|Wilkinson rides success|
Under unexpected circumstances, Taylor Wilkinson took full advantage of her opportunity to shine.
As a junior and in her first season on the Idaho volleyball team in 2012, the admittedly undersized middle blocker was the odd-woman-out at her position for most the season. Appearing in just 11 of the Vandals’ 113 regular-season sets, Wilkinson played as little as any letter-winning member of the team.
“Unfortunately she had a couple kids who were more consistent ahead of her,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said. “But she is always fighting, she has never given up.”
Those kids Buchanan referred to were Alyssa Schultz and Alex Sele, first- and second-team all-Western Athletic Conference honorees, respectively, in 2012.
“It was hard, of course I wanted to play,” Wilkinson said of her 2012 season. “But knowing I was behind two of the best middles in the conference, it helped me to work hard, knowing that I was going to get better and that this year I was going to be prepared because I had their help last year.”
But in Idaho’s final practice before the 2012 WAC tournament, Schultz suffered an ankle sprain that held her out of the tournament. Enter Wilkinson, whose roll instantly increased 10-fold as the second-seeded Vandals chased their WAC championship ambitions.
Wilkinson didn’t just step in for the injured Schultz, she stepped up. Taylor led the team with a .327 hitting percentage and 12 blocks during the tournament, and ranked second with 32 points and third with 25 kills. She had back-to-back 10-kill, five-block matches, career-highs in both, to lead Idaho to its first WAC championship match. Wilkinson appeared calm on the court throughout the tournament, but admits it was a cover up.
“I was nervous, lots of nerves,” she said. “But, I felt like I had my teammates behind me. I was prepared by my teammates and my coaches, and I knew they had confidence in me, so I just went out and played and did my best.”
Despite Idaho’s eventual loss in the finals, Wilkinson earned WAC all-tournament team recognition for her efforts, but equally as important, her success gave her something to build off of during the recent offseason.
“Coming out of the WAC tournament it showed me and my coaches what I needed to work on as a player in the offseason,” she said. “We focused on some of those things coming into this season. It definitely boosted my confidence and made me happy that I reached my goals and did a good job.”
Wilkinson’s success in 2012 earned her a spot on the Preseason all-WAC team for 2013, and along with Schultz, the WAC’s Preseason Player of the Year, Idaho’s middles are arguably the best in the league.
“I think she’s going to be a top middle in the conference,” Buchanan said of Wilkinson. “Offensively and defensively, she can do both. She can pass the ball, she’s smart and I think she’s going to get better and better every weekend and peak at the end. She has that ability and she still has a ton of upside. These two kids are going to be two of the top middles in our conference. A lot of people just don’t know about Taylor as much because she just had that one glimpse in the tournament.”
While Buchanan credits Taylor’s success to her work ethic, saying she has always been one of the hardest workers on the team, Wilkinson returns the favor, saying some of her success is a credit to Idaho’s system, which plays to her strengths.
“Obviously I’m kind of a shorter middle for this conference,” said the 6-foot-1 Wilkinson. “We run a really fast-paced offense and I think quickness is one of my strengths so getting up fast and being able to beat the block works to my advantage, I really like that about our system.”
Wilkinson and her teammates have their sights set on a WAC championship and NCAA tournament berth in 2013, and when Idaho gets to the WAC tournament in November, Taylor won’t be new to the stage.