Girls track: Niwot’s Taylor James nabs athlete of the year honors

Stanford commit completes career with 10 state titles

NIWOT, CO - MAY 10: Niwot High School senior runner Taylor James poses for a portrait on Monday, May 10, 2021, in Niwot, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
NIWOT, CO – MAY 10: Niwot High School senior runner Taylor James poses for a portrait on Monday, May 10, 2021, in Niwot, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

Niwot track and field is known for producing superstars in the sport, but few have had the range and talent that Taylor James has had.

In her three seasons with the Cougars — her junior year was stolen by COVID-19 — Taylor has excelled in every aspect of the running sport. Last month, she completed her high school career with 10 state titles in the individual events and relays and looks to do more damage once she gets to Stanford next year.

Running and athletics, in general, have always been a passion for the 2021 girls track athlete of the year, even if it came at the expense of her father’s health. She was a bit of a quick learner, even at age 5.

Niwot's Taylor James closes out another ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Niwot’s Taylor James closes out another relay win during the third day of the Colorado Track and Field State Championships at Jeffco Stadium on June 26, 2021.

“I remember once when we had one of those plastic balls and we were teaching her how to kick a ball and just rolling it to her,” her father Randy recalled. “I rolled it to her three or four times and she was trying to kick it back to me, and then she just came over, picked it up, walked about 10 feet away, stepped it off like it was a field goal kick and it bent right around my hands and gave me a bloody nose. It just nailed it. It was like, ‘All right, next lesson. She’s got that one down.’”

When Taylor was a child, she never walked. A self-described “bouncy kid,” Taylor remembers running, skipping or jumping around wherever she went. That transitioned into soccer.

Though not the best at dribbling or passing, Taylor always knew how to get ahead of the ball. When a teammate would send the ball downfield to her, she sprinted for the fences and somehow ended up in front of the ball.

Her parents, recognizing her speed early on, steered her toward the more running-centric sports like cross country and track, and she’s never looked back since.

“I’m a very go with the flow type of person in terms of my running,” Taylor said. “It’s like I don’t really set any specific goals, I just try to see where I’m at and build enough confidence to see if I can accomplish things. I haven’t really thought about it. Honestly, I’d be really proud of myself if I always just ran hard and had fun.”

That laid-back, fun-first attitude paid dividends for the recent Niwot graduate, as she sets her sights on one of the best track programs in the nation. Recently, she stole the show at the Class 4A state track competition by winning the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash and playing a role in gold-standard finishes for the girls 400-meter relay and 800-meter relay teams.

Taylor believes that head coach Maurice Henriques has played an undeniable role in elevating her skill level, as his program engenders a gritty, team-first mentality. That tight-knit team culture is something she’ll carry forward into the next stage of her running career as she holds the Cougars close to her heart, always.

“I couldn’t be where I am without the support of these people,” Taylor said. “I often compare it to my time during quarantine, where I couldn’t run with them, and it was some of the worst running I’ve ever done. I wasn’t motivated. I was pretty depressed, actually. I had a really tough time getting through that on my own but as soon as I was back with the coaches and the team, I immediately remembered how much I loved the sport. We push each other to be the best versions of ourselves, both in athletics and as teammates, team leaders.”

Taylor’s family can’t wait to see what she can accomplish at the collegiate level and, maybe, beyond.

“One thing I want to say about Taylor is how proud we are of her,” Randy said. “She has never been as competitive in spirit as you might think. She never really wanted to beat anyone, she just wanted to go play. She is a great teammate and has competed well and that’s what we’re more proud of. She runs faster with a baton in her hand when it’s for the other three teammates than she does when it’s a solo event because that’s all she’s about.”