Meet Nataly Moravec, the CT volleyball star on her way to BYU


Before leaving for BYU in June, Nataly Moravec had been coached by the same woman since she was 5 years old. Dina Ding was not only a world-class volleyball player in China, she had been friends with Nataly’s mother since they were teenagers in Tianjin.

Depending on the sport, depending on the school, high school sports coverage in Connecticut can vary widely. A Weston volleyball outside hitter at a prep school in New Haven doesn’t get the same attention as a 7-footer headed to UConn or a quarterback leading his school to the state title.

That doesn’t make Nataly Moravec’s ability any less substantial or her story any less compelling. Among her long list of honors at Hopkins School, Moravec was named an AVCA High School All-America—New England’s only—and a two-time AAU Academic All-America. She’s heading to a BYU team that finished 30-2 last season and was ranked No. 9 in the nation.

Its history is fascinating with lineages stretching from Bratislava, Slovakia to Tianjin, China. Still, leaving home to go to college for the first time is a bit daunting for any Connecticut teenager.

“Of course I miss home, but we’ve been so busy here,” said Moravec, who started summer school at BYU to jump into her credits. “Practice. Weight. School. I was very nervous about making friends and how we will bond. Getting to know all the girls before the season starts is great. They are all super nice and very supportive.

“I chose BYU because of Heather Olmstead – she was National Coach of the Year (in 2018) – and the coaching staff. I felt our points of view were really aligned. Both in terms of core skills and general coaching look, it was very similar to Coach Dina.

Through Evergreen Volleyball Academy at Stamford and Hopkins, Ding served as Moravec’s first and only head coach. Ding Hongying, who represented China at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, played professional volleyball for almost two decades. Team captain, first setter, Ding led Tianjin Bridgestone to seven national titles. She made Evergreen a club powerhouse and, led by Moravec, transformed Hopkins from a four-win team into an FAA and NEPSAC powerhouse.

“I feel like every athlete has an area they specialize in,” Moravec said. “I’ve never been the most powerful hitter or the one who smashes everything directly to the ground. I feel like it’s more about my technique and refinement. This all came from Coach Dina. She continually insisted on total attention to detail and it’s kind of ingrained in me now. Use my advantages instead of trying to catch up with what others are doing.

“I’ve been so used to his training since I was 5 years old. She kind of held my hand through it all. But everyone has to move on at some point. I feel like it’s the right time. I grow up as an athlete.

Nataly’s dad Roman is 6ft 8in tall. Nataly’s mother, Sheena Shen, is 5-9 years old. It is therefore not shocking that Nataly weighs 6 feet 2 inches and 130 pounds.

Her grandfather, Roman Moravec, competed in the high jump for Czechoslovakia at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He was 6-7 years old. His father played college basketball.

Nataly’s mother led BYU-Hawaii to successive NAIA volleyball national championships in 1992 and 1993 before earning her salutatorian degree and pursuing her MBA at UConn.

Wait, there’s more.

“His grandmother on his father’s side was 6-1, played for the Czechoslovak women’s national volleyball team and played professionally,” Ding said. “His father’s sister played in the national junior team.

“Nataly’s aunt (Shen’s sister) has a doctorate. in chemistry. And Nataly’s grandmother was a rocket scientist.


“His family is very smart,” Ding said.

Moravec said going to Hopkins was definitely the right choice. She was able to start on the varsity team in the seventh grade. Shen helped Ding with Evergreen and Hopkins.

Still, there were the hurdles caused by the COVID pandemic cancellations. It’s not lacrosse or field hockey. Ding said his youth teams have played in the AAU national championships and his opponents have wondered where Connecticut is. Division I college coaches haven’t really swarmed the state looking for talent.

It’s changing. From the class of 2022, Evergreen has four players, including Liana Sarkissian of Greenwich High who is heading to Dayton, DI and one in England. Taryn Stafford, who played at Hillhouse, is heading to Texas Southern and would be the first player from the city to receive a full DI volleyball scholarship. The very talented Rachel Huang, who plays for Evergreen and will be a senior at Hopkins, has not yet chosen a university.

“If Nataly has her eye on something, she’s very determined to do it,” Ding said. “She basically picked the schools, wrote all the emails, made initial contact with the coaches and made all her highlights.”

Moravec, Ding said, sent a letter to Olmstead on January 1, 2020.

“Immediately that day, Heather responded that she was interested,” Ding said. “Later when we spoke, she said it was a very nice New Year’s present.”

After returning to Hawaii after winning the first national title, the Deseret News reported, the team witnessed Shen’s baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Moravec, who is not a Latter-day Saint, plans to major in cybersecurity at BYU.

Eventually, she would like to play professionally abroad, maybe in Europe. She has been to the Czech Republic and Slovakia several times. His grandfather was born in Bratislava. She has family who live near Prague.

“Nataly has the height,” Ding said. “She has the body type. She can jump. After 13 years, she has the skills and IQ of volleyball. It’s still not enough. You have to work hard and be determined to stand out.

“Nataly really focuses on the technique that I taught her, more of a textbook technique. She has never lifted weights. I know so many other lifting clubs. We don’t. We do muscle building, squats. That’s it. The reason his ball is powerful is due to his technique and speed. She’s lightning fast.

Nataly’s mother was an outside hitter, Ding said, and because she had an incredibly fast arm swing, her nickname was “Slingshot.” Do you think Nataly can be Baby Slingshot?

“I don’t know,” Moravec said with a laugh. “Maybe.”

Ding said she coaches more of an Asian style, emphasizing skill refinement, as players from those countries typically lack the size and strength of players from the Americas. As the game is constantly evolving, she has adapted certain American and European methods.

Because Moravec has spent so much time developing her full game, Olmstead said she’s excited about her potential to play six rotations.

“Nataly is not a cookie-cutter player,” Ding said. ” She is unique. That’s why the BYU coach was interested. On top of everything else, she’s not afraid. She is a fighter, especially in difficult moments when the match is drawn.

At this point, you expect Ding to say something about teaching aggression. Completely the opposite.

“She’s super nice,” Ding said. “I tell him if you want to be a great player, you have to be a good person first. So many players are arrogant, snobbish, it’s hard for them to keep improving. They think the world of them- Nataly continues to improve year after year, which is why she is the best player in our region.

[email protected]; @jeffjacobs123


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