CCS Senior of the Year
NATALIA ACKERMAN, APTOS
There were a lot of talented seniors in the CIF Central Coast Section this past season, and while some of them were on teams ranked higher than the No. 12 spot Aptos finished in the Prep2Prep CCS final rankings, none had a larger impact as a player than Natalia Ackerman, who stood head and shoulders above the other seniors.
Now, after leading Aptos to a 27-5 season that included an 11-0 record and Santa Cruz Coast League title, and a second straight CCS Division III championship, Ackerman has been chosen as the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Senior of the Year for girls basketball.
“Are you kidding me, wow, oh my gosh, I’m so honored,” was Ackerman’s response when told she was named the CCS’s top senior. “I don’t know what to say except thank you so much. I really appreciate it.”
“I feel extremely honored to be recognized out of a group of such talented female athletes,” continued Ackerman. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my family, coaches, and teammates, who were with me every step of the way.”
First-year coach Bruce Funk, who spent the previous seven-years as the head coach at Foothill-Pleasanton, inherited a pretty sweet situation that didn’t only include Ackerman.
“It was pretty special, and not just Natalia but the whole team that’s been together since grade school,” Funk remarked. “But inheriting someone like Natalia, who is such a difference maker, is really special.”
Ackerman is certainly not a one-girl team and she was also quick to acknowledge her teammates.
“It’s been very special to play basketball with a group of girls that I have played with since 5th-grade,” Ackerman remarked. “The chemistry we have built over the past eight years is probably one of major reasons we have been a successful team. I’m so lucky to not only call these girls my teammates but some of my closest friends.”
We’ll give some of Ackerman’s Mariners teammates their adieu but this is about Natalia and what she accomplished to earn this prestigious honor.
Not only did Natalia lead Aptos to a second straight CCS D3 title but as the No. 8 seed in the CIF Northern California Regional Division III playoffs, Ackerman helped them get all the way to the semifinals before they bowed out to fifth-seeded Woodside Priory.
Along the way Ackerman, a 6-1 forward that can also play the post, and who has signed with Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, averaged a double-double 19.1 points (64-percent from the field), and 10.5 rebounds per game plus 2.6 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.2 blocks per contest. Every mark except assists led the team and that honor went to fellow senior Gabby Giuffre (2.8 apg), who was also second on the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game.
Ackerman posted 18 double-doubles including in some of the Mariners most important games. Along the way, she finished her career with 1,782 points and over 1,100 rebounds, setting the school’s all-time scoring mark.
One of the most memorable performances came after Lick-Wilmerding-San Francisco upset top-seeded Menlo-Atherton-Atherton in the CIF Northern Regional Division III opening round, and then they travelled to eighth-seeded Aptos riding high and led 45-37 after three quarters until Ackerman took charge and finished with a season-high 34 points and 15 rebounds with six blocked shots in a 62-58 victory. Even in the season-ending 59-53 NorCal D3 semifinal loss to Woodside that snapped an 11-game winning streak, Natalia double-doubled after finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds with four steals.
In the loss that preceded the 11-game winning streak the Mariners were beaten 68-33 by P2P CCS No. 2 Pinewood, but Ackerman had 17 points and 12 rebounds and she blocked seven shots.
In a 56-55 overtime win on the road at P2P CCS No. 13 Palo Alto, the Mariners needed every bit of Natalia’s production and she came through with 16 points and a season-high 21 rebounds, with three steals, three blocks and two assists. In another impressive performance against a very solid Edison-Stockton team that was a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section quarterfinalist, Ackerman had 24 points and 19 rebounds with four assists and three blocks in a 55-47 victory. It was performances such as those which also led to Ackerman being named the Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Player of the Year.
“I think most coaches and opposing players were surprised how athletic Natalia was,” Funk said. “She was quicker than she looked, was very strong and got off the floor very well. She has excellent hands and can catch in traffic.”
What about leadership skills?
“Natalia was a leader by example,” Funk said. “She worked very hard in practice and was not afraid of criticism. She was very encouraging of all her teammates. In essence when she was on the court the team had a lot of confidence and they knew she would always come through.”
“Yes, I would consider myself a team leader, but my actions are always louder than my words,” remarked Ackerman. “Every practice and game I try to lead by example. I especially encourage the younger class players to be more confident in themselves and in their game.”
Ackerman knows she has attributes but she also acknowledges areas where she needs to improve.
“I think that my best attributes are my athleticism which allows me to run the court and jump for boards as well as my determination because that is what drives me to keep improving and to give it my all,” Ackerman said.
“I need to improve on my ability to shoot the ball from extended ranges,” continued Ackerman regarding areas for improvement. “When my confidence to do so increases, it will allow me to become more of a threat, creating two offensive strategies, shooting and driving. I also need to improve on utilizing my left hand more which will open up another whole side of the court.”
Funk talked about her attributes and also what Ackerman will need to improve on to be a factor at Cal Poly.
“Natalia was very coachable,” Funk said. “We worked on many new aspects of her game with her during the season. She was always willing to try to incorporate what we taught her in game situations. She was open to suggestions and never complained.”
“At the next level Natalia will have to extend her shooting range,” Funk continued. “We started working on this during practice and she made improvement. It is my belief that she will do very well at the next level. She has the desire and athletic ability to guard at the 3 and 4 positions as well as defend in the post.”
Basketball and sports is a big part of the Ackerman family, and these past two seasons the household has had two Mariners players to cheer for since Natalie has had her little sister, 5-10 sophomore wing Jasmine Ackerman with her in the Aptos lineup. This past season Jasmine was fourth on the team in scoring at 6.2 points a game and third in rebounding with 3.9 per contest.
“My dad Tony Ackerman played Division 1 basketball at Western Illinois University and my mother Cassie Ackerman played basketball and volleyball in high school,” Natalia said. “My sister Jasmine played alongside me and I’m forever grateful to have had so many memorable experiences with her throughout our two basketball seasons together. She is currently in the recruiting process. My brother Isaiah is in junior high playing every sport known.”
We already know what Funk had to say about what Ackerman will need to do to be a factor at Cal Poly but Natalia is looking at it from a different angle and talked about what she was most looking forward to when she arrives in San Luis Obispo.
“I’m most looking forward to getting to know my coaches and teammates and playing college basketball,” Ackerman responded. “It’s not an opportunity that everyone gets so I am extremely blessed and looking forward to every bit of it.”
“I’ve spent a little bit of time hanging out with teammates and am super excited about the family atmosphere,” Ackerman continued. “I can’t wait to get on the court and spend more time with them. I have scrimmaged in an open gym with the team and it was super fun. They have a very strong returning group so I’m excited to be a part of the continued growth. I feel like we will connect very well and are going to be able to build good chemistry. My coaches said I am athletically there but need to improve on my outside range. I’m hoping to earn some time on the court and help impact the team.”
Whether or not Natalia makes an immediate impact at Cal Poly is a few months away, but in recognition of the impact she had on this past season for Aptos, we are pleased to recognize Natalia Ackerman as the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Senior of the Year.
Other players considered for this award include Sabrina Belquist of Los Gatos, Da’Myiah Lewis of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Fallon Dexheimer and Nina Barry of Valley Christian-San Jose, Kelly Heimburger of Presentation-San Jose and Lydia Manu of Aragon.