Sierra Canyon School, a private school located in Chatsworth, Ca., outside of Los Angeles, is known for its basketball program. The program just got its own documentary, and Duke men's basketball has had its fair share of players from Sierra Canyon, including Cassius Stanley and Marvin Bagley III.
But what if I told you that neither of them is the best Duke athlete to come out of Sierra Canyon? What if I told you that the best Duke athlete hailing from there wasn’t even a basketball player? Would you believe me?
I hope you would because I would be telling the truth. She might not be a household name outside of women’s college soccer circles, but Taylor Mitchell, one of Duke’s star centre backs and a senior captain, has had one of the greatest Duke careers not only among Sierra Canyon alums but also of any player in Duke women’s soccer history. After anchoring the defense in Sunday’s Senior Day draw against Vanderbilt, it seems fitting to finally give the senior her well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Let’s start with a number: 7,471.
Almost every college soccer player, when asked about the transition from high school competition to college competition, has always mentioned how tough it is, how much faster the game is. After all, Division I soccer isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park. I’m not going to put words in Mitchell’s mouth and say that she found the transition easy, but I will say this - she sure made it look easy.
That number above? That’s the number of minutes Mitchell has played since joining the team and starting as a freshman—the fifth most in Duke women’s soccer history since 2003 (as far back as the data has been kept). And with the Blue Devils set to play in this year’s NCAA tournament, that number will continue to grow.
How about a fraction this time: 81-of-85. Want to take a guess at what that represents?
I won’t make you wait too long. Mitchell has played in 85 games in her career and started in 81 of those, putting her just outside of the top-10 in Duke women’s soccer history for that category. Pretty good, wouldn’t you say?
But a player is more than the sum of their statistics, especially a defensive player. Centre backs usually aren’t the ones seeing their names rise up in the box score, and, for most casual fans of the game—as I admit I used to be—when asked to name a soccer player, the first name that’s going to pop up is probably going to be Messi or Ronaldo—two phenomenal players, but both on the offensive side of the ball.
That’s a disservice to defensive players around the world, like Mitchell and like one of her coaches, women’s soccer defensive legend Carla Overbeck.
Mitchell has picked up her fair share of accolades, including being named to the 2017 All-ACC Freshman Team (the year in which Duke women’s soccer had one of, if not the, best season in program history), the ACC All-Academic Team the same year, and the 2020 All-ACC Third Team. But to my admittedly untrained eye, it’s always been her spark and role as a catalyst that has stood out to me, a role that I’m sure Duke women’s soccer head coach of 20 years Robbie Church would do more justice in describing.
The Blue Devils aren’t always the fastest moving team; they’re patient, and they set up their looks. However, when the team needs a boost, Mitchell is there to provide it, running up the field with the ball at her feet and looking to pass it on to a teammate who’s in a position to make a play on the goal. Sure, it doesn’t always lead to a score, but that’s not the point—the spirit and will to win is always there for Mitchell.
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The Blue Devils have had a number of greats, and I would never diminish what they have done for the program, but, in those conversations about the greats, Mitchell’s name should be there. It’s players and people like Taylor Mitchell who define a program’s legacy, and we’re all lucky that we’ve been around to watch her do just that.