NORTH ADAMS -- The slightest whisper of Belchertown soccer can create quite a stir in North County. Talk of MCLA soccer likely won't cause clenched teeth.
Natalie Caney is off to a terrific start for the Trailblazers in her freshman season with the women's soccer team. Just don't tell anyone she's an Oriole at heart.
"That's funny that you should say that," she said laughing. "I just like to play my game. I don't want to just do it for me, though. I want to do it for the team."
If she continues the pace she's on, the team will certainly benefit in the years to come.
Photo Gallery: MCLA freshman Natalie Caney excels on women's soccer team
The MASCAC office tabbed her as Rookie of the Week for the week ending Oct. 6. While a good accomplishment by itself, Caney is making it a weekly ritual. The award was her third straight, and she's won all four the conference has handed out this season. (No Rookie of the Week honor was given for the week ending Sept. 15, but she won the season's first the week prior.)
The awards have brought a lot of attention to the true freshman.
"More than I would like," she said. "I'm not used to it yet. It is a lot, I will admit."
Caney leads the conference with 12 goals entering Saturday's 1 p.m. home game against Framingham State.
All-time leading scorer and Drury graduate Jess Tietgens scored 15 in her first season, while Roberta Smith's 17 in 1987 is the record for goals by a true freshman.
Caney's already tied for 10th on the school's all-time single season scoring list. Tietgens' 30 goals in 2009 is the record.
It's unlikely Caney reaches 30 with only five games remaining, but as to be expected, the comparisons have already started.
"I knew it was going to. The thing with Jessica is when Jessica first came here, people didn't know who she was. She was that kid from Drury," coach Deb Raber said. "Whereas Natalie was very much recruited, so other coaches know who she was and what she was all about. They're on the same pace. ... She'll get a couple more before the end of the year, without a doubt."
Being compared to an alumna with such stature so quickly can be overbearing for some. Coaches often refrain from making the connection to let their athletes maintain individuality, but Raber and Caney welcomed the correlation. And they're trying to take it to the next level.
Raber already spoke with Caney and Tietgens about the three sitting down together to help facilitate Caney's development.
"I think it's a really big advantage. I mean, I [am] looking forward to it because I kind of want to know what she would say and what she would tell me because I'm not used to it yet," Caney said. "And having someone like her who scored a lot of goals and who's been here longer and obviously is a great player, I definitely look forward to that because I like getting a different point of view from other people. ... It's a great idea."
But, to Raber, Caney is already ahead of Tietgens in at least one respect.
"... Natalie came in here with a skill set," she said. "I'm not sure Jess had that skill set when she came here. She certainly graduated with it."
Caney's skills haven't gone unnoticed by opponents, and she's paying the price for it physically. Tietgens drew cheap shots later in her career. Caney's at that point.
In a recent game, Caney nudged the ball past a defender and was grabbed with two hands and thrown to the ground. It's one aspect of the college game she's adjusting to.
"High school is way different," she said. "Normally, in high school you don't experience stuff like that because the girls aren't as old, and they aren't as strong and they aren't as big. So that was kind of a wake-up call, I guess you could say for what's going to be coming in the future. I'm not going to lie; I was a little scared. I kind of avoided going up against her the next few times, but it's definitely different."
Caney can claim sole possession of 10th place on the single-season scoring list with one goal against Framingham, which allowed six goals in three conference games.
Netting three more before the season wraps keeps her on Tietgens' pace.
What she does from that point is to be seen.
To reach Josh Colligan, email
On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh