This is it for Missouri senior forward Taylor Grant. She knows it, so she’s determined to make the most of the final season of her soccer career.
“I think that’s kind of in the back of my head the whole time I’m playing,” Grant said. “This is the last chance I’m going to get to do any of this, because I’m not planning on going to play after (college).”
Grant — a 5-foot-3 native of The Colony, Texas, who helped her Dallas Texans club team to a national title as a high school freshman year — came to the Tigers with a reputation as a prolific goal-scorer and had four goals as a freshman.
But as a sophomore she failed to find the back of the net and recorded only two assists.
Grant bounced back with career highs for goals (five) and assists (four) as a junior, but she still had only scratched the surface of her potential.
“She’s always found herself in really good spots,” Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said. “That’s harder sometimes, because kids don’t read the game, but she always had a knack for being in the right spot. Honestly, it was just her technique — maybe she leaned back instead of over the ball or didn’t lock her ankle on the shot.”
Pressure had built up, too, but part of Grant’s determination to go out on a high note includes enjoying her final season and stressing less about her production.
Ironically, at roughly the midpoint of her senior season, Grant production is at an all-time high.
She leads Missouri with a career-high six goals despite sitting out Friday’s SEC opener — a 3-1 home win against LSU — because of a sprained ankle.
“Instead of playing with fear, it’s almost like she’s enjoying this season, knowing it might be her last time for everything,” Blitz said. “It’s great she’s able to do that before she graduated. She’s even enjoying the hard times and the struggle. I think she’s embraced all of it and she’s happier. She’s just playing with more joy and less pressure.”
Grant, who said she knew Missouri was the place for her when she first drove onto campus at night and marveled at Jesse Hall, was chosen last week as the SEC women’s soccer offensive player of the week after delivering game-winning goals against Montana and Cal State-Northridge.
She’s also powered a strong start for Missouri as a whole. The Tigers, 6-1-2, own a seven-game unbeaten streak at 6-0-1, with road trips to South Carolina on Friday and Florida on Sunday.
“This summer, we did a lot more playing and communicating,” Grant said. “We did more to help the younger kids know what to expect coming in, so we didn’t spend our preseason teaching them. We spent our preseason getting used to playing together. They came in already knowing our shape and how we play.”
Grant’s most important goal didn’t even count toward her official tally.
She scored the game-winner Aug. 15 in a 2-1 upset at then-No. 4 North Carolina. It was an exhibition game, but the goal still gave Grant a spike of confidence.
“It was just a big monkey off her back in some aspects,” Blitz said. “Since then, she’s been able to relax and play her natural game.”
Grant would love to keep up her current goal-scoring pace, but she’s much more interested in helping Missouri chase an SEC crown.
“I hope I can, but it’s more important that we keep playing together as a team,” Grant said. “I never did all the work to get my goals. It came from other people working. If we stick together and keep playing for each other, then a lot of goals will happen.”