Nathalie Friedman brings world of skill to Notre Dame Prep field hockey's title defense

For The Baltimore Sun

Notre Dame Prep midfielder Nathalie Friedman has earned a reputation on the field as one of the most driven and focused players in the state. Off the field, mother T.J. Friedman would like to change that.

“We're trying to get her to lighten up a little,” T.J. Friedman jokes. “She's very, very intense.”

It’s that intensity, coupled with an overall skill set on par with some of the nation’s most elite players, that puts the senior on a level of her own in Baltimore area field hockey circles.

A year ago, Friedman finished with 22 goals and 19 assists, leading the Blazers to an 18-0 record, a No. 1 area ranking and their first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title. She was named The Baltimore Sun’s Player of the Year.

Friedman went on to earn a spot on the 2018-19 U.S. women’s national indoor team. In June, she became one of 38 players selected for December’s junior national team training camp, the final tryout for selection to the U.S. under-19 women’s national outdoor team.

The Wake Forest signee is listed on MAX Field Hockey’s ranking of the nation’s top 50 seniors, one of two area players to receive the honor, along with Archbishop Spalding forward Margot Lawn, a fellow third-team All-American.

Friedman proved she was worthy of that honor during NDP’s recent eight-day training trip to the Netherlands, where field hockey takes center stage and the national team just won its second straight World Cup title. Her efforts there helped the Blazers win two of three games against elite-level club teams.

“This summer was really kind of a breakout for her,” NDP coach Katrina Ross said. “Nathalie proved to them that she can hang at the international level. The coaches that we worked with and the coaches that we played against were thoroughly impressed by her skill level and her play as a team player. She’s distributing the ball, she’s going when she needs to, she’s passing when she needs to… she’s just making smart hockey decisions right now.”

The experience, including training with two Dutch national players, was one that Friedman thinks couldn’t be replicated at home.

“It was really cool. I've never gotten to play against international people before, so it was really interesting to see how they play and how they're different from our style,” Friedman said. “They practice all the time. These clubs are like soccer in the U.S. We noticed how they would already be in position for passes. It's about already knowing where to be to receive a pass, because they just move the ball so quickly.”

The experience is sure to pay dividends for NDP, which returns all but one starter to a team that enters this season ranked No. 11 in the nation by MAX Field Hockey. But the Blazers will be far from the only local team with talent.

All told, 15 players from last year’s Baltimore Sun All-Metro team return this season, compared with just five in 2017. That includes first-teamers such as Lawn, NDP defender Rachel Borzymowski, Liberty goalie Grace Fenner, Chesapeake-AA forward Rachel Fleig, South River defender McKenzie Jamison and Broadneck forward Megan Munley.

And, like many of her offensive peers, Friedman likely will become the focus of opponents’ game plans. It’s something the senior has had to deal with for most of her career.

“She’s gets double-teamed, triple-teamed the entire time, but she still breaks through,” Ross said. “She’s just amazing to watch.”

Part of that is because of her uncanny speed and athletic ability. Last spring, she was the runner-up in the long jump at the IAAM track and field championships, with a personal-best 16 feet, 9 inches, and also finished fourth in the 100-meter dash and fifth in the 200.

Part of it also is the result of her exceptionally high field hockey IQ. That’s what made perhaps the biggest difference over the summer in her pursuit of a spot on the outdoor national team.

Though she almost always plays midfield for her high school and club teams, Friedman, noticing a glut of elite midfielders in contention, decided to switch to defense.

“I thought I'd try a different position that maybe a lot of people don't play, and maybe that would help me get selected more easily,” she said. “I don't have to just limit myself to midfield. There's a lot of passing involved, seeing the options up ahead. So I guess it's kind of the same thing — just a step back.”

Then there’s the “X” factor. Coaches see in Friedman an innate mentality that simply cannot be taught.

“She wants the ball, she’s going to come up with the ball, and if she doesn’t come up with the ball, she’s going to fight to get the ball back,” Ross said.

Some of that, no doubt, comes from her mother, T.J., a former player at William & Mary in the mid-1980s. Nathalie, herself, sees the resemblance in their on-the-field personalities.

"I hear she was kind of a tenacious player,” she said. “I think people describe me that way."

Her coaches certainly would. But they’re also starting to see another side of her — one that eventually could make the difference in her ascent to the sport’s next level.

“She’s driven, she’s serious, she’s focused, and she’s starting to relax a little bit,” Ross said. “It’s a lot of fun to see her personality start to develop and grow into becoming that comfortable leader.”

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