Heart and Soule It took a pandemic to keep Taylor Soule and the Eagles from their first March Madness berth since 2006, but with Soule on the Heights for another two years, they have plenty of time to make up for it.

Boston College women’s basketball’s rebuild was not supposed to be this quick. With only three conference wins in head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s first year on the Heights, it seemed as if BC was still a ways off from competing with the top teams in the ACC.

And yet, the Eagles did just that this year. After a slow start to the season, BC tore through the back half of its conference schedule, winning six of its last seven games and notching dramatic come-from-behind victories against Clemson and Notre Dame on the way to a sixth-place regular-season conference finish.

The Eagles’ momentum carried into the ACC tournament, where they knocked off Clemson comfortably in the first round and earned a quarterfinals berth against Duke. What would transpire against the Blue Devils will be remembered in program history for a long time.

After an even first half, the Eagles surged ahead in the third quarter, taking a nine-point lead with 5:30 left in the period. 

Duke immediately fought back into the game, cutting the Eagles’ lead to just three at the end of the third quarter. The Eagles maintained their slight advantage for the opening minutes of the fourth, but then everything seemed to come apart for the Eagles. 

With 7:45 to play, Blue Devils star guard Haley Gorecki sucked in a pair of Eagles defenders with a quick move to the basket and passed out to a wide-open Kyra Lambert, who tied the game with a 3-pointer. Minutes later, Gorecki drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the top of the key and followed it up with an acrobatic and-one floater on the Blue Devils’ next possession to give herself 25 points on the game. 

Leaonna Odom scored with 4:45 to go to give Duke a 77-70 lead, and it seemed that the Eagles were again poised to fall to the starpower of the Blue Devils’ offensive attack. Earlier in the season, Gorecki poured in 27 points against BC to lead a dominant Duke victory.

But Soule had other ideas. She quickly scored a pair of mid-range jumpers and swarmed Gorecki on the next possession, forcing an errant pass right to the awaiting hands of Makayla Dickens. Despite starting from her own baseline, Soule beat everybody on both teams down the court, getting a pass from Dickens and converting a tough and-one layup. 

After Emma Guy scored to give the Eagles the lead, Soule took over again, hitting five free throws in the final minute to close out the game. All in all, she finished the game with 26 points, with nearly half of them coming in the final five minutes of the game. 

Soule’s performance was quintessential of her sophomore season—athletically spectacular, defensively sound, strong on the boards, and full of clutch free throws—and demonstrated the spectacles that make her The Heights’ 2019-20 Female Athlete of the Year.

After a solid freshman campaign in which she averaged eight points and four rebounds per game, Soule burst out in her second season on the Heights. She led the Eagles in both scoring and rebounding, nearly doubling her freshman tallies with 14.5 points per game and 7.7 boards, and she was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player.

Most importantly, Soule always seemed to come up big in BC’s biggest games of the year. She scored at least 20 points in five of the Eagles’ last nine games, highlighted by her incredible 26-point performance against the Blue Devils and another 26-point effort against Syracuse in which she played all but one minute of the game. 

Time and time again, BC’s biggest contests came down to an end-of-game competition between Soule and the free throw line. She took more than 10 free throws in eight different games, and the Eagles won all but two of those. She converted eight of her 10 foul line attempts against Notre Dame, helping the Eagles earn their first-ever season sweep of the Irish. She made 12 of 14 from the charity stripe against Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament and eight of 11 against Duke in the quarterfinals. 

Though the Eagles’ success in just the second year of Joanna Bernabei-McNamee tenure on the Heights came as a surprise to many, Soule’s prolific play is no shock to those who saw her play earlier in her basketball career. For Scott Hazelton, Soule’s coach on the Mass Rivals AAU team, her natural gifts were obvious to him from the first moment he saw her play. 

“She comes from way up North in New Hampshire, so nobody really knew who she was,” he said. “We ended up seeing her in a high school all star event, and I saw her run down the court and jump up and grab a rebound. I was like, ‘Holy smokes, that’s probably one of the most athletic kids I’ve seen.’”

"Holy smokes, that’s probably one of the most athletic kids I’ve seen." Scott Hazelton

The question was never whether Soule would be a good player—it was how good of a player she would be.

In the beginning, that raw power and speed were her entire game. 

“In high school, that’s really what she was, she was just an athlete,” Hazelton said. “She used her willpower and strength and physical attributes to get the better of her opponents.”

This athleticism allowed Soule to play virtually positionless basketball, and she suited up at center, forward, and guard during her high school career. Still, the question remained whether she would be able to add the skills to her athleticism that would allow her to compete at a high level in the ACC.

“Anytime you get a kid with elite athleticism—which she has—[and] a motor to play hard, if they start getting skills, they turn into stars,” Hazelton said. 

“Anytime you get a kid with elite athleticism—which she has—[and] a motor to play hard, if they start getting skills, they turn into stars." Scott Hazelton

Soule has certainly answered the question about whether she can develop those skills and become a star. She attributes the jump in play from her freshman to sophomore season to the work that she has put in on the court, both physically and mentally.

“Spending a little extra time working in the gym, whether it’s like three days a week, even two days a week during the season, maybe for 20 minutes before practice, after practice,” Soule said. “Even if I wasn’t getting full reps, but if I was walking through just talking about basketball.”

None of Soule’s continued work ethic surprises Hazelton. 

“She’s the type of kid where you can’t count her out because she works so hard,” he said. “She was always a kid that was serious, very businesslike when it came to the game.”

Despite all that Soule and the Eagles have already accomplished in her time on the Heights, she has high expectations for the coming years. The Eagles were projected to be a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament before the tournament was canceled due to coronavirus. Missing the opportunity to compete for a national championship has been difficult for the team, particularly the senior class, but they have managed to find a degree of humour in the experience.

“We say now that we were the National Champions of 2020 because nobody knows what could have happened,” Soule joked. 

Jokes aside, when Soule was asked what her goals are for next season, she didn’t hesitate before pointing to the tournament. 

Although the Eagles lose Emma Guy, Taylor Ortlepp, and Georgia Pineau to graduation, they should have all the pieces to make another run at the tournament. Along with Soule, BC returns three other starters, and has a host of talented freshmen joining the team. 

“To officially hear Boston College’s name during March Madness would be pretty great,” Soule said, placing extra emphasis on the word “officially.”

Until then, Soule and her team will just have to keep proving the doubters wrong. 

Featured Image by Kait Devir / Heights Staff

Other Images by  Kait Devir / Heights Staff and Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff

print

About Asa Ackerly