Taylor Proctor was done with competitive athletics, or so she thought.
She had endured three knee surgeries, and the last one required repair of a fractured kneecap. She had been a dominating basketball power forward for Sand Creek High School, the University of San Francisco and, for a season of international adventure before the third surgery, a professional team in Sweden.
But sports, because of the knee, seemed over. In late May, she was turning her eyes toward earning a graduate degree in special education at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and serving as a grad assistant for the basketball team.
Then, an unexpected call from her past. It’s a call that altered her life. It’s a call that revolutionized the UCCS soccer program.
A year ago, UCCS’ Mountain Lions were recovering from a 3-12-1 season. Today, propelled by Proctor’s acrobatic work, the Mountain Lions rumble along with a 15-4 record and are Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament champs, ranked 23rd in the nation and preparing to host an NCAA Tournament game Sunday at 1 p.m.
In that fateful call, coach Sian Hudson asked Proctor to play goalkeeper. Hudson had just been hired by UCCS to stabilize a teetering soccer program.
In many ways, the call made no sense. Proctor, 23, had not touched a soccer ball in seven years, and she had last protected the net during her sophomore year at Sand Creek. Plus, she suffered from a damaged left knee.
But in more important ways, the call made all kinds of sense. Proctor, who is 6-foot tall, competes with distinctive focus and fire. Hudson, as director of coaching for Pride soccer, had watched the young Proctor play in the field and as a goalkeeper.
“Taylor was a fantastic athlete, even at 12 or 13,” Hudson says. “I knew she hadn’t touched the ball in years, but I knew she has great hand-eye coordination, and the thing that sticks out is she’s just an ultimate competitor.”
Proctor easily could have said no. Her knee was aching, and she already had delivered a grand basketball career. She was twice named all-West Coast Conference at San Francisco. As a senior, she averaged 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists for the Dons.
Under NCAA rules, she was eligible for one more season in a different sport.
Why did she say yes?
“I don’t know,” she says, laughing. “I guess I just really wanted to get back into soccer. I didn’t want it to be over playing any sport.”
Proctor understood the odds. She knew it would be grueling to become an elite college goalkeeper, and being elite was what she wanted, and expected. Proctor has never been drawn to ordinary.
“I don’t know why, but there was something in me that really wanted to play,” she says. “And with my work ethic, when I put my mind to something, I get it done. I’m a very big competitor, and if anybody is competing against me, I make sure they get their run for the money.”
The Mountain Lions started slowly, losing their first two games. And Proctor admits she struggled, too. It had been a long time since she excelled at denying enemy shooters.
But her teammates believed in her. So did Hudson. The belief was contagious, and Proctor, as always, was relentless.
She became a dominating force, recording nine shutouts as the Mountain Lions roared to 15 wins in 17 games. In the RMAC tournament, Proctor and the defense carried the Mountain Lions to conference supremacy with three consecutive shutouts. She was named RMAC Goalkeeper of the Year.
Proctor’s current life is an entertaining blur. She’s taking grad classes in special ed. She’s sharing her expertise with the basketball team. And she’s serving as a human wall in front of the UCCS net.
She welcomes the happy chaos. Her knee feels strong. She’s thrilled she said yes to an unexpected, enormous request. (Her opponents, meanwhile, wish she had said no.)
She took a chance. On a battered soccer program. On a first-year coach. On herself.
She’s so glad she embraced risk.
“It kind of put the happiness back in me,” she says.