COLUMBIA — Settling under a lazy pop fly, Missouri softball player Rhea Taylor seemed to have things well in hand.
"I was camped under it, and was like 'I got this,'" Taylor said Thursday recalling the play.
No. 7 Missouri (27-6, 3-3 Big 12)
at No. 16 Texas (32-9, 5-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Austin, Texas
SERIES: Missouri leads15-12. The Tigers have won five of the past seven meetings with the Longhorns. The teams split a two-game series last season at University Field with the Longhorns winning Game 1, 6-2 and the Tigers winning Game 2, 11-6.
But her shoelaces came loose, causing Taylor to trip and do a face plant in center field, the ball falling onto her back.
"Oww," Taylor shouted as she lay on her stomach with her hands cupped over her face.
Thinking Taylor was hurt, Missouri outfielder Shana White rushed to check on her fallen teammate. As White got closer, she heard chuckling from Taylor.
"I didn't know if she was laughing or crying, so I ran over there," White said. "Then you hear 'ha ha ha.' Then I was like 'Girl get up.' That was hilarious."
Missouri assistant coach Pete D'Amour, who is used to Taylor's antics, playfully tossed a softball at Taylor, prompting her to return to her feet.
"It was drama, good drama actually," D'Amour said by phone. "I knew what she was doing. It's all in fun."
The play happened in practice three weeks ago. Taylor, the comedian of the team, has provided many moments that draw hysterical laughter from teammates and coaches.
"Off the field, it's just the humor, and she lightens the mood sometimes," Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine said. "She makes it fun. Like I said, it's an experience. It's a four-year journey for these girls, and your glad when they get some laughs and have a good time. So she presents those opportunities every time off the field. On the field she's 100 percent warrior, off the field she's 100 percent clowning."
Taylor likes to provide entertainment for her teammates even if it means dancing in public. The fearless junior busts out her best dance moves in the middle of airports on the way to road games. Taylor likes to dance to rap and R&B music, and her antics draw laughter from not only her teammates but passers-by as well.
"It doesn't phase me too much, I just like to be the center of attention," Taylor said. "We have airport videos that are like comedy dance central."
"I just encourage it," junior Catherine Lee said. "I like to see her make a fool out of herself."
Taylor and Lee often operate as a comedy team that D'Amour calls "the Two Stooges." Lee and Taylor admit they are the loudest on the team and are usually the instigators when it comes to joking and laughter.
"We joke so much, and we have no shame," Lee said. "We know each other so well, it's easy to laugh at everything."
"She and Cat, when you get them together it's a cocktail for disaster," Earleywine joked. "Individually they are a handful, but if you put them together, it multiplies by four. They are definitely the most charismatic, loud, looking for joke starters, no doubt about it."
While Taylor works hard to make her teammates laugh, she is also often the victim of pranks.
During her freshman year, the Tigers stayed in a hotel that was more than 200 years old that Taylor said seemed haunted. Not wanting to sleep alone, Taylor arranged to stayed in White's room. But after teammate Gina Schneider stuffed a Tigers uniform full of pillows and placed it on Taylor's toilet, the team talked Taylor into going back to her room. The team crowded around the door waiting for a reaction and got it when Taylor burst out of the room and sprinted down the hall screaming and crying.
"They had ghost tours that Saturday night, and I was like 'Oh my God we are in a haunted hotel, I can't be here anymore,'" Taylor said. "I just get scared really easily. And when I saw that stuffed uniform, I lost it."
"Everyone was cracking up, but we felt bad after," White said laughing.
While Taylor has lightened the mood for the team, her play on the field is no joke. She takes a serious approach and D'Amour said the way she thrives on competition separates her from most players.
"There are kids that can throw and run like her, but she is always willing to overcome adversity, always willing to fight," D'Amour said.
Earleywine said Taylor was a "project" when she first came to Missouri. She came in as a right-handed batter, but her coaches decided to make her into a left-handed slap hitter. When she first tried it, she had sloppy technique. She took two hops then swung the bat as hard as she could, which Earleywine found amusing.
"It was the funniest thing," Earleywine said. "We did everything we could not to laugh. We kept out composure and showed her the right way."
But after two or three months of working on her swing, Taylor began to turn heads. In 2008, she became the first Tigers player in five years to be named All-American. She had a .402 batting average and totaled 57 stolen bases, which was the second most in the nation. Earleywine said her ability to develop so quickly came as a surprise.
"In the fall her freshman year, she just kind of outworked everybody else," Earleywine said. "After about a month of fall practice, we looked at each other and said 'this kid might be pretty good.'"
Taylor is putting up All-American type numbers again this season with a .400 batting average including 27 runs and 19 stolen bases. Last Tuesday, she was named as one of the 25 finalists for the 2010 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year by the American Softball Association of America.
"I wouldn't say that I was surprised just because ... not to boast or anything ... but my hard work has paid off," Taylor said. "I don't consider myself anything less than a national player."