Recently named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Wisconsin freshman pitcher and utility player Taylor-Paige Stewart has been solid in her rookie year for the Badgers. Posting a 1-0 record with a spotless ERA and a save this past weekend in the Diamond 9 Tournament, Stewart has given her team a much needed boost on the mound, providing as a solid option besides veteran pitchers junior Cassandra Darrah and senior Meghan McIntosh.
The Badger Herald got a chance to sit down with the new kid on the mound and talk about New Zealand, awards and her idolization of Darrah among other things.
The Badger Herald: You had your fair share of schools to choose from, so why did you pick Wisconsin?
Taylor-Paige Stewart: I absolutely fell in love with the school and I absolutely love the coaching staff. When I came on my first trip, everyone says sometimes there’s that school that you just know [it’s for you] and I just fell in love with it.
BH: What was it like adjusting to the college lifestyle, especially being an student-athlete?
TS: I think being an athlete made it a lot easier. You have a built-in support system, and the girls here are very engaging. We had the captains take us to all our classes, which made it relatively easy.
BH: You grew up in California … since this is your first year away from home, do you miss it?
TS: Yeah, sometimes when it was getting really cold I do. But I definitely wanted the change so I’m embracing it.
BH: Are you going to have a lot of family watch you play this next weekend at the tournament in Fullerton [Calif.]?
TS: Yeah, but I’m definitely trying to stay focused on this weekend.
BH: You played softball for the New Zealand softball national team … how did that happen?
TS: I am a dual citizen, so my mom was born in New Zealand. When I went to go train down there one summer just visiting family, I became really good friends with a family and [one of the daughters] was already on the team. So, they got me connected and I went and tried out and I ended up making the team. So, I made the juniors team and then after juniors I ended up making the women’s team.
BH: What was your favorite memory from that experience?
TS: I guess two memories stand out. The biggest highlight of the tournament was learning how to play for a country, and the second was when I found out I was pitching against the U.S. team. Nerve-wracking to say the least … an 18-year-old pitching against a bunch of women that you completely idolize and grew up thinking about.
BH: Would you say that experience helped you? Do you fall back on that experience?
TS: Definitely, if I’m lacking some confidence now and then you kind of find a rough patch, you have to stop and think you have had the experience. You just let yourself go out there and do what you know how to do.
BH: What has it been like learning from Cassandra Darrah?
TS: I have told Cass before that I love being on the same staff as her. I idolize her. I always ask her for help and she is a huge role model for me. I love watching her demeanor on the mound, definitely somebody to look up to.
BH: Did last week’s six-game tournament wear you guys down?
TS: You’re always going to feel tired after six games; they were tough teams. On paper, they were supposed to be better than us and we came out and played really hard. But now we’re all just really excited for California.
BH: Do you think last weekend’s experience is going to help you once Big Ten play rolls around?
TS: Definitely, you can always use experience for other games. There was a few times when we had to come back this weekend and it proved a lot about this team’s character and I think that is what we are going to take from it.
BH: What do you think your team needs to work on to keep getting better; anything in particular?
TS: I can’t think of anything specific but as long as everyone stays committed in working hard and improving on how we can support the team and what our different roles are I think we’ll be all right.
BH: Did you set any individual goals for yourself this season?
TS: As a pitching staff we set different goals every weekend. I guess the main goal is fulfilling my role wherever I can as a pitcher and doing everything I can when I go in.
BH: This program has never won a Big Ten championship, is this going to be the year?
TS: I think this definitely could be the year if we all stay focused and keep working on what we have to work on and everybody stays on the right path and works together. I think we’ve got a good group of girls here.