Tandon athletes help the NYU women’s basketball team engineer an undefeated season

Blocking shots; breaking records

female basketball player dribbling ball in a game

NYU Tandon senior, Natalie Bruns, helped the Violets win their third consecutive UAA title

Update March 18, 2024:

Undefeated! On March 16, the Violets won the 2023-24 Division III championship. Read more on NYU Athletics.

Given that college basketball careers rarely span more than four years, it’s considered an incredible achievement to reach the 1,000-points-scored mark. Natalie Bruns is no stranger to incredible achievement though. In her sophomore year, she helped the NYU Violets land in the Elite Eight during the 2022 NCAA Division III Championship, and during the 2022-2023 season, she racked up a long list of accomplishments, including starting in 27 of her 28 games; being named WBCA All-American, UAA Player of the Year, and First Team All-UAA; totaling season highs of 29 points and 15 rebounds; recording more than 10 rebounds on 10 separate occasions; and earning UAA Presidents Council Scholar-Athlete and Winter Sport All-Academic honors. (Those academic titles are especially meaningful since teams at Division III schools like NYU compete at a high level while remaining focused on their performance in the classroom — a special challenge in the case of Tandon students who are undertaking rigorous STEM-based courses.)

Natalie Bruns

Her 1,000th point came this season, during a February game against Case Western, but that was not the only record she has shattered in recent months: during a game against the University of Chicago, she blocked her 184th shot, besting her own NYU all-time career shot block record of 183. (Before Bruns, the record had been held by Chantal Kazay, who blocked 182 shots before graduating from Steinhardt in 2005.)

Bruns’s performance on the court helped lead the Violets to their third consecutive UAA title — which they clinched with a 80-56 victory against Washington University in St. Louis on February 16, following the best start in program history — and is one of the reasons the team is headed into March Madness with hopes at an all-time high. (In the final game of the season, against Brandeis University on February 24, she snagged eight rebounds, scored 12 points, made three assists, and blocked two shots.)

And while the COVID pandemic derailed college sports for a season, there is a silver lining: NCAA rules allow athletes to extend their eligibility in the event of a season-ending illness or injury, and officials have decreed that college players unable to participate when their schools barred in-person activities can play for an additional season to make up for it. That means Bruns, now a senior majoring in Technology Management & Innovation, will be allowed to play as a graduate student. With brand-new UAA Women's Basketball Player of the Year and First Team titles under her belt, she is currently mulling over master’s programs in cybersecurity or sports business. Whatever she chooses, she’ll undoubtedly dominate grad school like she’s dominated the paint, 

It takes teamwork

Back in 2022, when the NYU Violets made the Elite Eight, we wrote: “Basketball players are used to hearing that old joke about standing out in a crowd, but her height is far from the only thing that makes Natalie Bruns a stand-out: with most of her teammates attending the College of Arts and Science or Steinhardt, Bruns is currently the only player on New York University's women's basketball team to attend NYU Tandon.”

That’s no longer the case: Bruns has since been joined by a trio of athlete-engineers — each of them intent on excelling on the court, in the classroom, and at the lab bench.

Morgan Morrison: Power engineering and powerful playing

Morgan Morrison

Like Bruns, Morgan Morrison found her college basketball career upended by the pandemic, meaning that after she earned a bachelor’s degree in general engineering from Smith, she became eligible to play as a graduate student. That made her choice of master’s program doubly important: whichever school she chose needed to have both a great athletics program and coursework focused on power engineering — a discipline she knew could provide a path to making significant contributions to a more sustainable world. 

When she read about the research being done by Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Francisco de Leon, who oversees Tandon’s Power Lab and who is known for his development of a cleaner, safer, more efficient, and cost-effective transformer, her choice became clear.

Morrison admits that playing on the Violets while studying for a master’s degree sometimes poses unusual challenges. “Because many people think that only undergraduates take part in college athletics, professors were sometimes surprised if I explained that I had to miss a class or lab because of a game,” she says. Still, being somewhat older than the majority of her classmates has allowed her to offer them the benefit of her experience on the court; during her three-season basketball career at Smith, Morrison played in 89 games and started 34, totaled 1,047 points and 590 rebounds, and was named D3hoops.com and WBCA National Player of the Year and First-Team All American as a senior.

