First Posted: 4/15/2009
Natalie Nester has led an exciting life, to say the least. How many people can say they played in three NCAA Sweet Sixteen games and had a successful modeling career?
But for Nester, it all started in Mount Airy, where she starred on the hardwood as a basketball and volleyball star in the late 1980s.
Nester was an all-conference volleyball player from 1986-1988. The Granite Bears won 2A state titles in 1987 and 1988.
But it was basketball, Nester said, that was her favorite, even during volleyball season. She said she would get in trouble for trying to sneak in a few jump shots during volleyball practices.
Nester usually found time to practice during lonely nights in the gym and developed into a dynamic player. She was all-Northwest Conference four years, the 2A player of the year twice and was the first player to win the Mary Garber award twice.
Her Michael Jordan moment came against Bandys in the midst of what became a triple-overtime thriller. Mount Airy coach Eddie Cobb had been ejected after a technical foul, as Nester recalled, and she was at the free-throw line about to shoot twice.
“I hit both my free throws,” Nester said. “He had made his way back to the gym so he could watch us and I remember seeing him at the end of the gym and I winked at him. That was the kind of relationship we had. We wanted to win for him.”
Nester remembers the bond she shared with her friends and teammates as much as athletic success.
“What was great about it was all the girls I played with, we were a family,” she said. “We played every sport together probably from seventh to eighth grade and up. That really helped us on the court.”
After ending her high school career as the Granite Bears’ all-time leading scorer, Nester took her game to North Carolina State to play for Kay Yow, who had coached the women’s Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988. Yow was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987.
“All that mattered to me was she was the Olympic coach,” Nester said. “I was signing a scholarship to play for the Olympic coach and we were very successful.”
The Wolfpack reached the Sweet Sixteen from 1989-1991, culminating with the 1991 team’s recognition as the top-ranked squad in the country. That same year, the Wolfpack were crowned ACC champions.
Yow sent Nester Christmas and birthday cards, as well as media guides after Nester had graduated with a degree in Communications and began a professional life. Nester recently planned a trip to Raleigh to visit friends and stop off to see her ailing former coach, but fate intervened when Yow passed away after a nearly 22-year struggle with cancer.
“Ironically enough,” Nester said, “I had a plane ticket already, so I made it for her memorial service.”
Nester will bring her ACC championship ring and the program from Yow’s memorial service with her on Sunday.
After college, Nester, “did a little modeling stint,” as she put it, posing for print ads and strutting on runways. She has since settled in Atlanta, where she has lived since 1994, and works as an account manager for Manheim Atlanta.
On Sunday, Nester will be back where it all started when she accepts her place in the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame. Nester said she was touched that she is still remembered so fondly in her hometown.
“I’ve been away from Mount Airy since I graduated from high school,” she said. “I go home for holidays twice a year, if that. To be recognized and remembered is such a huge honor.”
Contact Ed Phillipps at [email protected]