April 7, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina soccer student-athlete Taylor Leach knows that very few college players get a chance to play at the next level. So when she recently signed a contract to play professionally for Sunnanå SK in Skelleftea, Sweden, in the Elitetan league, Leach jumped at the chance and was thankful to Gamecock head coach Shelley Smith and Associate Head Coach Jamie Smith for helping to make a lifelong dream become a reality.
"I was thinking that my dream of playing professional soccer has finally come true," Leach said about signing her contract. "Jamie and Shelley helped me through this. Jamie had some contacts overseas with teams that were needing players of certain positions. They needed a center back, and Jamie let them know I was available, so that's how it started."
Growing up in the small town of Whitehouse, Ohio, Leach adjusted well to college life, earning All-SEC honors and was also a team captain while playing for the Gamecocks from 2010 through 2014. With the season beginning later this month and running through October, Leach will have to quickly immerse herself into international play for the first time.
"I've never been to Sweden before, so I'm really excited," Leach said. "I'm excited about the opportunity. I'm not nervous because I've been thrown in positions before where I didn't know anybody, and I had success. I'll make it work."
I think competing at South Carolina in the SEC definitely prepared me for life in the professional world.
Leach has been busy training in New York for the last several months after earning one of two reserve spots on the Western New York Flash of the National Women's Soccer League last year. She credits her alma mater for preparing her for a chance to pursue a professional career.
"The SEC is one of the best conferences in the United States," Leach said. "The United States is known for great women's soccer with all that the national team has done in the World Cup. I think competing at South Carolina in the SEC definitely prepared me for life in the professional world. I have to thank my coaches, not just for what we did with soccer, but for all the things they stressed to us about different things in life. They really helped prepare me for this new situation that I have."
Leach has been in contact with her professional coach in Sweden, Jackie Bachteler, who played collegiately at Florida Southern, to help her know what to expect.
"She has been telling me the differences in playing college and playing professionally in Sweden," Leach said. "The league is a very high level. She told me she wants to have someone to come in here and provide a spark and play with some grit. She told me that there is a lot of thought that goes into the style of play there, whereas here in the United States it's more about athleticism and speed."
While she won't have much time to unpack her bags before her first match, Leach is well prepared to hit the ground running.
"Just to be able to play professional soccer at high level is going to be an incredible experience, especially in a different country, with a different culture and a different style of play," Leach said.
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