WEST NORRITON — Natalie Mitchell was a one-woman wrecking crew for the Norristown Eagles field hockey team. She never left the game, she was everywhere, she was a power on offense and a force to be reckoned with on defense. She shone like a star while her team, largely consisting of inexperienced players, saved their first win until the final game of the season.
But, while the team learned, Mitchell, with the help of her co-captains, helped foster the youth with experience and insight. She was a “lifesaver’ to her first-year coach and a mentor to her teammates.
On Tuesday, Mitchell validated her years of experience with the flick of a pen, signing her letter of intent to play Division-I field hockey at Providence College.
“I wanted to get into a good college, but playing D-I was always the goal,’ Mitchell said at Norristown Area High School. “And Providence was the perfect school, a great match for me.’
Mitchell, a multiple Suburban One American All-League winner and four-year honor roll student, had verbally committed to Providence College back in April. She was attracted to the both the school’s small size and her love for New England. But, in looking to her final season at Norristown as preparation before stepping into the Big East, there was a level of concern that the field hockey wouldn’t have a coach.
Three weeks before preseason was slated to start, Norristown still hadn’t filled the vacancy left by the departure of Stacie Staufenberg, who had coached from 2005 until 2013. Staufenberg was a pivotal character in Mitchell’s development as a player, and her replacement was made difficult during the search for a few athletic director.
“[Stacie] was a huge mentor in my life since I was little, she taught me the majority of my field hockey skills and how to see the field,’ Mitchell said. “But a couple weeks before this season we didn’t have a coach yet.’
Rachel Shuster, a former athlete at NASD, had thrown her name into the mix to be a possible assistant coach. However, when no one stepped up to fill the head coaching spot, Shuster was asked to take the reigns.
“I had never done it before, I had wanted to be an assistant so I could follow someone’s lead,’ Shuster said. “But, there was nobody else, and basically if I didn’t become the head coach there wouldn’t be a team.’
With little more than a week before the team started practicing, Shuster inherited a young, experienced squad — eight new girls who never played before — and had some difficulty finding assistances on short notice. However, she gained some valuable allies with Mitchell and senior captains Jennifer Kennedy and Emma Hagel.
“Having a team that was very young made me want to step up more and show the girls how to work hard,’ Mitchell said.
“Those girls were my lifesavers,’ Shuster said. “I couldn’t be in 10 places at once … They paired themselves up, experienced ones with younger ones, so we could work on those basic skills.’
The growing pains lasted much of the season, winless until senior night, and then finally the Eagles were able to break through with an early goal just 30 seconds into the game to defeat Plymouth Whitemarsh 5-0 on Senior Night.
“Everyone’s mood and intensity was so high during the game and it was just a great Senior Night, it couldn’t have been better,’ Mitchell said.
Shuster too thought that moment was a season-long accomplished that was relished by the entire team.
“It was as if our hard work finally paid off,’ Shuster said. “It really uplifted the team spirit.’
While she is as-of-yet undecided for a major, Mitchell hopes to pursue her love and talent in mathematics for career options. She said that while she will miss her teammates at Norristown dearly, she is excited to find a new roll with the Friars.
“I’m excited to meet new people at college, but it’s sad to leave my friends,’ Mitchell said. “I’m really not looking forward to graduation day.
“But, at the same time, I am.’
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