By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – There is much more to being a student-athlete than just being the best on the playing field or winning championships.
Each year, Tennessee Tech athletics recognizes its Woman of the Year, celebrating a recipient that stands as a true ideal for just what it means to be the ideal student-athlete.
This year, the award goes to Taylor Blazei, a forward on the Golden Eagle women's soccer team from Hartford, Wis.
Blazei, the fifth women's soccer player to win the award, following Alexis Boyd (2004), Brooke Mayo (2011), Lindsey Reed (2012) and Katie Phillips (2015), was a crucial player on the squad this season, leading the Golden Eagles to a second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference, Tech's most conference wins in a season, the team's first postseason appearance in six years and the team's first winning record in the regular season in over a decade.
"I honestly didn't expect to win the award," Blazei said humbly. "I knew I was up for the award after some teammates told me on Thursday, but I'm honestly shocked. All five of my fellow nominees are just such amazing young women and athletes. It certainly wasn't expected and it just blows my mind that I was chosen."
The award celebrates the senior Tennessee Tech student-athlete that the committee feels best exemplifies the true balance between academic success, athletic success and service to the community.
Blazei certainly fit the bill there.
"All three of those are very important," she said. "It was a goal to balance sports with academics and community service, but I didn't work too hard at it because it came naturally to me. I wanted to succeed at all three. Community service has always been something my family has been involved in, so that wasn't out of the ordinary."
In academics, Blazei was a strong student, finishing with a 3.47 GPA in biology. She was a member of the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in both the fall and spring semesters this past season, and was on the prestigious Gold Club in the fall – during the soccer team's campaign – with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
But trying to balance academics and athletics certainly wasn't an easy feat.
"It certainly led to some very frustrating nights," Blazei said. "The team switched up the practice schedule this year so we practiced many nights and that made it a lot harder. There were many games where I was on the bus studying for tests on the way to and from games.
"There's no doubt I had to give up a little bit of a social life, but I knew that was a sacrifice I could make because I knew that someday it was going to pay off."
Blazei continued, "But I was fortunate to be on an academic-minded team like the soccer team because so many of my teammates were going through the same things. We were there to help each other out and I had friends that completely understood the schedule and workload. Honestly, being a part of the soccer team, it made it all pretty easy."
With community service, Blazei felt it was extremely important to give back to the Cookeville community.
"I don't think many student-athletes really understand what the community does for us or what Tennessee Tech means to them," Blazei said. "We really do play such a role for them. I didn't think there were that many people out there who knew who we were until we started going out and being a part of the community. We were at the elementary schools and they knew who we were and I realized that we really do play a very big role."
Blazei spent a lot of time working at Mustard Seed Ranch, serving as a tutor for the organization.
"There are a lot of older kids there that don't have the same blessings as many of us do," Blazei said. "It was such an honor to be able to be there for them, but I think they reached my heart much more than I may have reached theirs."
Blazei is currently volunteering at a nursing home in Chattanooga. She plans to continue her academic work as she pursues her Master's degree in Nursing with a goal to be a nurse practitioner.
Photo by Tony Marable