Following a disappointing finish to the 2009 season, Jamestown Community College women's soccer coach Dana Shelters remained cautiously optimistic heading into the 2010 campaign.
Part of the reason for that optimism was that the squad had suffered more than its fair share of bad luck the year prior, but mostly it came from the new crop of talented, incoming freshman that would be stepping onto the pitch in Jayhawk green and gold for the first time.
One of those promising young, though unproven, freshman that Shelters was particularly fond of was Bemus Point native Natalie Marsh.
"She is very raw," he said at the time, "but she can juggle the ball better than anyone else and her work ethic is unparalleled. As she progresses, she will be the one to watch."
Rarely do coaches, when peering through the crystal ball, so perfectly hit the nail on the head.
Now, two seasons after Shelters offered his insight into the player Marsh could one day become, the soon-to-be junior will, in a matter of weeks, be joining the University of Arkansas at Little Rock soccer team as the first local female athlete from JCC to earn a Division 1 athletic scholarship.
And it's not just any scholarship, it's a full ride.
By Shelter's estimation, that makes her just one of about 500 female soccer athletes in the nation to earn a full scholarship with a Division 1 school.
"I am really excited," Marsh said. "A couple of months ago I had been looking at a few different schools and (UALR) wasn't even on my list, but (Shelters) started talking to their coach and that kind of got the ball rolling. It was very unexpected."
Unexpected to her, perhaps, but not her coach, and not to those who saw her play.
Marsh, who is one of 12 children to parents Jon and Ruth, was home-schooled until attending JCC. However, she still played competitive sports - soccer and basketball among others - with Bethal Baptist Christian Academy, BAYSO and other local travel leagues.
She began her socer career as a field player, but, early into her freshman season, transitioned to goalkeeper.
"We had our starting goalkeeper back out right before the season and then our backup got mono," Shelters said. "So midway through one of our games I put Natalie back there and afterwards I said, 'That's your position.'
"And she said, 'OK.'"
Added Marsh with a laugh, "I had never played goalie until I got to JCC."
Despite her lack of experience, she immediately took to the position. And over the course of two seasons made 158 saves against 172 shots for a .918 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average in 1,411 minutes. More important than her statistics, though, was the way in which her presence in the net improved the team at large.
"She's a tremendous athlete and puts such effort into everything she does," Shelters said. "She was the team captain (as a sophomore), a great teammate, field general and leader and when she was in net we were a great team."
Marsh, who is a two-time NJCAA Region 3 Division III all-star, missed part of her sophomore season due to an injury - she was kicked in the side and suffered internal bleeding - but when she did play she led the Jayhawks to a solid 4-2-2 overall record.
That strong play and work ethic both on and off the field, coupled with her work in the classroom - she earned National Junior College Athletic Association "athletes of distinction" honors for her 3.93 grade-point average and was awarded the SUNY Chancellors Award for Excellence - has Shelters confident that she will become an important member of the Trojans.
"She's a gym rat," Shelters said. "She's been working out five days a week and three days a week with me to work on different things. People don't see all the incredible hard work that she has put in behind-the-scenes. This is her job now and they don't just give these things away. So she is really seizing a wonderful opportunity."
Marsh, for her part, is just looking forward to seeing the campus for the first time.
"I researched (UALR) and really thought about going there," she said of her decision. "I weighed the pros and cons and everything just kind of lined up. I have no idea what to expect, and going into this level of play I'm just trying to prepare myself as best I can."