Aug. 2, 2017

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For her grandfather, her father, her uncles and her mother, the world’s most popular sport has always been a focal point of their lives in Northern California. Small wonder, then, that Taylor Ziemer is upholding the family tradition.

“Soccer, soccer, soccer,” Ziemer said, smiling. “I’ve been playing since I could walk.”

A sophomore forward on the University of Virginia women’s team, Ziemer grew up in a household dominated by the game. Her father, Marcus, is heading into his 27th season as the head men’s coach at Sonoma State University. Her mother, Trisha, played at Santa Clara and Sonoma State, which won the NCAA’s Division II national championship in her junior year, and is a longtime coach for the Santa Rosa United youth club.

Taylor’s brother, Thomas, spent time in U.S. Soccer’s Under-17 residency program and later played in Europe, and her sister, Tera, is a Texas A&M recruit. The family members all have their favorite international clubs — Taylor roots for Tottenham Hotspur (England) and Borussia Dortmund (Germany) — and the Ziemers have traveled together to Europe to watch professional games there.

“It really showed us the power that the game had,” Taylor said. “It’s a big part of our lives and our childhoods.

“Even just when we were kids, soccer was always on the TV. So we never watched cartoons. I always joke that I missed out on the Disney experience. I just watched soccer, and I have an understanding of it.”

That’s apparent on the field, UVA head coach Steve Swanson said. As a freshman last fall, Ziemer totaled 18 points (eight goals, two assists). Only midfielder Alexis Shaffer (33 points) and forward Veronica Latsko (19 points) had more for the Wahoos.

“She’s a natural goal-scorer,” Swanson said of the 5-9 Ziemer, “but what I’ve been really impressed with is that she’s not just a goal-scorer. She plays soccer extremely well. Her mind works very fast. She’s got the cognitive side of the game down really well.”

He smiled. “Probably because she’s grown up with coaches.”

Her mother coached Ziemer for years on girls club teams. More recently, when Ziemer played on boys teams, her club coach was her father.

The Ziemers live about 50 miles north of San Francisco in Santa Rosa, California. Taylor starred for Montgomery High School and twice was honored as the state’s Gatorade player of the year. She had multiple college options, most of them much closer to her home, but she fell in love with UVA on her visit to Charlottesville.

“I had never seen anything like it, being from Northern California,” Ziemer recalled. “It was just so beautiful, and there was so much history. The soccer program is amazing, and Steve’s an amazing coach.”

During her visit, she attended a game at Klöckner Stadium, where UVA’s performance against Florida State further impressed her.

“It was just so entertaining to watch,” Ziemer said. “I watched Virginia play, and I knew that there’s where I would fit and that’s where I could help the most.”

With an opportunity to graduate from high school early and enroll at the University in January 2016, Ziemer chose to do so.

“I wanted to do it because I didn’t think that I was getting as much as I could out of my club soccer,” she said. “I was playing with the boys and just trying to find environments where I would be pushed. And I just thought, `Why not go in [early]?’ ”

At UVA, she moved into a room in the Kellogg House residence hall, started classes and began training with her new team. The transition proved difficult for Ziemer, who was essentially a one-player recruiting class.

Nearly 3,000 miles from home, she felt a sense of isolation at times, though her teammates and coaches were always “so welcoming,” Ziemer said.

“I definitely had hard times. But there was no point where I thought, `This isn’t the place for me.’ I just had to get to a comfort level and find my friends and get in my niche to be comfortable. And that happened.”

Swanson said: “I think when we look back at her four or five years from now, we would say that was very helpful to have her in there, to learn the ropes that first semester and have a spring season where she could fully acclimate. Because I think there was going to be a transition in there someplace. It was better to do it in the offseason than do it in the season. I give Taylor a lot of credit, because there were some growing pains.”

Now, Ziemer said, “I consider myself lucky, because I have two classes. I consider the third-years and second-years both my classes.”

Ziemer, who hopes to be admitted to UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, is living this year with teammates Anna Sumpter, Betsy Brandon and Brianna Westrup. The Cavaliers opened preseason practice Wednesday, and they’ll head Friday to Glen Arbor, Michigan, for their annual training camp on the shores of Lake Michigan.

From a team that finished 15-5-2 last season after losing in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16, Virginia lost several key players, including Shaffer, a first-team All-American. She led the `Hoos with 33 points (13 goals, seven assists).

At the offensive end, the Cavaliers’ returning players include Ziemer, Latsko, Brandon (10 points), Meghan McCool (seven points) and Alissa Gorzak (six points). Also back is midfielder Courtney Petersen, who missed last season while playing for the United States in the U20 World Cup. Petersen made the ACC’s all-freshman team in 2015.

Swanson, who has guided the `Hoos to the NCAA tournament in each of his 17 seasons as their head coach, expects Ziemer to take on a larger role this fall.

“I think Taylor’s very capable of scoring,” Swanson said, “but we’ve always been a team that has multiple scorers, and I think that will always be the case. I think what Taylor brings to our team that maybe isn’t shown as much on the stat sheet is her ability to handle the ball in the attacking end when there’s a lot more pressure on her.

“She can make good decisions, and she can set people up. She’s somebody that you can play off of and continue the possession even when it’s in the attacking end, and that leads to chances, whether she gets on the end of it or whether it’s others.”

Ziemer has played for the U18 national team, and she hopes to earn a spot on the U.S. squad that will compete next year in the U20 Women’s World Cup in France.

For now, though, she’s focused on her second season at UVA, for which she feels well-prepared. “I think I had a pretty good [2016 season]” Ziemer said, ” but I kind of came into this last spring with a newfound confidence. And I think that really helps me.”

Though her statistics reflect a strong freshman season, “I didn’t perform as well as I think I could have at times,” Ziemer said. “And so coming into this fall I’m really confident and excited. Obviously, Shaff left a pretty big hole, but I think a lot of people have been stepping up, and I feel really confident, in us and in myself, to be able to take on more.

“I’ve been playing more how I would like to play, and not as scared. This spring I was able to turn and take more chances and play more confidently and do more.”

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