Good as gold: Taylor LeMay making impact as Gophers starting catcher
When Taylor LeMay was 11 years old she went to a Gophers softball game with her dad Jim and grandpa Pete. She couldn’t take her eyes off the catcher.
“From that point on, playing for the Gophers was my goal,” said LeMay, a 2012 graduate of East Ridge High School. “I said I wanted to be in her shoes someday.”
After transferring from Concordia University to the University of Minnesota, LeMay has made her dream a reality.
LeMay, a Cottage Grove native, is the starting catcher for the Gophers women’s softball team, which is ranked as high as 16th in national polls and off to one of its best starts in school history.
Minnesota is 24-4 overall and 2-1 in the Big 10.“Before the first fall game I walked into the locker room and all of our jerseys were sitting out. I literally had to stop and look because my dream had come true,” LeMay said. “I can definitely say walking on to the field in this uniform feels pretty cool. It is kind of surreal. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and I’m really thankful for it. It’s been awesome.”LeMay’s road to the University of Minnesota wasn’t an entirely smooth one, however.A false start at Div. II Concordia-St. Paul meant LeMay would have to sit out a year before joining another team, due to NCAA transfer rules.LeMay, a four-time all-conference and two-time all-state honoree in high school, played for Concordia in six games during the fall season, but stopped playing in November of 2012. She finished her freshman year at the school, but didn’t play softball.“It came down to me realizing it just wasn’t a good fit for me,” said LeMay, who was a Minnesota Ms. Softball finalist as a senior. “I grew up a little bit after I had committed. I wanted a bigger school and more of a college feel. I decided to basically wing it and see what would happen. I got in touch with (Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister) and it progressed from there.”LeMay said she had some ups and downs during her year-and-a-half off from competitive softball. There were hard moments like when she saw her former team at East Ridge out on the practice field that spring and when she would read how well the University of Minnesota was doing in the newspapers.“It hurt a ton,” LeMay said. “It was so hard. I’m not a crier, but I definitely shed a couple tears. I knew it was going to be a while until I got a chance to play again.”During her downtime, however, LeMay kept busy. She trained at East Ridge with her former coach Tom Nemo and was given access to the weight room at her old high school. She said she also took in as many Gophers and Raptors games as possible and even coached with the Minnesota Sting 14 Gold team.“She worked her butt off the whole last year and a half to be ready for the U,” Jim LeMay said. “She just needed to stay positive and keep working hard. She’d call me and we’d go up to East Ridge and hit and play catch for two hours every night. You’d never turn her down. She just never gave up.”LeMay isn’t merely back on the field — she’s thriving.The sophomore has started all of the Gophers’ 28 games. She is batting close to .300 on the year and leads the Gophers in home runs with six. She has 16 RBI, a slugging percentage of .578 and a .333 on-base percentage. But, LeMay said she’s still not playing at 100 percent after the layoff.“I wouldn’t say I’m at the top of my game,” she said. “I’m still trying to get back into game mode a little bit. I’m catching well, but there’s always room for improvement. When you’re away from the game you lose a little bit. I’m still in the process of getting it back.”A turning point for LeMay this year came in Phoenix when she had a 12-pitch at bat and worked a walk off of Arizona State’s Dallas Escobedo — one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the country.“(Taylor) called me after that game and said it was the best at-bat she’s had in her entire life,” Jim LeMay said. “She fouled some off, hit a couple foul balls deep down the line and earned a walk.”Taylor said she “started to feel really, really good that weekend.”“I think I’m slowly getting more and more into it,” she said. “It’s been a tough transition, but I love the challenge and always working to elevate my game.”Also helping to raise the bar for LeMay is a tremendous supporting cast at Minnesota. Her battery mate is senior pitcher Sara Moulton, who was absolutely dominant during her time as ace of Eagan High School, and is nearly as nasty for the Gophers.LeMay said she faced Moulton once in her high school career. As a freshman at Park High School, LeMay struck out in her first at-bat against Moulton, who was a senior at the time. However, her in her second at-bat she popped up to second base.“To just do that off of Sara Moulton made my week,” LeMay said. “Now being able to catch her is so cool. It’s such an opportunity and something I never thought I’d have. It’s been really, really fun.”LeMay said she also has to pinch herself a little bit when she realizes she has Tyler Walker and Katie Richardson on left side of the infield. “You look over there and it’s crazy,” LeMay said. “Last year I was in the stands and they didn’t even know me. Now we’re teammates. I just love it.”LeMay said Minnesota has a extraordinary team this year with an exceptional blend of talent and chemistry.“We’re a really talented group of girls and we play together really, really well,” Taylor LeMay said. “When you have really good chemistry off the field you have really good chemistry on the field. That’s how this team is. It’s really, really fun. “We just work. Coach Allister gets us fired up and does everything she can to make us the best team possible. After the fall season I knew this was going to be a really special team. You kind of just feel that vibe.”The Gophers opened up Big 10 play this past weekend on the road against No. 15-ranked Nebraska and went 2-1 in the three-game series. “This team has so much potential,” Jim LeMay said. “They could win the Big 10 championship this year. I think they have it in them. The coach has recruited the right girls and it’s pretty amazing. I’m just glad she’s a part of it.”Taylor LeMay is certainly happy to be part of it too.“There’s nothing cooler than being on the field and looking up into the stands and seeing my family there,” she said. “They know how hard I worked for it. Having their support and knowing how proud they are is really cool.”