When an athlete has the genes to be great, it’s not very hard for them to find the sport they are destined to play.
Some athletes, sophomore right side hitter and setter Taylor Smith for example, just have to play a couple other sports before they find the sport that is their calling.
“My mom was a big influence on me, because she played volleyball at SIU-Carbondale,” Smith said. “Growing up I was really into softball. I started when I was seven-years-old and when I was in high school I decided that I didn’t want to play anymore. I wasn’t even serious about volleyball until high school and then I decided that I wanted to go further and play.”
Smith competed in three sports at Mattoon high school; basketball, volleyball and track before she joined club volleyball team and decided to focus solely on volleyball.
She said that her competitive drive came from a different sport.
“Competing in high school track helped me with my competitiveness,” Smith said. “Track is different because it is an individual sport, but it definitely helped me with my volleyball in that it gave me a competitive drive in athletics.”
Since her hometown of Mattoon is just down the road from Charleston, coming to Eastern was a familiar sight.
“I came to Eastern because I wanted my family and friends to be able to watch me play volleyball,” Smith said. “I am huge with the support of the crowd, and I love having people there supporting me. I definitely play better, and I feel calm when there’s people that I know watching me.”
Eastern head coach Sam Wolinski is perhaps one of her biggest supporters, and she is grateful to the previous staff that recruited her.
“She brings energy, athleticism, and the ability to hit and set on the right side which makes her such a threat,” Wolinski said. “She is the one everyone keys in on and she is learning to improve her IQ to make it tough to defend her.”
Smith demands perfection out of her performance, which puts unnecessary pressure on herself.
“I’ve definitely have had my moments when I’ve had bad games, and it’s tough because I just expect so much out of myself,” Smith said. “I have to be 100 percent perfect all the time, which is a terrible standard to put on myself because it makes me put a lot of pressure on myself, which can be a good or a bad thing, sometimes.”
Smith has recorded a total of 131 kills, 265 assists, 19 service aces, 177 digs, 42 block assists, and is currently leading NCAA Division I in triple-doubles, the number of kills, assists, digs, aces, or blocks being in the double-digits for a match with six.
“I had absolutely no idea about (NCAA record) until someone told me,” Smith said. “I just go out and play and whatever happens, happens. I’m never worried about stats and when I heard about it I was mind blown, I don’t even know how many I have.”
That same mind-set is what Smith said allows her to continue to improve. The drive and self-motivation to want to improve every day at practice and in front of her teammates is what helps her be a leader on the team and also helps motivate her teammates.
“I’m a good leader on the court, and I try to stay energized and stay vocal,” Smith said. “I try to pick everyone up and lead by example. In practice specifically, I try to work hard and since our team is young I want them to want to be like me, and connect with me, because I work hard and always give 100 percent. I want them know that that is what Eastern volleyball is all about.”
Smith said she connects well with teammate Gina Furlin off the court because they are also roommates, Smith said it helps them connect so well, especially on the court.
“I just feel like I am more of a main hitter this year than last year,” Smith said. “Gina goes to me and expects me to put the ball away. Last year I was more of a secondary hitter. Since Gina is my roommate, we connect really well. We are always together and we are both setters, so we both understand it and know where to place the ball.”
Furlin also said being roommates helps them on and off the court.
“It’s super nice because we have the same schedule so we can always make sure we are where we need to be and double check with each other,” Furlin said. “We get to talk about volleyball off the court and help each other get out of funks.”
Being able to connect with her teammates on and off the court is what has helped her performance thus far, Smith’s drive and determination to continue to improve and give her all at practice and matches is what boosts her success.
“What I love about volleyball is being thrown anywhere on the court and being able to play,” Smith said. “I love being involved on the court, all the time. Even on defense, I love digging up balls and there’s no better feeling then when you get a great kill or make an awesome set. There’s no better feeling.”
Maria Baldwin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]