Kristin Jacobs had this to say about Natalie Mehl.
“She shuts up and does her job,” the Steinert girls’ basketball coach said.
That only applies to the basketball court, though.
At last year’s Colonial Valley Conference awards banquet, Jacobs was busy running around, introducing people and handing out plaques. Foolishly, she left her phone on the table, so Mehl and teammates Jayda Bing and the since-graduated Tatiana Dorner decided to have some fun.
“We started take videos of her,” Mehl said. “We called it the Nat, Tat and Jayda Show. “We would zoom in on her, and then we’d talk about her. We were like ‘You’re so pretty Jacobs…we hope you get our names right.’ She takes it well. She lets us mess with her.”
As opposed to Mehl, who is not a player to mess with on the court.
Through 22 games this year, the senior was averaging 13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals. She also had 56 3-pointers, which sounds like a lot until you consider Mehl had a school-record 74 last year and 64 as a sophomore. She has long held the school’s all-time record, which was up to 230 entering a Feb. 19 game with Hillsborough.
Unlike her first several years, however, Mehl is no long defined strictly by her perimeter shooting.
“In AAU my coach (Mike Narozniak) told me I was a one-dimensional player and that (shooting threes) was all I was good at,” Mehl said. “I took that to heart. I knew that I wasn’t (one-dimensional), I told him I want to be more than just that, I want to be a rebounder, a passer, I want to drive to the basket. And I talked with (Jacobs) after my sophomore year, and told her I know I can be more than an outside shooter.
“When someone tells me to work on something I take it personally and I just want to show them I can do better. Especially driving to the basket. I’ve tried to get better at that, and get to the foul line, I’ve been working on that.”
That work helped her become a 1,000-point scorer, a figure she hit on Jan. 29 against Hamilton West when she buried a 3-pointer from the left wing. Mehl became the second Spartan to hit the magic number this year (along with Mario Mazur) and the first girl since Gaby Bennett in 2015.
“I remember my first day of freshman year I talked to (then-assistant coach James) Angiolino and told him I’m gonna be the next Gaby Bennett,” Mehl said. “It has always been a dream of mine. I always told people I want to score 1,000 because I want to come back and see my name up on the banner.”
Mehl was an interesting case her first two seasons. As a freshman, she and Dorner led the Spartans in scoring average with a 6.3 average and, as a sophomore she was second to Dorner with 8.9 points per game. Dorner started both years, but Mehl came off the bench.
“She never started, because my teams are predicated on defense,” Jacobs said. “That was something she took personally and started to work on so she could make those changes. In the off-season the past couple years she worked on that. She tells herself she wants to get better.”
Mehl has always been a good athlete, starting with her days in the Hamilton Girls Softball Association. She played for the Hurricanes travel teams and also played rec basketball. In middle school, she got turned onto AAU basketball and played for the Mid-Jersey Mavericks.
“That’s when I started to get serious about basketball,” Mehl said. “I just knew I had a different love for it than softball. I went back to softball my freshman year just to stay in shape. But it was boring just standing there at shortstop. I knew if I wanted to get serious about basketball I had to drop softball, and then it became basketball all year.”
Mehl switched to the AUF Lady Hawks, a team predominantly comprised of Steinert and Notre Dame players. Entering this season, 12 Lady Hawks had gone on to play in college since 2015, including three Division I players.
“It’s a great team, I love the atmosphere there,” Mehl said. “My coach really pushed me to get better as an all-around player. He kind of gave me the confidence to know I could do more than just shoot the ball.”
According to Jacobs, all one has to do is throw down the gauntlet in front of Mehl, and it’s a done deal.
“Natalie’s a worker, she loves basketball, she wants to get better,” the coach said. “She always looks to improve some part of her game. She knows she needs to work on little things defensively, rebounding, taking it to the basket. She’s a great foul shooter so she’s just got to get to the rim so she can live on the line, besides living on the three-point line.”
Mehl has learned to create space for herself behind the arc by becoming a penetrator. If a defender is guarding her tight, she has learned to pump fake and go around the girl and either get fouled or get a lay-up. She has also added a dribble pull-up jumper to her arsenal.
“Those are my new shots now,” said Mehl, who has a 10.4 career average. “I just try after practice to stay and work on different shots every day and figure out ways to get open because I know the defense is always gonna be there.”
Even with her added scoring moves, Mehl’s biggest weapon is still the threes.
“It’s an unconscious effort,” Jacobs said. “You know if you see Natalie throw her first shot up and it goes in, she could get 10 if she wanted to. She trails the play very well, and we do a good job of just finding her. She doesn’t need a lot of room to get the shot off. Her timing is very good in space to come off a screen and just get that look. I can’t remember a lot of shots she’s had blocked. It’s not that it’s super-fast. But when you do it often, it becomes easier and more natural.”
Mehl will take that shot and the rest of her game to McDaniel College, a Division III program in Maryland. She was put in touch with the coaches by Narozniak, whose daughter was recruited there before opting for Vassar.
“He called and said, ‘I have a girl that’s just like my daughter, she can shoot, she can drive, she’s a great scorer,’ and a few weeks later I got a call from (head coach) Becky Martin,” Mehl said. “We talked about it, I went on a visit and right when I stepped on campus I felt right at home. It wasn’t something I felt with other schools. I went there for homecoming weekend. I felt like I was part of the team already. They’re so supportive, they said they loved my game and my personality off the court.”
Mehl considered Eastern and Rowan but said “somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”
She may have to find a new place for food when she’s down there. As a Chic-Fil-A employee, Mehl gets a meal on the house after every shift. When she’s not working, eating or playing, she enjoys working Jacobs’ summer camps. Last year, due to a scheduling snafu, she had to coach one of Jacobs’ AAU teams for one game.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing at first,” Mehl said. “She sent me the lineup and told me what defense to put them in, and I let them play. I didn’t call a single timeout. I let the other guy use all his timeouts. I loved it. I want to minor in coaching, major in secondary education and be a coach and an English teacher.”
If that doesn’t work, there’s always a career in commentating iPhone videos.