Taylor Wilms has a little more than a month before the real countdown begins for Elmira’s 2019 women’s soccer campaign.

When she stepped onto the practice field for the first time last year, the 2018 Geneva graduate was just an incoming freshman looking to carve out some playing time and maybe even earn herself a few starts here and there.

Not anymore.

Wilms, a rising sophomore, will be one of the leaders on the field when the Soaring Eagles kick off their preseason schedule next month. She earned the right after a stellar freshman year that concluded with her receiving the team’s Most Valuable Player award.

In her debut season, Wilms started 15 games and registered 1,380 minutes, the fourth most on the team.

“I was super excited and very happy that my team felt that way about me,” Wilms said of the honor. “I honestly thought it was going to go to one of the upperclassmen … I was super excited and it really just put me into a good spot.

“Like finishing out the season, we lost quite a few games, but my coach (Kaitlyn Mallernee) is trying to rebuild and it feels good to be a big part of that project. It really got me excited for the next three years to see how I can do.”

She wasted no time getting started in her first year.

Wilms proved herself in the preseason practices and earned a starting gig prior to the season-opener at Alfred State.

She admitted to having some nerves before her collegiate debut, but they were knocked out of her — literally — within the first few minutes of her career.

“I went for a ball and a girl fouled me, so I had to go out for a little bit and I knew, as I was sitting out, that I wanted to go in as soon as I could,” Wilms said. “As soon as I went back in, I was fine. The rest of the game I felt really good. All my nerves were gone. I just wanted to play, wanted to win.”

Wilms, a defender, has always had that extra gear, according to her high school coach and uncle, Brian O’Dell.

O’Dell was actually a little nervous about Wilms playing in college for that same reason.

“It’s so much more physical in college and my concern was her getting hurt, because she plays so aggressive and she’s full-go,” he said. “She’s fast, she’s not afraid, she doesn’t back down and she plays her heart out. Coaches see that and to get that player, I know that’s why (Elmira) recruited her.”

Wilms was a mainstay on Elmira’s back line during her freshman year, but her specific position bounced around quite a bit. She began the year as one of the centerbacks on a four-woman defense.

As the season progressed, the coach placed Wilms on the outside to take advantage of the former Geneva track star’s speed.

Before the season ended, though, Wilms went back to preventing goals as a centerback.

O’Dell drove up to watch one of Wilms’ games last season and called her the team’s best defender.

“She was tough on defense and kids are so fast in college and she ran girls down,” he said. “That’s what she was known for — running people down and saving goals — and I know she’s doing the same thing in college. The girls are fast, but she’s got those long legs, she’s tall, she’s so fast and her motor just goes on and on.”

TURNING DEFENSE INTO OFFENSE

Wilms took advantage of her opportunity to become a difference-maker as a freshman. The defender also rose to another occasion during a corner kick against Wells in mid-September.

The Soaring Eagles had already erased an early 1-0 deficit to take a commanding 3-1 lead before the corner, then Wilms used her head to place the ball into the back of the net for her first collegiate goal. The score opened the floodgates and Elmira rolled to a 7-1 victory.

ALWAYS AN EAGLE

Attending Elmira required her to add “Soaring,” but Wilms won’t forget where she first became an Eagle.

“At Geneva, I loved the sports but it also was the people there — the people I grew up with playing soccer,” Wilms said. “It felt good every game to know that I would be playing with people that I could feel confident in. I don’t know, Geneva, I feel like I took it for granted at times, because I always wanted to go to the next level, I was always looking for colleges.

“I wish I would’ve just lived more in the moment with the people that I was with. I miss the things we would do before games at Geneva, because we were extremely close. Even at Elmira we’re super close too, but I didn’t grow up with them like I did the girls at Geneva.”