2020 DFJ FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: TAYLOR MCKINNEY
THE CHERRY ON TOP OF A LEGENDARY CAREER
WEBSTER CITY — Taylor McKinney is stumped by the question as she sits on a basketball and picks at the grass while the sun sets in the background.
What’s something we don’t know about her?
“Man, I really don’t know,” she said.
McKinney’s story has been told so many times that’s it hard for even her to come up with new material. That’s what happens when you bake under the beams of the spotlight for half a decade. But that’s been McKinney’s life ever since she entered the varsity sports world as an eighth grader for the Webster City softball team. It only intensified a few months later when she was called on to lead the girls’ basketball program as a freshman.
There are stories that haven’t been told though, only she’d never reveal them. It’s simply not her style.
WCHS girls’ basketball coach Nicole Muhlenbruch has one — proof that while supremely talented and competitive, McKinney also has a softer side.
“One of the things people probably don’t realize is she’s kind of a soft-hearted young lady,” Muhlenbruch said. “We had a situation where someone wasn’t going to be able to pay for a senior poster and Taylor was willing to pay for them. People probably don’t know that about her, but that’s the kind of kid she is.”
Lynx head softball coach Jess Howard has her own insight.
“Her willingness to give back to the program is something that people don’t necessarily see right out in front of them,” Howard said. “She’s always helping with our youth softball program … her willingness to be approachable to the younger kids that are going to be her is something you don’t see. When you have a kid like Taylor that’s been in the spotlight since she’s been in the eighth grade, the kids know her. If they know she’s willing to come back and help them, it just makes for a stronger program.”
You see, she’s more than just an athlete. But when she is between the lines and the lights shine bright, there aren’t a lot of girls that can match her.
After a senior year in which she cemented her legacy as one of Webster City’s finest basketball and softball players of all-time, today McKinney has been named the 2020 Daily Freeman-Journal Female Athlete of the Year.
She deserves it for everything she’s accomplished, both on and off the court and diamond.
“This award means a lot and it’s a cherry on top of my career,” McKinney said. “I’m proud of my accomplishments and this is like a last send out.”
In some ways, McKinney’s basketball legend predates her own career. Take it back to Jan. 27, 2012 — the then fourth-grader had an idea for a play and she put it down on paper for her dad Marty, the head coach of the Lynx boys’ team.
Appropriately enough, the play was called “T” and dad called it out against Eagle Grove that night.
“She showed me this play and I thought it could work,” Marty said. “It was for Boone Myers and we’d tried to run it in practice a bunch of times and screwed it up. But we set it up that night and, man, they ran it just like it was drawn up. The ball went inside and it was an easy layup for Boone, and of course everybody goes crazy on the bench. She was excited too because she knew it right away.”
That’s how long McKinney has had her nose in the thick of Lynx sports. And it was only the beginning.
Her Lynx basketball career is unrivaled. She holds 5-player career records for points (1,340), field goals (469) and 3-point field goals (188); single-season records for 3-pointers (52 twice) and free throw percentage (86); and single-game records for points (40) and 3s (11). No player has reached 20 points, or 30 points, or 40 points more than her.
This past winter she average 17.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game en route to yet another first-team all-North Central Conference honor. She was all-region in Class 4A as well.
“My senior year was 100 percent fun,” McKinney said. “When you’re a senior, you’re soaking in all the seconds, all the minutes of your last year.”
But as good as McKinney was at basketball, she was equally talented on the softball field — an easy-to-see fact that she always shied away from. But Howard has known the truth for a long time.
“I think she’s equally good at softball,” Howard said. “I think she used softball as her outlet from basketball, but she was able to excel because she didn’t put so much pressure on herself.
“I’ve tried very hard to get her to play college softball because she’s got the defensive instincts and she’s a gamer.”
McKinney was a good hitter — not great, but good, something she’ll admit. She hit .281 with a home run this summer.
But it’s her defense at shortstop — her ridiculous, highlight-reel defense — game after game that makes her one of the best WCHS has seen. It’s why she earned her fifth all-NCC honor, a first-team nod, this summer.
