Without a junior soccer season, Taylor Carlson tried to make the most of her downtime.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kaneland midfielder hit the weights, bulking up for what she hoped would be her senior season.
It turns out the IHSA would resume soccer this year and Carlson’s hyperextended offseason workout paid off, as she scored 15 goals and 18 assists. She was named the Daily Chronicle 2021 Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“It was disappointing missing my junior season, but I kind of took advantage of COVID,” Carlson said. “I worked out, got stronger, started lifting weights with my brother to prepare for senior season, hoping we would get a senior season. Which we did. So I came out a lot stronger and ready to play.”
Kaneland coach Scott Parillo said that’s not surprising given how hard Carlson works at the game.
“She practiced like she played,” Parillo said. “Sometimes you have game players, or you have players that are really good at practice but maybe not so hot in games. She did both. She practiced really, really hard then played really, really hard. One of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached, boys or girls.”
A four-year starter on varsity, Carlson concluded her high school career by helping the Knights go undefeated in the Interstate 8 regular season and winning the team’s tournament. The Knights also picked up a playoff win.
Parillo said Carlson was integral to that success as not only a distributor, but someone who can find the back of the net herself.
“She has to have the ball to be able to do something,” Parillo said. “She can shoot, she can pass, she can do whatever she needs to do. And we thought that was the best spot for her. She was still second on the team in goals and the leader in assists. The ball has to go through Taylor to be successful.”
Parillo said Carlson wasn’t afraid of using her head either. Against Sycamore in the I8 title game, she opened the scoring by elevating for a pass from Annika Johnson and knocking it home on a header, claiming momentum they would not surrender.
He said that’s one of the things that her future college coach, Ryan Quamme of UW-Whitewater, liked about her game.
“I know the coach at Whitewater loved the fact she’s not afraid to head the ball,” Parillo said. “It was one of the things he loved. She had DI offers and she chose Whitewater. She’s going to have a ton of success up there. But yeah, we’re going to miss her.”
Carlson said recruiting during COVID was very strange, and a former boys player at Kaneland now at Whitewater, Tucker Jahns, told her about the school.
She was intrigued, followed it up, and is now committed to joining the Warhawks next year.
“It wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too small,” Carlson said. “I talked to the coach and I just loved it. I’m excited.
Carlson said that she enjoys setting her teammates up with opportunities, even if it cuts down on how many goals she scores.
“Of course I want to score goals,” Carlson said. “But setting up my teammates, finding them in the moment, I love that It’s so rewarding. I like playing center because I like being on the attack and I like to defend. I don’t know, I just like being everywhere on the field.”
Parillo said Carlson relished the center midfield role and just wanted to play.
“She just wanted to play,” Parillo said. “When I took her out of a game she was angry. When we’re up big, and I’m pulling her out, she’s angry. She’s like let me play 5 more minutes. I can’t afford to get you injured, no. Then she’d give me that look. ... BUt yeah, she could have scored 30, 40 goals. But we put her in a spot where she’d be most beneficial to the team.”
Carlson said she was pleased with the way the season turned out, which included a milestone for Parillo as a coach.
“We accomplished a lot of goals, like undefeated conference championship and winning Parillo’s 200th game,” Carlson said. “I thought we accomplished a lot for not having a junior season. I thought we really came to play.”