Less than a week from the 2020-21 season opener, Lady Lion junior center Natalie Kelly was ruled immediately eligible for competition, SLU head coach Ayla Guzzardo announced Thursday.

Kelly, a 6-3 center from Albany, was initially expected to sit out a season after transferring from Auburn. However, the NCAA granted a waiver that will allow her to suit up for the Nov. 25 opener versus Alcorn State.

The addition of Kelly to this year’s active roster will bolster SLU’s performance on and off the court, Guzzardo said.

“She’s not a tradition back-to-the-basket post player, but she can get to the basket and has a good midrange game. Defensively, her ability to block shots is going to make her an immediate impact player for us,” the coach said. “We’ll benefit from Natalie’s leadership and maturity just as much as we will from her basketball skills.”

Her teammates and her coaches selected Kelly to be one of the Lady Lions’ three team captains.

Kelly spent her first two collegiate seasons at Auburn, where she played in 28 games for the Lady Tigers. At Albany High School, she was a multi-time all-state, all-district, all-metro and All-Livingston Parish selection on the way to setting the career rebounding record for the Lady Hornets. She averaged 17.1 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game as a senior at AHS, following a junior campaign that saw her grab a single-season school record 379 rebounds and help her team to the Class 3A state championship game.

Kelly and the Lady Lions will open the 2020-21 season at home next Wednesday, hosting Alcorn State at 1 p.m. in the University Center.

The game will air on ESPN+ and can also be heard in the Hammond area on KSLU-FM (90.9), online at LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Lions Gameday Experience app.

Kelly and fellow junior newcomer Chrissy Brown will be Wednesday’s Spotlight Players of the Game. The first 100 fans will receive trading cards featuring Kelly and Brown, courtesy of PRIDE.

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