The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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April 8, 2013

ACBF brings out the stars

11th annual gala proves a slam dunk

CONNEAUT — Geneva coach Nancy Barbo described Eagles senior forward Natalie Thomas as the ultimate team player.

“Natalie simply is a coach’s dream and the epitome of ‘team first, me second,’” Barbo said.

It was that attitude that led to the senior being named the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Player of the Year.

Thomas, who led Geneva in rebounding at 10 per game while also contributing 10.8 points per game, reinforced her coach’s high praise by talking about her appreciation for the team concept.

“I’ve come upon this question, ‘would you rather be champion in a team sport or an individual sport?’ ” Thomas said. “My answer was I would rather be a champion in a team sport, which is obviously what basketball is. And I think that might be the reason why I love it so much.

“We were always there for each other and with an individual sport you don’t always have a team there for support or encouragement and that’s why I love playing a team sport.”

Thomas, whose three-minute speech sounded as if it was coming from someone much wiser than a high school player, further explained her enjoyment of her team.

“During the ups and downs of the season, everyone loses,” she continued. “Sometimes it’s a game you expected to lose and sometimes they are shockers. Throughout the season, I learned that you must shake off the poor performances, bad breaks and what should’ve been and move on. Just like in life, you don’t win every game.

“As a member of this team I learned I need to pick up my teammates when they’re having an off day and they’ll pick me up when I’m having an off day. When we fell short as a team, we just worked harder the next day and carried on.”

Thomas said that with the help of Barbo she learned how to treat every season the same, whether it was successful or unsuccessful.

However, Thomas and the class of 2013 — which included reigning ACBF POY Becky Depp — didn’t experience much of the latter during their time at Geneva.

“Resiliency seems to be in short supply these days,” she said. “In all aspects of the world, people seem to be quicker to quit when things aren’t going well. Basketball has taught me that whether we went 20-3 or 3-20, we work every day as hard as we can to get better.

“It isn’t just about being better than the other team on the court, it’s also about being better as a team than we were the week before. In my four years, I will remember the Geneva Eagles basketball team for the good teams, wonderful moments and great friends. This game of basketball has helped me navigate through one of the toughest times in my life.”

Thomas credited the Geneva coaching staff for teaching her lessons that will go beyond just basketball and will carry over into the rest of her life.

“I learned with the help of my coaches, lessons that will help me in life and through my college years,” she said. “I’ve been blessed by God to be able to play and I am going to truly miss this time in my life. However, I’m forever grateful for the memories that I have.”

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