If there’s one thing Natalie Saddic knows, it’s winning. Already in her young career, the sophomore midfielder on the UC San Diego women’s soccer team has played for teams that captured the national club championship (twice) as well as CIF and California Collegiate Athletic Association titles. A first team all-conference choice as a redshirt freshman at UCSD, the Del Mar native helped anchor a defense that gave up just 11 goals in 22 games. Calling Saddic “a captain on the park,” UC San Diego Head Coach Brian McManus is effusive in his praise of the Torrey Pines High School graduate. “She brings a great mentality to the game in that she’s not happy to be playing on a decent team but wants to be playing at the highest level,” said McManus. “I knew coming in she would fit well with us and she’s proved that.” With her Triton team off to another strong start, Saddic spent time with this newspaper and talked about what she brings to her teams, balancing soccer and academics and her hopes for 2017.
Q—You’ve played on championship caliber teams at the club, high school and college levels. What similarities did all of those teams have?
Saddic: I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play on such incredible teams. My club team was very special to me and to every one of my teammates. We had chemistry both on and off the field unlike any other team out there. While most people end up moving between different club teams, I only played for one my entire life so the bond I had with my teammates was incredibly strong. That’s something I have also found here at UCSD. I believe team chemistry off the field is essential to having chemistry on the field. My club team, DMCV Sharks was coached by Felicia Kappes, another UCSD alum. She was coached by Brian McManus so in a way, I have come full circle. My club team’s success was in a large part, due to having such an incredible coach and I have found even more great coaches here at UCSD with Brian and Jonesy. The last thing I believe both my high school, club, and college teams have had in common is just the willingness of each individual player to commit to the goal of winning a game, or in our case last year winning every game in our league. Even with my high school team, just the simple confidence that we possessed, knowing we were the more talented, more committed team on the field is what allowed us to do so well, and win so many games.
Q—As an individual member of a team, what big picture characteristics do you try to bring?
Saddic: As an individual member of the team, I strive to reach a certain standard at every practice. And the very minimum of that standard is just work ethic. I know I am going to have some practices where my touch is off, or I’m just not performing at my best level but I always try to make sure at least I’m working harder than everyone else. And I know that if other people see me working hard then that will bring up the level in my teammates as well. Given my position on the field, I also have to take on a leadership role because most of the team is in front of me and I am positioned in front of the last line of defense therefore it’s my job to make sure everyone in front of me is working hard in the right positions. Getting up at 6:30 for practice every morning does get taxing as school gets harder and the year progresses so I try to be as positive as I can and to enjoy every moment because we only get this opportunity for four years.
Q: At UC San Diego, as a defensive-oriented midfielder, you serve as a link between defense and offense while often marking the opponent’s best offensive player. What do you like about that role? How do you gauge your effectiveness?
Saddic: I like it because I can play a key role in preventing the other team’s offense from being successful. Most teams rely on their center forwards so I take pride in the fact that I get to shut that forward down. My effectiveness is based on how successful their forward is. My first goal is to shut her down and prevent any dangerous plays from developing. If Angelica (Ramos), our goalkeeper, never touches the ball, I would consider that a very successful game.
Q: Do you ever have visions of playing a more significant part offensively?
Saddic: I would love to play a more attacking role but it’s difficult with my position because if I attack it would leave our defense with only three in the back. I hope that in the future I will be able to switch off more frequently with the other center midfielders so that I can be more involved offensively.
Q: This year’s team was ranked No. 9 nationally (NCAA D-II) and won its first three games before being outscored, 5-0, while losing a pair of road contests in Colorado. You bounced back to open CCAA conference play with two victories. What happened in Colorado and what affect, short and long term, do you think that had on your team?
