Layin’ Down the Law
The prospects of a Big West Championship and contending for the National Championship are the foundation that fuels this year’s UCI women’s soccer team. Following a 2009 season which resulted in a 12-7-2 record, the 2010 Anteaters have started 10-1-2 and came into this past weekend’s homestand ranked 23rd in the nation.
This season, the team has seen a considerable amount of improvement that can be attributed to the team’s rigorous training and unwavering focus. Success begins with leadership and then trickles down to each player. When teammates need to be pushed to their limits, to witness a diligent workout warrior, to receive motivation in the midst of competition, that’s where senior forward Tanya Taylor steps in. She leads by example.
Taking an 18-unit course load in the classroom, maintaining an arduous daily exercise routine on and off the field and being expected to lead one of the nation’s top 25 women’s soccer teams is quite a burden for a 21-year-old to shoulder. But for Taylor, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“During the season, I don’t even want to go out,” Taylor said. “I know that I have very little time left to play on this team. I know what my focus is. As far as school, I know that there are enough hours in a day to stay on track.”
With just six league games and potential postseason matchups remaining in her UCI career, Taylor is by no means content with the team’s exceptional start. She’s living by a motto that Kobe Bryant recently conveyed to the Anteater student athletes, “Rest at the end, not in the middle.”
“That’s a mentality that our team has completely picked up,” Taylor said of the basketball star’s advice. “We’ll look at all the accolades when the season’s over.”
Although they have earned many accolades throughout the season, Taylor and her teammates pay very little attention to them. For starters, she was named the Big West Co-offensive player of the week on Sept. 20, the day after she single-footedly took over a game against the University of San Francisco, scoring a goal and dishing out an assist to sophomore teammate Mar Rodriguez in a 2-0 victory.
On Oct. 3 against UC Davis, Taylor befuddled the Aggies, scoring two goals and recording three assists en route to a 6-0 blowout.
The team is currently riding a seven-game win streak, thanks to a Taylor-led offense and a stellar defense, which the senior admits she’s glad she doesn’t have to play against.
Despite her prolific production at UCI, the senior forward is stubborn and constantly expects more out of herself, a trait that has helped her avoid settling for being “just good enough.” It’s difficult to comprehend how a player leading her team with eight goals and six assists in the first 13 games of the season could find fault in herself. But she does.
“I think my biggest challenge in college is just not getting that instant gratification that I’m used to receiving,” Taylor said.
At Southern California’s Sunny Hills High School, Taylor shined on the field for a program that annually competed for CIF championships. Thus, the stubborn star hit a wall when she reached collegiate competition.
“I would score 20 goals a season in high school,” Taylor said. “And then I came into college and my freshman year I only scored five. I was working hard, putting in more work than I did in high school … I just wasn’t getting that instant gratification that I got before.”
Soccer is a game of precision, conditioning and motivation, but it is also a sport filled with mistakes. A team that misses 15 straight shots can still be seen as successful if their 16th attempt gets past the goalie’s reach and the team wins 1-0. Taylor understands this.
“I make mistakes all the time,” Taylor said. “Every game there’s something I can improve on. I’ve learned that dwelling on a mistake doesn’t make me any better. I live for the next play.”
As a competitive individual, desperate to win games, Taylor goes out of her way to make sure that her teammates are just as ready for battle as she is. A prime example of her commitment to the Anteaters is her willingness to make others around her better.
“In the preseason I worked out at 11 p.m. with one of my teammates, Gilly [Acedo],” Taylor said. “She was coming back from an injury, so she needed to rehab and work out more than the rest of the team. So I came out and worked out with her all the time during preseason, three times a day.”
That’s just the type of effort that the Anteaters have routinely received from Taylor for the past four years. “When one of your best players is also your hardest worker, you’ve got something special,” Head Coach Scott Juniper said. “She brings a huge positive mentality to this team. Our freshmen really look up to her. She’s a big role model in the way she conducts herself on and off the field.”
In an athletic age filled with the Terrell Owens’ of the world: ball hogs, prima donnas and selfish teammates, it’s refreshing to come across competitors who put the team’s goals over those of their own. Taylor shows no sense of entitlement as a starter, and even if it wouldn’t be the most practical idea for Juniper to put her on the sidelines, she’s willing to be a team player.
“I know that even though I’m a senior captain, I could be a sub next game,” Taylor said. “I have no problem with that, because I’m confident in our team. I have to work hard every practice, because nothing’s given to me.”
A box score can convey the basic facts and milestones that occurred throughout the 90 minutes that take place in a soccer game. However, that stat sheet lacks transparency. It doesn’t represent just how valuable Taylor is to her team. Although her impressive statistics over the years have stood out, Taylor’s exceptional speed, skillful ball-handling skills, relentless work ethic and overall quality as a teammate will leave behind a legacy at UCI that transcends the accumulation of goals that she’s netted in her four-year career.
“What we’ve accomplished so far this season is by no means an endpoint for us,” Taylor said. “Now we have a target on our backs. We’re not content with stopping here. We came out and ran yesterday just as hard as we’ve ever run. If anything, it motivates us to work harder.”
When asked of his thoughts on losing his captain to graduation at season’s end, Juniper said,
“I’ll miss her. She’s a really fun person to have around. And on the field, she’s difficult to replace. She’s incredibly athletic and in my mind, she’s the best forward in our conference. I say that without hesitation.”
The criminology major is unsure of her post-graduate endeavors. She’s doing her job on the field and in the classroom, but remains undecided as to what she will do with her degree.
“I want to take a year off to possibly get an internship or play soccer overseas,” Taylor said. “I’d like to go to law school, but I’m not sure which field I want to get into. Maybe family law?”
As Kobe’s words resonate, Taylor will not rest in the middle, but in the end. She will put more thought into her career opportunities once the season’s over. For now, she’s laying down the law on the soccer field, as a senior captain.