“It wasn’t a matter of if she started scoring, it was a matter of when,” Gene Abel said.
Freshman forward Natalie Abel balances it all. She is a star athlete, an engineering student and maintains a creative mind. She achieves all of this while facing one of the biggest challenges of her life: Being 1,470 miles away from her family.
Texas A&M soccer’s first games of the 2021 season were two exhibition matches against North Texas and Baylor. Abel was unable to participate in these two matches due to illness.
Instead, Abel made her first appearance on the pitch during the first regular game of the season against Florida State on Aug. 19, playing for 15 minutes.
A&M head coach G Guerrieri said he limited her playing time against FSU to help her recover.
“She tested negative for COVID[-19], but she just had a viral infection that kept her out of the games,” Guerrieri said. “We’re weaning her a little bit and getting her gradually more and more into play.”
The Mission Viejo, Calif., native made her first marks on her stat sheet against Sam Houston on Friday, Sept. 3. The freshman posted five shots, two assists and one goal against the Bearkats in only the second game of her career.
Possessing this level of physical ability was not an easy road for Abel. Growing up playing soccer, she struggled with an unstable left ankle due to ligament damage, but was eventually able to recover through reconstructive surgery.
Gene and Janna Abel, Natalie’s parents, said they knew Natalie was going to reach D1 level after watching her persevere through injuries.
“When she was 14 to 16 she had some difficulties with her [left] ankle — fractured, spraining it — so much so that she had to have reconstructive surgery with her ankle,” Gene said. “When she came back from reconstructive surgery, she had to join a new club team, and it was halfway through the season. She was able to recover and lead that team to the national playoffs and lead them in scoring. That’s when we knew.”
Natalie’s parents made the 1,470-mile journey to be in attendance at Ellis Field on Friday of the Sam Houston matchup. It just so happened that she made her first additions to her statsheet that same game.
However, Natalie was not done adding to her log of stats during that weekend. In the following game against the University of Texas at El Paso on Sept. 5, Natalie tallied another assist.
The reason Natalie has already achieved so much in three games of play, Guerrieri said, is due to her intelligence on the field. As an aspiring aerospace engineer, she maintained a 4.5 GPA in high school — the highest senior in her class graduated with a 4.7.
Intelligence is not the only mental aspect where Natalie thrives.
Gene and Janna said Natalie has a creative passion for art and drawing, which Guerrieri said she utilizes during her playmaking, specifically through her visualization of the field.
“She sees the game faster than a lot of her peers, and that’s not just here at Texas A&M, that’s across the board,” Guerrieri said. “It’s one of the reasons why her club team were national champions this past year within her  age group.”
While Natalie has many strengths, she also faces being apart from her family, including her parents, older sister Sam and the family’s two cats, for the first time. Natalie is the only member of her family to be away from home, with psychology senior Sam attending UCLA and commuting from home.
Natalie said her family is the most important and influential aspect in her life, citing them as her reason for playing collegiate soccer.
“I am very close with my family,” Natalie said. “They have sacrificed a lot for me to be here. Not being with them has been kind of difficult, but I’ve been able to adapt. Having them there on the sidelines and at the games means a lot to me. They’re like my whole world. I wouldn’t be here without them. I love my parents and my sister a lot.”
An even bigger influence in Natalie’s life is her faith. Every goal Natalie scores in both life and on the pitch is for God, she said.
“Whenever I score, I always point up to the heavens and point up to God because I notice a big difference with my prayer and finding comfort with Him,” Natalie said.
Prior to her start at A&M, Natalie was a big influence on her previous club teams.
Her last two years of club play were with the Southern California Blues Soccer Club.
During her 2018-2019 season with the under-17 Blues, Natalie led the team in scoring with 38 goals and helped her team win the national championship. Her final club season took place in the spring of 2021, when Natalie posted 25 goals and 17 assists in 20 games for her under-18 team, which also won a national championship.
Adjusting from a California lifestyle to a southern state across the country added yet another element for Natalie to balance, Janna said.
“I am extremely proud that she can [balance both athletics and her education,]” Janna said. “Not only balancing that but just being acclimated to a new area. She’s moving from a different state and then having to get used to soccer and the really hard curriculum. [I’m] very proud that she’s able to handle it.”
As any high-achiever and dreamer does, Natalie is still striving for more. Before the conclusion of the 2021 season, Natalie said she aspires to achieve a perfect 4.0 GPA along with earning All-SEC honors.
“I want to get all A’s — that is a big aspiration of mine,” Natalie said. “Hopefully, [also becoming] SEC Forward or Freshman Forward of the Year. I want to be one of the stat leaders, I want to get up there and keep playing and making a difference in these games.”