WATCH: Spirit of the team: Athlete turns tragedy into inspiration

Junior Captain Natalie Chizzo high fives a teammate during warm-ups before a match against Rutgers on Oct. 7, 2022 in Welsh Ryan Arena. (Ryan Kuttler)

By Elena Shklyar
Medill Reports

The Northwestern volleyball team’s 2022 season was one for the books. The Wildcats reached their highest rating percentage index (RPI) in program history and had their winningest season in the past decade. A huge part of the team’s success? Junior Captain Natalie Chizzo. The “light” on the team, Chizzo inspired the Cats with her positivity and outlook on life despite tragedy and played a large part in their successful season.



[Home video of Natalie and Evelyn Chizzo plays]

YOUNG NATALIE: We’re actually swinging spider, she’s on my lap.

SARA CHIZZO, their mother: Yay! You guys are so cute.

[Light music playing]

NATALIE CHIZZO: So, my family is my life.

I am the oldest of four girls. My dad always says it was like winning the lottery.

Evelyn was 18 months younger than me. We were literally two peas in a pod, and Evelyn was special needs and disabled. 

I just can’t express enough like how much like she smiled every day, just I literally never saw her in a bad mood. She was just one of those people.

She ended up passing. I was a junior in high school, and she was a sophomore. 

[Chizzo cheering on teammate]

 CHIZZO: Yeah, Lex!

[Happy music playing]

CHIZZO: If I can exude even a little bit of the type of positivity that she has kind of created in our household and just around her in general. That, just, that’s what I try to do every day.

One of my mottos in life is be the reason someone smiles today, and I really try to do that every day.

SHANE DAVIS, Northwestern volleyball head coach: Natalie Chizzo is the most positive person I have ever met in my life, and it is a true joy to be able to coach her on a daily basis, and her positivity is contagious throughout our group as well.

[Chizzo playing volleyball and team/fans cheering]

CHIZZO: If I can just impact one little girl like to either pursue a collegiate volleyball career or to just try to be more positive, or just — if you see me on the sidelines, I’m crazy — even just to make people smile and honestly laugh, that’s what I try to do every day, and it definitely is because of Evelyn.

[Chizzo and teammates cheering]

ELLEE STINSON, Northwestern volleyball sophomore: Natalie, she brings a lot to the team, I would say just like all-around positivity, and just a good friend and a better teammate.

CHIZZO: Like for Northwestern volleyball, if I can help aid the culture of just being grateful to be in the gym every day, if I can just leave a little bit of that spirit, um, yeah, that would be, that would be pretty cool for me.

[Chizzo and teammates laughing]

[Video of Chizzo plays]

CHIZZO: Go Cats!


Elena Shklyar is a Sports Media graduate student at Medill. You can connect her on Twitter and LinkedIn