Junior Natalie Klapp’s maturity and consistent play has contributed to the Cougars’ success this year and has earned her a leadership role
The Azusa Pacific Cougars volleyball team is off to their best start since 2011, currently maintaining an impressive 13-1 overall record, which include 10 sweeps, an eight game winning streak, an undefeated record in PacWest play (6-0) and for the first time since entering the NCAA Division II, the Cougars are nationally ranked.
However, none of this success would have happened if it was not for junior outside hitter, Natalie Klapp, who serves as a reliable and emotional leader on the team.
“Natalie has stepped in and done a nice job of leadership on this young team. She is very caring for the players on this team and wants the best for them. She voices her concerns and at times and will also praise those around her,” head coach Chris Keife said.
The Cougars are once again packed with young players, as there are no seniors and a total of 11 underclassmen on this year’s roster. Klapp serves as one of only four juniors on the team.
Klapp explained why this young team is having so much success this season compared to previous teams, noting both the chemistry and mentality of the team.
“We have really good chemistry on and off the court. Our work ethic is a lot more focused this year and I think that has had a huge role in why we’ve been so successful,” Klapp said. “We’re so young, which could be used as an excuse, but we had a lot to prove, we took the challenge and we have a lot of really great players.”
According to Klapp’s teammates and coaches, one of the biggest aspects that she brings onto the court is passion and emotion.
“She’s definitely been a leader for us emotionally and brings a presence onto the court,” sophomore right-side hitter Aliyah Morrison said. “She’s just a great volleyball player. She’s very reliable and someone we can always count on to be consistent in our games.”
Morrison and Klapp both joined the APU volleyball team in 2015, but Morrison was redshirted and Klapp was not. In the few years that they have spent together as teammates, Morrison expressed how she looks up to Klapp both on and off the court.
“She’s very reliable as both a friend and a teammate,” Morrison said. “She’s someone that I can always look to for guidance and she’s a fun person to be around… she’s always smiling and having fun, and that makes practice and games so much more enjoyable for us.”
Klapp has proven herself as a consistent player on both offense and defense for the Cougars, as she is currently third on the team in kills (110) and second in digs (139) this season. Keife noted that Klapp’s maturity and consistency has made her become both a team player and a role model for the other girls.
“Natalie practices hard and expects a lot from herself. She has learned to come to practice as consistent as possible and in turn is a great example of what it means to be a mature volleyball player,” Keife said.
However, Klapp didn’t have the most predictable journey. Unlike most of last season’s roster where freshmen made up a majority of the Cougars’ starting lineup, Klapp was not supposed to start in her freshman year.
She was given the opportunity by circumstance. On Oct. 7, 2015, the Cougars were preparing to take on Hawaii Pacific. During team warm-ups, the Cougars’ starting outside hitter twisted her ankle and was not able to play in the game. This is where Klapp got her unexpected opportunity.
“Coach said, ‘Natalie, you’re in,’ and I was just kind of thrown into the fire. I had to step up to the challenge and it was fun,” Klapp said. “When you’re thrown into a situation like that, your back is against the wall but I wanted to perform for my team because I knew that was my role in that moment.”
In her first collegiate start as a freshman, Klapp not only took on the role of outside hitter against Hawaii Pacific, but she collected a double-double, finishing second on the team in kills (12) and first in digs (22).
Since then, she has held an important role on the team, and she only continues to improve and mature as a player. Last season alone, Klapp played in all 29 matches for the Cougars, ranking fourth in kills (217), second in digs (336) and recording nine double-double games.
“She comes to practice ready to improve and get better every day. That takes a lot of maturity to have that kind of process on a daily basis. Her consistency and volleyball skills have improved every year in this program because of her desire to improve,” Keife said.
Before APU, Klapp was a three-sport athlete at Dos Pueblos high school in Gloeta, Calif., playing soccer and volleyball and running track and field. Even though Klapp did not start playing club volleyball until her junior year of high school, she always knew that she wanted to play sports in college; she chose volleyball over the others because it presented more of a challenge to her.
“I chose volleyball because there is always something that you can learn. It’s such a fast-paced game, it’s so technical, and it was so challenging to me,” Klapp said. “I just loved that challenge. I am always learning something new.”
Klapp believed that APU was the perfect place to go as both of her sisters and her brother-in-law graduated from APU. Klapp also wanted to play for an NCAA Division-II team.
“I was comfortable with APU because of the history with my family,” Klapp said. “But everything also tied in—with volleyball, I had met all the girls on the team and loved them. In addition to that, I wanted to go play Division II. Everything fell into place for me.”
Ultimately, the future of Cougars’ volleyball looks bright with athletes such as Klapp leading the way. Since there are no seniors on the team, Klapp expressed that she is excited to see what’s next for APU volleyball.
“We have high hopes for both this season and next season and we’re excited for what they both have to bring,” Klapp said. “We want to win conference, then make a run in the playoffs. I’m excited for this season and I love my team.”
Klapp and the No. 24 ranked Cougars will play their next game at home in the Felix Event Center on Oct. 5 against the Academy of Art in another PacWest matchup.