Taylor Burger put together a career at HK that most athletes can only dream about and the recent graduate will soon fulfill another aspiration when she heads off to Bryant University to play Division I softball.
Taylor was a defender on the Cougars' field hockey team which won the Class S state title last fall and then captained the HK softball squad that claimed the Shoreline Conference Tournament crown. In between, Taylor committed to play for the Bryant Bulldogs in Smithfield, Rhode Island, the culmination of a stressful process that yielded an exciting payoff for the center fielder.
"Playing at the next level is something I've always wanted to do and it seems like a dream, but now it's starting to hit me and I'm really excited to have the privilege of playing another four years of softball," says Taylor. "Every time I stepped on the campus at Bryant, it felt like home."
Taylor-the Cougars co-MVP who earned All-Shoreline and All-Area honors this spring-has played travel softball since age 10 and started getting serious when she was 14. Shortly thereafter, Taylor switched from playing for the Connecticut Eliminators to the CT Charmers and was soon playing games around the country in front of college coaches.
"Travel softball made me a better athlete and helped me get more exposure because I'd play a lot more games," says Taylor, who made Academic All-State as a senior and was a four-time SLC Scholar-Athlete. "Playing in college was always in the back of my mind, but once I started playing games in front of 15 to 20 college coaches, it was an amazing feeling that made me want to play Division I softball."
Of course, Taylor first had to play her final campaign with HK and the Cougars No. 2 hitter had 47 hits en route to posting a robust batting average of .495, along with 31 RBI. Yet as great as her individual stats are, Taylor is a team player and highlight of her season-and probably her career-came when HK squared off against Morgan in the Shoreline Tournament final. It had been 13 years since the Cougars won the conference championship and they'd suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Coginchaug in the title contest the previous year. However, there was no heartbreak in 2013-just a lot of heart displayed by HK, according to Taylor, whose team edged Morgan in walk-off fashion, 3-2.
"We had a lot of heart this year and winning the Shoreline was something we envisioned and were determined to get. We were mentally prepared and could not have been more pumped up on the bus ride to the game. It was ridiculous," Taylor says. "When my sister [Kolby] scored the winning run, all the emotions just hit me at once. I was sad the season was nearly over, but so happy that we won. It was a long, hard game, but we were focused, we wanted to win, and we worked hard until it happened."
Cougars coach Jeff Talbott was pleased to see his team reign atop the Shoreline and talks about the impact Taylor had in all four of her campaigns.
"Right from 9th grade, we knew Taylor would be a strong hitter, but we didn't realize that she'd hit for such a great average with power, which is unique in high school. Taylor is an extremely good hitter and, when she came up, I'd always go 10 to 15 feet beyond the coach's box because she hits the ball so hard," Talbott says. "Taylor played right field from her freshman to junior years, then made a seamless move to center field and made no errors all year. Taylor has the desire and talent to play in college and I'm looking forward to seeing how she does in Division I."
Talbott's club isn't the only one with which Taylor has captured a postseason trophy as last fall she and the HK field hockey squad reached the the Class S championship and blanked Stonington 2-0. That run was especially memorable for Taylor and her teammates, who were playing with heavy hearts in honor of the person who had taught them the sport of field hockey at HK Middle School, Carrie Ness. Taylor's class was the last one Ness coached before passing away from cancer at age 28 in December of 2010 and so Taylor and company wanted nothing more than to win the state title for their beloved mentor.
"Carrie wore No. 4 and we kept winning games by four goals going into the state tournament so it was like she was looking down on us and helping our team," Taylor says. "It felt incredible to win that state championship with Carrie backing us up. It was like we were winning it for her."
Taylor is not only thankful for the impact that Coach Ness had on her life, but also for that of everyone who's guidance has helped her grow in her time at HK.
"Playing sports at HK has made me a better athlete, a better person, and a better leader, and my coaches taught me things that I couldn't have learned without them," Taylor says. "My father also helped me a lot along the way and pushed me to get to where I am. Sometimes I had to give up things to go to the batting cage and take a few more swings, but it all paid off and I wouldn't trade where I am right now for the world."