The story of Taylor Thames: Paving the way for Black student athletes

Photo courtesy of CSUN Athletic Communications.

Lyle Yoergler, Staff Writer

Taylor Thames did not have a traditional start to life. She was born into foster care and placed into a home where she grew up as one of 11 children.

Surrounded by many individuals looking to stand out, Taylor felt like she needed an outlet to express herself.

“I think a lot of foster kids, going through the adoptive process and coming out of foster care, you’re very insular because you’re hypersensitive to the personality that you put out,” Thames said. “You always want to be accepted in various places and spaces, and soccer was one of those spaces where I was just immediately accepted because I had a really strong love for the sport and I had a bunch of energy, and I was just this quick little kid that was willing to play any position and do anything.”

Taylor’s parents tried putting her in various sports such as cheerleading, swimming, gymnastics and soccer throughout the course of her childhood. She found that soccer stuck with her most and was the sport for her, so she took it up and pursued it at a young age. Her raw athletic ability led her to try out track in high school, and she became a dual-sport athlete who excelled at a high level in both sports.

From 2014-16, she played soccer for Gabrielino High School and led her team to the Mission Valley League title in 2014 and 2016. She racked up first team All-League in 2014 and second team All-League in 2016. When asked about why she chose CSUN to pursue her dual athletic dreams, she said the Matadors’ head soccer coach gave her the green light to compete in both track and soccer.

“I came down, I visited the track coach and saw the soccer facilities and I fell in love,” Thames said. “It was this mid-major institution that had dreams of success but didn’t have all the flashy resources that you see at major DI schools, and it fit my personality in the sense that this school could use a driving force to help achieve their goal of success.”

Getting accepted to CSUN was a defining moment in her life.

“I’m very aware of the statistic that centers around minority foster kids, and it’s very rare to see such a fruitful outcome,” Thames said. “Seeing all the years of hard work come to fruition, it was one of those full circle moments of getting to this point through adversity, and I was really proud of myself and really happy to see the people around me proud as well.”

In her time as a goalkeeper for the CSUN women’s soccer team, she has amassed 95 saves with a stellar .731 save percentage. She has also succeeded in track, where she competed between 2020-22. She finished third with a time of 13.22 seconds in the 100-meter at the Cal Poly Spring Break Challenge in 2021, and recorded a personal best time of 26.98 seconds in the 200-meter at the CSUN Invitational in 2022.

Before her games, Thames likes to listen to music, write down instructions for herself on her wrist and do a handshake with her DI soccer teammate Miaya Sykes.

Going beyond athletics, Thames is a self-described social introvert, but that doesn’t stop her from going out of her comfort zone and displaying her extroverted side when helping other people and her community.

During her free time, she loves to read, cook, lift at the gym and travel, and she has recently taken up playing Hogwarts Legacy on her Xbox.

Thames earned her bachelor’s in sociology in 2021 and is currently working towards another bachelor’s in Africana studies this spring with an interest in diverse community and leadership.

Throughout her time at CSUN, Thames has made a heavy impact off the field. She explained how she co-founded Matadors United, became president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and became secretary on the Black Student Advocacy Panel. She also recently participated in the “Black Student Athlete Panel” held at the University Student Union in February.

“I think the most important part for me was that student athletes came back to me and were just like, this is the first time somebody asked us questions, you know, about us and about our experiences, that weren’t all about sports,” Thames said. “It was cool to see people ask, but it was even cooler to have people listen.”

When she got to CSUN, both goalies from the previous season had graduated, so Thames was expected to be the starter for the Matadors. She experienced impostor syndrome when she first arrived and was put into the role.

“My greatest fear was actually just stepping into my reality and the possibility of success, because at one point, I didn’t believe I deserved it or belonged there,” Thames said. “So being able to come full circle and see that I eventually did step into it has been really inspiring.”

The sacrifices she made to accomplish her goal of playing for a Division I program include missing birthday parties and getting home late after club practices, and even extend as far as missing prom her senior year of high school because of a track event early the next morning.

“I would sacrifice that prom for the opportunity to play Division I soccer any day.”