She may be in a new position, but it’s not slowing her down at all.
Natalie Stefan joined Penn women’s lacrosse as a midfielder, but she will leave the program as a defender. After suffering multiple ACL injuries over the course of her college career, the senior has moved to a new role on the team, and she’s thriving.
With the departure of talent in the backfield last year, Stefan was earmarked to fill the hole. Being a middie, she already had some familiarity with the style of defense, so she was the go-to choice for the team.
“With the talent that we had coming in, it was just better for the team as a whole if I moved lower,” she said. “[Coach Corbett] asked if I would, and honestly I’d do anything for the team. It’s been great and I’ve always said I liked playing defense better than attack, so it’s been a lot of fun for me.”
Stefan’s previous stint at midfield means she has the ability to be an unexpected force on quick-transition offense. Although she’s now in the backfield full time, Stefan has chances to bring the ball up the field and create chances to score.
A crucial element of the Red and Blue’s defense, Stefan leads the teams in ground balls with 33. One of the Quakers’ biggest offensive assets last season with 32 points, she isn’t afraid to put her attacking skills to use even from the back. Stefan’s support has manifested itself in the form of her three assists on the season, despite playing mostly behind the attackers and midfielders.
In addition to being a powerful weapon all across the field, Stefan is a leader on the team, especially towards the younger defenders.
“She’s just such a powerful, confident player, and she talks a lot defensively, so you can always hear her down there, and it gives a lot of confidence to the entire defense,” coach Karin Corbett said. “She’s powerful in transition, and because she was a middie she has great stick skills, so she’s really confident bringing the ball up the field.”
In terms of whose call it was to make the switch, Corbett and Stefan reached a decision together for the senior to move to defense full time.
Throughout her career, Stefan has been plagued with ACL issues, causing her to miss the entirety of her sophomore season after a preseason injury, and once again having the pain flare up towards the end of last season. It was this recent development that prompted talks of a possible position change for Stefan.
“I feel like last year it was hard for her to play a lot in the midfield,” Corbett said. “She ended up playing a little at the crease last year at the end of the year when she was in a lot of pain, and she liked it a lot. She was all for it, so it was mutual to keep her healthy and play to her strengths.”
Despite these setbacks, Stefan is back stronger than ever and remains a consistent threat to opposing attackers. With her tenacious play in the backfield and ability to push play quickly up the field, she could be the team’s secret weapon.
“I hoped it would be a lot less running,” she joked, “but I’m doing a lot clearing the ball. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse, but I’m having a lot of fun back there with the defense.”
If injuries and a position change can’t slow Stefan down, nothing can.