Oct. 3, 2013
In any college athletics program, there are freshmen who contribute where they can and look to a future of more prominence. Then there are freshmen like Southern Miss goalie Brittany Taylor, who thrive despite their age and become focal points of the team within months of their arrival.
Taylor, who stands 6-feet and hales from Calgary, Alberta, has already built a solid resume of top-flight performances featuring highlight-reel saves and production well beyond her years.
Through 12 matches, Taylor has racked up 50 saves with an .862 save percentage and a 3-3-3 record. She posted a clean sheet versus Mississippi State and has made point-blank saves either late in regulation or overtime in multiple matches.
She ranks No. 32 in the nation in save and her save total and save percentage are both second in Conference USA.
It's a success rate that has surprised the ever-humble Taylor.
"I didn't even expect to play as much as I have, that's for sure," Taylor said. "I just wanted to come in and play my game and contribute when and where I could. I'm honored and thankful for the opportunity to even be on the field with such great teammates. I've tried to play the game I play and work hard every day. So far, it's worked out well for all of us."
Head coach Mohammed El-Zare said he has been impressed, though not entirely surprised by the success.
"Her ability to play with her feet and keep the team connected allows us to play a better brand of soccer," El-Zare said. "Not only is she great in goal but when we have possession she has the ability to act as a field player. She literally gives us an extra player on the attack.
"We knew that she had the ability to play at this level, but the transition she has made from high school and club soccer to college and integrating herself into the team has been huge. "
While all of Taylor's 50 saves have been important, each representing what would have been a goal for the opposition, some have already become that of legend among followers of Golden Eagle Soccer.
In a 1-0 double-overtime win over Southeastern Louisiana, Taylor kept Southern Miss from disaster with a leaping save with 2:03 to play in the first overtime, this after a misplayed ball gave Southeastern a point-blank shot at a game-ending goal with only Taylor to defend against two offensive players.
"In that moment, I tried to get big in front of the goal and get anything I could in front of the ball," Taylor said. "I got up in the air as fast as I could and was able to make the play."
Taylor has made other incredible saves at critical points in matches versus Mississippi State, Furman and South Alabama, among others.
"She's come up huge in several games," El-Zare said. "Against Southeastern, you're talking a couple minutes left in the first overtime with an open-net save. A few minutes later we are able to win the game. She's made those types of plays time and again."
In addition to her individual skill, Taylor's immersion into the team and college life as it pertains to academics has been equally impressive to El-Zare, who stresses the development of the "total student athlete" in the program.
"She has a personality that everyone gravitates to," El-Zare said. "She is always there for her teammates, whether it is in a moment of success or if they are experiencing tough times. Brittany is the type of player that you love to have in your program, on and off the field."
Taylor credits her former goalie coach, Phil Malone, who happens to be a friend of USM keeper coach and fellow-Brit Sean Mapson.
"I've been working with (Malone) since I was 12," Taylor said. "He really helped me develop as a player and as a person. He definitely brought the best out in me and is the reason I was able to get to this level. The coaching I've received here is building on that."
Taylor and the Golden Eagles are in action Friday at 4 p.m. versus Tulsa in a home Conference USA match. It will be "Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day" at the pitch and members of the Southern Miss faculty and staff will be honored on the field prior to the game.