Two pads of paper are taped next to each other below the cubbie marked No. 4 in the women’s volleyball locker room. Each day a sheet is ripped off as the numbers on the pads decrease by one each day starting at 29 on Oct. 13.
“This is the first time in any athletic career that I have had that I had to miss games,” the senior right setter who wears the No. 4 on her back said. “ And the first time I have ever been told I might not be able to finish a season. I was devastated. There are no other words.”
On Oct. 13, in a game against St. Francis (N.Y.), Taylor Payne fell to the court with what was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain.
“The second I went down I knew how bad it was and I had so many emotions I couldn’t even contain it,” Payne said.
The injury takes an average of five to six weeks to recover from. But on the schedule, 29 days away was senior day and what would be the last collegiate game of Payne’s career.
“At that point I didn’t care about any other game,” the physical therapy major said. “I will be playing in my senior game. I will be jumping and I will be playing fully and I know I will. The doctor looked at me like I was crazy. My coaches, my athletic trainers, my parents and my team they all supported me 100 percent even though they thought I was crazy.”
Payne came into her senior year having played in all 88 games Quinnipiac has had over the past three years. That streak would end and she would be forced to watch from the sidelines, something she has never done in her athletic career.
“Oh my god,” Payne exclaimed as her face sank into her hands. “It was super frustrating. Especially because I am a senior. I can help my team. I can do this, I can do that, but I couldn’t.”
Though it was frustrating, it was also an interesting experience for Payne being able to see what her coaches would say over and over and actually be able to see it from their view.
With more than 500 kills to her name, not being able to help her team on the court took its toll especially when she started walking without the assistance of crutches. On top of that, she began thinking like a coach and with that came the aggravations that every coach goes through. On Oct. 28, at Robert Morris, Payne’s emotions boiled over.
“At one point I was so fed up with the refs and how the game was going, I exploded,” Payne said. “I took my clipboard and threw it on the bench, got up and screamed ‘This is crap!’ I walked away and went crazy.”
Anyone who has watched Payne play knows she is the catalyst of the team waiting for a chance to burst out and pump up her teammates.
“Because she is so loud and so energetic that is how she leads on the court,” first-year head coach Kristopher Czaplinski said. “Whether it’s a big play or she gets a big block or big hit she’s yelling, she’s screaming, she’s trying to get the rest of the team into it. That’s how she leads and exactly what we need and what we are going to miss for next year.”
While the team will miss the excitement she brings next year, they witnessed first hand what they will miss this season as she sat out five matches with the ankle injury.
“It was different with her not on the court because she brings so much intensity and is so loud,” redshirt junior Logan Riker said. “She definitely helps with our team energy. Our girls filled in for her but Taylor was on the sideline helping us out with the same verbal
communications that she always had. It was tough to get used to not having that presence on the right side.”
Payne got back on her feet ahead of schedule and returned to the court on Nov. 1 against Bryant. Still cringing with pain, she played just two points and when she returned to the bench her whole body was shaking with adrenaline.
“It reminded me of how much I love playing and how emotional I am,” Payne said. “In that moment, you are nothing but your sport. My injury let me realize that. I was so overcome with emotion, it was so great to play again and it made me realize how much I love volleyball.”
Emotion runs in Payne’s family. Her father attended every one of her games over her collegiate career and became a Bobcat legend leading the cheering section with his antics, crazy hats and Hawaiian shirt that concealed his “Who’s House is This?,” T-shirt.
“He’s that X-factor,” Czaplinski said. “We are a very quiet team, a very reserved team and we need him to bring the energy out of us.”
Payne says that volleyball is different from other sports because of how much effect emotion has and how much of a mental game it is. She also said that you can tell on ‘any given day’ who will win by the way a team walks into the gym.
During her four years as a Bobcat, Payne became the heart and soul of the team. Czaplinski says that Payne is the type of player you want on every team.
“She’ll do whatever you want,” Czaplinski said. “She’ll run through a wall for you, that’s the type of kid she is. She wants to make the people around her better and wants to win.”
With only two games until senior day, Payne received minimal playing time in the team’s first home win of the year on Nov. 4 against St. Francis (N.Y.). On Nov. 10, she finally got more playing time which got her ready to make her full comeback for senior day on Nov. 11 against Central Conn. St.
When the countdown reached zero, Payne walked out for her senior day celebration fully healed and played in all three sets, recording two kills in the match.
“I think it meant the world to her,” said Riker, who has played alongside her since 2009. “She had weekly goals with her ankle rehab but the end goal was definitely to play in her senior game. At first they were saying all she was going to be able to do was serve. But the fact that she was able to swing and jump and do everything was amazing, she worked hard to rehab that fast.”
Payne finishes her career at Quinnipiac with 507 kills, 239 digs and 208 blocks. But the Warwick, N.Y., native will not be remembered for her stats, but rather her electrifying persona which poured out of her on the court.
Czaplinski and Riker agree that Riker will have to be the vocal presence on the court next year, and other players like Brittanie Robinson, Chandler Thorton and Bonnie Conklin will have to fill more of a leadership role. But no matter what, Payne’s voice will still echo through Burt Kahn Court.
“I get a block and I get psyched up and I want everyone to know,” Payne said. “Ya, I’m kind of putting on a show, most people would think that but I don’t have any control over that, that’s just who I am as a player.”