Some young athletes get very, very lucky.
Not only are they gifted with talent and drive, but they are mentored by a coach who molds them.
Shapes them, from the amorphous clay they arrived at the gym, into a mostly fully shaped figure who can achieve goals they never thought possible.
Natalie DeMeo had one of those. His name was Anthony Bolden, a youth basketball coach from Baldwin who worked with DeMeo for four years.
He was “the good cop” to other coaches’ bad cop, the guy who was always there with a hug, an encouraging word, or a tip to make her an even better basketball player than she was.
“He was the best guy to be around, just the best,” DeMeo said after practice recently. “He always knew what to say to make me feel better.”
He was a second dad to DeMeo, which is why the outgoing 18-year-old who’s always smiling and laughing immediately tears up when Bolden’s name is mentioned.
Eighteen months ago, on Sept. 7, 2021, the 40-year-old Bolden died due to complications from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition he came down with after being treated for testicular cancer earlier that year.
His loss devastated DeMeo. To honor Bolden, she writes his name on her sneakers before every basketball and lacrosse game she plays.
“He developed me into the athlete I am today,” DeMeo said, wiping her eyes. “We were so close, my family all knew him, and it was really really hard when he died.”
No doubt if Bolden were around today, he’d be supremely proud of the athlete DeMeo has become. In the winter, she stars on the Schreiber basketball team, leading the squad in scoring the past two years and averaging 18.9 points per game this past season.
And on the grass, she’s equally dominant. The 5-foot-9 midfielder has been on the Vikings’ varsity since 8th grade, becoming one of the best all-around players on Long Island.
She’s pumped in 157 goals in her four-year career leading into 2023, and last season helped lead Schreiber to the Class AA county semis with 31 goals and 14 assists. So far in three games this spring, through April 14, DeMeo has scored five goals and added one assist.
“She’s always the hardest worker at practice, and you combine that with her athletic ability being unmatched by the majority of teams we play, and you get a special player,” said Schreiber coach Pam Giordano. “She can play big, she can play small, she can take whatever the defense gives her and find a way to score.”
DeMeo’s future coach raves about her as well. After entertaining Division I offers in both sports, the youngest of three kids decided to stick to lacrosse and play at Hofstra.
“Just a perfect fit as a person and a player for us,” Shannon Smith, Hofstra’s head coach, said. “Such a great kid, with great character and someone who’s super competitive who still has so much upside to her game.”
DeMeo’s competitiveness was honed by going against two very talented older brothers as a child. Twenty-five-year-old Anthony was a hockey star who played in the Ontario Hockey League in Canada before multiple concussions ended his career, while 23-year-old Christian was a football standout who went to RPI.
“They ganged up on me and bullied me pretty good,” DeMeo said with a smile. “They never fought (each other), they just threw me around. It made me tougher.”
DeMeo started playing both sports in fourth grade and soon realized she was equally good at both. Switching from defense to midfield in sixth grade, she discovered a love of scoring goals and patrolling the field as a middie.
“There are a lot of connections between basketball and lacrosse, in being able to score and get open,” DeMeo said. “Just having offensive movements in both sports that help you, quick first steps, and thinking where to move without the ball.”
DeMeo said she never pondered giving up one sport to concentrate on the other and said her favorite sport is the one she’s playing at the time.
But when college recruiters for both sports came calling, lacrosse, and Smith, impressed her a lot.
“She was after me really hard, and I loved her every time I talked to her,” DeMeo said.
Smith said she envisions DeMeo having an immediate role for the Pride next year, but first DeMeo wants to leave a legacy at Schreiber. Part of that is mentoring new varsity players like freshman goalie Hayes Hassett, and 8th-grade offensive threat Caitlin Ahmuty.
“I didn’t have to ask her to do that, she just does it automatically,” Giordano said. “She gives them encouragement and makes them feel welcome. Just the kind of person she is.”
DeMeo, who hopes to become an orthodontist when she grows up (“I like helping people and I like teeth,” she said) also would love to bring a county title to Schreiber in her final season; last year Schreiber fell in the semifinals.
“It’s crazy how fast it’s all gone,” DeMeo said. “But we would love to go out with a championship.”