Saddic: Colorado definitely took our team by surprise. Giving credit to the other teams, they definitely showed up fit and ready to play. We had breezed through our first couple games so I think we started to rely on talent and forgot why we were so successful last year, which was largely due to our organization, work rate, and ability to control the game going forward. Instead of keeping possession, we gave up the ball and lost sight of our own style of play falling and letting our opponents dictate. I believe it was a wake-up call but I think it was incredibly important for our season because it reminded us that nothing can be taken for granted and our willingness to succeed and work together as a team are the tools that will bring us back to compete for a national championship this year.
Q: This year’s Triton roster has a large group of returning players, particularly on the offensive side of field. What do you feel is different about the ’17 club compared to last year’s team?
Saddic: This year, we have a lot of great incoming freshman. They are a very talented class and they all have worked really hard to be a part of our team and our unique style of play. I think we are missing some really great seniors from last year, seniors that played a key role in terms of leadership. We have some new people in new roles but everyone has worked really hard to adjust and I think having a deeper bench this year could be the difference that takes us all the way to the Final Four.
Q: You originally went to UC Davis but after redshirting your first season transferred to UC San Diego. What was attractive about UCSD?
Saddic: I love San Diego, I lived here my entire life so it was exciting to come home and have the support of my family. My parents can come watch me play which is something I love. UCSD is an outstanding school academically and given my major lends well to future career paths. I also knew Brian and played for one of his players so I have come full circle now getting to play for him.
Q: What’s it like to play for Coach McManus, whose UCSD teams have won seven NCAA Championships and dominated the CCAA since joining the conference in 2000?
Saddic: It fills me with pride and motivates me to join the alumni that have won championships. I really hope to still be on the team when we go to NCAA Division I because I think that will be another milestone that I could be a part of. It really does give you the feeling of being a part of something so much greater, knowing how many alumni Brian has that still support this program.
Q: You won a pair of US Youth Soccer Championships while playing on Del Mar/Carmel Valley Sharks club teams coached by former UC San Diego star Felicia (Faro) Kappes. What was that experience like?
Saddic: Each championship was the most incredible feeling I have ever had. We worked so hard every summer and it was just all of our hard work paying off. Traveling through those trips and winning with that team are experiences I will hold dear for the rest of my life. They were unforgettable and impossible to relive. I hope to come close to those feelings again here at UCSD.
Q: As a biochemistry and cell biology major at one of the nation’s most rigorous academic institutions, how do you manage to compete on the soccer field while simultaneously excelling in the classroom?
Saddic: It is a challenge to say the least. During last season I missed almost every Friday class I had and let me tell you it is hard to teach yourself organic chemistry. The key to managing both is just communicating with your teachers and working with them to make up assignments or tests. Most teachers are very willing to work with athletes because our schedule makes it very difficult to stay on top of our work. I just try to go to my teacher’s office hours and demonstrate to them that I am interested in learning, although my attendance may show something different.
Q: Following graduation, what will be your ultimate goal professionally?
Saddic: I am interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. Currently I am considering becoming an emergency room PA.
Q: What’s been your favorite class so far at UCSD and why?
Saddic: I picked up a business minor so the most interesting class so far has been Enterprise Finance. I learned a lot of skills that I have applied to my everyday life in terms of finances and understanding how businesses work and how to predict the success of businesses.
Q: Travel is one of your interests. Where have you been lately and what destination would be at the top of your wish list? Why?
Saddic: This summer I was in Mexico as well as the East Coast to visit some family. I also took a camping trip near Yosemite. I am half Lebanese and Syrian so I would really like to visit some of the family I have in Beirut, Lebanon just to experience that part of my culture.
Q: Last fall, in your redshirt freshman season, the UC San Diego women went 19-3 and won the conference regular season and tournament titles before suffering an overtime loss in the NCAA West Regional Final, what kind of aspirations does your 2017 club have and what needs to be done over the next month to alter last year’s outcome?
Saddic: This year, our aspirations include winning a national championship, I think that is always the goal. At the very least, I would like to repeat our league title and CCAA tournament championship. I think we do have some work to do just becoming comfortable with everyone’s roles on the field because there are new people in different positions and we definitely need to get back to what we are good at and that is breaking teams down offensively and scoring goals.