Druhan's spirit on and off the court paves way for her latest successes
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Good things happen to people who do the right thing. Southern Miss volleyball senior Natalie Druhan is proof of that. Her family values and a keen desire to help others complements her growth as a player on the court.
"Coming in, I didn't know exactly what to expect," Druhan said. "I knew I would be a walk-on and with some starting spots, I knew I was gonna have to work my way up. I just kept pushing myself and had a lot of people behind me, like my family and coaches."
Druhan describes her family as a sports one. Her mother, Susan, played basketball all her life and her father, Michael, coached baseball. Much of her growing-up also centers around a close relationship with her brother, also Michael, who is two years older than her and played baseball at Meridian Community College and Spring Hill. Even better, her parents have an easy commute to her matches from Mobile, Ala.
The real twist to the story amidst all the sport involvement? Natalie grew up playing basketball but switched to volleyball in eighth grade "to make friends." It appears that the decision was a good one.
Of course, nobody would know what to expect in their first foray into college, especially as a student-athlete. Druhan's orientation to the game came from a highly-reputable source: Mary Pursell, a two-time C-USA Libero of the Year who as a senior set a Southern Miss school record with 677 digs in 2015.
"[She] was a great leader and person for me to look up to while I was trying to get her spot," Druhan said. "When she graduated, I had the opportunity and told myself to run with it."
Amanda Berkley is in her fifth season as the head coach, and while it is difficult to compare anyone to an all-time great, she has seen intangible strengths in Druhan's game that have contributed to her success. This year, she ranks No. 6 in the league with 3.61 digs per set. Last season, she had 4.29 against C-USA foes, ranking fifth, and posted an impressive 28 service aces.
"Mary played left back and Natalie was more middle back," Berkley said. "What's been great about her at middle is that she's able to read more and she's done that really well. She's just been a calm player on the back row. More importantly, she's a great person. We're happy to have her here."
Playing collegiate volleyball is one thing, and academics is another. Druhan says she's always loved the health field because of how rewarding it is to help people. She started out as a nursing major before switching to exercise science, which will help her fulfill her goals to be an occupational therapist.
"It's more about daily needs and is really similar to physical therapy, but more about getting back into your everyday life," Druhan said. "If you had a stroke on the left side of your body, learn how to use your left hand and using tools to help you grab things. It's more daily life instead of athletes learning how to rehab their whole way."
Druhan says that naturally her tests have gotten tougher and her professors less lenient, and even admits that she started to cry during a test this fall, but has since been able to laugh about it.
"I was so stressed out and had so many things going on around it," she said. "I called my mom and she told me to take it one thing at a time. You have to take care of one thing before the next. She's always been so helpful. It's been a learning process over the four years of how to manage time. There is no perfect way to do it."
But, there is always time for friends. Junior setter Sarah Bell says their relationship has continued to grow.
"There's not really a specific moment, it's just an accumulation of all of them and seeing how kind and good a person she is," Bell said. "With our relationship, we have a lot of similarities in what we like to do. She's very easy-going. She lives right next door to me, so we hang out a lot on the weekends as well."
Druhan has made a lot of memories as a Golden Eagle, but two really standing out for her, especially the 2016 Lady Razorback Invitational, where her 4.64 digs per set helped Southern Miss knock off host Arkansas in four and sweep UMKC before taking a set from No. 25 Kansas State in the finale.
"It was also my birthday," she said. "I won an Apple TV for all-tournament team, and that was my only time getting that honor. It was the one time they also gave out something expensive. Other than that, all our road trips have been fun. Last year on Senior Night, when we beat Rice in five it was great for the seniors. I remember that really well."
So, what will be in store for the senior next week in her final home matches?
The Golden Eagles host LA Tech (Thursday at 6 p.m.) and FIU (Saturday at 12 p.m.) before embarking on their conference tournament run in Bowling Green, Ky., Nov. 17-19.