Superior speed is only one of the reasons UC Irvine senior Tanya Taylor leads from the front.
The dynamic women's soccer forward, who tops the Big West Conference in goals (nine) and assists (nine), has helped the No. 15-ranked Anteaters claim the program's first Big West Conference regular-season title.
Dashing by and dribbling around even the most determined defenders, Taylor has played a role in nearly half of the goals for a UCI team that has outscored opponents, 40-12, on its way to a 15-1-2 record, 7-0 in the Big West. She has done this despite teams typically devoting at least one defender to marking her.
In a 6-0 conference win over UC Davis on Oct. 3, Taylor collected two goals and three assists.
"She's one of the most unpredictable, explosive and dangerous players you'll see," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said of Taylor, who won league titles in high school track and field in the 400 meters and the high jump.
Juniper marvels not only at Taylor's skill, but her determination.
"She's just a handful," Juniper said of the 5-foot-6 standout, who earned second-team all-conference recognition the last two seasons and enters Sunday's regular-season finale at home against Cal State Fullerton with career totals of 22 goals and 18 assists. "And she works so hard. She's not just talented; her work rate is incredible. She's our hardest worker in fitness and she's one of our most fit players. I would hate to defend her."
There is little defense for Taylor in the open field. And her unselfishness is another asset.
"We have the most dangerous offense that we've had in my four years here," said Taylor, one of three team captains who shrugs aside any notion that her willingness to set up teammates is anything beyond normal.
Taylor said earning first-team all-conference laurels provided some motivation for her final collegiate season. She is not only a sure first-team honoree, but the likely choice for Big West Offensive Player of the Year. But she added that team goals have always been foremost on her mind.
"I think we're proving people wrong," said Taylor, whose team was picked to finish third in the conference preseason poll.
Taylor has also worked hard to prove she can compete at the highest level. That determination is displayed in games as well as practices.
"I always try to do my best out there," said the criminology major, who twice has earned Big West All-Academic accolades. "I take pride in trying to win every drill, though I do get beat every once in a while. It's great to have that competitiveness at practice. I appreciate it."
Juniper bested Arizona to recruit Taylor out of Sunny Hills High. Taylor said part of the Anteaters' allure was the chance to help build success.
"One of the reasons I chose this program was because of its ability to grow," Taylor said. "The senior class that came in four years ago has really stepped up and taken that challenge. I'm so blessed to have been around this group of girls and this set of coaches at this moment in time. Each day is exciting. We all are playing the sport we love and we all want to get up every morning and train."