Streamwood girls basketball coach George Rosner might want to think about writing a thank-you letter to Natalie Cerda.
When Natalie's younger sister Jessica was a little girl, Jessica loved soccer. Her dad, Jamie, played soccer, so it was only natural that a young Jessica would play soccer.
"It was my favorite thing," Jessica says.
But Natalie Cerda played basketball.
"I'd go to her games and I'd start dribbling the ball around and it was so much fun," Jessica recalled.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Basketball became Cerda's chosen sport pretty quickly after she put the soccer balls away, and the Streamwood program ended up being the benefactor. Over the course of her four years on the Sabres' varsity team, the 5-foot-8 Cerda helped elevate the program to a point where this season the Sabres won their first regional championship in 25 years and advanced to the sectional finals, finishing the season 22-9.
And for her efforts this season, Cerda has been selected as the honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley all-area team. She shares the award with Huntley senior Haley Ream.
"It's been a fast four years," said Rosner. "Jess came in as a quiet and shy freshman and quietly did her job. All we wanted her to do then was shoot. But she made herself a real all-around player and that's why she'll be a Division I player."
Cerda, who will play at Chicago State on full scholarship, leaves an indelible mark on the Streamwood program. This season, she averaged 15 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals per game while making an area-high 60 3-pointers. For her career, she scored 1,267 points (fifth on Streamwood's all-time list), made a program record 187 3-pointers and dished out a program record 368 assists.
"Every year something got better in her game," Rosner said. "This year her ballhandling, her shooting and her defense all got better."
Cerda became a player who can be effective at all five positions. During her junior season she had to move to point guard due to an injury to senior Amanda Patterson, and as Cerda grew she also became a player who could move to a forward or post spot.
"I worked a lot on my ballhandling over the summer," said Cerda, who played with teammate Deja Moore on the Illinois Hustle AAU team. "I realized I could post up smaller people guarding me and that helped me become a more diverse player, more well-rounded. I know as a player I want to be the best at my position but if I can be a better ballhandler or a better post player I don't want to shy away from that. I want to be able to be the best player I can be."
Above all, Cerda became the vocal leader Rosner was hoping she would become.
"She became much more vocal and took this year very seriously," said Rosner. "She really came out of her shell this year. In our game against Batavia, Hannah (McGlone) fouled out with about four minutes to go and Jess just got in the middle of the huddle and said, 'no worries, we got this.' She not only made herself a complete player, she took a real leadership role. She has a good sense of humor and she's almost always in a good mood. We're going to miss Jess a lot. She dedicated herself totally and really put in the time to become the player she is. She's one of the top five players we've ever had here."
Cerda, who would possibly like to become a sports psychologist, will be the first to agree that she stepped up her leadership abilities this season.
"I was more vocal this year," she said. "As a freshman and sophomore I played under Emma (Schmidt) and Michelle (Tomczak) and they were both vocal leaders. Deja was probably the most vocal on our team this year but I tried to praise everyone for what they did well and also point out what wasn't being done well."
In the end, Cerda praises her family and Rosner for helping her become the basketball player and person she is.
"My sister taught me a lot," Cerda said. "Growing up she pushed me. Playing basketball was all because of my sister. My mom (Ada) and dad always looked for different camps and programs for me and my AAU coaches (Derril Kipp and Reggie Dawson) gave me the opportunity to be seen. And Rosner, he helped me so much. He gave me a starting spot as a freshman and he helped me become more confident in myself."
And now, in a few short months, it will be on to college.
"It scares me a little but I'm excited," Cerda said. "I'll be on my own for the first time but I'll be living my dream to play college basketball and get my education paid for."
Which is happening because of four years of hard work at Streamwood paying off.