Taylor Thom has wanted to play for the Texas Longhorns ever since she went to her first softball camp at the university. Her father said that Taylor “looked like a munchkin after mom bought a UT outfit for her to wear.”
“She came home from camp and said, ‘Dad, I'm going to play for Texas one day',” Thomas Thom recalled of his daughter who was only 5 and wearing burnt orange when she said it.
Taylor, a junior shortstop at Vista Ridge, has committed to play for Texas. She'll play her first-ever meaningful game at the university on Friday as Vista Ridge takes on Pearland at 5 p.m. in the Class 5A State Semifinal.
Thom is the ultimate five-tool player. She can hit for power and hit for average. She led the area in stolen bases, so she has speed. Her fielding is as smooth as a Golden Glove shortstop in the big leagues. But the most freakish part of her game is her arm.
“I've never seen any softball player with an arm as strong as hers,” Vista Ridge coach Robin Brady said. “When fast runners in high school softball hit the ball to short they can usually beat the throw to first. That rarely happens with Taylor.”
Just how hard can she throw?
“I haven't liked playing catch with her for the last two or three years,” her father said.
“She never lifted weights until she had to do it in high school,” said Sheri Thom, Taylor's mom. “She's always been the hardest thrower on her team. It's just a natural gift.”
Taylor uses her entire body to throw rather than just her arm. She uses her speed to track down grounders into the gap or looping line drives. Then she uses her arm to gun down runners.
Taylor has usually been one of the fastest kids on her softball teams while growing up. Like many folks in her family, the growth spurt came later in life. Taylor was 5-foot tall as a freshman, then sprouted to her current 5-4 by the time she was a sophomore. So one can imagine how she looked when she was a soon-to-be eighth grader playing on an 18-and-under team.
“She was teeny tiny out there with all the older girls,” Thomas said. “But being around the older kids is where she got to see the game played aggressively.”
Taylor played alongside Kelsi Weserman, a Hutto product now at Georgia Tech who won Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year this season. She's also played on the same summer teams as most of the Vista Ridge roster.
Arm strength and repetition against older and better players are just one of the things that have made her an all-star. She's as competitive as they get, and losing leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
“I hate to lose,” Taylor said.
Her father said “she's hard to live with when she loses.” He even jokingly said, “I've tried to send her home with other people when she loses.”
Taylor is her own harshest critic. For those who attend the game, they might think differently. Thomas can usually be heard from the bleachers yelling instruction or expressing disapproval of a play or two by his daughter.
“We have similar personalities and I've always pushed on her to play hard,” said Thomas. “I encourage my kids to overachieve. I think sports are emotional and kids who play it that way can perform better than their skills when they get excited about it.”
The family has been a softball traveling family ever since Taylor first began playing select ball. So to earn an athletic scholarship at Texas was a win-win on all levels for the Thoms.
“It's been Taylor's dream since she was 5,” Sheri said. “To see your kid make their dream come true is exciting.”
The Thoms hardly saw any UT games before this year, but made it down there every time they could this season.
“We'll sit in the stands there and have to pinch ourselves, wondering if this is real or not,” Thomas said. “I don't think we'll believe it until we see her run out there in that uniform one day.”
Though it may be a different uniform than she'll one day wear on that field, they'll see her run on it this weekend. Vista Ridge and UT fans alike can cheer their future star. For the Lady Rangers still have her one more year.