Rock Chalk Weekly: Hometown Hero
Written by Shelby Blankenbaker, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Every year, it never fails. Osawatomie, Kansas, home to nearly 5,000 people, loads up two school buses on an hour trek Northwest to Lawrence to take over the general admission seating in Horejsi Family Athletics Center. This town; small, but mighty, sends its own club volleyball team to watch the town’s pride and joy. The club is full of eager girls ranging from 5th grade to seniors in high school ready to watch their idol, their role model, their hopes and dreams being lived out in Tayler Soucie as she dons the Crimson and Blue for the University of Kansas on the volleyball court.
After the game, the girls get the chance to talk to and congratulate Soucie. Pictures are taken, t-shirts are signed. Once considered a very “normal” girl, Soucie is now seen as a superstar to the young offspring of her hometown.
“I grew up in a town where everybody knows everybody,” Soucie reiterated.
Everyone knows Tayler Soucie. The town gave birth to this standout, and many adolescent girls look up to her, as she is known as the girl who made a name for herself. She is playing volleyball at the University of Kansas. Osawatomie may only be an hour away from the University; however, Kansas is viewed as a prestigious place to play. This town has watched Soucie grow up and has instilled in her an ambitious personality that has motivated her to succeed in all aspects of life.
Coming from a class 4A school district, an athletically-gifted athlete such as Soucie was expected play and participate in all aspects of her high school. Soucie excelled not only in the classroom, but also in the three sports she played throughout each school year. Volleyball, basketball and track took up most of her time, all of which she lettered in all four years of high school upon receiving statewide recognition in all three sports.
“When you’re in a small town, you don’t see a lot of one-sport athletes. You play every sport and you’re a part of everything. I think that aspect of being from a small town allowed me not get burnt out just doing one thing,” Soucie stated.
The last two years of Soucie’s high school volleyball career, her father, Darren Soucie, stepped in as head coach. Darren had coached basketball for much of his life; however, volleyball was not in his playbook.
Although Soucie’s dad didn’t know much about the sport of volleyball, he had good intentions and didn’t let his daughter slack off. He expected more out of her and pushed her to be the best she could be. Soucie was motivated to be a team leader for the sake of the success of her team. In addition, she was one of the most experienced playing the game amongst her team.
“My dad expected me to be a leader on the court for my teammates, especially since a lot of them hadn’t had as many experiences as I had,” Soucie said. “My job was to help my teammates out and teach them more about the game, which was a huge role my dad gave me.”
Unlike many other girls playing volleyball for Osawatomie High, Soucie had the advantage of playing club volleyball in Kansas City. Soucie recalled how she found out about the opportunity to play for a more competitive club team from a friend who also played for a club based in Kansas City. Soucie realized one of the only ways for her to get noticed by Division I schools was to play at the next level.
“Being from a small town, you don’t get seen,” Soucie admitted. “You don’t get the publicity all the time, so I had to work harder to show that I wasn’t just some girl from a small town in the middle of nowhere.”
In Kansas, club volleyball is played throughout the winter and spring, overlapping high school winter and spring sports. For Soucie, this meant she would have to practice basketball with her high school team in the winter and then her dad would drive over any hour to Kansas City in order to make it to her club volleyball practice later in the evenings. Soucie would do the same during the spring after track practice. With her nights scheduled full of practices, Soucie would do her homework on the car ride to Kansas City or when she got home from her late-night practices. She did all of this with the ambition to one day play for a Division I college – her dream since 7th grade.
“My dad always told me I can do anything I put my mind to. If I really want something, I just have to work hard and I can get there,” Soucie said. “He has always believed in me. It was just whether I really attacked it or not.”
Being from a small town did not come without its trials and tribulations, and most of all the doubters. Soucie, with the support from her family, was making great efforts to be seen playing with a high-level club team; however, people at the top still doubted her ability to play at the next level. Soucie was reminded of the small town in which she came from and the lack of competition she faced during her high school seasons.
“You’re a small-town girl when you come to the city. They don’t take you seriously. You don’t play against the bigger Kansas City schools,” Soucie stated. “Everyone doubted me when I was younger and throughout high school. Even playing club, my teammates didn’t believe in the player that I could be. It was overcoming them and believing in myself when other people didn’t.”
Soucie’s major source of motivation came from her solid support system that her parents, three brothers and her hometown provided. She would take what others said and use it as ambition to succeed and as an incentive to prove to her doubters wrong, that she could be a talented player and make big plays.
Although Soucie had her cynics, she had a great experience playing club volleyball and attributes her success on the Kansas hardwood to the player-oriented coaches she had and the opportunity to play at such a high level that club volleyball provided.
