St. Vincent forward a late bloomer for women's basketball team
St. Vincent's Taylor Mathers has become one of the top basketball players in the Presidents' Athletic Conference. At the holiday break, she ranks second in the conference in scoring (18.4 points per game), fourth in rebounding (8.6) first in field goal percentage (64.6) and third in blocked shots (1.4).
Her impact can be appreciated even more given the context of her career. It's a career that almost didn't happen.
The Laurel Highlands standout was courted by basketball coaches from several schools — but not St. Vincent. She was impressed enough with the school to enroll despite receiving no overtures from the basketball staff.
When she arrived, she contacted then-coach Kristen Zawacki about walking on. Mathers attended a handful of practices before changing her mind, overwhelmed by the transition to college and the accompanying workload.
Fast forward two years. Mathers, then a junior, had a chance encounter with coach Jimmy Petruska, a former assistant who took over the team following Zawacki's death in 2010. He told Mathers there would be a spot for her if she wanted it. Two days later, she was at practice.
“I played basketball all my life, and it's something that's really close to my heart,” said Mathers, a graduate student who has her B.S. in early childhood education and is pursuing her master's in education. “I started to regret (giving it up), honestly, but I'm glad I have this extra year now.”
The 6-foot-2 forward is coming off a season in which she earned first-team all-PAC honors. This season, she has helped the Bearcats to a 7-1 (3-0 PAC) start, scoring at least 20 points in half their games and recording three double-doubles.
Petruska said numbers measure only part of her value.
“What she does is so far beyond any stat line,” said Petruska. “Leadership wise, she leads by example. She's vocal. She cares about everybody. She pulls everybody together constantly. You can't say enough good things about her.”
Mathers' importance was evident during the 2014 postseason. She suffered a concussion in the first round of the PAC tournament, and — with her sitting out — the Bearcats fell to W&J in the semifinals. St. Vincent beat the Presidents twice during the regular season with Mathers in the lineup.
“That was very frustrating. I didn't even get to travel with my team,” said Mathers. “That was a huge push on why I came back (this year). I felt like ending my college career with that was not acceptable.”
She hopes to end it with a PAC title. For that to happen, the Bearcats will have to go through Thomas More, ranked No. 2 in the nation in the latest D3hoops.com poll and led by reigning national Player of The Year Sydney Moss.
Mathers wouldn't have it any other way.
“That's nothing to back down from,” she said, “and we definitely accept the challenge.”
Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.