by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
Walking into a new situation is never easy. New people, new surroundings. a new system to learn. Then walking into a new system, with a rebuilding program, is even tougher.
For a stretch, the St. Mary’s High School girls’ basketball team was going through a stretch were they were in a rebuilding mode. At times it was tough to watch as the team struggled even against the weakest of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association.
When Lauren Nawojski stepped foot on campus her freshman year she knew exactly what she was walking in to. There was no sugar coating the fact that she was going to be looked upon as the one of the key contributors over the next four years.
While there was pressure to perform, Nawojski took it stride. Maybe because she new what she was signing up for when she first walked in the gym.
“When I got to St. Mary’s, I was looking forward to being a part of their rebuilding. Making changes is always difficult, but the team was up for the challenge. We all wanted to succeed and teammates were understanding when someone else would play over them. Although I was only a freshman, I tried to set an example for the girls on the team because I knew I wanted to win, so I thought if I showed it, they’d follow,” stated Nawojski. “The program began to grow, and the team became better and more disciplined. Most of us were working in the offseason so we could come back each year stronger. It was fun to watch the transformation of our program and witness the respect the name “St. Mary’s” gained over my four years. With all these changes there’s obstacles we all have to overcome, and we struggled at first, but we learned to look past it all because we all had one goal, to win. During my time at St. Mary’s, it was exciting to watch new players come in and bring a different dynamic to the team that wasn’t there before. By my senior year, we learned how everyone else on the team played, and our individual skills complemented one another.”
Since hitting the court at St. Mary’s, Nawojski has led the way. Some people just have that built into them. They want to be the best there is, there was and that there ever will be. Nawojski had that from the beginning.
It didn’t matter that she was freshman on the team. When she stepped on the court, she wanted to own that court. She wanted to be the best player she could be, and she wanted her teammates to be the players they could be.
That’s what leaders do, they lead from the front.
That’s what Nawojski was doing. She was leading from the front, so everyone else could see how it was done.
“Coming in as a freshman, it’s hard to develop respect from upperclassmen because of seniority. I just did what I needed to do, and still tried to set an example for my other teammates. By my sophomore year, I had earned myself a captain spot. I still continued to do the little things that went unnoticed. I was also named captain of my cross country team during the fall. Having both of these positions showed me that my leadership didn’t go unnoticed,” stated Nawojski. “I was able to learn from mistakes that I’ve made on all the teams I was a part of, and I used that to improve my leadership skills. I believe that my cross country team/experience was a major part in my maturing into the leader I am today. When the program started my freshman year, there were only about 10 girls on the team. Most of them had transferred from Immaculata, including Coach Charlie Planz. Being the start of a new organization puts a lot of weight on your shoulders because you’re always looking for new people. Anyone can run, but not many people have the motivation to do so. By my senior year, we had around 40 runners, which included a boys team as well. Learning to lead a large group of athletes is a difficult task, but it was very beneficial in the long run.”
You would think being so young that Nawojski had to change the type of person that she was, that’s not the case. Her personalty never changes from the day she set foot on campus. One thing that Nawojski always made sure she did was not change who she was.
She always worked on the little things, and her actions always speaker louder that words. She may have not been the most vocal at times, but the girls new when she meant business. If Nawojski was going to run through a wall so was the rest of the team.
It’s a trait you can’t teach.
“As a leader, I believe I possess several different qualities. I believe my actions will always speak louder than my words, so I lead by example. I feel that I’m trustworthy and approachable in most, if not all situations. I think these qualities are very important because if there’s issues amongst the group/team, I want others to feel that they can come to me and trust that I will do my best to resolve the problem,” stated Nawojski. “I’ve been told by several coaches that I’m very coachable, and I believe that having this quality gives me the ability to connect the coaches and the players from a different angle. My teammates can rely on me to pick them up when they’re down, and provide the constructive criticism they need to be better. I’m also very consistent in what I do, and I have very high integrity. Even though I possess these qualities and many more, my most important quality that I possess is loyalty. Not only am I loyal to my teammates, friends, coaches, and family, I am loyal to myself and what I stand for as a person.”
Nawojski’s game improved on the court during her four year at St. Mary’s. People would say that she is a very coachable player, which is a great thing. College coaches know when she comes on campus in the fall that she won’t be a problem.
They know she will work hard every day to improve her game. They also know that she will take care of business in the classroom. Basketball is important, but so is academics. Without the second, there won’t be the first.
“When I decided to go to St. Mary’s, I was excited to go into a smaller student to teacher ratio. I believe being in a smaller environment, I was able to thrive much more. My teachers knew me well, along with other students. The staff offers an amazing amount of support to their students, and they truly want to watch us all succeed,” stated Nawojski. “Being at St. Mary’s, I’ve been able to challenge myself in different subjects, and narrow down what I was most interested in. I've been fortunate enough to have been recognized by my school in several different ways. Even though St. Mary’s has opened up opportunities for me athletically, they’ve helped me shine a light on the academic portion of my high school career. With their help, colleges have opened up several different academic scholarships that I had qualified for. Without the guidance and knowledge that St. Mary’s has provided me, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as I am today.”
Her all-around game on and off the court is what got colleges excited. They knew she had the game to play at the next level, but when they got to know her better they saw that she had the drive to be the best on the court and in the classroom.
Plus, she was coachable.
So, when it came time to choose a school, there was one school that stuck out for - St. John Fisher.
“When I decided I wanted to play college basketball, I always knew I wanted to make my decision early on so I could enjoy my senior year. I went into my junior travel basketball season hoping to get a few looks from different schools, to give myself some options. I ended up having a few division II opportunities, but I didn’t have that “feeling” when I stepped on the campus. Back during my sophomore year, I had my first visit at St. John Fisher, and I always knew deep down that I wanted to be there. Throughout the next couple basketball seasons, I wanted to see what other opportunities would come my way, but in the end I followed my instinct. I chose Fisher and I was immediately excited to be a part of the school and their basketball program. It was relieving to know that my decision was made, and I was happy about it. I felt that I was able to be more involved in the events I participated in at school because I wasn’t worried about trying to sort out my future,” explained Nawojski. “I believe that Coach Melissa will bring my game to new heights in the next four years. With my coachability, and her knowledge and drive for the game, I feel that she will be an amazing asset to not only my basketball career, but overall in life.”