AN INTERVIEW WITH MASON’S STARTING SENIOR
By Natalie Heavren, Staff Writer
For senior Women’s Basketball starter Tayler Dodson, community service isn’t just a team requirement, it’s become a passion. Dodson, who quietly climbed to fifteenth in assists and twenty-second in rebounds in the Mason record books, has started consistently since her freshman year, and though she has never been one to fill up the stat sheet, her importance to this team since she came to Mason, both on and off the court, cannot be questioned.
Fourth Estate: When were you first exposed to basketball?
Tayler Dodson: My dad’s been a coach, he was a coach while I was being born, so I was just kind of in the gym. They have baby pictures of me rolling around on the gym with a ball so I’ve been around it since I could pretty much start crawling.
IVE: When did you start playing?
TD: I started playing at like six in rec leagues, and then more seriously in AAU when I was probably like 10 or 11.
IVE: Who, in basketball, did you look up to growing up? Why?
TD: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were my two favorite players. So I have Magic Johnson’s number, which I just loved him growing up. I love assists, like passing, and he was so good at that, so I ended up just taking his number. And I’ve kept that, thankfully, all the way through, I’ve never had to change my number. And then Larry Bird was just another one that a lot of people said I played like, so then I ended up loving his game because he just played really hard. So I tried to take those qualities out of people.
IVE: What was it like having your dad coach your high school team?
TD: It was good. My last two years were really good, my first two were really hard. It’s never easy going from other people coaching you to your dad coaching you because it just seems like things are so much more personal. So eventually we figured it out, if we lost it was a note that we didn’t talk about the loss for 24 hours because we were both too involved in the game to talk about the loss. So we just didn’t speak about it for 24 hours and then we would be good. And we would talk about it afterwards, but once it got to my senior year we were pretty much smooth sailing
IVE: What was the most valuable thing you learned and were able to take with you from playing in high school?
TD: The team aspect of playing. My high school was really small so it’s so different coming to a college team where people are from everywhere. We were really small, our school was really small. You went to the same elementary, middle, and high school with the same class. There was very rarely anybody new that got thrown in, so you knew everybody, your team stayed the same all three years. You may have people that are younger that came in, but starting in middle school you played with basically the same 12 people. So we were really close and I think that helped me when I got to college because you learn to not to take things personally, because it was like a small family in high school. So I think that was the best thing for me.
IVE: What drew you to Mason?
The coaching staff. I loved the coaching staff, they were awesome when I came on my visit. So that was one of my main things, and then the environment, the area. Obviously being in Fairfax and then close to DC, there was so much that you could do.
TD: How do you feel you’ve contributed to the Mason basketball program so far?
Well I’ve been here for a long time, so and it’s kind of been transition years so I think that I’ve just contributed a will to work, a will to stay committed to our team. It’s so easy when you’re in a transition program and we finally have a winning so we’re finally where we want to be, but we weren’t there obviously when I first got there. So I think I just gave that commitment to the Mason team to stay, to push through, that like things are going to get better, we’re going to turn it around, and then to see results now obviously has been great.
IVE: How did it feel to be the recipient of the team’s Community Service Award?
TD: I love community service, that’s one of my favorite things that I do. I’ve gotten the award the past two years, and I’ve had the opportunity to do so many cool things though the community service, which to me has been so rewarding. We did the Friends of Jaclyn, and adopted a little girl Mia Grace, and then I got to do an Operation Gratitude Drive across campus and send a bunch of things to troops overseas. I think we ended up collecting 700 items. The one I did this year was Pennies for Patients, so we did that again, three sports teams, and we ended up collecting $700 dollars to send to Pennies for Patients, which for a startup was so good.
IVE: When did you first get involved in community service?
TD: Not really until college, in high school I probably did do some, but it just didn’t seem like community service. When I got here Coach M puts us into teams, and I just ended up on Team Bless is what we call it, and that’s our community service team. Then I was like, “oh I like doing this, and this is fun”.
IVE: Is it something you’d like to continue after you graduate?
TD: I think it’s something I definitely will. I want to be a teacher, my major is teaching, and then special education. And with special ed there’s so many opportunities to do community service that present itself, or that you could start in a school district, and things like that. So I think it’s going to be pretty easy for me to continue it.
IVE: What is most important thing you’ve learned from the coaches here at Mason?
TD: I think the most important thing I’ve learned is probably just how to be a leader, and how to control emotions. You come in as a freshman and your head can go everywhere. I worked and worked with the coaching staff and did leadership meetings, and just different talks with Coach T, a lot of one-on-one meetings with her. And then they just taught how to pick the little things from the big things, and how to lead a team through whatever is going on off the court, and things like that, which is something that I think I can take on to any job.
IVE: What’s the best advice you’ve received at any level of your basketball career?
TD: Probably, just next play. It’s a saying that’s said a lot, but it takes a lot of practice to actually get that. So like next play, next possession, just to basically not carry over a bad shot to your next play. If you keep thinking about stuff in the past, you’re never going to improve, and I think that was something big, you can so easily get caught up in I just missed three shots but if you keep thinking about that you’re probably going to miss four, five, six too.
IVE: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how have you overcome it?
TD: I think the biggest challenge for me was being here my freshman year, just because I was finally with a coach that wasn’t my dad, and my high school team we lost two games from my junior year to my senior year, so we lost one each year. And then we had two back-to-back State Championships. I was coming from a very established, winning high school program, and then I came here and I think we won like six games. And that was so hard for me, because I knew coming in that it was going to be difficult, we were going to have turn things around. Coach M was like we’re working on it, we’re going to get the program where it needs to be, but it’s going to take some time. But then after actually playing in it for a year and being in that situation, it was tough because it’s a different environment, and I think just sticking through it and staying. I had a lot of meetings with the coaches again, instead of transferring and trying to go somewhere else I worked through it and stayed. And I think that’s been the biggest challenge, just getting to the point we’re at now.
