Nervous as ever, current junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto answered a call from women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Berkley. In December of 2017, she was panicking after finding out the coach that had recruited her was no longer at Loyola. She feared her chances at Loyola were gone, but after a call from the new head coach, she found that was far from the truth.
Venuto arrived at Loyola in fall 2019 ready to work.
Her first-year season started out hot, wasting no time to make her presence known. She held the highest hitting percentage in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) with a .337, and averaged 1.02 blocks per set to break the previous program record with 126 total blocks- To top the list off, she even made the MVC Honor Roll.
Venuto also received multiple conference accolades, which include being selected First Team All MVC, MVC All-Freshman Team and a two-time MVC Freshman of the Week.
“Freshman year I came in and started, and the whole team was super great to me. They all welcomed me,” she said.
However, Venuto’s momentum on the court came to a halt her sophomore season. When she was struck with two setbacks: a season affected by COVID-19 and an injury. During the shortened spring 2021 season, Venuto suffered a first-degree ACL tear, which sent her to the bench for a month to recover.
After a season postponed until spring, Venuto said the only thing on her mind was playing. Instead, she had to sit and watch her teammates play from the sidelines.
“Obviously, last year not playing was a huge challenge for me. I’ve never been injured where I’ve never not played,” she said.
Venuto’s knee injury was something she had never experienced before, because she was unable to play. She played through previous injuries, but couldn’t with this one — forcing her to find another role on the team.
Berkley — now in her fourth season coaching the Ramblers — has been with Venuto since her first year as a player and witnessed her injury recovery first-hand.
“She’s stronger,” Berkley said. “She’s swinging faster and putting the ball down very well, especially on aces. She’s definitely just grown physically, and she’s grown mentally.”
Berkley also said Venuto has a very strong mentality, which helped her in recovery. Her mentality during her injury was solely on how she could get better to get back to playing.
Venuto said her focus is on the game, always looking for ways to improve and be better. She said she constantly looks for ways to push herself, especially when she sees another competitor.
“Honestly, I’m very hard on myself,” she said. “So, if I see another middle on the other team, I want to beat her out. I do whatever I can to outwork her, outcompete her.”
Along with being best on the court, she has a list of things she wants to be: a more versatile player and someone her teammates can look up to.
Venuto said her time at Loyola has helped her hold herself to a higher standard. Her team and coaches are always pushing her to be a more vocal player, which makes her step outside her comfort zone.
Venuto said she wants to be someone that can be there for her teammates, specifically someone they can look up to. For Addie Barnes, a junior outside hitter, Venuto fills that role.
“I would say I look up to her leadership, like her leading style, because she leads by example,” Barnes said. “If I’m not doing well, I look at Taylor and she’s always working hard, and that makes me want to work hard. That makes me want to do better.”
Barnes and Venuto both arrived to the team in 2019 as first-years. Their class came in larger than normal, adding seven players to the roster. Barnes noticed Venuto’s energy and ability to lead as they played alongside each other.
Barnes said Venuto is a great teammate on and off the court. She knows how to pump the team up, and also is there for them whenever they need her.
Venuto’s leadership and hard work is not only noticed by her teammates, but her coach as well. Berkley sees Venuto as a player she can heavily rely on in many aspects. She said she’s happy with what Venuto has been able to bring to the team, especially her consistency as a player.
“She’s one that we actually call money in the bank, because she’s always ready to go, always ready to be available as a hitter, and she just does all the little things that you ask of a player,” Berkley said.
Venuto’s success in her career at Loyola is far from over. Her team’s season is already underway where the Ramblers hold a record of 7-5. She is excited to see how the rest of the season plays out. One goal Venuto has set for herself and her team this season is getting into the NCAA tournament.
“Based on last year we made it to the championship so I’m hoping we can actually get into the NCAA tournament now, so that excites me.”
The Rambler’s next match is against Missouri State University on Friday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m.