- Mike Grimala, ESPNHS
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Taylor Wohrley tried just about everything to avoid swimming for her high school team.
It's hard to believe, considering the Timberland (Wentzville, Mo.) senior has won four state titles and will go down as one of the best prep swimmers in Missouri state history. But just a few years ago, she was going to great lengths to avoid suiting up for the Wolves. Whether it was a conflict with another sport, a potential rule violation or simply a lack of desire, Wohrley had a laundry list of reasons why joining the team wasn't possible.
"I had no interest in high school swimming -- none whatsoever," Wohrley says. "If you would have told me back then that I'd have all this success and state titles and whatever, I would have laughed."
No one can laugh at Wohrley's achievements in the pool now. She's a three-time state champion in the 100 backstroke, and last year she broke the state record in winning the 200 freestyle title. But none of that would have happened if she hadn't given in and joined the Timberland squad.
Wohrley swam for the first time as a 2-year-old and signed up with a
summer club team at 7. But throughout elementary and middle school, she never fully committed herself to the sport.
"I didn't have a pure interest in swimming at that time," Wohrley says. "I was playing basketball, softball, doing dance, basically doing 50 other things. Swimming was not a priority."
Wohrley was content practicing just once or twice a week until she reached the eighth grade and her swimming coach told her to make a decision. Her coach believed Wohrley had the natural ability to be a great swimmer and working harder would unleash that potential.
Initially hesitant, Wohrley came to agree with that assessment and devoted herself to the pool. She intensified her practices,
fine-tuned her technique and watched as her times dropped across the board.
Even though she had committed to the sport and become one of the most promising young talents in the area, it still appeared Wohrley would never swim for Timberland. A longstanding MSHSAA rule forbade athletes from swimming simultaneously for club and high school teams, and Wohrley was dedicated to her club squad.
Conveniently for her (and fortunately for the Wolves), the state repealed the rule before Wohrley's freshman year, clearing the way for her to join the team. Except there was one final hurdle.
"I still didn't want to do it," Wohrley says. "I was already so consumed by my club team, it seemed like it would have been such a burden time-wise."
That's when Wohrley's sister stepped in. One grade ahead of Taylor, Alexa Wohrley was already on the Timberland team and raved about the experience.
"She was always talking about how much fun it was," Wohrley says. "She would say how much she loved the coach and the rest of the girls and the whole experience."
Wohrley counts her sister as her best friend and one of
her inspirations, so that endorsement was all she needed.
Wohrley went out for the team as a freshman and made an immediate impression.
"We knew she was pretty special right away," Timberland coach Brooke Brockman says. "In the backstroke, she was blowing people out of the water as a freshman. And her work ethic and dedication were above and beyond
anything you see at the high school level."
That's right, the girl who once preferred dancing and hoops had transformed into a swimming dynamo for the Wolves in no time at all. Wohrley was practicing five times a week, waking up at 6 a.m. for school and then attending Timberland practices and club sessions back-to-back in the afternoon.
The work paid off at the state meet, as Wohrley swam a 57.47 in the 100 back to take the title as a freshman. It was the first of three straight
championships in the event she considers her best. She even competed in the 100 back at the U.S. Olympic Trials this past summer.
Though the backstroke comes naturally, Wohrley's success in the 200 free was more of a surprise.
"She just told me during the preseason last year that she wanted to swim the 200 free," Brockman says. "We knew she would win the backstroke no matter what, but the 200 free was different."
From the beginning of her junior season to the state meet, she shaved more than two seconds off her time. She then shattered all expectations at state by clocking a 1:50.32 and breaking the state record.
"I basically took a leap of faith," Wohrley says. "I thought it could be an event I was good in, but I totally didn't expect a state record or anything like that. It was so awesome to finish the race and look up and see that time."
Her freestyle success carried over to this past summer's U.S. Junior Nationals, where she placed 11th in the 100 free and 20th in the 200 free.
Wohrley hopes to continue building on her recent triumphs this season, and she's not shy about stating her goals.
"I want the 100 back record (56.04), and I want to break my own 200 free record," she says. "I want to smash those records. I want to go out with a bang. That's my No. 1 motivation - to set the bar really high for the next wave."
Pretty ambitious for an athlete who wanted no part of the action just a few years ago. And Wohrley plans to keep up the intensity after her days at Timberland are done. She's currently considering colleges, and she counts the Olympics as her ultimate goal.
"I love swimming so much," she says. "It's the coolest thing in the world for me, and I'm thankful every day that I decided to stick with it and put everything I had into it. I definitely made the right decision."
Mike Grimala covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.