In a land before WCWS appearances and Tremendous Stubble drives, Coach Ehren Earleywine went about signing his first ever recruiting class to MU. Going back to November, 2006, the release describing the group which would start playing in early 2008 was somewhat unassuming. A few of the folks who would come to make up this five-person class were inherited; their original offers from the previous staff were maintained. One of the others had a bio that sounded pretty solid with some intriguing highlights:
"Taylor, a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School helped take her team to the final four of the 2006 state softball tournament and owns a .352 batting average with 37 stolen bases, seven coming in one game. A member of the Georgia Spoilers summerball league, Taylor and her team have claimed three Independent Softball Association (ISA) World Series Championship titles in addition to being named Southern Nationals World Series, and five time state champions. An outfielder with the Brownsmill Lady Jackets during the summer of 2006, Taylor and her team advanced to their sixth consecutive RBI World Series Championship and ranked 13th out of nearly 140 teams at the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Nationals. Taylor is a two-time all-county first team honoree and was named Most Valuable Offensive Player as a junior and senior. A three-sport athlete, Taylor is a member of the Lions' varsity basketball and track and field teams.
"Rhea is a left handed hitting outfielder that runs extremely well. She has tremendous athletic ability and unlimited potential," Earleywine said. "She is a short gamer predominantly, but we will work hard at strengthening her ability to swing away. At 5-10, with a muscular frame, we feel like at some point she can be a true triple threat with bunt, slap and hit for power."
And thus began the tremendous career of MU great Rhea Taylor.
It would not take Taylor long to make an impact for the Tigers. She would own the only two hits Mizzou would register against #16 Va Tech in their season-opening 2-0 loss, and added two stolen bases with it. Three weeks later, on Feb 29th, Taylor would have what I would assume is the best Feb 29th a softball player has ever had. In two games as part of the Tiger Invitational (against South Dakota St. and Boston University), Taylor would go 5-5 with 3 runs scored and 3 stolen bases in game 1, followed by a 2-4 performance with four more stolen bases in the MU wins. She would finish her frosh season with all sorts of accolades (including the first MU softball player to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year, as well as 2nd team All-American), hitting a team-high .402 on the year with (still) single season records in at bats (219) runs (64), hits (88) and stolen bases (57). Taylor would help lead Mizzou to a surprise berth in the 2008 Super Regionals against Alabama after they swept through the Iowa City Regional.
In 2009, Taylor and the Tigers would receive a lift in the circle from a couple of incoming freshmen named Kristen Nottlemann and Chelsea Thomas, and would be propelled to a 50-win season and the first of three straight WCWS appearances. Once again, Taylor led the Tigers in runs (54), hits (72), batting average (.404) and stolen bases (36), while starting to add some pop to her bat with 4 HR’s and a slugging of .560. This was good enough for her 2nd consecutive honoring as All Big-12, an award she would earn in each of her four seasons at Mizzou. 2010 would see Taylor bring her game up yet another notch, batting a ridiculous .452 on the year with a slugging of .718. She ended up just off her single-season hits record with 85, 64 runs scored, 48 more stolen bases and added 8 triples, 8 HR’s and 40 RBI’s…all from the leadoff slot. During an 18-game hitting streak in the middle of the year, she batted .531 with 25 runs and 20 RBI’s. Somehow, all of this was only good enough for 3rd team All-American, and even though Mizzou only played three games in the WCWS, her performance there was strong enough to earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Taylor would round out her amazing career in 2011 as she repeated her 3rd team All-American achievement, batting over .370 with 43 more stolen bases. As she had the year before, Taylor shone brightest when it meant the most, hitting .500 in the post season with 10 runs scored and nine stolen bases. Perhaps it goes without saying that it is Rhea Taylor who the Tigers have missed the most these past two postseasons.
While it might be a fool’s errand to try to count all the times Taylor’s name dots both the Tigers and Big 12 record books, it is the manner in which her name sits atop the MU books which is most impressive. Her career batting average of .402 is FIFTY points ahead of the next person. She has 53 more hits (315) than the next (Mary Babb), 70 more runs (234, also Babb) and 74 more stolen bases (184 to Julie Link’s 110). She owns half of the top-6 single-season batting averages, as well as the two best single-season totals in runs (64), hits (88, 85) and steals (57, 48). Suffice it to say, there is likely never to be another table-setter who will become as dominant as Rhea Taylor to ever grace the all-dirt diamond again.