Sometimes you know a leader when you see them. There is something about the way they carry themselves on and off the playing surface. You can tell it by their actions regardless of the circumstances. People seem to gravitate towards them and their teammates always rely on them in crunch time.
It does not take long to find out that Taylor Bruns is one of those people. One of just two seniors on the South Carolina volleyball team, Bruns had no problem being thrust into that position.
"She's always someone that leads by example," head coach Scott Swanson said. "When she's out on the court, no matter what the score is, she's going to go 100%."
One of the main characteristics of a leader is someone that goes against the flow and is not afraid to step out on their own. As a highly-decorated high school player out of Normal, Illinois, Bruns had multiple offers from area Big Ten and Big XII schools. She could have gone to any of those schools and stayed close to home, but she wanted a change of scenery.
"I looked at a lot of schools in the Big Ten and was recruited by a lot of schools in the Big Ten and Big XII schools," Bruns said. "I didn't want to stay close to home and didn't want to go to a place I would know people. I looked at a few other schools in the SEC that recruited me, but when I came here I just knew this was the place I wanted to be. The girls here were wonderful and the atmosphere of the school and school pride is incredible. I'm so glad to be here and wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Following her second year Bruns experienced something many athletes face, but none want to experience. Throughout the recruiting process, sometimes as far back as their freshman or sophomore years in high school, players build a bond to a coaching staff. In most cases it is the coaching staff that is one of the main reasons that player commits to a certain school. Then, all of a sudden, the staff is gone. Following two subpar years, including a 7-23 record in 2010, Ben Somera resigned. Many athletes choose to transfer when that happens. For Bruns, the administration and Athletic Director Eric Hyman played a pivotal role in Bruns staying in Columbia.
"The administration is awesome here," Bruns said. "They completely involved us in the process of getting a new coach and wanted what we needed in a new coach. They were really great. When Scott came in and his administration I just knew that it was going to be good and this program was going to be on the rise and I wanted to be a part of laying the foundation for its future success to come."
As any true leader would do, Bruns puts her team in front of herself. She could have selfishly left to return closer to home and no one would blame her. Instead, Bruns chose to stick with it and finish out her career with Swanson.
"It's different," Bruns said. "Things go a lot different. With any coaching staff you get different ideas about how to do things, so we had to completely change how some things were done around here. We still got to keep some of our traditions so it has its pros and cons, but overall I think it's worked out for the best."
Bruns is in the top 20 in program history in several categories, including assists. The setter has 2,562 career assists, which ranks her sixth in school history. She is also in the top 10 in career assists per set and top 20 in career double-doubles. This season she is among the team leaders in everything.
"She's our best, most consistent server and scores points from the serving line without missing very much," Swanson said. "I think she's working her butt off on defense. She calls every play, she's the quarterback, so she's got a heavy load to carry and that's why she's out there. She's got the skill set to put the team on her back and carry them, whether it's as a server or dumping the ball as an attacker."
It's easy to lead when things are going well. When the team got off to a school-record 13-0 start this season, Bruns found it easy to be a leader. During the seven match losing streak, it wasn't nearly as easy.
"When we were winning it was great and easy to lead. When we went through the tougher times it was definitely harder on the captains. We felt a little more pressure on us because we were the leaders and action reflects leadership. Getting the win really helped our confidence as captains and knowing that our senior year is going to be a good one. I think the team did a great job getting through that adversity. They're a great team and so easy to lead."
A losing streak is particularly hard on a senior knowing that this is their final ride. For Bruns and Christina Glover, they know their volleyball career will end on November 22nd when they host Arkansas in the season finale. Now that the streak is over, they will just enjoy their final games and go out with more wins than any team since the 2008 team went 21-9, the year before Bruns and Glover arrived.
"The other senior and I feel a greater since of urgency because it is our last season and we don't have any more seasons to make it up," Bruns said. "It's tough but it happens and we still have a great record and looking forward to eleven more great games.
"We're going for the wins right now, and now that we know we can win, we're back on track."
Bruns leads by example
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