Natalie Kucowski, a senior chemical engineering major on the Lafayette women’s basketball team, has proven season after season that she can raise the bar for herself and for the program’s record books.
Traveling not too far from her home in Philadelphia, Kucowski has been an asset to the Leopards since her rookie 2017-2018 season. She was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week three times that season, averaged a double-double and broke the Lafayette freshman rebounding record in a game against Navy. Additionally, she finished her first season leading the team in minutes with 28.7 and in rebounds with 309.
Kucowski’s impressive first year was a continuation of her accomplishments at her high school, Saint Basil Academy, where she spent four years on varsity and was named captain for her 2016-17 season. She helped lead her high school team to three straight District One Championships and was ranked in the ESPNW Top 100. She additionally played for the Lady Runnin’ Rebels AAU team and helped lead them to a championship at the 2016 Under Armour Cup.
“I went to a really small high school, so knowing that I’d be going to a small college and have the ability to make relationships with teammates, coaches, friends, classmates and professors was definitely appealing to me,” she said.
Graduating from Saint Basil with high honors as a member of the National Honor Society, and after serving as class president in her junior and senior years, Kucowski’s leadership qualities have since carried into her college life.
“I’m a peer mentor, which is like a Pardner, but for first-year student-athletes in your major and on a team that is not your own,” she explained. “I’ve been doing that for two years, and I find it really rewarding to be able to talk to first-year student-athletes and help them, especially this year because it’s a lot of adjustments for them kind of all at once. It’s a nice way to meet people on other teams, but also just to learn from your own experiences and then give that advice to people who you know are going to find it useful.”
In her sophomore season, Kucowski became the first player in program history to earn the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, and reset the Lafayette single-season rebounds record with 343.
“Sports were just always in my family at a young age,” she said. “My sister played basketball, so I grew up playing against her. As you get older, you kind of make the decision of what sport is your favorite, and mine was basketball.”
Kucowski’s 2019-2020 season was also impressive, as she started in all 29 games and averaged 13.5 points. On Jan. 18 of that year, she became the 19th player in program history to record 1,000 career points, and a week later she became the first player in program history to record 1,000 rebounds, in an overtime victory against Navy.
Also in her junior season, Kucowski was named the College Sports Madness Conference Player of the Week for the Patriot League on March 4 and was named to the All-League First Team and All-Defensive Team, as well as the Patriot League Honor Roll. She finished her third season with the Leopards as second in the nation and first in the Patriot League for both rebounds per game and blocked shots per game, resetting the mark once again for single-season rebounds at 372.
“I think statistically, rebounding has been my biggest accomplishment and something that coming into college, I wouldn’t have expected it to go as well as it has,” she said. “I think personal growth has been the biggest area that I’ve seen change over my four years outside of statistics. I’ve developed a better work ethic and self-accountability. I have to put a lot of work into it, but when you see the results, it makes it all worth it.”
With only a few games of the regular season left, Kucowski still has some statistics she would like to add to her trophy case.
“I’d like to become the Patriot League all-time leading rebounder,” she said. “In a normal season it would be easier to get, so it’s definitely a challenge, but it’s something that I’ve been mindful of without being overly focused on. Luckily, rebounding comes within the course of the game, so if you just play hard and make the effort to rebound, it’ll work out. Having the time crunch has definitely picked up the sense of urgency. Between COVID cases increasing and just the amount of games we have left to play, it’s now or never.”
Though her senior season at Lafayette has looked a little different than her previous years with the addition of COVID-19 protocols and several game pushbacks and cancellations, Kucowski and the rest of her teammates have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to continue to play.
“Coming into the season, we knew that there would be pauses within our program and within other programs. So from the beginning, we’ve had to be flexible and make adjustments,” she said. “Every time we get a chance to play a game we’re all really excited…we’re all staying focused, and we realize the importance of following the protocols to make sure that we can have a season for ourselves.”
Kucowski has excellent academic statistics as a chemical engineer as well as on the basketball scoreboards, so she said she is keeping her options open in terms of her future career plans.
“I would definitely like to get into alternative energies or renewable energy sources,” she said. “There’s a lot you can do with a chemical engineering degree.”
In terms of her basketball career, she said, “my involvement in the process really picks up for me after the season. Agents reach out and tell you about different opportunities. Things pick up quickly, a lot happens all at once. But it’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to finding out what opportunities are available.”
Be on the lookout for Kucowski this weekend as the Leopards travel to Bucknell on Saturday at 2 p.m.