Taylor Newton is proof that sometimes dreams have a way of taking on their own destiny.
When the 2013 Lakewood Ranch graduate signed to play at James Madison University, she couldn’t imagine the Dukes would turn into the Cinderellas of NCAA Division I softball three years later.
This past season JMU was the only FCS school among the top 50 programs and wrapped up its most successful year, finishing 50-6 and winning the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles.
JMU received the No. 7 seed for the NCAA Softball Championship, its highest postseason seeding. It won the Harrisonburg Regional to reach the super regionals for the first time. The Dukes lost the best-of-three series to LSU 2-1.
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Newton has been an integral part of the program’s success. She has started all 174 games JMU has played since she arrived on campus.
Last season the junior right fielder led JMU with 51 RBIs and ranked second in homers (8) and doubles (10) with a .291 batting average while earning first team All-Region and All CAA Tournament honors.
“When I first signed with James Madison I didn’t think we would be this good,” Newton said. “This season we knew we would have a good team and then we started beating those big schools and thought we’d be up there. It was a great experience. The crowds were big, and, like, the whole community supported us.”
Newton learned college softball can be a cat-and-mouse game between hitters and pitchers. As a sophomore, she batted .399 and earned first-team CAA honors. She was chosen for the second team this year when her averaged slipped, but she showed no slip in her skills.
“I had a good sophomore year and the pitchers started changing things with me. They learned some of my weaknesses and tried to pitch to that. I had to adjust, and it took me some time,” Newton said. “I don’t really look too much into that stuff (making second-team CAA). Pitching is the biggest adjustment you have to make in college. It’s way better than in high school. College pitchers throw you a lot of off-speed stuff and move the ball around a lot more. Fortunately I played competitive travel ball that helped me prepare for college pitching.”
Against Princeton in the regional round, Newton had arguably her most memorable game of the postseason. She slugged a grand slam and drove in five to spark a 7-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 1,726 fans.
“Getting to the super regional was great. It was pretty heartbreaking to lose, but if you put things in perspective it was a great accomplishment because no JMU team had ever gotten this far,” Newton said. “The key to our success was working hard and working for each other. When you get to college, it’s more about playing for each other and for the team.”
The 20-year-old health science major went further in the NCAA postseason tournament than any other player from the area, and her former Lakewood Ranch teammates kept a close a close eye on her.
“They were all telling me how excited they were for me. A lot of them had never gotten this far and said they were watching me on TV. It was cool.” Newton said.
With most of the team returning, Newton expects to have a big senior season. After college she hopes to work in the medical field, but she hasn’t given up the idea of playing professional softball.
“I’m not sure if I want to do that, but it would be pretty cool if the opportunity came,” Newton said.