Taylor Smola was sitting in Stevens Point Area Senior High athletic director Stephanie Hauser’s office on March 6 with her parents, Rachel and Jim, and softball coach Tom Drohner when she heard the news: She had a torn ACL.
Smola injured her left knee during the final game of the Panthers’ basketball season, putting her senior year of softball in jeopardy.
With the support of her family, coaches and teammates, Smola put off surgery — until June 13 — and began a rigorous rehabilitation program to get her leg ready for softball.
She started as the Panthers designated player, a position similar to baseball’s designated hitter, and later moved to first base. In 28 games, she hit .452 with nine home runs and nine doubles, was a unanimous first-team all-Wisconsin Valley Conference pick and named to the Wisconsin Softball Coaches Association All-State first team. And the Panthers reached the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals.
For her determination and outstanding season, Smola has been named the Gannett Central Wisconsin Media softball player of the year.
The Gannett Central Wisconsin Media area is comprised of the regions covered by Daily Herald Media, Stevens Point Journal Media, Daily Tribune Media and News-Herald Media.
“This really means so much to me,” Smola said of receiving the honor. “If someone would have told me that day in Mrs. Hauser’s office that I would have had such an amazing season, I don’t think I would have believed it.
“The long winter played to my advantage because I was able to spend more time rehabbing and practicing. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all the support I got from everyone.”
Easing into softball was probably the best thing Smola could have done for herself and the team.
As the DP, the Panthers got the most from her strong hitting skills, Drohner said.
“Taylor had more clutch hits this year than anyone I’ve ever coached,” Drohner said. “In some of our biggest games, she had clutch hits. She was the person this year we wanted at the plate when the game was on the line and she always came through for us.
“And she was an inspiration to our team. Coming back from her knee injury meant a lot to the girls on the team.
“I was happy that she was able to come back and have such a big part of our success this year, because she’s an genuine a person that I’ve been around.”
Smola’s clutch power hitting came through against the Panthers’ biggest rivals. She hit home runs against Wisconsin Valley Conference runner-up D.C. Everest during the regular season and in the playoffs, hit game-winning home runs in both games against Chippewa Falls and against state power Kaukauna.
“I was just glad to be playing this year and to help my team be successful was the icing on the cake,” Smola said. “We had some big games against D.C. Everest in the conference and Chippewa Falls to go to state. And to beat Germantown in the state quarterfinals meant a lot because they beat us last year.
“I feel privileged and blessed to have experienced everything I did this spring. No athlete should miss their senior season because of an injury.”