Just three months after graduating from Fresno State in 2013, Natalie Harrington took on the head coaching mantle at George Fox University, starting a program that boasted eleven wins in their second season and nine this past spring, their third season on the books. Natalie hails from Oregon City, OR. She grew up playing competitive soccer, but once she discovered lacrosse in 8th grade, that was it (like so many of our Tenacity coaches and players!). ‘Lacrosse was something really fresh, and my coach at the time, Dara Kramer, believed in me and gave me the tools to be successful in high school. I just kind of fell in love with it.’
At Fresno State, Nat played attack, defense and midfield while majoring in Communications. She was a two-time captain and was named Player of the Year as a junior and Attacker of the Year as a senior. As if that’s not enough, she published a YA fantasy trilogy, the first of which, Griffin’s Calling, came out her freshmen year of college. Here’s what I’ve gleaned about Natalie: she likes to juggle. Three books while juggling school and lacrosse? Sure! Juggling her role as head coach at George Fox with her role as Director of Tenacity’s new Portland programs? Yes, please! I sat down with Natalie at a coffee shop in Portland to find out more.
So, your books. You started working on the series in high school and I’m wondering how you balanced athletics, academics and doing your own thing. What did working on the books give you outside of athletics and everything else?
When you’re a student athlete, there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with that. You’re constantly exhausted mentally and physically. The books really gave me an escape. I could dive into a world that had nothing to do with my daily life and I was able to feel what those characters were feeling and have other emotions. I could escape to this other world when I was getting really stressed out or struggling to deal with things.
Do you think that your ability to push through and finish this huge project, and really self-motivate to do so, is related to your experience as an athlete?
Oh, absolutely. Last five minutes of a game, game is on the line—do you push through or do you give up? With the books, I’d be exhausted and up until 1:30 in the morning. I wrote the second and third books as a D1 athlete at Fresno State, so I was balancing school, athletics and writing a young adult trilogy. So, I learned to push through and recognize that all the hard work will eventually pay off. And I do think it complemented lacrosse in teaching me those life lessons.
Are you still writing?
Right now, I have a couple projects in the works. I’ve working on a sci-fi fantasy and a horror fantasy, and then on top of it I’m pitching my novels to producers. So that’s something on the side that I’m really looking forward to. And why not? As athletes, we’re risk takers. I’ve learned to pursue things that maybe I never thought I could, and I’m excited to keep pushing ahead with these projects.
I feel like coaching is such a good balance to writing, or any of the more solitary endeavors that creative people pursue. Do you find that it’s helpful to get outside and work with the girls as a way to find balance?
Oh yeah. I’m super hyperactive, so it’s awesome that I get to talk with people for a profession. My main thing is that I want to help people, especially when they’re in high school and they’re at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. I want to be able to help them pursue their dreams. Part of my writing and giving multimedia presentations at schools is teaching kids about acceptance and anti-bullying. You know, believe in yourselves. Pursue your passions and your dreams and just be a good person. I feel so lucky that I get to coach and incorporate that into my coaching philosophy. Be a good person and be a strong individual, a star on and off the field. A good teammate, a good friend.
When did you decide you wanted to be a coach?
My junior year of college. One of my most influential coaches is actually Lauren Schmidt, who works for Tenacity now. She taught me so much at Fresno State—I only got her for less than a year and still just learned so much. And now I get to keep working with her and learning from her. It’s awesome.
Anything in particular that Lauren taught you that you bring to your own coaching?
The biggest thing is being a selfless player. She really taught me to be kind of the point guard who sets up the plays, calms the team down, has that calm sense of urgency, sees the whole field and has her teammates’ backs. She really put me in that leadership position at Fresno State and she’d work with me whenever I wanted to work on something—different skill sets or breaking down film. Lauren helped me see that I wanted to be a coach, along with the current coach at Fresno State, Jessica Giglio, and Carlee Buck. I’ve had a lot of great people supporting me.
I feel like we learn so much from our coaches. Do you feel like there are any lessons that you’ve learned from your players?
I have a player on my George Fox team, her name is Alexa Nakashimada. She’s a senior and a nursing major who does 12 hour clinicals, volunteers at the oncology center every Thursday and comes to practice every single day on something like three hours of sleep. She’s really taught me that you’re never too busy to help someone. To put your teammates or other people first. Good leaders know how to serve people and good leaders know how to help people. She’s really taught me to continue to be humble, to continue to be selfless, to continue to serve people.
This is your first summer with Tenacity. What are you most excited for?
Oh, man. I’m excited to start coaching because not only is Tenacity’s philosophy in alignment with mine, but I know that I’m going to learn and grow as a coach so much and I know that Oregon needs this. I think that the girls are going to get a whole new perspective and a lot of instruction. Tenacity is bringing a perspective that Oregon lacrosse has yet to see, but that we’re very ready for. Tenacity is a collaboration; everyone brings something to the table. When I first joined Tenacity, I said to Theresa, ‘I am so excited to learn from you,’ and she said, ‘I’m excited to learn from you too.’ I sat back and though, wow, Theresa Sherry just said she would learn from me?!
How does coaching for a college team and coaching for Tenacity balance? What are the challenges?
With George Fox, I get to work with the girls every day and they’re right on campus. It’s always a transition coaching a club team, because we only practice once a week, usually. So you’ve got to have your best foot forward, you’ve got to have your best skill sets in hand and you’ve got to leave a lasting impression on the girls at that practice that makes them want to come back for more and makes them want to work hard all week on their own. And I think Tenacity really brings that dynamic to the table.
Written By: Courtney Bird
May 5th, 2016