A day after being drafted by the Cleveland Comets, Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin sat in the dugout at Hillenbrand Stadium pepped with enthusiasm.
“It’s super exciting for all the people that were drafted yesterday,” said the senior left-hander. “I mean, we spend the majority of our lives playing softball, trying to get college scholarships, play at the Division One level and everybody’s goal is to be able to continue playing the game after college.”
Well, maybe not everybody’s.
“I remember talking to her a year ago and she was kind of on the fence about it,” said UA outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, who grew up with McQuillin in Mission Viejo, California.
That’s right. McQuillin, who’s dominated on the diamond since grade school, was not always dead set on continuing the sport after college.
It wasn’t until she conversed with some of her closest teammates and coaches that she realized it was the right path for her.
“I think I was on the fence because I was stressed at a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college,” McQuillin said. “You always think that when you graduate you’re going to have a plan. And I thought I was going to have one, and it ended up that I didn’t really have one at all.
“So I was trying to figure out whether or not I want to go to grad school, whether I want to pursue a career in nursing and working with neonatal pediatrics. Obviously, it’s kind of hard to do that when you spend three months of every summer playing softball. But when it came down to it, I just realized that this is the game I love. I’ve dedicated so much of my life to it, so give it a shot, go out and try it.”
McQuillin was the sixth overall pick and second pitcher taken in the NPF Draft. The hard-throwing lefty earned that spot by having a career season, currently sitting at 15-5 with 1.28 ERA.
Her improvement can be traced to a few things — her ability to pinpoint pitches on both sides of the plate, her newfound confidence in her changeup, and a greater appreciation for what softball actually is.
“There’s always a point in somebody’s career where you’re like, ‘Is this really what I’m meant to be doing? Am I doing everything that I can be doing? Is all of this worth going out and playing the game of softball?’ And for me, I realized this year that it is, and it always has been because I wouldn’t have put myself through all the 6 a.m. workouts and preparing for college softball and playing against the hard competition if I didn’t want to do it,” McQuillin said.
“Everybody always says when you’re younger to go out there and have fun. And I think that sometimes in college, the perception is, ‘no, you need to go out there and win.’ But no matter what the outcome is, I think I’ve just really learned to enjoy this game more this season.”
As opposed to previous seasons when head coach Mike Candrea thought McQuillin put too much pressure on herself.
“In today’s world, social media and outside forces sometimes make it even more difficult, but I think she knows who she is and what she needs to do to go out and play the game,” he said. “Therefore, I think she’s enjoying it this season and I think her teammates have a lot to do with that, too. I think this is a team that gets along very well and enjoys being around one another. And it’s quite obvious when they walk onto the field.”
The Wildcats have won 17 straight entering this week’s homestand against No. 24 Stanford. Arizona has jumped into the Top 5 and is on track to host Regionals and Super Regionals if it can survive the meaty part of its Pac-12 schedule.
That’s where McQuillin’s focus is. The NPF can wait.
“For me, that doesn’t stop. And for the team, it doesn’t stop,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, playing professional softball doesn’t happen until college is over. So I still have a lot to look forward to in the few short weeks that are left for me at Arizona, and that’s what I’m gonna look forward to.”
Sounds like a plan. Maybe she always had one after all.
“I think my high-school self would be really proud of me for everything that I’ve accomplished,” McQuillin said. “But she would also say this is what you’ve dreamed of doing your whole life.”