes Natalie truly belongs at F&M: "I think when she graduates in the spring, she is totally a Diplomat, she threw herself into this community, into F&M."

And that F&M community gave her something as well—the balance with basketball she much needed.

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