“I have 16 varsity letters, which is crazy to think about. My varsity jacket is pretty full.”
Natasha Bickel is putting the final touches on her four-year career at North Branch High School with an impressive finale.
She was a starting middle hitter on the Division 2 state championship volleyball team last fall and in the winter, she helped the Broncos to their first league title in basketball since 1989. This spring, she’s doubling as the Broncos’ first baseman while also leading the league in discus and shot put.
“There’s so much to being an athlete. You can’t put it into just a few sentences,” Bickel said. “One of the main things is that I just love competing. If I have any chance to compete, I will, no matter what it’s about.”
There’s no questioning Bickel’s competitive spirit. She’s been a part of five BWAC championships, five district championships, two regional championships, and one state championship – not to mention a state runner-up finish in volleyball and an individual conference title in track.
And right now, North Branch is leading the league at 7-0 in track and is in a three-way tie for first in the BWAC at 7-1.
“Sometimes people can overlook multi-sport athletes and say they do everything ‘just because,’ but I know so many girls who do so many sports and we do it because we love it and we want to be good at it,” Bickel said. “We don’t just do it for the heck of it. We do it because we want to be good.”
For these reasons, Bickel was recently named one of eight statewide recipients of the Michigan High School Coaches Association Rich Tompkins Multi-Sport award.
“It’s crazy, honestly I didn’t even know I was put up for it until [North Branch Athletic Director Al Margrif] told me I had won it, so it was a shock, but it was awesome,” Bickel said. “I’m so grateful for it because it is a lot of work – it’s a lot of everything. There’s so much that goes into it.”
So how does Bickel do it all?
“A lot of it is just knowing my schedule and having priorities in my sports. My parents help me out a lot with that,” she said. “A lot of it’s just day by day.
“It’s also a lot of packing which a lot of people don’t think about.”
Last week, Bickel said she arrived at school prepared for three possibilities: a softball game, softball practice, or a track meet. When the softball game was canceled due to weather, she attended softball practice before heading to the track where she earned first place in shot put and discus.
But more than the logistics and physical demands of being a four-sport athlete, Bickel mentioned the toll it can take on her mentally.
“A lot of girls struggle with putting their value in how they're competing or where they’re standing, starting or not starting or their stats,” Bickel said. “But my parents have always made sure I'm not putting my value in my athletic performance and instead putting it into something that will never change, which is God.
“No matter what happens, God is always there. He's never going to love you less if you can’t play or you're not doing well or starting. He’s always been the rock I can lean on…I think that’s a big part of how I've been able to get through so many sports for so many years.”
Bickel has chosen to continue her athletic and academic career at Spring Arbor University where she’ll play volleyball and study business, and maybe minor in sport management and ministry, she said.
But for now, while most seniors are getting ready for graduation and enjoying their last days before heading off to college, Bickel is still focused on softball and track, helping both teams as they pursue BWAC titles.
“Some people might say I’m missing out on other opportunities that teenagers have, but from my standpoint I haven't missed out on anything that I would want to do. There's nothing I look back on and go, ‘Man, I wish I would've done that.’
“I’ve loved everything about being a multi-sport athlete.”
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