COLUMBIA — When the starting pitcher on her competitive youth softball team left to play basketball, nine-year-old Taylor Cowan volunteered to pitch.
Nine years later, Cowan is still throwing and now has two perfect games this season for the Hickman Kewpies — one on Sept. 18 against rival Rock Bridge and another Monday on the road against Hallsville.
These accomplishments are only part of her value to the team, which turns to the confident senior for leadership.
Taylor's mom, Kathy Cowan, a former softball player at Missouri Valley College, said she believes the achievements stem from her daughter's drive and competitive nature.
"Taylor knew it was a big commitment, and she just said 'I'll be there,' and just started working really hard and developed a love for it," said Kathy Cowan, who was Taylor's coach when she started pitching.
"She knows it's a team sport, but also that it starts with her," Kathy Cowan said. "She knows that she has to do her job in order for the rest of the team to do theirs, and she embraces that."
To ease her nerves before games, Cowan said she looks to Kewpies' catcher, junior Katherine Steponovich. They have known each other since they began playing competitive softball together in the youth leagues, and they have formed a strong bond that helps Cowan feel at ease on the mound.
"I just try to relax, and if I'm feeling nervous during warm ups, I work with Kat (Steponovich)," Taylor Cowan said.
Steponovich said their history together has been beneficial.
"I've caught for her before and know her tendencies. It helps us work together," Steponovich said. "I have complete confidence in her as a pitcher. We talk about hitters and what to expect from the other team."
Cowan is also a big part of the Kewpies' offense.
"She has been a workhorse for us," Hickman coach Courtney Haskell said. "She throws most of the innings every year, and most of the time at the end of the season she's the offensive leader in every category."
Taylor Cowan is a little more modest about her role, crediting her teammates with helping her achieve such success.
"It felt really good, especially in the Rock Bridge game," Taylor Cowan said of her perfect games. "But the defense really backed me up; on what could have been a couple hits, they were amazing."
As a senior and four-year varsity player, Taylor Cowan has become a leader on and off the field.
"We all lead in our own way," she said. "There isn't a definite leader; the seniors have all really stepped up."
When it comes to her personal leadership style, Taylor Cowan describes her approach as a little more laid back. Her goal before a big game is to help the team achieve a similar attitude.
"I try to help them relax, tell jokes, make people laugh. When you're nervous you make mistakes," she said.
Steponovich said she thinks it's the way Cowan carries herself on and off the field that helps her lead the team.
"She's intimidating to other teams and it's to our benefit," Steponovich said.
The Kewpies hope to improve their 15-1 record this weekend. They host their home tournament, the Kewpie Klassic.
Hickman will host 16 teams from around the state, including undefeated Blue Springs. The tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at the Rainbow Softball Center in Cosmopolitan Park.