Sophomore forward Natalie Kucowski made waves in the Patriot League and in Lafayette history this season during her second year with the women’s basketball program. She has been named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, making her the first player in Lafayette basketball history to achieve the honor.
Kucowski also made All-Patriot League Second Team, while the Leopards as a squad saw little success this season. They managed only two wins in regular season play, resulting in a 2-16 record which landed them in last place in the conference.
The conference presented the awards at Christl Arena in West Point, N.Y., before 10th-seeded Lafayette upset Army to advance to the quarterfinal round. The team’s playoff run came to an end on Monday with a loss to the second seed, American University.
“It’s an honor to get the award—that was what struck me first,” Kucowski said. “It was also nice to get recognized by the other coaches in the league.”
“Looking at who else was named to the second team, it was mostly upperclassmen,” she added. “[I’m] being put in the same category as them as far as contributions and performance in the league.”
Kucowski’s parents knew she won before the awards were announced, she said, and were waiting for her to call so they could tell her how proud they were of her hard work. Her mom then took three trains to get to the Army game to watch her be presented with the award.
Kucowski said getting the award was a “confidence booster” going into the game against Army. She scored 24 of the team’s 63 points on the way to their win, and also recorded three steals and 10 rebounds—five offensive and five defensive.
“The main takeaway is the belief we had the entire time in ourselves and the whole team,” Kucowski said. “Winning at Army in the way that we did just really boosts the whole family and team environment the team has, so we can continue to maintain that after the season and carry it into the next season as well.”
The game was knotted at 61 points between the seventh and tenth-seeded teams until senior guard Nia Holland made the game-winning layup with just three seconds to go. Holland missed the majority of her senior season, playing in just three games before the Patriot League Tournament.
“For [Holland] to be the one to make the layup was awesome,” Kucowski said. “For [her] to overcome the adversity that she has faced is really an example to all of us to keep pursuing what we love. The confidence she had in herself is the confidence we need to match.”
Kucowski said the game-winning play was an offensive set the team has, featuring whichever player is in at point guard at the time it’s called.
“[Freshman guard/forward] Makaila [Wilson] set a really good screen,” Kucowski said. “[Holland] was matched onto a post player so she had the speed advantage. She saw the lane and with her experience, she was able to recognize the scoop layup she needed to take.”
The win set the Leopards up with a match in Washington D.C. against second-seeded American. Although Lafayette matched them step-for-step in the second half, outscoring the Eagles by two points, American built up too much of a lead in the first half for the game to be close. It was an exact mirror situation from the previous season, as this is the second year in a row that the Leopards lost by 20 to the Eagles in the second round of the playoffs.
“We were playing hard the entire time and unfortunately the same thing happened as last year,” Kucowski said. “Getting down early. It’s hard to make a comeback against them. We had a really good second half, the first half just came a little slow.”
Looking forward to the next season, Kucowski said keeping up her confidence and consistency are the most important things. She said she will work hard to play smarter and contribute more on the floor in her quest to win games and repeat her title as Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year.