A standout catcher for years, Taylor Wagner has long found her comfort zone close to home.
Though her next softball venture will take her out of the familiar confines of Iowa, Wagner has a strong fan base ready and waiting near her new destination.
Coming off a first-team all-state campaign, the Marshalltown High School senior signed her letter of intent Wednesday to play softball for Eastern Michigan University.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Marshalltown senior Taylor Wagner signs her letter of intent to play softball at Eastern Michigan University Wednesday. Seated next to Wagner are Bobcat coach Jeff Lamb, left, and Taylor’s father, Mike Wagner. Standing behind her are I-Club Blue coaches Greg Dickel, left, and Dave Streyffeler.
A four-time Times-Republican All-Area selection, Wagner - who also considered Drake and Northern Iowa - heads to Ypsilanti, Mich., with plenty of support in neighboring Ohio. The home state of her father, Mike, Wagner has a surplus of extended family excited to see her on the field.
"It will be nice to be closer to them because I don't get to see them very often," said Wagner, who verbally committed to the Eagles during an unofficial visit to campus last November.
"The campus is absolutely beautiful. I just think this is a great opportunity."
The family ties also extend to EMU, where Mike was an all-conference swimmer, though it was purely coincidental that Taylor ended up following in her father's footsteps.
"Before I was recruited I had never considered (EMU). They didn't know that my dad had swam there, so it was really kind of interesting and fun at the same time."
Establishing numerous great memories as an Eagle, Mike is confident her daughter will experience the same.
"She's in a great place and a great community," said Mike Wagner, who mentioned Taylor has 16 to 18 cousins awaiting her arrival.
"They're real excited to go watch her play. She'll have a lot of family support there."
Wagner knows all about strong support systems as her four-year involvement with the I-Club Blue 18-and-under team helped her develop and fly onto the radar of several Division I schools. A strong outing with the squad at the Akadema Top 50 Showcase in Indianapolis grabbed the Eagles' attention.
"(Taylor) is probably one of the top players that's ever played for this softball club since I've been here for four years. She's a staple of what we've tried to do with our softball club," said I-Club coach Greg Dickel.
While Wagner once again filled up the box score for the Bobcats last season with a .450 batting average, 19 doubles, 5 homers and 26 RBIs en route to Marshalltown's first-ever trip to the state tournament - it's her intangibles that set her apart.
"Taylor brings a lot of leadership to this softball club and any team she plays on," said fellow I-Club coach Dave Streyffeler.
"The accolades of hits, runs and throwing outs are all great on paper, but it's what she does on and off the field that makes her a special kid."
Wagner brought that same well-rounded approach to her decision on EMU, as the softball team ranked among the top-20 in team GPA for the ninth year in a row - including a ninth-place finish (3.552) last season.
"I don't want to go (there) just to play," said Wagner, who was also impressed with the Eagles' academic reputation.
"For them to be ninth in the country for GPA - it is really a tipping point of where I want to go."
With a tireless work ethic and willingness to learn, Wagner, a three-time all-CIML Iowa Conference honoree, should fit in well with EMU coach Karen Baird and the Eagle program.
"She's a coach's dream to work with," said former MHS softball coach Mike Vint, who led the Bobcats during Wagner's freshmen and sophomore seasons.
"She'll have a good career at Eastern Michigan."
Wagner's steadying presence, both behind the plate and in the dugout, also extends to her teammates.
"I've never met anybody that has that kind of (great) rapport with everyone. It doesn't matter if you're the best player on the field or if you're just developing. She's there for everybody," said current Bobcats coach Jeff Lamb.
While excited for her future with Eagles, Wagner still has more to accomplish with the Bobcats - a squad that returns 13 players from last year's state tournament qualifier.
"There's not an excuse now for not getting to state. It's still our passion and our desire - we want to do it," said Wagner.
If there's a will there's a way. At least it has seemed that way with Wagner on the field.
"She can do just about everything. If you're watching her play, you know that she's in control," said Lamb.
"Any program is going to want that that type of player."