IVE: Do you think it was worth it, staying?
TD: Yeah, it was definitely worth it, I tell people that all the time, like “if you’re ever thinking about transferring or things seem bad, I’ve made it four years and things are great now, this is exactly what was supposed to happen.
IVE: What do you hope to contribute to the team during the rest of this season?
TD: I’ve been trying to work really hard on being the best teammate I can be. So I’ve been trying to speak to all 15 players every day. And not just a “hi”, like an actual, legit conversation, and I think that’s really helped them grow in their trust in me, because coming down the stretch it can be hard if you’re not playing the minutes you want to be playing, or you’re in a role you don’t necessarily want to be in, but if one of your captains is embracing and telling you how important your role is and talking to you everyday, that makes it easier for everybody. So I think down the stretch I’m just trying to do whatever is needed. If it’s picking people up, making the right pass, I think I’m just trying to focus on doing whatever is needed each day to keep the team successful, more so than what I can do.
IVE: What’re your hopes for the team the rest of the season?
TD: 20 wins is our first goal, which should happen hopefully this week, that’s the first step, because a 20 win season hasn’t happened at Mason in a long time. The next thing, the next hope is obviously a conference championship, we really want, and then a postseason bid, which is what we’re playing for right now basically it’s a postseason bid so even if we don’t get the conference championship, we want to be in a postseason tournament.
IVE: What would you like to do after you graduate?
TD: I want to teach, I want to teach the severely disabled, I’m in the master’s program here now, and I’m not sure what age I want to teach yet. My dad teaches the severely disabled at a high school and I’ve been around the high school population, but I think I might look more towards early intervention, so the really young kids.
IVE: What are your goals for after you graduate?
TD: I just want to finish my master’s, that’s my first goal. I want to finish my undergrad, and then I have to finish my master’s in that next year. And then hopefully get a teaching job, I think somewhere in Virginia, I’m not sure yet, if I want to go home, but I might stay around this area for a while.
IVE: What has Tayler been able to contribute to the team this season?
Coach Nyla Milleson: Tayler’s such a natural leader, and she’s really been one of our leaders since day one she stepped on campus even as a freshman. I think every year she’s really set the tone in terms of work ethic and particularly extra work. She does a lot of individual workouts with coaches, a lot of shooting on her own, so I think she really has been instrumental in you know changing our culture to that daily grind work ethic type of attitude that we need. And then I think the last thing is that she just brings so many intangibles to the floor everyday and to game night. You know you look at the stats and she’s not going to just stuff every line with huge numbers but she’s just so fundamentally sound in so many areas. She can guard one through five, she has a high IQ, she just does a lot of the small things that don’t show up in a stats sheet.
IVE: What has surprised you most about her this season?
CM: I don’t know if I’d really say surprised but her assists numbers are really up compared to her turnover numbers, and I think that’s really been noticeable in our offense. She has continued to be a real positive leader for us, and I think the addition of Natalie has helped. I think they really compliment each other. I think the last thing is just she has just really matured into a very good senior captain that just wants to do whatever it takes to win in her senior year.
IVE: What kind of leadership has she been able to provide this season?
CM: She’s so steady, you know, she comes in everyday ready to work, and I mentioned before the culture change that we’ve really been looking to change over the last few years. I think she brings that hard work, hard nose mentality to the floor and has just been much more consistent than she has been in the years past.
IVE: What kind of teammate has she been this season?
CM: She just continues to mature and help mentor the young players, you know she’s been there in the really, really tough times when maybe some other player’s haven’t had to endure some of the things. So I think she brings a really good perspective of just stay positive, and sometimes things aren’t always said you know in the heat of the moment that may be said in a tone, but you can’t take it personal. So I think just her experience has really helped her grow and mature into a very good leader and a very good teammate.
IVE: What has she been able to contribute off the court?
CM: I kind of sound like a broken record. The importance of being good teammates to each other, the importance of taking care of things and girls sometimes carry over and get their feelings hurt of something that might be said off the floor, to try to let everybody understand that you got to deal with those head on and we step on the floor and you got to leave it off the floor. I think again the experience she’s had over the last three years, those things that maybe haven’t been quite so positive, you know make sure that they don’t happen again.
IVE: What has her role been in terms of community service with the team?
CM: Without a doubt Tayler Dodson has led us in our community service over the last four years. That’s really a passion of hers, particularly the special needs population, or she was in charge of getting little Mia Grace into our Mason family. She’s just really spearheaded and taken charge of community service. Not only does she enjoy it but it’s a passion and she feels that it’s an important piece of Mason Women’s Basketball.
IVE: How has her work with community service impacted the rest of the team?
CM: Anytime you have a leader that feels as strongly about those sort of things as TK, and you see your leader doing it, it really trickles down to everybody else. There’s days where we go do community service that we might have gotten home late from a game or we’re trying to get ready for a game or whatever but that’s just part of what we do. TK has been very much a leader in that area, and makes everybody understand that being part of the Women’s Basketball program means that we’re also going to be out in the community and give back maybe to those less fortunate or those that go out and be visible in that community.
Tayler Dodson will play in her last regular season game in a Mason uniform on Saturday Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. when the Patriots take on La Salle. The Men’s team will play their second to last home game at 6 p.m.
More information about Friends of Jaclyn and Mason can be found online here.
Photos by Ibrahim Ahmad