As a member of the Violets, she is often cited for her on-court prowess: as the team neared the close of its undefeated season, she posted a double-double with a season-high 25 points in a game against Washington University in St. Louis and then, just two days later, again led the team with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting while adding five rebounds and a block — accomplishments that earned her UAA Athlete of the Week and First Team honors. 

Morrison — who completed an internship at a sustainable construction company, did field work in the Arctic, and worked on diversity-and-inclusion initiatives at Smith before arriving in Brooklyn — foresees working in industry after earning her master’s degree. And while it’s common for job applicants to claim to be team players, potential employers will have indisputable proof that in her case, that description is perfectly accurate.

Yasmene Clark: The chemistry is important

Yasmene Clark

For first-year student Yasmene Clark, chemistry is a theme that runs through her day as an NYU student. There’s her major itself: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering — a field she had hit upon when she was in middle school. “My godmother was a chemist at Michelin, so she was an early influence,” the South Carolina native recalls, “and then, after a class trip to a manufacturing plant, I knew I wanted to be involved with engineering as well, so CBE turned out to be the ideal department for me.”

Clark also stresses chemistry, however, when she’s discussing NYU’s women’s basketball team, the Violets. “We have the greatest coaches, and when we got out on the court during J-Term, something clicked,” she asserts. “We just bonded.” (That bond was undoubtedly a factor in the Violets’ undefeated regular season.) 

Clark has a longtime love for team sports. In high school, she participated in so many activities that her father finally insisted she narrow it down to three. She settled upon basketball, golf, and volleyball, and later winnowed her focus to just golf and basketball. “The seasons were running into each other, and my father was driving me to so many practices and games, so I understand why he put his foot down,” Clark says. “Besides, I wasn’t very good at soccer, and I was especially bad at gymnastics because of my height, so it made sense to eliminate those.”

While it’s hard to imagine Clark being truly bad at any sport, she shone especially brightly on the basketball court, and soon scouts from several Division III schools were attending her games and actively recruiting her. She kept a relatively open mind, but there was one nonnegotiable: the school had to have a chemical engineering program — a factor that knocked many immediately out of contention. 

Luckily for the Violets, she ultimately chose NYU, making up her mind once she found out that not only did the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering have a thriving community of undergraduates but a doctoral program as well, since she intends to earn a Ph.D. one day. Her choice was a good one, she says. Although it was initially hard to juggle taking classes in Brooklyn with commuting to Washington Square for practice each day, within a few weeks she had adjusted and is making significant contributions on the court. (In one recent game, against Case Western, for example, she made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left that gave NYU a game-winning lead of 26 points.) “Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” she says, “or not having that strong team chemistry.”

Maria Alvarado: Staying on the ball

Maria Alvarado

Like most NYU Tandon students, Maria Alvarado had always known she wanted to pursue STEM; it was when she arrived in Brooklyn and took her first required General Engineering course that her goals fully crystallized, however. “EG-UY 1004, which is an Introduction to Engineering and Design course, was very hands-on,” she recalls, “and I quickly realized that I enjoyed building things, which made mechanical engineering a natural choice for me.” 

Like other Brooklyn-based athletes, she has often found herself explaining to professors that she needs to get to practices and games. It’s a new phenomenon for many faculty members,  particularly as the Violets began competing in more and more high-level conference games and demands on the players’ time increased. Still, Alvarado says, it’s totally possible to juggle rigorous coursework and sports if you use good time-management skills. (For example, don’t spend those precious minutes on the subway goofing off if there’s reading material you need to get through, she advises.)

Alvarado’s first year fortuitously coincided with the arrival of a new chair in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Katsuo Kurabayashi, whose mission includes ensuring that Tandon’s mechanical engineering classrooms are increasingly diverse, and who has said, “The Industrial Revolution-era image of the burly, male mechanical engineer hoisting heavy machinery is a thing of the past.” 

That’s not to say, however, that Alvarado would have much trouble with any piece of heavy machinery she was called upon to lift. A strong and gifted athlete, she began swimming competitively at a young age before branching out into lacrosse and volleyball and then ultimately turning her focus to basketball. “Swimming was simply too solitary a sport for me,” she says. “I enjoy the support and camaraderie that comes along with being part of a team.” 

And there’s no one quite like a mechanical engineer to help the Violets run like a well-oiled machine.