Taylor Tuck used to think it would take forever to get to college.
Now, here she sits in the dugout at Cowgirl Stadium, already having put the bow on her freshman year. The Stillwater High graduate is working with eager high schoolers, all having the same dream Tuck once had: playing softball for Oklahoma State.
Tuck, the first in her family to attend OSU, committed early in her high school campaign and then went on to have one of the more illustrious careers in Lady Pioneers’ program history.
Tuck did it all for the girls in blue and gold for four years, playing wherever coach Karie Linsenmeyer needed her. She also helped take Stillwater to its first state tournament in 10 years her senior season.
Little did she know a year later, she would be playing in the Women’s College World Series in the Cowgirls’ first appearance in nearly a decade, as well.
Tuck, who is listed as a utility player, but has earned a majority of her practice time as a catcher, said she had a blast her freshman year just getting to learn from an outstanding senior class.
“I thought it was really fun,” Tuck said. “I thought I learned a lot and bettered myself, not only physically but mentally, too. I played pretty much everywhere. I caught in summer ball and caught a little in high school ball. I knew what I was doing. I think overall this year was really good learning wise.”
Tuck grew up a Cowgirl fan and never thought she would be on the same team, playing in the orange and black. While coming in as a freshman can be intimidating, Tuck was welcomed with open arms by coach Kenny Gajewski and his staff.
“It’s awesome,” Tuck said. “These are the most welcoming people I have ever met in my life. Growing up watching it as a little girl, I always thought after I committed that I had three years to wait and now I’m here and I am taking it all in. It is awesome. I can’t think of anything better.”
Whereas socially it was an easy adjustment, on the diamond it was a bit tougher to transition to the college game. One of the harder parts of taking the next step is at the plate where college pitchers can hit the high 70s with ease.
“I think just being more competitive at the plate,” Tuck said. “You have to have a different approach and knowing the strike zone and what pitches you hit best. It is more of knowing yourself. You have to learn what that pitcher throws and have to have self discipline on what you can hit and what you can’t, overall being more mature in your at-bats.”
Although the adjustment was hard, Tuck was happy with the final year at SHS, because the run to the Class 6A state semifinals helped her get a glimpse of what college might be like.
“I think it helped a lot in the state tournament that we played against the best teams in Oklahoma and now we are playing against the best teams in the country,” Tuck said. “I feel like that is the best competition in high school ball we could have gotten.”
Tuck didn’t play much this spring, mostly getting work as a pinch runner, but she knew from seeing the talent of the women around her that the Cowgirls were a World Series-quality team. OSU did just that, finishing as the No. 6 team in the country.
“We always knew,” Tuck said. “We kind of had a feeling like this team was something special. We knew that as long as we put in the work and we are determined, we will get there. We will do everything it takes. We do it all for the girls.”
In the run to the World Series, Tuck got to have her best personal moment of her freshman campaign. In a Big 12 Tournament game in Oklahoma City, the Cowgirls wrangled Iowa State in a 17-2 shellacking. Near the end of the contest, Tuck earned her first collegiate hit with an RBI double.
“It was really cool, because everyone was hitting and to just be a part of that and have my best friends cheering for me in the dugout as loud as they could was awesome. It was a great feeling,” Tuck said.
It was a season Tuck will never forget, especially since she got an “FTG” tattoo along with her teammates. Getting to have her parents, Kenny and Julie, watching from the outfield as part of the “Outlawz” fan group was just a cherry on top.
What excites her most is she still has three more years to try to experience the WCWS again and hopefully win the national championship.
“It is really motivating. I expect it now,” Tuck said. “A lot of the older girls set the expectation for us and it helped us younger girls be able to come in and as we mature, we can pass that on to the younger girls and teach them that this is the ‘Cowgirl Way’ and how we do it here.”
Tuck is willing to play anywhere next season and hopes her hard work in the offseason translates to the spring for her sophomore year. When she isn’t on the field, she is studying to be a speech pathologist in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, a major where she is hoping to get a Master’s degree.
While Tuck is busy, she does take time to reflect on the fact that she is getting to do something most people don’t. She is the sixth Stillwater native to play at OSU and the first since Tara Jeffery in 2006.
“I feel like I am not only playing for the girls and for this program, but I am also representing this town and playing for the people here,” Tuck said. “I want to make them proud as much as I want to make anyone else proud. I think it is a really cool thing to be able to say that I went and played college softball in my hometown. Not a lot of people get to do that.”
Every time she walks down the hallway in the OSU clubhouse, she sees Linsenmeyer’s photo on the wall of Cowgirl All-Americans and remembers her roots with the Lady Pioneers. Linsenmeyer – a native of Hesperia, California – played at OSU in the mid-1990s.
“I just want to motivate them to let them know they can do it if they put in the hard work and have the confidence,” Tuck said. “I just want to be the motivation for Stillwater and to show them that everybody has an opportunity.”