By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
As a young soccer and basketball player at Mainland Regional, Taylor Dalzell was never really sure how much she was actually contributing to her teams’ success. In soccer, she played defense, and while she was a stout defender, there really aren’t many stats or metrics to measure how good a fullback is. Similarly, in basketball, Dalzell was a defensive-minded guard who often would pass up an open shot to continue to work the ball inside to standout forwards such as Gabby Boggs, Aly Nazarok and Kylee Watson.
“I always had to think, ‘am I really contributing?’ But as I got older I knew my role. In the beginning of my career I would always wonder if (not compiling stats) was going to affect my playing time, but by senior year I knew my role. Especially in basketball, we all knew our roles — Madi (Hafetz) and Claudia (Mairone) were shooters, Kylee does her thing. And in soccer, Christine (Napoli) and Alivia (Handson) were really good leaders, and Kailyn (Gallagher) and Mary (McLaughlin) always pushed us,” said Taylor, who is beginning her college academic career this month at Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “My career was 100 percent better than I thought it would be. That ending was so perfect. It was really awesome. Freshman year I came in and had leadership roles in soccer and basketball, and so did other girls, like Alivia and Christine in soccer. We knew what we wanted to do and we were all in. In basketball, I had a big role as a freshman, and I think I contributed pretty well. I never wanted to overstep the seniors.”

Taylor Dalzell capped an impressive senior year by leading the Mainland girls basketball team to 28 wins and the first state championship in program history. (Glory Days photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


There were certain characteristics that Dalzell displayed throughout her career that not only made her Glory Days’ choice for Female Senior of the Year, but also helped her team win a lot of games — and some big-time championships. Last fall, Dalzell was a key defender on a Mainland soccer team that beat Ocean City in the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, and in the winter she was perhaps the most valuable player on the Mustangs’ state championship-winning basketball team — which is saying a lot, considering the team’s focal point is Watson, a University of Oregon recruit and one of the best players in the country. But Dalzell was valuable in a different way. She played tremendous defense, usually on the other team’s best guard, was maybe the best rebounding guard in the Cape-Atlantic League, and seemingly always had a knack for coming up with a key assist or making the right decision at a crucial time in the game.
“Taylor is amazing. She’s been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember, and she was an insanely vital part of this team because of the heart she brought to the court. We’re really going to miss her next year, just for the small things that she did that might not come up on the stat sheet, or things people who don’t watch basketball all the time might not notice. The hustle plays, the energy she brought on defense, the ability to lead a team and bring a team together — it was an honor to play with her and I’m so happy to be able to call her a friend and win a championship with her,” said Watson, a rising senior. “She’s awesome. She’s definitely not one to take any credit, but she deserves as much credit as anybody for us winning a state championship and all the success she had the past four years in soccer and basketball at Mainland. She’s someone you could always count on, both on and off the court, and the effort and heart she gave every game was something that can’t be matched. That’s something we’ll really miss next year.”
Mainland, which had lost the previous two years to Ocean City in the South Jersey Group 3 basketball finals, went on a magical postseason run this winter, capturing the school’s first state championship in girls basketball. Watson was injured in the opening round but the Stangs got past Camden Tech, then they beat Absegami, Winslow and Ocean City to win the South Jersey title before taking down Westhampton Tech in the Group 3 semifinals. In the state championship game, a 42-35 win over Chatham at Toms River North High School, Dalzell finished with 11 rebounds, second only to Watson’s 13. The run finally came to an end with a loss to Manchester in the Tournament of Champions.
“I felt really strong on the court senior year. This was my favorite year because everything just came together. Coach (Scott) Betson always says that we want to keep playing until The Custard Hut (in Somers Point) opens, and after we made it past that point — actually, after the Ocean City game, we knew we had this. We had two more games to get through, but we knew nothing was stopping us after that,” Dalzell said. “It’s just so weird to say (that we’re state champions). It was like a movie. At that game at Deptford (in the Group 3 semifinals), there was foul trouble and Kaitlin (Boggs) was stepping up, Camryn (Dirkes) was doing her thing, Maddie was making shots. That was just a whole team effort. And then at the state championship game, Camryn was at the foul line (late in the game) and when she made her shots, Kylee and I looked at each other and we were just like, ‘we’ve got this.’ I still watch that game video on Twitter. Sometimes I forget what it was like in the moment and I have to watch the video again, because it was such a blur and so surreal.”
With Dalzell leading the way, Mainland’s soccer and basketball teams combined to go 46-8-1 this season, and more often than not, Dalzell came up with big plays in all those wins.
“She’s fun to be around. We have plenty of inside jokes. I would mess with her, call her the most underrated player in the CAL, try to gas her up and she hates all that stuff. She shies away from the media, but she’s awesome to be around,” Watson said. “She would always come up with a huge offensive or defensive rebound. She would sneak in there when teams were looking to box out a taller girl. I remember when I was in eighth grade and watching Mainland play against Ocean City, and she had the pass for the assist to Gabby on a buzzer beater. I was so excited for her as a freshman playing in a big varsity game, but that’s in her blood. She’s clutch.”

Dalzell also was a fierce defender in soccer who helped lead the Mustangs to victory in the inaugural CAL Tournament last fall. (Glory Days photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


Dalzell’s competitive sports career is now behind her, as she shifts her focus to college and hopefully one day becoming a speech therapist, but she’ll always have some amazing moments to remember from her high school athletic career. And, chances are, after all she did for two programs, the Mainland faithful will remember her for years to come.
“Coming into high school, I was always all about sports, but then I realized I have to find out what I like to do, another passion in life. I always wanted to go into education. Sports take up a lot of time, but I also had to focus on school and what I wanted to do. Now, I’m going to school for speech therapy,” she said. “(My career) was unforgettable. I miss it, but I’m excited for what I’m doing down here (in Florida). It went by so quickly. I keep telling Camryn to soak in every moment of it because it goes by so fast. This year was the perfect ending to the story, especially because I did it all with my best friends.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays