Natalie Thompson's quick rise through the soccer ranks reached its latest height Wednesday afternoon when the South Aiken senior signed to play collegiately at Southern Wesleyan University in Central.
"It feels great. I'm excited to play with the team and everything," she said. "It was a great environment, and the coach is super, super nice. One of my club players is playing for them, and it just will be nice having somebody that I know there."
Thompson was also previously a member of the T-Breds' basketball team, appearing in 15 games as a sophomore, before focusing her full attention toward a more natural fit – soccer.
Andrew Olsen, one of her coaches at South Aiken, saw the potential in her and started putting in the additional work outside of practice to help her reach her goals. Wednesday, he called her the most dedicated soccer player he's ever coached.
"For four years, she's been talking about, 'I want to play college soccer. I want to play college soccer,'" said Olsen, whose four years at South Aiken have coincided with Thompson's. "Over the four years, she's been the hardest worker that I have ever been around. As great as she is as a player, she's an even better person and teammate, and she is motivated by her own desire to be the best player on the field."
Olsen said Thompson will be a natural fit anywhere on the front line at Southern Wesleyan, where she plans to study forensic science. He doesn't expect a position change in her future with the Warriors, but he knows she'll pick it up quickly and excel if that's what's asked of her.
"She's a quick thinker. She reacts very well to situations," he said. "She has a wide set of moves to be able to dribble around people and be able to make them foolish. I have no doubt she'll step in and play immediately. She has a fantastic shot; she's always got a mind for the goal and wants to find the quickest way to get the ball to the back of the net."
Thompson had 12 goals and eight assists last year for the T-Breds, who reached the state semifinals and are ranked second in Class AAAA in this year's preseason coaches poll. With the ink dry on her college decision before the season begins, she's now free to focus solely on the team's ultimate goal.
"Just win state," said Thompson, who was a sophomore on South Aiken's 2017 state championship team. "We have a great team. It's super family-oriented. ... We just have a great time on the field, so hopefully win state."