Softball player happy to stay home
by Dan Plouffe, Orleans Star
Orléans Rebels softball player Jill Taylor is expecting this Christmas season won’t be quite as chaotic as the last one.
At this time last year, she had settled into her role as a pitcher for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and was finally getting her education on track after she was set back due to a failed attempt at playing for a small Florida school on an athletic scholarship.
But then Taylor got a call on Dec. 28, 2007 asking her if she would join Simon Fraser University – the home of many Canadian national team players – for the winter semester and their spring season. And she’d have to be there in about a week.
“I thought, ‘That is such a huge opportunity and I would love it,’ but it was really overwhelming,” says Taylor, who flew out to Vancouver to see the campus and practice with the softball team for a week, but returned to Ottawa for the second week of school. “It was the shock of not being prepared at all to move away. (The offer) was a huge compliment – I felt really honoured – but it was not something I could fully commit to.”
Taylor was coming off a season where she was named the Gee-Gees’ team MVP, and because she was registering for classes late, none of her courses would transfer back to Ottawa U. Although she says the Simon Fraser offer would have been perfect in her first year, Taylor decided it wasn’t the right fit or the right time to make that big a change.
“I think Jill was really hurt by growing up in Ottawa – Ontario’s one of the best provinces for ball, but the top teams are all from Toronto,” says Gee-Gees coach Scott Searle, who also coaches for the Rebels and is a teacher at St. Peter Catholic High School. “She lacked exposure and elite competition, so I think that hurt her development at the beginning.”
It wasn’t until Taylor started competing at the university level, and the Rebels began drawing players from as far as Pembroke and Kingston, that Taylor really blossomed and attracted more attention. This past summer, Taylor was named MVP of the provincial under-23 championships as the Rebels earned the first trip to nationals for an Ottawa team in a decade. She followed that up with her second Gee-Gees team MVP award in the fall, and also took home top pitcher honours from the Ontario university finals.
“With the university team and expanding the Orléans team, she’s been able to compete against better teams and she’s really been able to bring her game up,” Searle says, pegging Taylor as one of the best five or six players in Canada who aren’t on the national team. “She’s one of the most dominant players in Ontario now.”
Taylor, who was also the Gee-Gees’ top hitter, doesn’t expect she’ll get another chance to make it to the national team level as a player, but she’s quite eager to help the next generation try to reach those goals. Taylor has helped out with clinics – for free, Searle notes – and can frequently be found at the ballpark, often with her dad, teaching youngsters how to pitch.
“I just love working with kids,” says Taylor, whose Starbucks job four days a week starts at 5 a.m. “I think it’s important for kids to have a positive coach who’s knowledgeable in what they’re doing.”
Taylor hasn’t had time to coach a team of her own yet, and for now she’s hoping that her playing career with the Gee-Gees can continue – she’s applied for teacher’s college at the school for fall 2009.
“I love the Gee-Gees. I’m really sad that it could be my last year,” Taylor says, noting trips in rented vans to tournaments were her favourite memories – even when they got lost in places like Deseronto without directions, cell phone service, gas, or any sign of life. “Even though I play for softball, when I think back to Gee-Gees, I think of all the fun we’ve had and the friendships we’ve made through those trips.”