What seemed inevitable after her junior season was put in jeopardy when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of girls’ basketball earlier this winter.
Fox Lane senior Natalie Pence, though, took advantage of a second chance with this shortened season as she became the program’s all-time leading scorer in the March 9th 66-46 loss to visiting Walter Panas in Bedford.
Heading into the game, Pence stood at 1,200 points and tied with Allison Lombardi and 10 others behind leader Maria Violante, who finished her five-year career in 2018 with 1,210 points.
Violante went on to play collegiately at Belmont Abbey College.
Pence finished the loss to Panas with 23 points, giving her 1,223 for her career. She also added 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals and blocked two shots.
“This morning, I did what I have done every morning after a game; I entered Nat’s stats into the career average to see where she was — 1,200 points,” Fox Lane head coach Kris Matts said. “I couldn’t believe it. She was tied with Allison Lombardi, the cornerstone of Fox Lane’s girls’ basketball renaissance and the previous owner of the school record.”
Lombardi graduated from Fox Lane in 2012.
Early in her junior year, Pence passed Emily O’Mahoney, one of the best guards in Fox Lane program history who had 845 points in her career. O’Mahoney graduated in 2016 and went on to play at Muhlenberg College.
“Soon after, it started to look like she might get to 1,000 points by the end of the season (2019-2020),” Matts said. “When she pulled that off against Ossining, it was pretty certain that she would break the all-time record at some point her senior year. After all, she had 20 games and, God willing, a playoff game or two to do it.”
Then, like everything else, COVID-19 changed things.
“Natalie’s march to glory was soon added to my ever-growing list of things the pandemic had ruined,” Matts said.
Still, Pence kept hope.
“She dutifully came to every off-season workout, staying silent when other girls asked if it was possible to have a season,” Matts said. “She just did what she always did: she got shots up and focused on work.”
He continued, “When high-risk sports were approved, the chaos that ensued swallowed up thoughts of the record amidst desperation to prepare, stay healthy and stay open. As the games and points started to add up, I started to do the math — she was going to do it.”
Pence has played varsity basketball for Matts since she was in eighth grade.
“Over five seasons coaching Natalie, I’ve gotten used to that sequence of emotions,” Matts said. “She’s not going to shoot from there, not as an eighth grader; oh, yes she was, and she would make it. She’s not going to be able to blend in with an established team with a superstar fully developed in Maria Violante; oh, yes she was, and she was going to compliment her perfectly.”
He added, “She’s not going to able to captain a team through rebuilding as an underclassman; oh, yes she was, and she was going to develop into an amazing leader, giving her teammates her strength along the way.”
And, along the way, Pence developed into a stat sheet filler, a walking double-double on almost every night — and a triple-double on some occasions.
And, when all is said and done, she will continue her education and basketball career at New York University next year.
“It was so fitting that Natalie took a pit-stop with Lombardi, a girl she never met, but owed so much to before she went for her former teammate, Vio (Violante),” Matts said. “Natalie herself remarked to me how odd it was to be passing Maria after she did it today against Panas. They had played together. Maria had meant so much to her development.”
The coach added, “Allison Lombardi, Emily O’Mahoney, Maria Violante, and now Natalie Pence. Each athlete seeing what is possible by admiring what came before. Each athlete building a better future for the program by leaving a legacy of her own. Natalie has meant to this program what they all have: absolutely everything.”