Grantsville softball coach Heidi Taylor could scarcely believe what the email from the National High School Coaches Association was telling her.
Four years earlier, she had been named Utah’s Class 3A Coach of the Year. But being named the 2019 NHSCA National High School Softball Coach of the Year was something she never could have imagined, even in the wake of Grantsville’s third consecutive state championship earlier this month.
“That was mind-boggling,” Taylor said. “I love working with the kids. At the end of the day, they’re my family. I love them whether they’re in my program or out of my program. I’m hopeful that they learn things and they learn that they can do hard things. That’s really what I focus on.”
According to an NHSCA press release, Taylor is the first Utah softball coach ever to earn national Coach of the Year honors since the organization established the award in 2000. The Cowboys have won more than 70 percent of their games during Taylor’s time in charge, with numerous players going on to play collegiately.
“We are extremely pleased to honor Coach Taylor,” NHSCA executive director Eric Hess said in a press release. “She has established Grantsville’s team as the best in Utah over the last three seasons. She exhibits a strong dedication to supporting and developing her high school student-athletes in the classroom and outside of it.”
Taylor, a star player at Delta High School in the mid-to-late 1990s, said her approach has evolved over the years. She originally modeled her style after her college coach, but she has also taken cues from coaches such as Bear River coach Calvin Bingham, current Grantsville assistant and former Tooele head coach Barry Pitt and Grantsville assistant Larry Sandberg.
“I know when I very first started coaching, I was really intense and kids — I was hard to read, I think, because they couldn’t tell if I was mad, intense or really excited,” Taylor said. “Over the years, I’ve tried to change that and be more consistent with them, but also allow them to create their own energy.”
That approach was crucial during a difficult time in Taylor’s life, when her father was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the 2017 season. Then-senior captains Alese Casper, Brayle Crosman, Breanna Dzierzon and Reannon Justice were able to provide the emotional spark the Cowboys needed to win the first of their three consecutive championships, and their impact continues to be felt today.
“When Alese, Brayle, Breanna and Reannon were seniors, right when the season started, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. We were in St. George, and I didn’t tell them, but he was having surgery that day. I just told them, ‘hey, I’ve got a lot going on back at home, and I might not be the crazy, happy, fun lady, but I want that to be you guys’ job. JV, varsity, it doesn’t matter — I want you guys to fill in the blanks.’ They did an awesome job.
“We just really started focusing on how you family is first. Our little team is our family, and we need to support each other in everything. We talked about what your family does for you if you’re injured, sick or whatever and how they have your back. Then, we spoke a little bit about how you’re always going to have a trial — this trial that’s hard to battle or maybe you don’t want to battle. Also, you’ve got to remember that this is a game and you’re having fun, because right now, you don’t have to battle that battle.”
Taylor also takes pride in what her players have been able to accomplish in the classroom. This season, the Cowboys captured the Utah Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association award for the top team grade-point average among all Class 3A softball teams with a 3.777.
“That was a goal this year, that we would win that GPA award,” she said. “I honestly think this year was the hardest year to win that award. For softball and baseball, they’d miss a day and then it would get rained out. They never really knew where they would be in their studies, but they kept handling it and that was so awesome.”
Taylor said she and the rest of her coaching staff are thankful for the support they get from their families.
“We’re very blessed that we have great supporting families — husbands, wives — because they miss out on a lot of time with us during the season, just like the girls miss out on a lot of time with their parents,” she said. “We acknowledge that none of this could even happen without those other people in our lives.”