RIVERVIEW — Taylor McCoy's softball career at Riverview has seen plenty of ups and downs.
McCoy burst onto the scene as a freshman, pitching the Sharks into the region finals. But despite a 13-5 record and a sparkling 1.42 ERA, McCoy suddenly found herself struggling with a pitcher's best friend.
"I lost my confidence," she said. "I didn't handle the pressure very well from all the expectations. It was a really hard time."
She scuffled on the mound as a sophomore before settling in at first base as a junior. McCoy was tearing the cover off the ball last season before what she called "personal issues" led to a conflict with veteran Riverview coach Angela Slater.
In the middle of her junior season, McCoy left the team.
"Because of some personal things I had a fallout with Coach Slater and I quit in the middle of the season," McCoy said.
After watching the Sharks fail to make the playoffs, McCoy reached out to Slater in hopes of returning for her senior season.
"(Leaving the team) kind of bit me in the butt," McCoy said. "I went to see her and we talked about a lot of things. I'm just really thankful she gave me the opportunity."
McCoy said the rift strengthened their relationship.
"I don't know if any other coach around here would have had me back," McCoy said. "I think our fallout made the bond between us tighter."
And Sharks' fans are glad McCoy is back. The senior first baseman, who signed with Hampton before the season, is off to a sizzling start for the Sharks. She leads Riverview in all major offensive categories, including hitting over .500 average and two home runs.
"She's a big kid with tremendous plate coverage," Slater said. "She's improved every year at the plate and does a great job going with the pitch no matter where it is."
McCoy is one of four seniors on a young Sharks team. Eight of Riverview's 14 players are underclassmen.
"I've enjoyed coaching this young group and we've struggled a bit, but I think that's a good thing," Slater said. "We're nowhere near where we need to be, but we have a chance to be pretty good."
And a lot of that optimism starts inside the circle. Junior Emily Gaitan, who transferred before last season from Academy of the Holy Names, has already committed to the University of Mississippi.
"(Gaitan) has all the tools and all the pitches," Slater said. "She's pitched well but I think you're going to see her get better because she's capable of it."
Slater said picking a college early, especially a Southeastern Conference school like Ole Miss, brings about a number of new challenges.
"It's a huge relief, in some ways, for kids because they're getting the decisionmaking out of the way now," she said. "But it also means you're a measuring stick for every hitter you face. The expectation level is raised."
As midseason approaches, Slater is looking forward to facing the Sharks' district slate for the second time. The Sharks' lone district loss came against Plant City, a team Slater said "just had a little more experience."
"We have a legitimate shot in this district but I don't want the team to think they can finish second because then they'll feel like a shoe in," she said. "I want them to keep working to get better each day, working harder each day, and see where that takes us."
And even though so much has happened since, McCoy said she sees a lot of similarities between this season and four years ago.
"Everyone gets along on this team, and it's like 2009 for the second time," she said. "There's just a great vibe about it."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]