Missouri softball stars Taylor and Thomas set to begin international play

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 2:24 p.m. CDT; updated 10:16 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 27, 2011

Rhea Taylor's NCAA eligibility has run out, but she is still enrolled at classes at MU and plans to graduate in December. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported her status at the university.

COLUMBIA — Outfielder Rhea Taylor and pitcher Chelsea Thomas are teammates once again after both Missouri players were selected to the USA Softball women’s national team last week. In tryouts, however, the two found themselves in a rivalry.

“It was like, ‘Do not strike out against Chelsea. You cannot,’” Taylor said.

2011 Team USA Roster

Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif./California)

Whitney Canion (Aledo, Texas/Baylor)

Kaitlin Cochran (Yorba Linda, Calif./Arizona State)

Lauren Gibson (Pasadena, Md./Tennessee)

Kelly Grieve (Asheville, N.C./Tennessee)

Taylor Hoagland (Flower Mound, Texas/Texas)

Ashley Holcombe (Fayetteville, Ga./Alabama)

Molly Johnson (Tucson, Ariz./Kentucky)

Stacy Johnson (Reno, Nev./Iowa)

Megan Langenfeld (Bakersfield, Calif./UCLA)

Jenae Leles (Sacramento, Calif./Arizona)

Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla./Florida)

Christine Orgeron (New Orleans, La./ULL)

Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif./Oklahoma)

Brittany Schutte (Fountain Valley, Calif./Florida)

Jordan Taylor (Valencia, Calif./Michigan)

Rhea Taylor (Buford, Ga./Missouri)

Chelsea Thomas (Pleasantville, Iowa/Missouri)

Alternate: Jessica Shults (Valencia, Calif./Oklahoma)

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Taylor, whose NCAA eligibility has run out but has not graduated from MU yet, said the competitiveness between the two began to arise when she was taking batting practice earlier in tryouts.

“That morning we were going back and forth,” Taylor said. “I told the guy that was throwing BP to pitch me some drop balls.”

Thomas, who was looking on, knew she would be facing her former teammate later that day.

“I turned around to her and said ‘Rhea, you think you’re going to get drop balls?’” Thomas said. “So we went back and forth for like 10 minutes yelling at each other.”

When the two finally went head-to-head in a scrimmage, it was Taylor who came out on top. She laid down a bunt on Thomas’ changeup and used her speed to beat the throw to first base.

When asked if Taylor had bragging rights, Thomas wouldn't concede.

"I wouldn't go that far," she said.

With the friendly competition of tryouts behind them, Taylor and Thomas will reunite as teammates on Team USA this summer. The team will take the field Saturday in a two-game exhibition series against the USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team in Florida. After three more exhibition games, the team will take part in three international tournaments: the Canadian Fast Pitch International Championship, the World Cup of Softball VI and the Pan American Games.

Thomas, whose 0.95 ERA led the nation in 2011, said she is grateful to have Taylor on the roster with her.

“To be able to turn around and see her in the outfield is a comfort factor for me knowing that she’s going to get every ball that goes out there,” she said. “It helps the nerves a lot to have someone you know going out there into a new experience, so I’m excited to get to share that with her.”

Taylor echoed the sentiment but also noted that playing on the national team is an important individual milestone.

“It’s like a different chapter in my life,” said Taylor, who plans to graduate in December. “I’m done, and it’s not like I can come back here every day and go to practice with them. It’s just a different step in my life, and it’s like I’m my own person.”

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