Natalie Schwartz of the women's volleyball team won Rookie of the Year honours at the 35th edition of Night of the Dino. This is how our interview started.
Gauntlet: "First of all, how has winning the Rookie of the Year trophy changed your life? I mean I see people coming up to you in the hallways, you're a star."
Schwartz: "Besides people saying 'congratulations,' not a whole lot."
Gauntlet: "Are you going to try to use the recognition to better the University of Calgary campus?"
Schwartz: "Haha. I already better the U of C campus."
She just might be right. The first-year recruit from St. Albert stormed in fresh from high school and won the hearts of Dino fans with her intense play and infectious charm.
"I had an awesome year, though it sucked at the end," she grinned. "I'm trying to look at the overall picture. It makes me feel better to get an award like this, but it sucked getting a silver medal when you're ranked number one all year."
The Dinos lost in the national final to the University of Manitoba Bisons, but by then Schwartz's season was already a success. Head Coach Kevin Boyles showed confidence in his young setter and Schwartz won the starting job from veteran Heather Wearmouth midway through the season.
"Kevin didn't even expect me to play until December, but I thought if I worked hard enough I'd be at least able to challenge," she said. "I hoped that I would get to play, but I didn't expect it."
Boyles played both his setters throughout the season, though Schwartz was his starter for most of the second half. Boyles' first substitution is usually at the setter position as he attempts, with much success, to wake up his team during stretches of uninterested play.
"Sometimes it was really good," grinned Schwartz. "Sometimes, as a first-year, I'm mentally retarded. But, sometimes it got frustrating because I'd be playing great but I'd be the first to be taken out."
Schwartz admits she matured a lot from the beginning of the season. For example, with her rookie season out of the way, it's probably hard to imagine Schwartz dancing on the hallowed Dino at center court of the Jack Simpson Gymnasium. Some things you do only once.
"They made me dance in the middle of the gym in my rookie outfit," she laughed. "Me and Joanna [Niemczewska] and Lindsay Cragg played Canada Games together and we had this dance that we had to do for Jasper volleyball camps because we had to entertain the campers. We stayed up like three hours making this dance to 'Whoomp, there it is' and we taught it to the other rookies 'cause our team wanted to embarrass us."
In the end, Schwartz was the only one dancing while her teammates looked like deer in headlights.
"Jo knew it-she just couldn't do it," she grinned. "Can't perform under pressure."
Schwartz dazzled the crowd with her moves and her hot-pink rookie dress. On the court however, she was all business and her athleticism impressed as she controlled the net like few other setters in the league. She progressed throughout the season and managed to improve her consistency, a feat that earned her the majority of playing time in the playoffs.
"I think if I didn't learn anything about myself I wouldn't have gotten this good," she said. "Being around older girls helped a lot too."
Dino fans hope Schwartz continues to grow as a player as she is now one of the cornerstones of the program. With the departures of veterans Alisa Marriott, Krista Kinsman and Lianne Leonardi, players like Schwartz and Niemczewska will have to lead the Dinos back to contention for the national title. Thankfully, this year's Night of the Dino left the setter in a positive mindset.
"Me and Jo are doing themes for the next four years, so if you wait for it, I'm sure the dresses will get busted out again," she laughed. "And when the rookies come next season, the pink dress is getting handed out for sure."