Natalia Chaney knew what her future was going to look like in high school. While she had competed in various sports throughout her childhood, soccer was her focus in high school and possibly beyond.
That all changed her junior year at St. Anthony’s in Long Island, N.Y. The school had hired a new soccer coach and Chaney’s plan was derailed when she was cut from the team after two seasons.
“Looking back, it was one of those instances where you can say that everything happens for a reason because that really turned my focus to lacrosse, and I wouldn’t be here today if that wouldn’t have happened,”
Where she is today is the second-leading scorer on the University of Richmond women’s lacrosse team which is off to the best start in school history at 4-1. Chaney is a huge part of the Spiders success with 15 goals and three assists. She has scored at least two goals in every game this season, and currently ranks in the top-30 in the country in goals per game.
“The biggest difference you see is the confidence and belief she has in herself now,” Richmond Head Coach Allison Kwolek said. “She’s worked so hard in every aspect to get to be among the top players in our program, and now she has the confidence that she can consistently perform at the level she’s performing.”
Her performance over the first several weeks of the season is even more impressive when you consider that Chaney had played in a total of seven games and unleashed just two shots in her first two seasons on campus.
“My transition into college was a challenge for me,” Chaney said. “I had always been a person who had success in athletics and in school, but didn’t really have to try that hard. Things came pretty naturally for me, but when you get here, you truly are pushed to work hard in every aspect. It took me a while to really understand that.”
“As a coach, you really want to see kids develop over their four years in your program, and I’m really proud of Natalia and the way she has stuck with it and really pushed herself,” Kwolek said. “I’m really hard on her, maybe harder on her than anyone else, but it’s because I know what she’s capable of. There has been plenty of times she could have given up and had enough, but she never wanted to give in.”
In a house with three older brothers, all of which took their athletic careers into college, competition was embedded into Chaney at an early age.
As a kid, Chaney’s mom, Diane, was adamant that she wouldn’t play sports. Her three sons (Robert, Taylor and Michael) were already heavily involved in every sport possible from track to lacrosse to soccer to football. For Natalia? It was dance.
“My mom really wanted me to dance so I did that for a while, but I was always on the sidelines of my brothers’ games and I wanted to play with them, I wanted to be like them, just like every younger sibling. It took a while, but I was able to convince my mom to let me play and that’s when it really became competitive with my brothers,” Chaney said.
The backyard games of basketball and lacrosse became more and more competitive for Chaney and her brothers. Michael, who is the closest in age to Natalia, became her nemesis, constantly going to head-to-head with her in just about any way possible.
“Because we were so close in age, we really went at it and it caused some tension in our relationship, but honestly, that helped us have such a close connection now,” Chaney added.
No matter what the sport, she never wanted to be left out by her brothers; she always wanted to be involved.
“That’s part of where I learned to work so hard because I knew I had to keep up with them and in order to let them be part of what they were doing, I knew I had to work hard,” Chaney said.
MOTHER KNOWS BEST
Despite plenty of testosterone in the house, Chaney’s true role model was her mom.
In addition to serving as mother to four children, Diane works two jobs at the local middle and high schools to help support the family along side Chaney’s dad, Robert’s trucking business.
“My parents always pushed me to work really hard for what I want and no matter what, to never give up,” Chaney said.
Even when it came to musical instruments.
“As kids, we all played musical instruments. I played the flute, my other brother the clarinet and my other brother the saxophone. My mom wouldn’t let us give it up on our own until we got to high school. She never wanted us to quit anything,” Chaney said.
“Working two jobs and doing everything possible to support us, she always pushed us to give it our all and never give up.”
TAKING IT TO ANOTHER LEVEL
After having her initial plan derailed, Chaney’s backyard games of lacrosse with Michael became a little more intense and so did her focus on the sport. Her high school coach at St. Anthony’s got her tied into a local club, Top Guns, which led to a spot at the Duke lacrosse camp, where Kwolek just happened to be in attendance.
“I saw her at Duke’s camp for the first time and after seeing her play, I figured that she was one of their commitments and going to play there, but after talking to their coach, I realized that she wasn’t committed anywhere so I quickly went to work recruiting her,” Kwolek said.
Her first two years at Richmond weren’t the easiest, but her teammates and Kwolek saw something in her that maybe Chaney didn’t see herself.
“I know that the two of us have had plenty of tough conversations during her career, but every time we do, I start by telling her that I love her and care about her and believe in her because ultimately that’s the only reason that I push her the way I do and challenge her because I know how good she can be,” Kwolek said.
And just to think, if it wasn’t for getting cut, Chaney may still be on the soccer pitch.