“I had some of the greatest club coaches,” Soucie explained. “One of my coaches called me the other night and said, ‘I’ve heard you’ve been struggling a bit, if you need to talk, I’m here.’ I still get a great support system from playing club.”
Coming to Kansas was not an easy decision for Soucie. Her club coaches encouraged her to look elsewhere because many other surrounding universities were interested in her, and Kansas was not offering a full, four-year scholarship at the time. However, Soucie knew that she wanted to be a Jayhawk ever since she attended camp in Lawrence after her sophomore year of high school. She just got a feeling when she stepped in the Kansas gym, a feeling that told her this is where she was supposed to be.
Soucie chose Kansas for the family-oriented atmosphere and also because her biggest supporters in Osawatomie were only an hour away. Soucie’s brother was also a part of the KU track & field team at the time. All signs pointed Northwest to KU, where Soucie is now able to represent small-town Kansas when she puts on her Jayhawk uniform.
“I take pride in where I come from and where I’m at now,” said Soucie. “It’s really special to be ‘that girl’ that’s made it from a small town and be a role model for other girls, showing them that you can dream big and you can make it. It might be a struggle, but you can get there.”
As a freshman, Soucie dominated the net, leading the Jayhawks in blocks. She was also named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week and Big 12 Rookie of the Week on three different occasions throughout her first season playing for KU. Soucie was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team and garnered AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year accolaes. Soucie did not just succeed on the court, but ofF it as well, as she was a member of the 2013-14 Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team and the spring and fall Athletic Director’s and Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Rolls.
As for her sophomore season, Soucie did not disappoint. She led her team in blocks once again, and the entire Big 12 Conference. She was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week during the season. For her contributions on the court for the Jayhawks, she was honored by the league as a member of the All-Big 12 First Team. Like her freshman year, Soucie excelled in the classroom as she was named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team and the fall and spring Athletic Director’s and Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Rolls.
Soucie’s successes, both on-and-off the volleyball court, would not be possible without her strong support system. They are there to celebrate her triumphs as well as when things aren’t going her way. Having this kind of support makes it easy for Soucie to go after whatever she sets her mind to and wants to accomplish.
“My family is a huge support. My parents are at every game they can be at and I will have texts from my brothers after games if they can’t be there, saying encouraging things,” Soucie said.
“It’s knowing no matter how our game goes, they are always there. It’s a certain kind of relief knowing that there is someone there that always has your back.”
This season, Soucie has been a force for the Jayhawk offense, as she has been in the past. Head coach Ray Bechard speaks highly of Soucie’s reliability as well as her ability to be a major energy source for the team, upon being a leader for her teammates.
“You know what you’re going to get every day with Tayler. She’s unconditional and a great teammate and certainly represents qualities that as a coach you admire. She works hard, puts team before self, and you can just see the joy she gets in competing. She goes beyond what a typical, so-called leader would do,” Bechard said.
In addition to being a leader on the court, Soucie also sets an example for others in the classroom, where she is majoring in exercise science. Teammates with the same major utilize Soucie as a resource whenever they have questions or concerns. Soucie understands their stresses and helps bring them ease. Other than school and volleyball, the junior keeps busy volunteering at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Big Brothers Big Sisters, in addition to her involvement in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
So what’s next for Soucie to accomplish? Medical school. After graduation, Soucie has hopes of attending KU Med to become a doctor. Her ambition to work in the medical field has been inspired by no one other than her support system – her family.
When Soucie was a junior in high school, her older brother suffered a traumatic brain injury when he missed the mat while high jumping for KU. Witnessing his recovery and treatment sparked Soucie’s interest in the healthcare field. This past year solidified her decision to go into medicine and become a doctor when Soucie’s grandmother was diagnosed with Leukemia. Her grandmother was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for five days. During that time, Soucie was able to talk with the doctors and hear what they had to say about her grandmother’s condition. This further ignited her desire to help people.
Soucie explained, “I realize that volleyball isn’t going to be here my whole life. I am not always going to have volleyball to rely on.”
In order to gear up for her future off the volleyball court, Soucie has been hard at work attending preparatory classes for her entrance exams for medical school, as well as utilizing her volunteer experience at the hospital to help her in her classes and build her resume.
“I want to be the best I can be. I was given these abilities in this life to do something with them,” Soucie explained of her ambition both in the classroom and on the court. “My goal in life is to touch people and be an inspiration for people in order to make a difference in the world.”
Soucie has continued to inspire her hometown by putting on free volleyball clinics over winter break for the young girls of the Osawatomie club team, with the help of some of her Kansas teammates. She is a living example of what it takes to play and live at the next level.
“I just want to be that inspiration for girls. It’s knowing that I can be a mentor for them and show them that you can dream big and you can get places with hard work,” Soucie summed up.
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