Rowland finding her stride during bounce-back year

Tennessee first baseman Taylor Rowland is getting her groove back after an injury sidelined her career for a year.

Photo by Brad Blackwelder.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee first baseman Taylor Rowland claps for teammates during team introductions before the Vols' game against Southeastern Louisiana on March 2, 2017, at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.

Taylor Rowland’s Tennessee softball career was delayed before it ever began.

The redshirt freshman was a top-60 national recruit out of Chino Hills, California, and was expected to step in and be an immediate contributer for the Vols. After an ACL injury sidelined her for the entire 2016 season, she didn’t get that opportunity — until this season.

After months of recovery, Rowland stepped into the batter’s box for the first time in orange and white as a pinch-hitter against Tennessee Tech in the Vols’ season opener on Jan. 10. As she stepped up to the plate for the first time, Rowland was experiencing a mixed bag of emotions from the trials and tribulations she had faced over the previous year.

 “I was actually really nervous,” Rowland said. “I was also really excited, too. It was a really exciting feeling being back on the field and finally being able to do what I’ve been wanting to do for the last five years.”

Unlike most freshman, Rowland spent a full year on campus before her debut. For the most part, it wasn’t a fond memory.

“I was devastated,” Rowland said. “I’ve never been hurt before in my entire life.”

She added that the recovery period was even harder because she was alone on campus as the team traveled without her. She made the most of the situation, altering her perspective. The Vols’ first baseman wanted to come away from the injury a stronger person, so she prepared herself both on and off the diamond.

“It was pretty rough getting through it and everything like that, but I think it made me a lot stronger as a person both physically and mentally,” Rowland said. “Obviously, I wish it didn’t happen, but it was a blessing that it did.”

Rowland credits assistant athletic trainer for the softball team Sammie Charters and her physical therapist for playing large roles in her recovery. With the help of Charters, Rowland was able to keep her spirits up and stay the course.

“On a rough day, they pushed me to get better,” Rowland said.

Despite being over 2,000 miles from home, she didn’t go through recovery without the support of her parents, too.

“Even though they’re so far away, even just having a text from them saying ‘You’re awesome’ or anything, it was just great,” Rowland said. “They really helped me through a lot of it.”

With the support of her family and friends behind her, Rowland remained aware of the possible lingering effects from her knee injury, but she pushed through hours of therapy and recovery to be ready for the start of the season.

“I had started doing workouts with the team and I realized I hadn’t really done anything this intense in a really long time, so I was like ‘Oh my gosh my knee hurts,’” Rowland said. “I was kind of freaked out about that, but I just had to work through it because I couldn’t not do the workouts with my team.”

“I think I have a better mentality now than I did before. Having it taken away from me made me realize how much I love this sport.” Rowland said.

Rowland has hit .317 in her first 18 career games, driving in 13 runs. Against Northern Colorado on Feb. 19, she hammered a pitch over the left center-field wall for her first career homerun. She followed up that with a big game against Oregon State mere hours later. Against the Beavers, she was 3-of-4 at the plate with four RBIs and scored three runs. Her three hits, four RBIs, and three runs set career highs.

“I think I’m back into the flow of things. You can never be satisfied though.”

Part of being back in the flow of things for Rowland consists of making sure her hair is always perfect come first pitch. You can bet her hair has been flawless to start the season.

“I’m a very firm believer in you look good, you feel good, you do good, so (the hair is) done pretty nice.”

After settling into a day-to-day role on the field, she’s still progressing towards having a bigger impact for the Volunteers.

As far as overcoming the continued challenge of injury recovery goes, it remain a work in progress.

“It hurts every day, but that’s just a part of it,” Rowland said. “I can’t let that get to me — I have to push through that, and I feel like I have been. You just have to push through it because every day you’re not going to wake up and feel 100 percent, but you gotta do it.”

Edited by Nathan Odom

Featured image by Brad Blackwelder