For Taylor Collinsworth, personal experiences have made soccer much more than a matter of playing a sport.
Rather, she has lived the game, seeing it as a major part of a lifelong journey. It has led her to where she is today: the starting goalkeeper for a potent squad standing on the brink of a first Northwest Conference women’s soccer title.
Collinsworth has been a soccer stud from the start. Though she switched to goalkeeper at a young age, she maintained versatility by continuing to play other positions.
“I have been playing since I was in first grade and I tried out for ODP (Olympic Development Program) in middle school,” Collinsworth remembers, referring to one of the premier club soccer systems in the country. “I tried out as a keeper and stuck with it, but continued to play in the field all through high school.”
While she had plans to go to Hawaii out of high school, her life took a dramatic detour when she was diagnosed with epilepsy. She spent time at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, alongside good friend Molly McCool, who was diagnosed with ulcertifical colitis.
As it turns out, within the setback lay a golden opportunity.
McCool’s older brother, Cole, is an assistant coach in the Linfield women’s program. Collinsworth remembers he was a big part of her decision to transfer to Linfield after spending her first year in college at Central Oregon Community College. “When I was trying to figure out where to go, Cole told me (Linfield) needed a goalie and I knew a couple of girls who were on the team already,” says Collinsworth.
Little did she know, but Collinsworth was about to land smack in the middle of a motivated, hard-working and confident team poised for excellence.
In 2011, the Wildcats’ historic second-place Northwest Conference finish in the came in large part to its defensive unit, specifically the play of sophomore goalkeeper Apolonia Martinez. The nursing major departed the program after her second season when her course of study required relocation to Linfield’s Portland campus.
“We wondered who would step into the spot,” head coach Dominic Doty says. “To have a good goalkeeper means the world to a good team and it was all about Taylor being ready when the time came.”
Martinez shares the school record for shutouts in a single season with eight. With seven clean sheets in 2012, Collinsworth has silenced any questions whether the void Martinez created would persist throughout the season. Now, she has the opportunity to rewrite the records if she can hold opponents scoreless in Linfield’s final two matches.
While the Wildcats are setting a record pace, Collinsworth has eyes on another individual record of her own. Last season, the women’s team allowed a record-low 14 goals.
With only two matches remaining, the likelihood the Wildcats will break that mark is more than promising. Thus far in 2012, Collinsworth has given up just nine goals, earning Northwest Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors.
“Losing Apo (Martinez) was tough, but Taylor is every bit the player she was, in a different way and has stepped in and filled a big void,” Doty says proudly.
Tending to have the best overall view of the entire field, it is within a goalkeeper’s nature take on a leadership role. “Taylor uses her voice well and is a big part of getting our offense going,” sophomore defender Lauren Pyrch (Sr., West Linn, Ore.) notes.
Collinsworth’s experience at multiple positions provides Linfield with a polished, exuberant leader who possesses a rare aptitude for the game. “She came in with a good background and has grown volumes mentally and physically in terms of understanding the pace of the college game on all different levels,” says Doty.
Fellow defender Emily Allison agrees, saying, “Taylor does a great job keeping everyone organized and telling people when to step.”
Nagging injuries have been somewhat of a setback for Collinsworth, but being part of a gritty team that fights through bumps and bruises drives her to persist and persevere. “I have been hurt on and off throughout the season, but when I see other girls pushing through it, that motivates me to keep going.”
Collinsworth has started all 18 matches of 2012 and believes she could have the opportunity to start her 21st match in a NCAA playoff game. “It would be absolutely amazing,” Collinsworth says about the prospect of securing a coveted postseason berth. “We’ve done so well all season and if we win the conference it will be something that will make everyone proud to be part of the program.”
With a pregame routine she has followed for as long as she can remember, Collinsworth’s approach to a potential playoff match would be no different than any other. “I have always been huge on routines, and I don’t wear my socks or any gear until I get to the field,” she explains. “Mentally, I always go in with confidence and make sure I take advantage of pregame warmups,” she adds.
While she works hard to keep the defense organized, her vocal leadership combined with technical ability extends to all reaches of the pitch. “Taylor is very athletic. As a forward it gives me confidence knowing that if the ball gets into the box she’s going to make a play,” says striker Julia Vaughan.
Doty has witnessed the blanket coverage Collinsworth provides, adding, “She is talented in the box and having someone like that gives extra reassurance when there are times that the defense is under heavy pressure.”
“My dad has always told me to never give up on anything,” Collinsworth says when asked about her role models.
Sentiments of perseverance are a recurring theme in all aspects of her life, from athletics, to school, to battling epilepsy. An exercise science and nursing major, Collinsworth’s relationship with Molly McCool has sparked an interest in children’s oncology. “Molly inspires me because of how well she was treated in the hospital,” she says, emphasizing her desire to explore the field once she graduates from Linfield.
Collinsworth’s soccer career will eventually come to an end. But the friendships she has fostered, experience she has gained and adversity the sport has helped her overcome, will forever live strong within her and define who she is.
From perhaps becoming a conference champion to hopefully developing into a medical professional, the one constant that defines Collinsworth’s journey is the game of soccer.
– Evan O’Kelly ‘13