Transfer guard Natalie Koenig making an impact in first year for GVSU women's basketball
For the most part, change is both crucial and unavoidable. With every sunrise and sunset, something changes—even if it’s just a number on the calendar.
Natalie Koenig needed a change, but one far greater than just a simple turn of a page. The sharpshooting guard had just finished her sophomore season at Ursuline College, a small school in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) roughly 20 minutes east of Cleveland. The team there was bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a school in West Michigan that had recruited her out of high school—a school called Grand Valley State—despite her 26-point effort in 40 minutes played. Koenig decided she wanted to transfer.
She marked up a list of schools she would be interested in moving on to. One of them was GVSU. She had familiarity with the place despite never actually having been there. Luckily for her, the interest was mutual.
“I wasn’t necessarily happy there anymore, so I decided to transfer," Koenig said. "My AAU coach helped me a lot to get out the word that I was transferring, and Grand Valley called me and asked if I would like to come on a visit. I came here and visited, and I fell in love, so I decided to come here.
“I thought the campus was absolutely beautiful. Then just how the coaches explained everything to me and how welcoming they were and just really the overall environment, how they explained to me how their program worked—it was something that really interested me.”
The transition has been a smooth one. Through 19 games, Koenig is averaging 10.7 points per game (third highest on the team), 3.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting 35.5 percent from her deadliest spot on the court: the 3-point line.
“She’s definitely very saucy," said backcourt mate Jenn DeBoer. "She is really good at getting to the basket. She has a little spin move that she does when she gets down there. She gets fouled, shooting 3s, I think anything offensively—defensively too—but offensively, she can do it all.
"She can do it all.”
Offense is the name of Koenig’s game. She scored in the double-digits during the first five games of her Laker career in 2017, including a then-season-high 21 in a victory at Missouri-St. Louis.
“I just think she offers a presence on the offensive end,” said head coach Mike Williams. “She’s a threat to score all the time—coming off ball screens, getting to the rim, hitting 3s, in transition—I think that’s been obvious. She’s done a really good job buying into what we want to do defensively, (too).
"She’s done a really good job with that on the defensive end to do what we do. It’s a little different from Ursuline.”
Since then, Koenig has put up six more games of scoring at least 11 points and has set a new mark for her Laker career with 22 points against Lake Superior State to break out of a recent lull she had been in: only 30 points in her previous five games while shooting 2-21 from beyond the arc.
She followed up her 22-point outing with 19 in her first rivalry game with Ferris State just two days later. The performances earned Koenig her first GLIAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Week award.
“It’s nice, it’s nice," she said. "The teams in there (the GMAC) are not as good. Coming to the GLIAC, I didn’t really know what to expect. I would say I was pretty successful my first two years, and then coming here and continuing my success feels pretty nice. It’s a good feeling.”
Scoring is not the only area she excels in on the court. Her love for the game and passion for winning often turns "rowdy" while she's playing, which naturally brings her teammates into a "win now" mood.
“I definitely think that when she’s playing well, I get fired up because it just makes you excited when your teammate is doing well, especially us because we’re both like a point-guard/shooting-guard mix,” DeBoer said. “Either one of us can play. I think that her success is really key to the team and an important key to me.
“She really gets people hyped up. You always know that she’s there to support you and get you fired up. If you watch videos or highlights from someone making a 3 or something, she’s the one that’s cheering, like super celebration. Her body language on the court, I think that’s a really big key to our team.”
Many transfers do not see that kind of success in their first season, but Koenig simply arrived in Allendale and fit like a glove.
The biomedical sciences major quickly adapted to the team’s style of play (despite it focusing mostly on defense); became fast friends with her roommate, guard Victoria Hedemark; and quickly started to hang out with her teammates regularly. She even learned in short time that Main Street Pub is her favorite restaurant in Allendale, making her a true Laker.
While Koenig has achieved substantial success on the court, she still has room for improvement. Since she is the only junior on a team with just two seniors, she will soon need to be the locker-room voice and lead the way for her younger teammates.
“We talk to her all the time about becoming more of a leader," Williams said. "We think when you come from the outside in, sometimes you feel like you’re not one of us. You kind of put yourself on the back burner, and we told her, ‘You’re here and you’ve developed yourself.’ She’s got to be more vocal. She’s not a real vocal kid, but she’s been working on that and doing a good job.”
Koenig is ready to be a pivotal force to close out this season and all throughout next season for the Lakers, which is remarkable considering she was dropping 26 points on their heads not even one year ago to the day.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I came here, but I’ve already made some good friends here and it’s been great,” she said. “Basketball has been great so far, and I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it, so hopefully that continues.
“I’m 100 percent happy with my decision.”
And so is everybody else in Laker nation.