Grove City’s Games in Michigan are Fruits of Senior’s Labor

By Justin Zackal


Grove City senior forward Natalija Galens.

College coaches often reward fourth-year members of their teams who live the farthest from campus by scheduling games near the seniors’ hometowns.

That’s why the Grove City women’s basketball team is playing two games in Michigan Dec. 30 and Dec. 31 against Alma and Kalamazoo, respectively.

That, or it’s to repay Natalija Galens for always bringing back fruit from her family’s farm each year.

“Coach (Chelle) Fuss is obsessed with our blueberries,” said Galens, a senior forward who hails from Covert, Michigan. “Every time I come back from summer break I always make sure I bring her a pint.”

Or maybe it was to reward Galens for a sacrifice she made her freshman year. Galens had no intentions of playing basketball, let alone volleyball, four years ago. She got a call the summer before she enrolled at Grove City from then volleyball coach Sue Roberts who convinced Galens to play volleyball in the fall. Then, a junior teammate, Ashley Branch, recommended Galens giving basketball a try because Branch regretted not being a two-sport athlete when she first attended Grove City.

There was just one problem: Galens was homesick.

The thought of spending her first semester break back on her family’s blueberry farm was comforting, especially with most of her classmates, aside from her new basketball teammates, vacating Grove City’s campus for a month. But Galens, who attended a small Christian high school, found motivation and strength through her faith.

“It was a struggle for me debating if I wanted to be in sports year-round or if I wanted to have a break and come home,” said Galens, who typically makes it home just three times per year. “What helped me overcome that fear was realizing that putting myself in a situation that would cause me to rely solely on God was the best place that I could be.”

Galens (far right), with GC volleyball seniors Libbie Casey and Amy Trageser.

Galens (right), with fellow volleyball seniors Libbie Casey (left) and Amy Trageser (middle).

The six-hour drive home seems small compared to the four-year journey Galens made as a two-sport student-athlete – and a successful one, to boot. Galens saw playing time as a freshman on the volleyball team and started the last three years, earning second-team all-PAC honors a senior outside hitter. She was also a key bench player the last three seasons in basketball, starting 12 games, before earning a spot in the starting lineup this year. So far she’s averaging 3.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 27 minutes for the Wolverines (2-6, 0-3 PAC).

“It was a journey that told me to love the process and not just look for a goal or result,” Galens said. “That constant work ethic and wanting to get 1-percent better every day and knowing that the end goal might not be a certain stat or record but the end goal for me is that constant process of knowing I’m better than I was the day before.”

Kalamazoo is a 45-minute drive from Covert, so Galens will have “quite a few” friends and family attending the game, including her parents, Karlis and Jody, who both played and coached volleyball. Her father, Karlis, is a second-generation farmer whose parents were born in Latvia. Natalija’s name is Latvian, pronounced and translated into English as “Natalie.” She even attended a weekly Latvian class in Michigan to learn the language and culture.

Galens is thankful that Grove City scheduled a game close to her home. She’s spending Christmas in Michigan, returning to Grove City for two practices Dec. 27 and 28, then making the trip back with her team next week.

One of the biggest challenges and biggest blessings for a two-sport athlete, according to Galens, is that you have two teams at all times. The same can be said about having two homes as well.