Track star prepares to compete for national title

Published by adviser, Author: Cody Nespor - Rocket Contributor, Date: April 22, 2015
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The Slippery Rock University women’s track All-American javelin thrower Samantha Taylor is no stranger to success.

Taylor is a junior from Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where her track and field career started.

Taylor started in eighth grade, competing in the high, long and triple jumps, along with playing softball. When she moved up to Gateway high school she started throwing javelin and playing volleyball.

Taylor’s high school coach, Tom LaBuff, said he had Taylor try javelin because he watched her play softball and knew she had a strong arm as well as, “exceptional talent, competitiveness and a willingness to work.”

Despite eventually becoming a Division II All-American, Taylor’s javelin career did not start off as expected.

“High school was a javelin roller coaster, and my first year was basically learning how to throw the thing,” Taylor said.

However, by the end of her sophomore year Taylor owned her high school’s javelin record. She left Gateway with a personal best and school record of 43.66 meters.

Track and field was not Taylor’s first choice of collegiate sports, throughout high school she dreamed of playing college volleyball, but a visit with Rock assistant track coach Bill Jordan is when she changed her mind.

“By the end of the visit, I told Coach Jordan that I wanted to be on his team and that was the end of it,” Taylor said. “I gave up my dreams of playing volleyball because Bill had changed my whole way of thinking.”

LaBuff said that he always knew Taylor would pick track over volleyball.

“She and her parents thought that her future was in volleyball,” LaBuff said. “At first, we just let her progress in track do the talking. I would have to say that things took their natural course. It was a privilege to work with her and help her learn to compete with confidence no matter what the level of the competition.”

Taylor said that she has never second guessed her decision.

“I don’t ever look back on my decision, only because I love this university, my major, and the team. I can’t see myself anywhere other than this school.”

Slippery Rock head coach John Papa is also happy with Taylor’s choice.

“Samantha is one of our top athletes and she is one of our top leaders as well,” Papa said. “She leads by example. She is a hard worker and she has made a total commitment to our team. Samantha has done everything that we have asked her to do.  She is fun to be around and always has a positive attitude with anything related to being part of our team.  She sets a great example and is a true leader for our program.”

During her freshman indoor track season Taylor tried to be a multi-event athlete, but she quickly realized that her body could not handle the stress from doing so many events. She eventually decided to focus on throwing javelin and doing a few jumps.

In her freshman outdoor season Taylor ended up qualifying for both the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championships as well as her first NCAA D-II competition. That year, she finished third at the conference championships and 15th at Nationals.

Her sophomore year, Taylor once again qualified for the PSAC championships in javelin. Taylor finished the competition as the conference javelin champion and with an automatic qualifier for the 2014 NCAA D-II National Champions where she came in fourth and earned an All-American honor with a personal best throw of 48.99 meters.

The ending of her sophomore season is something that Taylor remembers fondly.

“The whole entire experience of conference last year was so emotional for me only because I was having a lot of emotional ties to the place and the opportunity that I had that year,” Taylor said. “Going along with nationals last year I was so nervous, because I had set goals that I wanted to hit and I was scared that I was going to let myself down. I ended up reaching all of my goals and I could not have been happier.”

Now in her junior season, Papa is looking for Taylor to repeat as the conference champion and has national champion aspirations for her.

“I know that Sam wants to move up at the national level and break our school record,” Papa said. “At this pace, she potentially will have a shot at the National Championships.” Papa is not the only person who sees a national championship in Taylor’s future.

“Going into this year’s national championship, I just want to go in and fight with all I have. I know that I have the opportunity to place again in the top five,” Taylor said. “This year is a very tough year and I realize that everything is going to have to be just about perfect, but if I focus and have fun with it I feel like I will set myself up for a great meet.”

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