Natalie Kelchner’s Journey From Third-String to MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year

From the moment Natalie Kelchner stepped foot on the Marist College campus, she had to work for everything. 

Kelchner’s freshmen season was a unique experience for her as she was the third-string goalie. She was unable to travel with the team, and it showed her how hard she had to work to be a college goalkeeper. 

“It was a tough transition for me. Being the third-string was a big knock to my confidence. I think I really needed it and having that perspective of not playing helped me be competitive with myself,” Kelchner said.

Kelchner came back stronger her sophomore season and took advantage of her opportunity. She appeared in 14 games and made 11 starts while registering 82 saves on the season. Kelchner ranked 19th in the country with a 0.857 save percentage, and she headlined a defense that was top 30 in Division I.

“At the time, we had a great goalie coach that I connected with in a great way. He was super supportive and he was tough on me, but he knew when to push me and when to step back and let me figure things out for myself. A lot of my success in that season I owe to him,” Kelchner said. 

Heading into her junior season, Kelchner had to adjust to a coaching change as Marist hired Brittany Kolmel, a former NWSL player, to replace Leigh Howard. The change also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the adjustment even harder. Due to the pandemic, Kelchner was only able to play in one game, and she was excellent as she had a career-high 13 saves. 

“It was a difficult adjustment. It was a weird time in life for everybody because there was so much change, but we just had to go with the flow,” Kelchner said.

The adjustment got easier as Kelchner and Kolmel started to develop a great bond. Kolmel gave Kelchner a boost of confidence that she needed to be at her best. Kelchner’s leadership was also helpful for Kolmel early in her tenure. 

“Her leadership and just day-in and day-out being able to come in and understand everything was important. Everybody can learn from her, and she did a phenomenal job,” Kolmel said.

Kelchner’s hard work and dedication paid off in her senior season as it was a historic one. She earned First Team All-MAAC honors and was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week twice. Kelchner led the MAAC in save percentage (0.871), ranked second in goals against (0.87), tied for second in clean sheets (four), and third in saves per game (6.29). She was the only goalkeeper in the MAAC to be top three in all four major goalkeeper categories. Furthermore, Kelchner held the opposition to either zero or one goal in 12 of Marist’s 14 regular-season games while playing every minute in goal.

Kelchner’s historic season was capped off by her being named the MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year. She is the second goalkeeper to win the award in program history and was a great honor for her and the program. 

“It was definitely cool. I think this season was about growth for me, and winning something was a great cap to this year. Having something real to back this all up is nice,” Kelchner said.

“To have the recognition for her hard work was a proud moment for me and the coaching staff,” Kolmel said. 

Kelchner credits her success this season to her teammates and coaches, but she also highlights how important growth was for her. Kolmel was also impressed by Kelchner’s growth this season.

“I think that I’ve grown as an athlete and person. I think COVID gave me a great perspective of not being able to play last year. Having the support of my coaches and teammates was important to me,” Kelchner said. 

“The growth that she had from our first game until our last game and how she held herself was unbelievable,” Kolmel said. 

Kelchner’s senior season brought many exciting moments, but her favorite was on senior night against Siena. The moment was the culmination of the hard work she had put in at Marist. The night also produced Kelchner’s favorite save of the season, which was a kick save.

“My favorite moment was senior night because I got to step on the field with 10 girls that I played with for four years, they are 10 girls that I am extremely proud of, and they’ve been through so much with me,” Kelchner said.

“In the second half, I had honestly one of the weirdest saves of my life, it was a kick save, and after I stood up in complete shock because I surprised myself,” Kelchner said.

Kelchner’s future remains uncertain as there is a possibility of a fifth year. She is working on the logistics of a potential fifth year with Marist. Coach Kolmel would be thrilled to welcome back her goalkeeper for another year, but if it doesn’t work out, she is proud of Kelchner’s career.

“We hope to be able to get her back, and hopefully that can work. If we can’t get her back, I can say with my full heart that I am extremely proud, and I know that she has made an unbelievable impact on this program,” Kolmel said.

Overall, Kelchner is keeping her options open for next year, and she is proud of her impact on the program.

“When I was a freshman, the oldest goalkeeper told me that if she wanted to do one thing, it would be to make this program a better place than it was four years ago, and I’ve lived by that,” Kelchner said. “I’ve always wanted to make an impact on this program and for future players.”

Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Ricardo Martinez

Photo from Bridget Reilly

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