Williamson (center) accepts the MSHSL Class 2A third-place trophy with her fellow Edina captains in 2015. Photo courtesy of Taylor Williamson.
It feels like Taylor Williamson has lived a thousand lives in hockey.
Williamson was one of the first girls to participate in the Edina Hockey Association’s Termite (now 8U) program. In high school, she was a three-time Associated Press All-State selection, the 2015 Ms. Hockey Award winner, and led the Hornets to a third-place finish at the 2015 Class 2A state tournament. She spent four years playing for the University of Minnesota, twice being named to the All-Big Ten Academic Team while double-majoring in marketing and human resources. She’s represented the United States at multiple International Ice Hockey Federation tournaments as a member of the National Women’s Under-18 team.
Now Williamson moves behind the Wayzata girls high school bench, where she and her considerable resume will share co-head coaching duties with her father, Dean.
“It was one of those things where, coming out of college, I’m expecting to graduate in the spring (and) take the summer off for the first time in my life, enjoy that free time,” Williamson said last Friday over coffees in Edina. “It just kinda popped up that the Wayzata job had opened, and I remember my dad calling me and saying ‘Hey T, I heard that there’s this head coaching job open, and I just think that you would be awesome at it.’”
Williamson didn’t say yes right away.
“I hung up,” Williamson said. “Called him back twenty minutes later and was like, ‘let’s do it.’”
Williamson’s willingness to take the job came with a caveat—Dean would need to join his daughter behind the bench.
“The only way I’ll do it though is if you’re by my side,” William said she told her father. “I want to learn from him.”
Former Wayzata head coach Jess Scott moved on from the program to become Director of Hockey Operations for the University of Minnesota women’s team.
For Dean, it’s a bit of a homecoming. He coached the Wayzata boys hockey team from 1992-1995. Dean’s first head coaching job, when like Taylor he was recently out of college, was at Park Center, where boys’ hockey has long since folded.
Taylor described her dad’s tenure with the Pirates as some of the best times of his coaching career.
“The way he was able to invest in the kids, the impact that it had not on only their lives but his life as well, he was like, ‘by far my favorite year,’” Taylor said.
In addition to multiple coaching stops, Dean is also considered one of the fathers of Edina girls hockey, helping push the association to add girls at the younger levels. Dean and his father Murray, an All-American at Minnesota and U.S. Olympic coach of the 1968 and 1972 men’s hockey teams, offer a strong coaching bloodline for Taylor to build not only maintain but enhance.
Williamson totaled 23 goals and 50 points in her four seasons with the Golden Gophers. Photo courtesy of Taylor Williams.
Taylor and her father will inherit a program rich in talent, with leading scorers Gretchen Branton and Sloane Matthews returning along with talented sophomore goaltender Annika Lavender. Branton and Matthews are verbally committed to Clarkson, which has won three NCAA Division I titles in the last six seasons.
“It was obviously attractive to see the Wayzata program has been a powerhouse,” Williamson said. “I’d love to be a part of a program (where) they expect to be the best. They want to win.”
Taylor hopes to let her own competitive nature bleed into the team’s upcoming workouts and practices but added that her crop of Trojans might not need the extra shot of energy.
“The one thing I’ll say about this Wayzata team, this is a group of girls that love the game of hockey,” Williamson said. “They love to compete, and that’s the fun part. “We love each other, but when it comes to practice or small area games, they go to town. It’s go time.”
While describing her team’s practice ferocity, Williamson is demonstratively slamming her fist into her open palm, offering a small sign of her own reservoir of measured tenacity.
Williamson’s dogged resilience was on full display during her time in Dinkytown. While a Golden Gopher, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs.
That’s as much space as I’m willing to designate to Williamson’s diagnosis because while it is a significant piece in her fabric of personhood, that’s not what this story is about.
Despite Wayzata being her first job as a head coach, Williamson is aware that her quiet intensity and focus must be balanced with the seemingly forgotten notion of fun.
“My dad says that the only way to girls are going to grow the game of hockey is having them wanting to come to the rink the next day, excited to come and play,” Williamson said, adding that her philosophy will trickle down to the youth levels. “I’ve been talking with all the youth coaches already, and saying that I want (them) to be pouring into these younger girls the same values they can expect when they’re with me at the high school level.”
Among those values include the acknowledgment that hockey can open doors in the future for her players
“(I’m) coming in with the understanding that hockey’s become an avenue for people to experience things they’d never be able to experience without hockey,” Williamson said. “I got to travel the world for hockey. I got a free education from playing hockey. I got the best friends, that’ll be lifelong friends, from playing hockey,” Williamson continued.
Williamson’s enthusiasm for the game matches her passion for contributing to the sport, the same way her father and her grandfather have done.
“What am I going to be known for?” Taylor wonders aloud. “What’s my impact on the game going to be as a coach?”
“I had an interesting and not-what-I-expected story for being a player with my health, so it’s kind of like, alright, God. Let’s see where you lead me and what gap do you want me to fill.”
Sloane Matthews is one of Wayzata's leading returning scorers. The Clarkson verbal commit scored 22 goals last year for the Trojans.