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Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette Tuscola's Natalie Bates, the News-Gazette's Female Athlete of the Year, poses for a photo outside the school Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Tuscola.Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette Tuscola's Natalie Bates, the News-Gazette's Female Athlete of the Year, poses for a photo outside the school Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Tuscola.

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Female Athlete of the Year: Natalie Bates

In her words

➜We asked the hard-working Warrior to recap her favorite moments from her senior year at Tuscola:

➜First volleyball game of the season because it was my first sporting event since I tore my ACL in January of 2018.

➜Volleyball regional championship game against St. Thomas More. We did not win, but it was one of our best games of the season, and the energy of the crowd was amazing.

➜The day I committed to play volleyball at Lincoln Land Community College.

➜In basketball, winning the Holiday Hoopla in Monticello and being selected on the all-tournament team.

➜In basketball, scoring my season-high 20 points and defeating Central Illinois Conference rival and state-ranked Sullivan.

➜In basketball, winning the Central Illinois Conference championship with teammate Lexie Russo’s clutch free throws at the end of the game.

➜Having my teammate, Grace Dietrich, wear my extra set of contacts in the Central Illinois Conference championship basketball game, and she went on to make three three-pointers in the first quarter.

➜Playing my last basketball game with my uncle, Tim Kohlbecker, as my coach.

➜Winning our Tuscola softball tournament with a walk-off hit against Casey-Westfield.

➜Having a successful, 29-win season in softball with a completely new infield from last year.

In their words

We asked Natalie Bates’ three coaches about the three-sport standout from Tuscola:

Lydia Miller, Tuscola volleyball

“I have had the great pleasure of coaching Natalie on the volleyball court for six years, including junior high and high school. I knew from the beginning that she was a talented player and naturally gifted athlete. She was always an incredibly hard worker and wanted extra time in the gym. She reads the ball very well as a passer, hits the ball with as much power as any outside hitter I’ve coached, and I actually considered having her as a setter more than once. Natalie is the player that you have a hard time rationalizing why she should ever be off the court. She makes all of her teammates better since she holds herself and each player to such high standards. An average performance is not acceptable to her. She is also one of the most intense players — in a good way — that I have ever coached. She brings focus and drive to the court. Watching Natalie come back from her ACL injury was incredible. She learned things off the court by helping her teammates and was always supportive. This was a true test of her character since she is such a competitor. I knew that she would be back last season better than ever by watching all the work she spent on rehabilitation exercises and in the weight room. I’m so happy that she is going to continue her volleyball career at the next level. Natalie is a great young lady, and I’m so thankful I got to be a part of her high school career.”

Tim Kohlbecker, Tuscola girls’ basketball

“It’s easy to say that Nat is one of the best all-around athletes in Tuscola history, but what really makes her special is her fearlessness, fierce competitiveness and the passion with which she competes. How many times I held my breath as she dove headlong onto the floor or into the bleachers. I learned to live with it. As anyone who knows Nat is aware, she only gives 100 percent. It is the best of all worlds as a coach when your best player is your hardest worker and your team leader. She is a fabulous role model for younger players, on and off the court. A couple summers ago she came to me saying she would need to miss a week of summer workouts due to a mission trip and that she was willing to make up what she would miss — impressive. I have multiple great memories of coaching Nat, with two highlights being the defensive job she did on an all-stater, as a freshman in a victorious regional final, and, after a collision, with a swollen eye, re-entering a game at Central A&M to lead us to a win. When you talk about Nat’s character and value to her team, I go back to January 2018 when she tore her ACL. In true Nat fashion, I never heard a complaint or a why me — she became a mentor/coach for younger players throughout the offseason, attacked her rehab and was released to play volleyball in 5-6 months. So yes, she was exceptional on the court and just as special off the court. I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to coach Natalie.”

Lenny Sementi, Tuscola softball

“Natalie is relentless, unselfish and a leader by example. What she brought to our softball program is a never-ending competitive spirit. Whether it be in games or practice, she made everyone around her better. When she was injured her junior season, I told our assistant coaches it wasn’t her glove or bat we were going to miss — it was her drive to get better every day, which in turn made other players work harder. Good day or bad day, she was the same. As a freshman she could have started for us but instead was a pinch-runner most of the season, scoring over 40 runs — and not one complaint about playing time. I can’t remember ever having to correct Natalie. Errors and mistakes happen, but her effort never waned and she was always tougher on herself than I could have been.”

Girl power

A look at the previous female Athlete of the Year recipients:


2019    Natalie Bates    Tuscola

2018    Arielle Summitt    Uni High

2017    Andrea Coursey    St. Joseph-Ogden

2016    Jenny Kimbro    Salt Fork

2015    Lexi Wallen    St. Thomas More

2014    Brittany Hay    Georgetown-Ridge Farm

2013    Kandie Bloch-Jones    Argenta-Oreana

2012    Chelsea Blaase    St. Joseph-Ogden

2011    Lindsay Troike    Tuscola

2010    Amy Martin    Oakwood

2009    Molly Romine    Tuscola

2008    Stephanie Denius    Oakwood

2007    Heidi McKean    CPCI

2006    Kelli McMahon    Westville

2005    Brooke Cultra    Iroquois West

2004    Maggie Hauser    Unity

2003    Amanda Maxedon    Oakland


Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).