WATERLOO — Taylor Hogan had big shoes to fill when she entered Waterloo Columbus’ softball team the summer following her eighth grade year.
Eventual Luther College All-American shortstop Anna Strien had graduated the previous season, and coach Chris Olmstead didn’t initially know if his newcomer would be able to fill that void.
“I was worried about it,” Olmstead recalls. “I didn’t think she had a strong enough arm, and she proved me wrong.”
Hogan enters her senior softball season a three-time first team all-stater, who has led the Sailors in hits, runs and steals each of the previous four years. The fifth-year shortstop — signed to continue her softball career at the University of Northern Iowa — is coming off a campaign in which she scored 74 runs, blasted seven home runs with 34 RBIs, and stole 42 bases on 43 attempts.
Hogan is part of a core group of Maliyah Little, Jalila Hart, Sydney Schultz and Kayla Sproul competing in their fifth season of softball at Columbus. They’ve either played with or against each other dating back to Optimist ball, and together have helped Columbus reach the program’s only two state tournament appearances the past two seasons.
“We’ve just grown a lot closer and I feel like they’re some of my best friends,” Hogan said, addressing her senior teammates. “I just feel comfortable out on the field with them.”
The drive her classmates exhibited from day one helped motivate Hogan.
“We all wanted to be on the field which made it easier for me to want to play my hardest,” Hogan said. “They all wanted to win, I wanted to win, I feel like we had a common goal the whole time.”
When Olmstead took his seniors out for a breakfast in January, a desire to complete the steps necessary to become state champions quickly surfaced.
“They all told me, ‘We’d like you to be harder on us. We want you to be harder on the girls that are coming up, as well, because we want the program to flourish next year and continually,’” Olmstead related.
Hogan says her team has become more confident competing against tougher opponents in recent years.
“I feel like if we get pushed a little bit harder, maybe that will help us get more focused and keep us on the right track,” she added.
Olmstead believes Hogan’s personality makes her a great leader.
“I think she’s a good leader because she’s kind to everyone,” he said. “She makes people feel included.”
Hogan’s athletic success has extended well beyond the softball diamond. She has competed at the regional and national level in gymnastics, won three state team and doubles titles in tennis and first went out for diving with Waterloo’s swim team as a sophomore before becoming a second team all-stater in that sport senior year.
A typical school day in the spring consists of Hogan beginning tennis practice at 3 p.m. and finishing with either gymnastics or softball at 8 that night.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to do it anywhere else,” Hogan said addressing the multi-sport workload. “All my coaches have been so understanding and they’ve allowed me to get to where I’m at today. It’s just been incredible. I’ve had so much fun competing for Columbus.
“All of my teams have been awesome. Being a part of so many different teams, I’ve met a lot of different people.”
Hogan credits gymnastics for helping to build her softball speed, power and agility. It’s also created a successful approach at the plate.
“Each at bat I think of it more as I have this one chance,” Hogan said. “That really helps me have a good at bat and work hard each time, because I was taught in gymnastics you only have one shot and you have to really be in the moment at that time.”
Added Olmstead, “She’s probably the smartest ballplayer I’ve ever coached, just knowing the nuances of the game. … She’ll make the right adjustments at the plate. She’ll know the situations and she’ll make it happen.”
While Taylor’s sister, Sydney, went on to compete in gymnastics at the University of Iowa, she says softball became the sport she wanted to pursue at the collegiate level since her freshman year of high school. Youth diving coach Bethany Hovland now works as UNI’s diving coach, and Hogan is excited to reunite with her former coach in that sport at the collegiate level, as well.
“It’s easier to be done with gymnastics, because they’re so similar,” Hogan said of diving.
Nearing the end of high school athletics career, Hogan credits family for playing a major role in her success. Her older sister was a senior on the softball team her eighth grade year, and now Taylor is a senior with her youngest sister, Avery, an eighth-grade teammate.
Taylor’s mom, Kari, was a part of Don Bosco’s first state qualifying team, and her dad, Pat, has never shied away from a game of catch or throwing batting practice.
“I have the greatest support system ever, from my family,” Taylor Hogan said. “There’s always so many people there cheering me on. Just knowing that I have them behind me makes it easier. … I really want to thank them for all that they do for me.”