WEST ORANGE, NJ — Two weeks ago, Natalie Nevins accomplished a rarity for the West Orange High School girls soccer program: she scored her 50th career goal and also achieved her 50th career assist. As the Mountaineers' girls soccer program has grown over the last several years from a struggling entity to a statewide contender, Nevins' career has corresponded with that rise.
Last season, West Orange won the first Essex County Tournament championship in school history, and then won its first sectional championship when the Mountaineers took the Section 1, Group 4 crown, finishing the year with a 19-1-2 record.
"My most memorable game to date was the county championship last year, as it was the first championship West Orange girls soccer has ever won," Nevins said. "In addition, after years and years of watching my father's teams be succesful and win Championships to win won of my own was one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. As a little girl I always dreamed of fulfilling the legacy my dad and his teams left behind, and the county championship was the first step in me becoming part of the legacy, as well as starting one of my own."
This year, West Orange has opened its season with an 8-2 record. Nevins, a senior midfielder, has scored 15 goals and distributed 15 assists.
"I think something that makes Natalie a great high school player is her vision," said West Orange girls soccer head coach Sean Devore. "She reads the game very well. She understands when to pass, shoot and make a run."
Last Tuesday, Nevins finished with three goals and two assists in a 5-0 victory over Nutley. Three days later, she racked up three assists to go with a goal in a 6-1 triumph over Verona.
"Since my last year, I have seen my game change immensely," said Nevins. "I have always excelled as a technical player, but this year I have become way more present physically and dominant in the air. This has allowed me to now be way more of a dangerous attacking player as my ability to win balls in the air has now matched my ability to take people on with my feet."
Devore truly has watched Nevins develop her soccer skills from the time she was a young girl, since he once served as the assistant to West Orange boys soccer head coach Doug Nevins, Natalie's father.
"I've known Natalie since she was born," said Devore. "I started my coaching career as Doug's assistant, so I watched her grow up on the soccer field."
Natalie praised Devore, stating that the best advice she has ever received from a coach came from him.
"[Devore's advice was] to not get too high from the highs or too low from the lows," said Nevins. Not only does this apply to sports but also to life, and I feel that it is a staple for the attitude any person should carry with them throughout the course of their life."
Natalie made a commitment to attend Division 1 St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Off the field, she is on the staff of The Pioneer, the student news website of West Orange High School.
"After being around the team and the coaches enough times it was really hard to resist that family environment (at St. Joe's)," said Nevins, who has a passion for writing and whose favorite subject is English. "Both the coaches and the players made me feel super comfortable, and the atmosphere of the entire program made the decision extremely easy, as I soon realized that St. Joe's would be the perfect fit for me in every regard."
"Natalie's countless hours of devotion to the game have paid off," said Devore. "She is on the soccer field more than anyone, working on her game to improve. She has had a great high school career so far and is looking forward with her teammates to making a run in the county and state tournaments this year."
Before she graduates, Nevins has much more to give to West Orange High School.
"After spending almost four years at West Orange High School, I have really grown to appreciate the diversity of not only the school but also of the town," she said. "West Orange is truly a special place, and the family atmosphere that the town has created is one that no other town or high school can emulate."
If Nevins seems especially well-grounded and able to keep a proper perspective on things, she credits much of that to her upbringing.
"I am very fortunate to have two incredible role models in my life thanks to my parents," she said. "Both on and off of the field, they have shaped me into the person I am today, and have granted me everything I've ever needed throughout my 17 years of life. In addition, they continue to inspire me to follow my dreams and work hard to achieve whatever it is that I want out of life, but also to stay grounded and to remember what is most important to me throughout both the highs and the lows."