TRAVERSE CITY — Lisa Taylor is no stranger to accolades, but that doesn’t mean she’s always comfortable receiving them. The Traverse City Central girls cross country coach said she’s trying to get better at that.
“I would say that I fall a little bit into the category of ‘impostor syndrome,’” Taylor said.
Those across the state don’t feel that way about the veteran high school coach. That is why she was named the Michigan High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the year for 2021. Taylor will be honored Nov. 7 for her accomplishments, which make up a fairly long list.
Taylor, a high school cross country and track state champion as well as an NCAA Division I All-American, is a member of both the TC Central and Alma High School halls of fame. She has been nominated for the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year 13 times and won the award in 2008. She was also the MITCA Division I Regional Coach of the Year in 2018.
In May 2020, the Zonta Club of Traverse City, which is a local and international organization that empowers women worldwide through service and advocacy, recognized Taylor as an outstanding woman leader in the community. She has served as the executive director for the Traverse City Track Club since 2017 and has helped organize races throughout the area, including the Farmland 5K, the North American VASA and the National Cherry Festival’s Festival of Races.
The honor was a surprise to Taylor, who said she does not even know who nominated her.
“These awards always seem to come at the right time,” she said. “It’s just the shot of energy you need to keep going and going and going for a long time.”
Outside of her individual recognition, her teams have had great success. Taylor led the Trojans to a state championship in 2008 and has 23 top 10 finishes at the state finals, including five runners-up in 2004, 2010, 2014, 2019 and 2020. Taylor and TC Central are going for their 27th consecutive appearance in the state finals this year.
“I just enjoy every single day that I’m with the kids,” she said. “I look at every season as a new chapter and new journey in the whole process of being a coach.”
Former TC Central track and field coach John Lober won the MHSCA Coach of the Year award in 2014. Taylor said he has encouraged her to embrace her individual accolades.
“The awards part is really cool, but I don’t need that part. I didn’t strive for an award, but I’ve always been told that I need to toot my own horn a little bit more,” she said. “I’ve been working on that through this.”
Bryan Burns, who coaches the TC Central boys cross country team, said Taylor’s accomplishments are “basically unmatched” statewide. He said Taylor’s consistency in excellence is what stands out most — and that applies to life outside of competition.
“What she does with the girls, I watch her. She’s impacting those kids, not just to become better distance runners but better humans, too,” Burns said. “She’s building awesome young ladies into awesome young adults.”
Taylor has been the girls cross country head coach at TC Central since 1994. Burns said she’s built a program that values great athletic performance but also what it means to have friendships and camaraderie that go beyond the four years of high school.
“The only way you’re going to have a successful team in terms of wins and losses is to build that sense of community where everyone feels like part of the team,” Burns said. “That’s not an easy thing to do, but I see her on a daily basis bringing kids together.”
Taylor has been in the game for quite a while. She said coaching and cross country are her passion. She knows eventually she’ll have to step away, but that moment is not even on the horizon yet.
“The time that I think I’m finished learning everything I need to know as a coach is the time I need to stop. I haven’t reached that point,” Taylor said. “There’s something new to learn every year. I don’t feel like I see an end in sight in the near future.”