Swift has Sailors at the top

The most obvious individual statistic in soccer is the number of goals scored.

Nine days ago, Newport Harbor High senior midfielder Natalie Swift scored one of the biggest ones of the season for the Sailors' girls' soccer team. She connected in stoppage time off a pass from junior Josie Jogwe, giving Newport Harbor a dramatic 2-1 Sunset League victory and stunning the Oilers on their home field.

Swift said she thinks it's her fourth goal of the season. Coach Larry Draluck isn't a big statistics guy, so he isn't so sure.

"Suffice it to say, she's scored some big goals," Draluck said.

But then there's Swift's passing, like the assist she gave to fellow senior Madeline Storch on Thursday. It was the game-tying goal in what ended up as a 2-1 victory that kept Newport Harbor tied for first place in league.

Then there's her leadership, as a four-year varsity player and one of four senior captains.

Draluck doesn't need to keep track of her goals to know Swift's value to the Sailors.

"I think a lot of her work gets overlooked," he said. "She does a lot of the dirty work. She's a coach on the field. She accepts tremendous responsibility for herself and the team."

Watch the Sailors play at Davidson Field and see how Swift lives up to her last name from the center midfield spot, how she's always thinking ahead. Her position also means she talks plenty to Draluck on the sidelines, sometimes praise coming from the coach and sometimes constructive criticism.

"That's OK if he's hard on me," Swift said. "He knows I can do it. I think I play better when I have that responsibility."

Swift and Draluck are both in their fourth year at Newport Harbor, and in a sense they've built up the program together. Each year Draluck has played Swift at a different spot, from outside mid as a freshman to outside back as a sophomore to center defender last year.

He's had that luxury with one of the few dedicated club players the Sailors possess. Swift and senior defender Beth Barnard both play with Wolfpack Soccer Club, and they also played together on the Sailors' field hockey team last fall to help anchor a dominant defense.

"People look up to her," Barnard said of her good friend. "She sets an example and I think other people work toward that. I think that pushes the rest of the team."

Swift was a second-team All-Sunset League selection as the "Chix With Stix" won their third straight Los Angeles Field Hockey Assn. Tournament of Champions title. Expect her to be first-team all-league in soccer.

It's an easy call, especially with the way the Sailors are playing. Swift's first three years ended in frustration, as the team finished fourth in league and missed playoffs each time. This year, though, they're 5-1 in league, tied for the top spot with Los Alamitos and Edison.

They appear to be in great shape to earn their first playoff berth since 2005. Next week could go a long way toward determining the league title, as the Sailors play host to Los Al on Tuesday and Edison on Thursday.

Swift said she's tried to stay positive throughout, even as the Sailors suffered through another tough pre-league season in a schedule laden with top teams. Her team has followed suit.

"The attitudes are better this year," she said. "Attitudes are just as big as talent."

Swift's attitude is often competitive. This is the same girl who said she once punched a friend because she lost in the card game "Speed." It's also the girl who even competes with herself when she surfs, often at Blackies or somewhere south down the coast.

But Swift is making sure her senior year in soccer doesn't go south as well.

"We've never really truly had, with respect to results, a successful season," Draluck said. "She sees this being her last opportunity, and she's really stepping it up … She makes mistakes, as all players do, but the great thing about Natalie is that she's so conscientious and has such high expectations for herself. She rebounds and makes adjustments."

In school, she's plenty competitive as well with a 3.8 grade-point average. Opponents, in turn, need to do their homework on No. 15.

Even if they can't find out how many goals she's scored this season.

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Natalie Swift

Born: March 12, 1993

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-3

Sport: Soccer

Coach: Larry Draluck

Favorite food: Mexican

Favorite movie: "Despicable Me"

Favorite athletic moment: Helping the Newport Harbor High field hockey team win its third straight Los Angeles Field Hockey Assn. Tournament of Champions title last November.

Week in review: Swift scored the game-winning goal in the final seconds to help the Sailors earn a key Sunset League victory, 2-1, at Huntington Beach on Jan. 20.

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