ALL-AREA SOFTBALL: Roller coaster ride leaves Wagner on top
When the final chapter is written about Taylor Wagner’s softball career, the former Bobcat is not going to be concerned with how many home runs she hit, how often she got on base or how many runners she threw out trying to steal second.
What she hopes is that her off-the-field reputation outweighs anything she has done between the lines in front of screaming Bobcat fans.
But the two-time Class 5A second-team all-state catcher is pretty good at softball too.
After striking out just four times on the season and leading Marshalltown in 11 offensive categories, Wagner was named the Times-Republican All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
“It’s very humbling. I’m very appreciative,” said Wagner. “We have very good area talent and to be able to play with some of the girls in the area to me is very fun, and I am very blessed to get this.”
The talent in the area runs deep. There’s no doubt about that.
Four other catchers – BCLUW’s Sarah McCoy, AGWSR’s Ella Frazier, East Marshall’s Katie Roseland and South Hardin’s Kassidy Rewoldt – made the squad, as did Class 2A first-team all-state pitcher Ashley Sicard of AGWSR.
Scott O’Brien and Brenda Drake were named co-coaches of the year after guiding AGWSR to a third-place finish at the state tournament in the program’s debut.
But Wagner, the NCAA Division I-bound batterymate to the likes of Taylor Vaske, Lauren Mazour and Jasmine Judge, shined the brightest.
Wagner demanded the respect of her opponents and often got it. She rarely got a good pitch to hit but always seemed to make the most of her opportunities.
“There is no one more deserving of this award than Taylor,” former Marshalltown coach Jeff Lamb said. “She has worked hard for what she has gotten. That is why this award says more about her and her family than anything I did.”
Wagner’s offensive numbers on a 5A squad that reached the regional semifinals speak for themselves. She hit a team-best .419 and led the team with 16 doubles, 12 stolen bases, 25 RBIs and 12 walks. Her slugging percentage was .585 and she struck out only four times without committing an error behind the plate.
“I am going to miss playing under the lights with the people that I have known since I moved here in the third grade,” said Wagner, who leaves for Eastern Michigan University on Aug. 30 and moves in Aug. 31. “I love this school, and I wouldn’t choose to play anywhere else. I wouldn’t trade the people I played with for anything.”
Wagner’s play inside the lines was certainly noteworthy. But what separates the first-ever Bobcat to win the T-R All-Area Softball Player of the Year honor from everyone else is her reputation off the field.
Wagner enjoys riding with the underclassmen on road trips. She helped Lamb move from Marshalltown to Dubuque when he officially made the transition to Clarke University and made cinnamon rolls for new Marshalltown Activities Director and neighbor Craig Huegel when he arrived in the neighborhood.
“She definitely cares about what people think of her off the field,” Lamb said. “I had already resigned and took the other job, she didn’t have to help me out like that. There are things she doesn’t have to do, but does them anyway because she knows it will make her an even better person.”
It was definitely an up and down year for Wagner. She was at an all-time high after being named Homecoming Queen in the fall. The roller coaster ride got bumpy in the winter when she was forced to miss almost the entire basketball season because of bronchitis.
But like she always seems to do, Wagner made the best of both situations – even though it wasn’t always the popular opinion.
“To be recognized for what I’ve done outside of sports is more important to me,” said Wagner, who was a five-time Times-Republican all-area softball team selection. “I can work hard to be good at sports, but how I treat others is important to me. My faith has a lot to do with that.
“Winning Homecoming Queen was very humbling. That was my favorite week ever. That made me feel very loved.”
On the flip side, dealing with a panic disorder that caused her to lose 40 pounds during her sophomore year and fighting through a tumultuous senior season on the basketball floor ranked right up there with some of the hardest times of her high school career.
The bronchitis she suffered from this past winter affected her ribs and made it hard to breathe. She also tore cartilage in her back and is still going through physical therapy today.
“It was the hardest thing I had to do.” said Wagner about not being able to play with her basketball teammates. “It was hard to tell people that I couldn’t play because of the softball scholarship. It was frustrating, and I took it really hard.”
Wagner got to the point where she was tired of hearing from her critics.
“It was to the point where I just said ‘put me in’ because I got tired of hearing that I wasn’t playing. I have way too much pride to not try to help my team. I didn’t want that to stop me from playing. It was the most trying season of my career for sure.”
There weren’t too many trying times for Wagner inside the softball diamond. That’s why it was so difficult for Lamb to take her out of the lineup, despite playing through pain during her entire senior season.
“She had those health issues, but she is so passionate and was able to work her way through it,” Lamb said. “You can’t take her out of the lineup if she can play. It was definitely difficult for her to deal with though.”
When she is not playing with her Marshalltown teammates, she is a part of an I-Club travel team out of Des Moines, where she plays with all-staters like Paige Lowary, Riley Fisher and Kendyl Lindaman.
“It is and was very important for me to get as many repetitions and innings as possible,” said Wagner, who also had scholarship offers from Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Drake. “I feel like I have seen everything. It’s a good opportunity that I have had to play with the club teams that I have been a part of.”
She most recently took part in the ASA Northern Nationals in Bloomington, Ind. Her squad, made up of softball players from around the state, finished fifth out of 47 teams. Add to that her four-time all-CIML selections and multiple all-state and all-district honors and the trophy case at home may need to be upgraded.
“I have never learned more things from one person than I have from Jeff Lamb,” said Wagner of her most recent coach at Marshalltown. “I respect him so much as a coach. He has become a very good friend and mentor to me on and off the field.
“It is going to be hard not having him as my coach next year but I can always call him. And I might do some umpiring with him next summer.”
Wagner plans on studying secondary education at Eastern Michigan and even said a return to Marshalltown as a teacher would be something she could definitely see in her future.
As far as inside the bases at Eastern Michigan? She will handle that with the same approach she took when coming into the Marshalltown program as an eighth grader.
“If I get the chance to play, I am going to take advantage of every opportunity to do so,” Wagner said. “I am looking to play catcher, but I’ll play wherever they want me to play. I expect to play right away though. And I am really excited for that journey to start.”
Lamb said he believes his two-time second-team all-state catcher can play multiple positions in college. But he doesn’t see her venturing too far away from home plate.
“She played some shortstop and center field for the Bobcats, but I don’t foresee her not catching,” said Lamb. “She’s the best throwing catcher I have ever seen. She’ll stop the run game at any level. No one runs on her.”