Land leads on and off field
Knights senior infielder combines stellar play on field with good grades and service, leads program
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 16:04
UCF softball head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie traveled to Mayo, Fla., in search of the perfect player to add to her program.
What Gillispie found was an athlete torn between the love of two sports: basketball and softball.
Gillispie says she was lucky Natalie Land decided to follow her heart and play softball, luckier still that she decided to do so as a UCF Knight.
“When you look at a student athlete, she is the student athlete you want in any program,” Gillispie said. “If you’re looking to have somebody in a job or business, she’s that personality that you’d want in there.”
Land graduated from Lafayette High School an honor student and class valedictorian.
The small-town gal wasn’t used to big-city life, growing up in a town that only has one stop light and a graduating class of 80 students, but she came into her own as a person and athlete at UCF.
The three-time All-Conference USA infielder has already been named one of the Lowe’s Senior Class Award candidates and the Preseason C-USA First Team.
The first-team spot is chosen by the league’s nine head coaches, and Land was picked after leading the team in batting average (.346), runs (31), hits (54), doubles (7), triples (5), slugging percentage (.513), on-base percentage (.436), sacrifice hits (9) and stolen bases (25) for the previous season.
Like most student athletes, Land has to manage her time between focusing on school and softball. What makes her unique, though, is that she is one of the first athletes at UCF majoring in sports medicine.
With a 3.75 grade point average and hopes to be a physical therapist after graduating in the summer, Land has achieved high remarks from multiple awards in excellence, school, character, competition and in her community.
Land is one of 12 student athletes selected to receive the C-USA Spring Spirit of Service Award with her efforts lending a helping hand in her community.
“Anytime I have free time, which isn’t a lot, I love to get out and go to the hospitals or the Central Florida Children’s Home,” Land said.
“The team adopted a little girl, Katy Clark, through a non-profit called Friends of Jaclyn. She comes out to our games and we take her under our wings and make her part of the team.”
She has volunteered for different non-profits and schools and has paired with a local middle school student in a Pen Pal Program, writing back and forth to help promote literacy, the Miracle League, assisting mentally and physically handicapped youth.
Land has also had a part in Central Florida Children’s Home Golf Classic, Walk Now for Autism Speaks and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
On the field, some teammates say that Land is one of the loudest team players out there.
Land’s roommate and best friend, outfielder Vanessa Perez, is also a graduating senior. She came in as a freshman with Land, and the two have formed a lasting bond on and off the field.
“We’ve pretty much been best friends since freshman year and by each other’s side since day one” Perez said. “She’s a really caring person and willing to do anything for anybody, always willing to put others before her. She’s the same on and off the field and always giving her 100 percent effort no matter what.”
The senior has a big role to fill as the leader for the Knights, and with multi-RBI games, numerous stolen bases and an enormous amount of hits, coaches and players agree that she fills them well.
“With Natalie, she’s about example as a leader,” Gillispie said. “She’s always supportive of her teammates and always demonstrating what she should be doing and getting the job done. If we need that base hit, she’s getting that for us or if we need a runner, she is getting on base. As a leader by example, it’s not just how you play on the field, but how you present yourself.”
Land said that she doesn’t know exactly where life will take her, but with the support of not only her coaches and teammates, but her family as well, she said that she is sure to do big things in life.
“There is so many people who want to be a college athlete, and I have the ability and been given the chance to put myself out there and be able to play,” Land said. “I think it’s a privilege every day that I’ve been given the chance. Four years goes by so fast, and I can’t waste it.”