Coming back better than ever

Two years removed from serious knee surgery, women's soccer sophomore Taylor Walsh gets her kick back on and off the field.

When she first stepped onto the soccer fields in 2004, then-freshman Taylor Walsh didn't know what to expect. She was coming to a team with outstanding forwards in Marissa Brown, Kara Kabellis and Amy Vermeulen and she didn't know how she would fit into the scoring formula.

Through her first three games of the 2004 season, it was Walsh that looked like the veteran, scoring three points in her first three games. More importantly, Walsh and Amy Vermeulen had developed a connection that could prove to be one that produced a plethora of goals for Wisconsin.

However, Walsh's good fortunes were about to take a turn for the worse.

In her fourth game, Walsh sprained her ankle and was forced to leave the game. The next weekend, the trainers thought that Walsh had developed mononucleosis and she had to sit for two games. When she was finally cleared to play in the seventh game of the year, Walsh tore her Meniscus in her right knee and had to miss the remainder of the year. All in all, it wasn't a good month for Walsh.

"After I tore my Meniscus, I was like, this the worst season of my life," Walsh said. "Looking back, it worked out because if I would have played that game, I wouldn't have been able to take a red shirt. I couldn't bear to stay home when they played so I begged my dad to drive me to Illinois and Northwestern and my mom flew me to Ohio State. It was really difficult not being there."

Not only was the injury devastating for Walsh, but also head coach Dean Duerst was equally disappointed to see Walsh's fast start to the season be ruined by an injury.

"[As soon as she got here], Taylor clicked with Vermeulen," Duerst said. "That's why it was so excited to see her start out so well and get on a roll, get confidence and score goals for us. [The injury] became a real challenge that you are now faced with the situation where you aren't on the field. Adversity will challenge you in a certain way that you have to figure out what it is all about and learn from it."

When the women's soccer team finished the seasons 16-6-1 in 2004 and lost to Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it began one of the most important off-seasons for Walsh. Put through a rigorous training regimen in the off-season, Walsh got back on the field a year later with a fresh start and a stronger leg. The only problem was that Walsh's mental edge was still on the mend.

"I was over-thinking everything," Walsh said. "I was thinking about what the coaches thought about me, what other players were thinking, how I was playing and every touch I made. My mind was racing all over the place and it was a bad situation. I played fine but I didn't have a great season."

Walsh played in all 24 of the team's games in 2005, starting 15, and never really could find the back of the net, scoring only three goals in her first year back. However, Walsh knew she still had the talent and the skills to play when she scored two goals against her in-state rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

For Walsh, it was a nice welcome back gift.

"It was one of the high points of my season," Walsh said. "It was my welcome back party against a team that I really don't like, because I know a lot of the girls on the team. I love them but it's always a grudge match. It really helped my confidence."

Even though she struggled to regain her form, Walsh took refuge in having her two best friends playing soccer with her in Katy Meuer and Ann Eshun. The girls not only were in the same recruiting class, but also went to three rival high schools in the Madison area (Meuer went to Madison Memorial, Eshun to Edgewood and Walsh, Madison East).

It was at this level that the girls developed a rapport with each other, although it wasn't always friendly competition.

"I met Taylor through ODP and all three of us played on the same club team," Meuer said. "We always competed in practice and our club team was very competitive. I remember Taylor and Ann going against each other one-on-one all day on the field, and I think it helped all of our individual skills become better."

"We had one of the best experiences playing club [soccer]," Walsh said. "Katy's high school was a big rival of everyone in the Madison area and never really liked them. Katy is a feisty player in general who pushes you around a lot. That's Katy though. Ann and I played against each other one, but it was fun since we won that game. … It wasn't necessary friendly competition, but healthy since we needed to compete to get better."

Their friendship continued to develop when all three decided to attend UW and play soccer on the same team.

"I was very excited. I thought it was really cool that we kind of knew each other already and now, I didn't have to come in as this lone freshman not knowing anybody," Meuer said. "Going to college together has made us a lot closer. We got to practice everyday together, travel together, see each other 24-7, going to library and movies together. We are really close with each other."

"I love it [and] I think it's exciting that you get to see your best friends everyday," Walsh said.

Through the first 15 games of this season, it seems like Walsh is back to her old self. Walsh has scored five goal, surpassing her career high, and has dished out three assists as Wisconsin boasts a 6-6-3 record overall.

What has been the key to Walsh's early success this season? The answer could be in what she does before the game.

"Taylor has a lot of crazy superstitions," said junior goalie and former roommate Lynn Murray "[She has to] straighten her hair before every game. She had a salad before the first three games this year and scored in all three. So now she has a salad before every game. Just crazy little things that just make her the player she is."

Putting her pre-game meals aside, what has made Walsh a complete player is that she has matured in all facets of her game, learning the skill and characteristics that go into playing the forward position. Plus, she has regained her mental edge, which she was sorely looking for after her injury.

"Mentally I am more focused and mature in my game this year than last year," Walsh said. "Last year I was testing the waters to come back. This year, I am seeing things more, understanding my position, what the coaches and my teammates are looking for me to do. I am actually happy with [how I am playing] for once, which is saying a lot since I am so hard on myself."


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