LAS VEGAS — Becca Wann-Taylor could’ve chosen to give up on several things in her life.
But the emphasis on “family unit” since her childhood days, being raised by her parents Eric and Debbie, and carried over into her marriage with husband Dan, combined with a strong-given faith, has kept her focus on the positives rather than dwelling on unexplainable tragedies nobody deserves to endure.
The former All-American soccer player who starred as a two-sport star for the Richmond Spiders, has seen second-, third-, and fourth chances in her life on a very personal level, which is why she is looking at her upcoming opportunity in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited Basketball season as a blessing.
“I never practiced basketball in the offseason, even in college, because I was always focused on the next (soccer) season,” Wann-Taylor said. “I don’t know what my limit is. I don’t know how good I could be because I never really put the time in for basketball. … For me this experience is about just being a sponge and learning all I can from all these women who have been putting the time and been putting the work in and just learning from them.”
Considering her upbringing, the competitive juices have been flowing since scrimmages started in Las Vegas.
When Debbie Wann saw her 5-year-old daughter dribbling a basketball through and around people at Kings Dominion amusement park in Richmond, Va., it was quite apparent organized sports was a must for her youngest.
With two older brothers, those competitive juices were flowing at an early age.
“We were always playing, whether it was baseball, or football, or kickball, or basketball, or soccer,” Wann-Taylor said. “My choice would always be to grab whatever ball was around and play with it, from as early as I can remember.”
Whether it was with neighborhood kids or at recess in elementary school, Wann-Taylor exuded athleticism at every turn.
“I think I always just was drawn to sports,” she said. “That was always my choice of how to spend my time.”
And with that came a running joke in the Wann household.
“There’s something called ‘Wann juice;’ we have no chill when it comes to anything competitive,” Wann-Taylor said. “I don’t remember a time that I haven’t had that. I honestly can’t remember a time that I was doing something and didn’t make it competitive.”
Be it sports, cards, board games. Everything was a competition.
Wann-Taylor played both soccer and basketball in high school and could’ve played volleyball. But her parents reminded her she needed time to rest her body for active recovery since her activities called for year-round training.
“In middle school I was firmly telling adults I was going to play both at one school,” she said. “And I don’t think I really knew how rare it was, but I just knew that that was what I wanted to do, and I would make it happen. I knew I couldn’t divert my attention too far beyond those two things in order to make that happen.”
Which she did at Cosby High School, and at the next level, starring for both at the University of Richmond’s soccer and basketball teams.
On scholarship with the Spiders’ soccer program, which was the route she originally thought her career was headed, Wann-Taylor was named the Atlantic 10 rookie of the year and was twice named the league’s player of the year. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America named her an All-American and she closed out her collegiate career ranked No. 1 in the school’s record book for points per game (1.52) and game-winning goals (15). She tallied 34 goals, second most in school history.
Wann-Taylor, who won a gold medal playing for the U.S. FIFA U-20 World Cup team in 2012, was clearly headed to a tryout with – and likely to make – the women’s national team, as some labeled her the next Abby Wambach. Unfortunately, the path was derailed by concussions that limited her specialty of headers, like Wambach had done so many times during her Hall of Fame career.
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Cleared medically by physicians to step back onto the basketball court, faith-driven Wann-Taylor is looking at the upcoming Athletes Unlimited season as a blessing after her original plan was to work toward an WNBA tryout last summer, not realizing Athletes Unlimited was planning a season. She went to an open tryout in December to see where her training had taken her and surprised herself by making the final roster.
“In the proper time God has opened the doors for me that are there,” said Wann-Taylor, who has been officiating college basketball games the past seven years and never considered playing professional basketball until last July. “I still kind of have an itch to play basketball.”
JOURNEY TO JOJO
Wann-Taylor’s tenacity and perseverance on the court, combined with her mental toughness and resiliency, comes as no surprise after learning about what she’s endured away from sports.
She and her husband, Dan, are parents to 14-month-old daughter JoJo.
But the journey to their blessed bundle of joy was one filled with tragedy and a roller coaster of emotions before the elation of becoming first-time parents.
Wann-Taylor delivered stillborn Norah at 32 weeks in March of 2018.
“Our journey to JoJo hasn’t been easy,” Wann-Taylor said. “My faith has always been a big part of my life, and that was the first time where I questioned it. Because, I mean, you just do.”
But thanks to the strength of her husband and an isolated moment in their car, her faith was renewed as a woman, a wife and a mother.
“We got back in the car after we found out that Norah’s heart had stopped beating, and Dan looked at me and he grabbed my hand and he said, ‘a lot of couples when they lose a child, they split up – that’s not going to be us,'” Wann-Taylor remembered. “And that was kind of our foundation for getting through it, was we were going to do it together.”
But the rough times were far from over.
After Dan’s brother died later that year, Wann-Taylor suffered two miscarriages, one in June and the other in December of 2019.
Adversities that can rip through relationships and traumatize mental health in young marriages turned into the foundation of strength between the Taylors, as they learned more about their faith while growing closer rather than further apart.
“Every day I’m fully aware how amazing of a woman, of a wife, of a mother that she is,” Dan Taylor said. “And that’s not just me trying to make her sound good. She is truly a remarkable woman.”
Taylor remains in awe of his wife, who stressed through her pregnancy with JoJo, struggling every time she’d wake up in the middle of the night or from naps from worry that there would be no heartbeat from her baby. Then, after roughly 36 hours of intense labor, and determining a C-section was necessary, Wann-Taylor came close to dying after hemorrhaging so much her blood pressure dropped dramatically.
“I think it continues to speak to just how strong of a woman she is,” he said. “Carrying that child is something I can’t speak on and what she had to deal with mentally was amazing. This fourth time around with JoJo, I was amazed at how well she was doing with JoJo.”
The Taylors talk to JoJo about her big sister Norah, and still make her a part of their lives, as talking about it is a continued healing for a four-year old process that has helped that foundation of strength in the journey to JoJo.
“I think what we’ve learned is that by kind of naming the pain, you find strength and others who are just a little bit further in the journey than you are but have been through it as well,” Wann-Taylor said, with JoJo’s gleeful cooing while playing with blocks in the background. “And then also there are people who are a little bit behind you that you can help. We don’t want to be doing anything else and I think we appreciate every moment with her because of the journey that we’ve been through.”
The journey for the Taylors continues in Las Vegas with Athletes Unlimited, where JoJo will watch her mother alongside dad, thankful they both can be confident in seeing the strongest woman they know.
In final draft, Osterman changes course and selects Haylie Wagner first overall
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2020 / Credit: Jade Hewitt
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