Taylor Steubs isn’t all that interested in playing the “what-if” game.
What if the Billings Central senior had started playing tennis sooner in life? What if she had taken it more seriously in the offseason instead of just picking up the racquet when she felt like playing?
What if those questions don’t matter to her? That’s the what-if that resonates with her.
“I’m sure it would have been nice if I’d have started playing when I was 10 or something, and getting all that practice time in, I’m sure I’d be a lot better than I am today,” said Steubs, who is playing No. 1 on the Central tennis ladder for the second straight year. “But I think the way I did it was good for me, because I don’t have the burn-out that you can get. I really just enjoy playing because I love the game, and I’m not tired of it.”
Besides, neither Steubs nor Central coach Lisa Ullman can complain about Steubs’ results.
After starting her career at No. 6 doubles on the Central ladder as a freshman, Steubs made the climb to No. 4 singles by the end of her first season. She played at No. 2 singles her sophomore year and rose to the team’s top spot last season. Steubs compiled a 26-6 record as a sophomore and went 19-7 last year, which culminated in a split-set loss to Glendive’s Morgan Opp for the Class A state championship.
Getting a chance to play for the state title was never in Steubs’ thoughts when the season started.
“Obviously, I was disappointed, but it was really exciting and empowering, just because I didn’t think I’d be able to get to that point,” said Steubs, who was also a member of the Rams volleyball teams that finished first in 2009 and third this past fall. “For this year, that really helps build some confidence.”
The second-place finish didn’t mean she was going to automatically put in more court time, though, in a quest to be No. 1 in the state. For Steubs, there were other things to do.
“I have very varied interests, so sports don’t dominate my life,” she said. “I still wanted to keep tennis as a game where I just had fun, and I went and played when I wanted to. I worked with my dad (Gary), just hitting, this summer, but I didn’t really change much last year compared to this year.”
Steubs and Ullman both say one thing has to change this year. If Steubs wants another chance to play for a state championship, she’ll have to develop a more forceful attitude on the court, something that belies her quiet, reserved personality.
“We talk about it, and this year, from what I’ve seen so far, Taylor looks a lot more aggressive,” Ullman said. “I’d like to see Taylor just end the points. Instead of hitting back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, just end the points quicker.”
As for results this season, well, Steubs will likely be just as surprised as last year if she finds herself again playing for the title.
“I try not to think about winning big matches,” she said. “I try to play out the season and see how it goes after that. I try not to overthink it.
“Obviously, I have a strategy with shots and everything, but every match I have the same approach: Just to play my hardest and have fun doing it. I didn’t start tennis thinking I would be winning or anything. I just started because it’s a fun game and I try to keep it that way.”