PULLMAN, Wash. – Four years have passed since Taylor Mims suited up in Billings Senior black and orange, but the former all-state volleyball player still thinks often of her playing days with the Lady Broncs.
“Coach (Jeff) Carroll is for sure a memory in my head that I’ll never forget,” Mims said of the now-retired Carroll. “Of course, my family and friends, I’ll never forget Billings Senior High. I love that place and love everybody. It’s a great volleyball program over there.”
Mims certainly left her mark on the storied program. The 2014 Montana Gatorade player of the year guided Billings Senior to three consecutive Class AA state championships after finishing runner-up her freshman year.
Mims’ talent, along with her size and athleticism, caught the attention of Division I programs around the country, but the middle blocker chose to continue her career at Washington State.
“Luckily she came to a tournament in Spokane and we were able to see her play there,” said Washington State head coach Jen Greeny. “She came on a visit, loved it and committed the next week. We are so fortunate to have had Taylor commit. She’s such an incredible athlete and great to coach. We’re really glad she’s here.”
“I would say we’re nitty gritty back in Montana. The style of play is really slow, so I think I was able to slow down the game in the Pac-12. I was able to handle some things that I guess other people might not be able to handle,” Mims said of the transition. “Volleyball isn’t that big in Montana, but I was able to learn some things and incorporate them here.”
The 6-foot-3 junior seamlessly made the leap to Division I volleyball, starting 22 matches as a freshman while earning all-tournament honors twice throughout the season. But it was her sophomore campaign that caught the attention of opposing coaches around the league. Mims earned Pac-12 offensive and defensive player of the week awards and paced the Cougars to upset wins over then-No. 9 Stanford, No. 9 UCLA and No. 4 Washington.
The middle blocker showcased her ability to defend the net, averaging 1.49 blocks per set, second-best in the Pac-12 and good for eighth in the NCAA. Her 191 total blocks ranked fourth in the country and became No. 19 on the NCAA’s all-time single-season records list.
Despite the accolades in the middle, Mims made the switch to the outside this fall in a move she said “was best for the team.”
“Personally, my expectations, I set them pretty high, especially with this new position,” she said. “It’s really different for me. You guys (in Montana) probably remember that I was a middle blocker, now I’m an outside hitter. Big change, big difference, but I’m learning a lot. I expect myself to be dependable for my teammates.
“I think I’ve been a middle my entire life. In high school back in Montana, you guys know me as a middle. Then I was here as a middle. Outside hitter in the Pac-12 is a very difficult position, I’m learning that right now, but I hope to make leaps and bounds this year.”
So far, so good. Through mid-September, Mims is averaging a team-high 3.60 kills per set and is tied for first with 10 service aces. She has been named all-tournament team twice, including collecting most valuable player honors at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational at Missouri State over the weekend.
But the greatest honor came this past summer when Mims was selected to the U.S. Collegiate National Team that competed in Europe. She garnered all-tournament honors at the Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia and helped the team capture gold.
“That was amazing. It was probably the best opportunity to come as I’m here at WSU,” Mims said. “Being able to play with elite players and the foreign players over there, it was amazing. The style of play and everything over there really changed me as a player. Playing the right side over there, as well, made me open up to playing new positions.”
“It was such a great experience for Taylor to go overseas,” echoed Green. “The first time she was on an airplane was her official visit here to Pullman. For her to have that experience of going to Europe and playing, not only against the best in the Pac-12 but some of the best in the entire world, that’s invaluable.”
Green knows the challenges Mims faces this season. A former Washington State volleyball player herself, Green also switched positions from the middle to outside. She believes the move could draw more attention to Mims, leading to more honors and awards, with all-American not out of the question.
But the WSU coach credits her new outside hitter for the attitude she brings to practice and games. Few, if any, of the Cougars offer more enthusiasm during warmups than Mims. She dances, sings and laughs with teammates. But once the whistle blows prior to the opening serve, a different Mims appears: one determined to lead her team to victory.
“She has a fantastic personality. She’s a hard worker, completely committed when we’re doing things in the gym, but her humor is infectious and her laugh is great. She’s just really enjoyable to be around,” said Green. “There’s probably a lot that fans don’t know about Taylor Mims. She’s a terrible singer, maybe she does that on purpose, I’m not sure. She’s just a great kid and does so many things for our team. She’s one of our team captains this year, as well. We’re just so excited for the success she has had.”
It’s a success that Montanans saw in Billings Senior black and orange. Though she no longer plays in front of a Treasure State crowd, Mims says just returning home is one of the biggest highlights of her calendar year.
“I haven’t been home for, the next time I go home it will be a year,” she said, recalling Christmas of 2016. “I haven’t been home in a year, so that’s tough. My family will come over for some games, but I can’t wait to go home.”