Taylor McCorkle isn't your average female track athlete.
McCorkle, a junior at Oakland Catholic, sometimes practices with the boys team at Central Catholic, which provides her with more of a challenge.
She's an excellent student. Actually, an exceptional student. She sports a 4.72 grade point average and has prestigious schools such as Princeton and MIT in hot pursuit.
When McCorkle steps on the track, few girls in Western Pennsylvania can rival her standout speed. In fact, George Rudolph, in his 39th season as Oakland Catholic's head coach (including seasons at Sacred Heart, Oakland's predecessor), calls McCorkle one of the best athletes he has coached.
Mostly everything in McCorkle's life is pointing upward, but she tirelessly is trying to drop one thing as low as she can -- her times.
McCorkle, a Hill District resident, appears to be running down hill this spring. She owns two of the top reported times in Class AAA in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and has the look of a sprinter who will strongly contend for WPIAL titles in both events May 16 at Baldwin.
"My expectations are for her to be there in the end and win the gold in the 100 and 200. That will be a tough job because there are a lot of good sprinters out there," Rudolph said.
McCorkle seems up to the task. As a sophomore, McCorkle placed third in the 100 at WPIALs with a time of 12.55 and took seventh in the 200 with a mark of 26.10. This season, her times have plummeted. She's hit personal records of 12.34 in the 100 and 25.64 in the 200. Her 100 time is the third best in WPIAL Class AAA this season and her 200 time is second.
"I am trying to get my times down so I can win WPIALs," McCorkle said. "I qualified for states in the 100 [last year], but I want to for the 200, too."
McCorkle has been terrific in dual meets and golden in the lone invitational the team has participated in. McCorkle swept the 100 and 200 April 6 at the South Hills Classic at Baldwin.
To help McCorkle push herself more in practice, she occasionally strolls over to a Central Catholic practice -- the school's share the same facility -- to test her talents against the boys. Central Catholic coach Maurice Lucas is also McCorkle's coach for her club team, Midas Track Club.
"I guess we decided I would just go over to have more competition," McCorkle said. "They're faster than me, so it's pushed me to go faster."
McCorkle may earn high marks on the track, but they might not compare to what she accomplishes in the classroom. Her GPA has sailed far beyond just being "very good."
McCorkle said Princeton is showing heavy interest in her for track and basketball. She was a starting guard/forward this past season for an Oakland Catholic team that made the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. McCorkle is thinking about majoring in biomedical engineering.
Rudolph has mentored plenty of standout athletes in his nearly four decades of coaching at Oakland Catholic/Sacred Heart and he labels McCorkle as being one of the best. He said McCorkle is on par with 2006 graduate Charelise Davis, a WPIAL champion sprinter who went on to run at Michigan State.
"I put [McCorkle] right there with Charelise. My hope is for her to improve and get better than Charelise," Rudolph said.
McCorkle said one thing that has made her stronger this season is an increased confidence in her abilities. Her starts are smoother, as well.
"Last year I was more of a head case," she said. "I would psyche myself out when I ran and now I have more motivation, I guess."
McCorkle also dabbles in the 400 and 1,600 here and there, and Rudolph believes his tremendous pupil pretty much has no limits athletically.
"I think if I trained her in the jumps, she'd be one of the best in the WPIAL," Rudolph said. "No matter where I put her, I think she would be one of the best. She can almost do anything."