By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Confidence is something every athlete yearns for, searches for, and many times wonders where it went and how they can get it back again. If it could be bottled and sold, it would sell more than Muscle Milk or Gatorade. In a sport such as basketball, confidence is everything. Players who are confident in their shot and playmaking ability are difficult to stop. Two years ago, as a sophomore at Holy Spirit, Natalie Neiderhofer didn’t have much confidence at all. She was athletic enough to crack the lineup as a guard who could come off the bench in spurts when an older player got into foul trouble or needed a breather. But rarely would she put up a shot, or drive to the basket for a layup or to draw a foul. She was just kind of out there — providing plenty of energy and hustle on defense, but not really contributing much to the Spartans’ offense. Head coach Dennis Smith had to sit her down and let her know that there was a reason the Absecon native was suiting up for the varsity squad. “She was short on confidence as a sophomore. She actually started her freshman year at ACIT and right before the regular season started her parents made the decision to pull her out of ACIT and send her to Holy Spirit. So she was with us freshman year, and her and Cass (Gallagher) got the lion’s share of the playing time on JV,” Smith said. “It’s been interesting to watch Natalie’s progression because she was playing (as a sophomore) on a consistent basis. I said to her, ‘you wouldn’t be on the floor if I didn’t think you could do this.’ It was just kind of one of those growing pain things. I think from that point on she realized I wasn’t going to put her in a position where she would fail. And she has absolutely exceeded any expectations we’ve had. And the two of them as a guard tandem have developed beyond our wildest expectations.” Neiderhofer began her high school career at ACIT and along with Yasmeen Nelson was a hot prospect for the Red Hawks. But she said she didn’t feel like ACIT was the right fit, and she and her parents decided it would be best for her to transfer to Holy Spirit. She enrolled after the start of the season her freshman year, so she got a late start with the Spartans. And Holy Spirit traditionally has one of the strongest programs in the Cape-Atlantic League, so she had to go from being a potential varsity star at ACIT as a freshman to the junior varsity at Holy Spirit. Senior Natalie Neiderhofer has been a key member of a Holy Spirit girls basketball team that currently is 16-4 and in second place in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Senior Natalie Neiderhofer has been a key member of a Holy Spirit girls basketball team that currently is 14-6 and in first place in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “I didn’t really know the team that well when I was a freshman, so I was nervous, but they really welcomed me and made me feel at home,” Neiderhofer said. “When I was at ACIT, I was one of the stars. Me and Yasmeen were supposed to be really good, but I knew when I transferred to Holy Spirit that I wasn’t going to be the star anymore, and I was OK with that.” When Neiderhofer was a freshman, Smith had an outstanding squad that featured players such as Val Garofalo and Summer Crilley, who both now play at Rowan University, Gina Lewis, who went on to play at Kutztown University, Annie Wenz and Audrey Wilson. It was an intimidating atmosphere for a young player. “This group has had a very dynamic group of seniors to follow every year. Their freshman year was Val Garofalo, Annie Wenz and Gina Lewis. So they learned from a really good group of seniors. Then they had Summer, and then Audrey last year, so this group of seniors has really learned from the best in terms of what we have been able to accomplish as a program,” Smith said. “And it’s not just about winning games on the basketball court. It’s about grades, it’s about what you do in the classroom, and about what you bring to the table in terms of leadership. They have seen everything that needs to be done to get ready for a practice, they know how to pick up their teammates. That’s the thing that Val and Audrey were great at, and that’s something that Nat has learned how to do.” “I would watch them play and I would look up to them. Especially Summer, I always wanted to be just like her. So to even be mentioned along with her is huge for me,” Neiderhofer said. Spirit fans began to see flashes of what Neiderhofer could do last season, as she began to contribute more on the offensive end. “We played at Delsea last year, and in the first half we were absolutely horrendous. I think at one point I called two timeouts in the first quarter and we were down by 17 points. We closed to about 13 points, and that’s when Natalie absolutely took the game over with her ability to get to the basket, finish in traffic and make some circus shots,” Smith said. “She doesn’t play like she’s 5-foot-3, she plays like she’s 5-foot-8, but (her lack of size) contributes to her heart and how hard she plays every time she steps on the court.” This year, Holy Spirit once again is a top team in the CAL with Neiderhofer and Gallagher leading the way on what is a very young roster. Currently, the Spartans are 14-6 and in first place in the CAL American Conference. Smith said Neiderhofer and Gallagher are a big reason why the Spartans have a chance to be a force once again in the postseason. “Nat and Cass are the extension of us as a coaching staff on the floor, and they have done a really good job of that. I can’t underestimate how much they have held us together, because we’ve had some rocky roads this year,” Smith said. “I’m going to miss them. It’s going to be hard next year without seeing those two on the floor because they really are our leaders and they make things go for us.” Neiderhofer said being a senior now, and a go-to player on and off the court, is a little bit of an odd feeling considering just two years ago she was a wide-eyed sophomore just trying to get some playing time. “It’s really different. You have everyone looking up to you as a leader, so you have to be much more supportive. In past years, I wouldn’t say ‘it’s OK, get it next time’ if somebody missed a shot, but this year I’m doing that a whole lot more. Every time down the court I’m trying to support my team, where as I was way too shy to do that before,” Neiderhofer said. Gaining confidence, she said, has been the key to her development as a basketball player, and a leader. “We really are a team. Our coaches will look to me and Cass for input because they know we know a lot about the game, what’s working and what’s not working. They’ll ask us questions and we’ll give them different options to what we think will work. I’m asked to do a lot more, but it’s better for me. I see the court a lot differently than I did before. I’m not afraid to make risky passes to the post now, where as before I would just pass it right back to a guard. I was too afraid to make plays, but now I’m not,” Neiderhofer said. “Confidence, for me, was my biggest problem throughout the years. I think I could have been a starter sophomore year if I didn’t have such issues with confidence. But the coaches and players definitely pushed me through that. And now if I see another player who has similar issues, I understand what they are going through and I can help them out, and it feels nice to be able to do that.” In a few months, Neiderhofer will graduate from Holy Spirit. She said she hopes she is remembered as a player who always put the team, and winning basketball games, before any kind of individual praise. “I just hope that people think of me as a positive player who tries to make everyone else better,” she said. “I don’t try to be the star, I just try to fit in and do what my strong suits are and do what I can to help the team. I don’t care how many point
s I get or the statistics, I just want to win and I want my team to be good.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]