“She is definitely one of the best we’ve had in the history of Webster City softball,” Howard said. “I’ve talked about her feet for five years, but she has the quickest feet transitioning from fielding to throwing that I’ve ever coached. A lot of players have some of the skills, but it’s hard to put that full package together, and she does that. She knows how to get her body into position to make tough plays look routine and to make the impossible plays look tough.”
Basketball was fun, but at times it felt like a job. Softball was fun all the time.
“I honestly never thought of (softball) as a college sport because it was more of an outlet,” McKinney said. “I didn’t always have that pressure on me like I did in basketball. I guess it’s never been as big as basketball, but it was a lot of fun.”
Marty says it was fun for the entire family.
“Basketball was her passion and that was always intense for a lot of reasons, but softball, that was fun and relaxing for all of us,” he said. “As much as I enjoyed her playing basketball, those five years of her playing softball were a lot of fun too.”
McKinney’s future though will reside on the basketball court. She’ll play at Iowa Central Community College, though the season has been pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’ll always have those high school memories and there will be many to savor.
She’ll be able to tell her kids one day that she rained in 11 3s in the house that Elle Ruffridge built in Pocahontas. She’ll be able to walk into the Humboldt gymnasium and smile as she thinks back to her 40-point night. And there will be so many more.
“I look back at the accomplishments now and thing, wow, I actually did that in my high school career,” McKinney said. “That means a lot.”
She feels lucky to think about everything she’s accomplished.
We’re the lucky ones though. We got to witness it all.
•The Facts — Led the North Central Conference in scoring at 17.6 points per game in 2019-20 … Led WCHS in scoring, steals (1.5 per game) and assists (1.4) … 3rd on team in rebounding (3.2) … shot 46 percent from the field … unanimous first-team all-NCC … Class 4A all-region … 5-player school record holder for career points (1,340), field goals (469) and 3s (188) … Only Lynx player to reach 40 points (5-player) in a single game.
•Nov. 25, 2019 — McKinney opened her senior season with an 18-point, 5-rebound show in a 49-42 loss to Carroll.
•Nov. 30, 2019 — Erupted for 21 points in a 47-45 upset win over then ranked Boone.
•Dec. 13, 2019 — In her one and only varsity game in Jeff Gym, McKinney torched St. Edmond for 31 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists in a 49-39 WCHS victory.
•Jan. 14, 2020 — Manson-Northwest Webster felt the McKinney sting — 29 points, 2 steals and 2 assists — as the Lynx rolled, 58-26.
•Jan. 16, 2020 — Followed up the Manson game with 27 points in a 54-35 rout of Humboldt.
•Jan. 21, 2020 — In a thrilling 75-68 double-OT home win over Algona, she unleashed 26 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
•Feb. 19, 2020 — In her final prep basketball game, McKinney reached 30 points for the fifth time in her career. The last state line — 31 points, including 6 3-pointers.
•The Facts — Hit .281 with a .378 on base percentage during her senior season … Had 1 home run and 7 RBIs … 7 sacrifice bunts to lead team … 24 defensive assists at shortstop … first-team all-North Central Conference … 5-year starter, 5-time all-conference at shortstop.
•June 15, 2020 — McKinney opened her senior season with 1 hit and 2 RBIs in the Lynx 10-3 rout of Hampton-Dumont.
•June 16, 2020 — Had a hit and put down 2 sac bunts, as WCHS went on the road and knocked off Boone, 7-4, in 8 innings.
•June 22, 2020 — A 2 for 2 night with 2 runs scored in an 8-2 win over Clear Lake.
•June 24, 2020 — Went yard — a 2-run blast — and scored 2 runs in the Lynx disappointing 6-5, 9-inning loss to eventual NCC champion Humboldt.
•June 26, 2020 — A single, double, 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored in the Lynx 11-6 win over Iowa Falls-Alden.
•July 18, 2020 — The final curtain — McKinney concluded her career by smacking the Lynx only hit in a 13-0 Class 4A regional semifinal loss to Ballard.