Natalie Berty isn’t a big self promoter.
“I’m really bad at talking about myself,” she said when interviewed after being named the VolleyballMag.com national girls high school player of the year.
We’ll handle that for her. And we have plenty to say about this 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter from Mater Dei in Santa Ana, California, who is headed to Stanford.
Berty helped lead 43-2 Mater Dei to not only the CIF Southern Section Division I title, but the CIF Division I open title as well (the equivalent of a state-level championship), racking up impressive numbers as a six-rotation outside.
Berty finished the 2018 season with 532 kills and was set almost twice as often as the next closest Monarchs player (1,214 swings to 620), while hitting .301 from the left side. She ranked second on the team in digs with 323.
In examining Berty’s statistics further, she played matches against four teams that finished in the final top 10 national high-school rankings by our friends over at PrepVolleyball.com.
In a 2-1 loss to 2018 VolleyballMag.com girls high school team of the year, Assumption of Louisville, Kentucky, at the Durango Classic in Las Vegas, Berty had 16 kills on 33 swings and hit .394.
She also went toe-to-toe with Marymount (No. 6 final ranking by PrepVolleyball.com) of Los Angeles four times where she had 11 kills (in a 2-0 loss), eight kills (in a 3-0 win), 21 kills (on 55 swings in a 3-1 win in the CIF Southern Section final) and 15 kills and 10 digs (in a 3-2 win in the state Division I open semifinals).
Against seventh-ranked Torrey Pines of San Diego, she had 14 kills and nine digs in a 3-0 win and 10 kills in a 2-0 win.
Against No. 8 Redondo Union of Redondo Beach, California, Berty had 31 kills (on 69 swings), hit .348 and had 16 digs in a 3-1 win and had 22 kills and hit .333 in a 3-1 win in the Division I open quarters.
“Natalie has become the player she is because of her passion for volleyball,” said Mater Dei coach Dan O’Dell, the CIF Southern Section Division I coach of the year.
“I’ve never met a player who loved the process of improving in practice as much as her. She’s incredibly coachable and approaches every day as another chance to get better. She loves the sport and it clearly shows with her positive attitude every day she was in the gym.”
Berty said her improvement this season was multi-faceted.
“I feel I got better at just having more tools in the toolbox,” she said. “I got good at placing the ball when I hit it. I feel like I can hit with power and mix it up now.”
O’Dell pointed out Berty was asked to be a six-rotation outside for Mater Dei this season.
“Over the course of her high-school career, her ball control was her biggest improvement,” he said. “She always wanted to be a six-rotation outside and she has spent countless hours to improve her passing and defense. Being asked to be that six-rotation outside for us this year, her ability to pass and defend at such a high level was a big reason for the success we had this year.”
Berty said being able to stay on the court was indeed a big deal for her. She had played six rotations previously in club (she plays for Irvine, California-based Momentous).
“I really liked always being on the court to help the team whenever I can,” she said. “Being a six-rotation player you get to be a part of everything for every second.”
Berty also digs the leadership part of the game.
“I am a really good team player,” she said, lessening her self-talking hatred just a bit. “I want everybody on the team to excel. I like to win and I am very competitive. I like how our team this year was super-close. We were a bunch of friends that happened to play together. We were a team full of good team players and me being a good team player helped. I do like being a leader not that I like having a sense of importance, but I like helping others get better.”
O’Dell said Berty’s most impressive trait is not a volleyball skill.
“It’s her mental toughness,” he said. “Like any player, Natalie will make mistakes. But this season she almost always followed a mistake with a perfect play. Her ability to stay focused on the present and get the job done all the time was incredible. She never broke down and always had confidence in herself that she could make the play.”
O’Dell said Berty was a “large reason for the success of our team.”
“Not just for her passing and defense, but having a 6-3 hammer who could generate offense for us even when we were out of system was something that set us apart from so many teams,” he added.
“It took pressure off the team needing to be ‘perfect’ in certain situations because if things weren’t going well, we always had Natalie who could put us on her back when we needed her to.”
Volleyball found Berty like it does many others in the sport-family ties. In this case, her older sister played volleyball, Berty watched her play and was bitten by the bug.
“I started in fifth grade,” she said. “I loved playing all the sports, but I grew really passionate about volleyball. It’s a sport where you have to rely on your teammates a lot and there is a lot of relationship building. That’s the reason teams do well. You have to have good chemistry to do well. And I love making friends and playing with friends.”
Berty, who played three full seasons on the varsity after being called up freshman year during CIFs, said Mater Dei had a 1-2 punch going for it this season that led to its ultimate success.
“Besides being a bunch of great volleyball players, everybody on the team had this amazing bond,” she said. “We were such great players and had these great relationships. We hit the jackpot.”
Besides volleyball, Berty is a big fan of academia, punctuating the student in student-athlete.
“I have yet to get a ‘B’ here,” she said, again veering off the self-talking course. “Academics always have been important to me. They are a part of my life. Someday I am not going to be able to play volleyball anymore and will have education behind me. I love to learn things.”
While she doesn’t have a major picked out for Stanford yet, she’s can’t wait to officially step foot onto the Palo Alto campus.
“Since academics and volleyball are important to me and a big part of my life, I wanted to go to the best academic and athletic school there is and Stanford is the best.”
Being able to earn a Division I scholarship is something that is not lost on Berty.
“Honestly, it’s an honor,” she said. “Stanford always has been my dream school. I grew up watching them play on TV. It’s an honor to go to such a high-level school because it’s getting harder and harder to go to a Division I school because there are so many good kids playing.
When she’s not on the court, you may just find Berty in the kitchen where she enjoys cooking and baking.
“I’ll make dinner for my family, just for fun,” she said.
Mango chicken is her favorite main course to make and Berty said she makes a good lemon cake.
“I’ve always loved creating things. Once I got old enough my parents let me create things in the kitchen. Sometimes I will bring in treats for birthdays or bake for classes.”
Berty admits leaving Mater Dei will be tough.
“It’s been the best four years of my life,” she said, “but I know college will be even better.”