Illini softball pitcher succeeds as freshman, looks to future
For some students, college is simply four years that leads to the next part of life; others enjoy it so much, however, that asking them about even one bygone year can be unpleasant.
"Calling myself a sophomore now is bittersweet," University of Illinois pitcher and utility player Taylor Edwards recently told the East Central Reporter. "But I'm hoping that the experience I was able to get last year will allow me to feel more relaxed and in control now that I'm a sophomore. I know how the system works now so I'm hoping to take on more of a leadership role this year."
Edwards was a four-year starter at Arcola High School, where she batted .457 as a freshman. In her final year, she batted an amazing .500 with six home runs. She was three-time team MVP, a four-year captain and played four different sports at Arcola -- basketball, volleyball and track, in addition to softball. She was successful at those as well, with three top-four finishes at the Indoor Track State Championships and two all-state honorable mentions in basketball.
But Edwards chose to play softball at the college level, and she credits the seeking of wisdom both divine and earthly as leading her to Illinois.
"Lots of prayer," Edwards said, when asked what led her to Illinois. "Along with that, it was the people surrounding me and encouraging me to live out this dream. I'm so glad I listened. This university has provided so many opportunities for me to grow in all aspects of life."
Edwards has excelled in her first year with the Illini. She finished 2016 with a 4-0 record as a pitcher in 12 appearances, with a 2.69 ERA. She was mainly used as a relief pitcher, but did get called to start two games for Illinois. Edwards said it was a little rattling to start as a freshman, but she relied on the team behind her.
"As you can expect, the nerves were running high during those appearances," she said. "But my teammates played a huge roll in allowing me to really focus in despite the nerves and get the job done. They were very encouraging and did a great job of letting me know they believed in my pitches and had my back."
Edwards is also listed as a utility player on the Illini roster, so now and then she sees some time in the field. According to Edwards, the divided focus on pitching and hitting and fielding can sometimes be a little much, but she enjoys it.
"I think variety is a good thing," she said. "In my case, being a utility player and a pitcher gives me the chance to enjoy multiple aspects of the game of softball, but it can also be a little challenging at times. The amount of time I have at practice to work with the coaches on my swing and defensive skills is sometimes cut short in order to get my time in the bullpen. So it's up to me to work on those areas of my game in my own time make sure they stay at the level they need to be at."