From college athlete to commentator-meets-podcaster-meets-producer, sport has opened many doors for Taylor. The best part? She is only just getting started.
Taylor Capannolo is a former NCAA Division 1 college athlete, current football producer at 3AW and one half of the Halftime Huddle, a podcast for “gutsy women in Australia calling sport their own”. She was the expert commentator for this year’s Australian Open Wildcard playoffs and has a lot to say when it comes to what female athletes deserve from broadcasters and the Australian public alike.
She also assured me, before our chat began, that she really wasn’t very interesting. An hour and a half later, I learnt this was decidedly untrue.
“I grew up playing sport from a very young age. I was that kid that played every single sport through school, so I did cross country, I did swimming, I did diving, athletics, you name it, I did every sport there was. It was really good because I got to trial-and-error what I liked and what I didn’t like, but when I got to the age of ten I actually got selected for the Milo 10s, which is, in Tennis Australia, the best ten-year-olds for tennis in the state.”
After going from playing tennis in a weekly group lesson as a bit of fun, to actively maintaining an Australian ranking, it is safe to say tennis characterised most of Taylor’s adolescence. Between the constant car trips and interstate competitions, what had been an after-school hobby quickly turned into a passion that informed where she is today.
“From the age of about fifteen is when I heard about the [US] college pathway, so that’s when I was really like, ‘look, I want to eventually play college. That’s my goal for tennis.’ I was never good enough to take it to the next level and play professionally, but I really wanted to do the college pathway because one, it’s great experience, and two, it’s something I can work towards.”
If you google Taylor (and she will forgive me for suggesting this), you will find her “first and only Youtube video”, a fact she laughed about while explaining it to me. The video features a whole one minute and twelve seconds of live-action tennis footage that ultimately determined whether her dreams of college tennis would become a reality.
“My highest ranking for the whole of Australia was just under 90, which was great, however I still struggled to get a full scholarship at an NCAA Division 1 school because it is so competitive, like the coaches are looking worldwide, they come to visit you in the December showdown, they watch you play, you get thousands of views on Youtube.”
Showreels are commonplace for young athletes seeking scholarships to colleges in the United States, a pathway that is a stepping-stone for many tennis players hoping to one day make pro. Although Taylor often downplays her success athletically, her freshman scholarship to Louisiana Tech was a huge achievement; one that demanded enormous dedication and sacrifice.
“I must say, it was hard. It was a wake-up call in terms of the ability I needed to be at, just because over there, if you play sport at a college, it’s a job. They take it so seriously, and you need to win, that’s the mentality. If you don’t win, you’re normally punished. My coach was really nice, he was awesome, but there are stories out there where if you lost you didn’t get fed, you got extra trainings, punished physically, all that kind of stuff. I was really lucky to be at the school I was at, but in saying so, there is a lot of pressure. You have to win.
We were playing three to four hours a day, we’d do a weights training session, a fitness training session, a private lesson with the coach, then we’d have group training. On top of that we had classes, which was great, I could do it all and that was fine, but what I struggled with was the pressure of winning. My personality meant that I wanted it so much that I’d put myself under all of this pressure, I’d focus so much on winning that I wouldn’t focus on the process, so I’d lose!”.
She laughs at the end of this sentence, but it is clear that Taylor continues to channel that same tenacity from her sporting days into her budding career in sports media now. After returning from the U.S., she transferred to RMIT and continued her major of journalism, finishing her final two years of study while also working full-time. She then hosted community broadcaster Syn Radio’s ‘The Sports Desk’ and worked as the communications manager for Tennis Australia at the last three Australian Opens, assisting the likes of Serena Williams and Sam Stosur. Oh yeah, and she commentated this year’s Wild Card Playoffs. All very modest endeavours.
When I ask Taylor more about the experience of commentating for the very first time, her face shifts into a huge smile.
“From the first day to the final day, if you compare my commentating, you can see there was a massive difference. The coolest thing was I had played with most of the ladies, I grew up with Ellen Perez, Storm Sanders, it was awesome seeing them compete and playing so well, it was cool. My dream is to be a sports commentator however it was tough. It was on the AO Radio channel, thousands of people watch it, that pressure sometimes really got to me because I didn’t want to speak badly about (the players) just because one, I knew them, and two, I know how hard it is playing in that situation.”
She paused at this point, laughing once more.
“Obviously not the wild card playoffs, but at the level below.”
Throughout our entire chat, one theme was consistent; despite all of her achievements, Taylor really does not take herself too seriously. She joked with me, laughing about how she is known for her ability to talk and I would have to “shut her up’ (I didn’t), and reminiscing on how some of her favourite parts of tennis were all the people she met along the way.
It could not be clearer that while she doesn’t deem herself ‘very interesting’, she certainly sees other people that way. The way she speaks about her peers, about tennis commentators she admires, about female athletes and how the tides are turning in the Australian sports landscape, it couldn’t be more fitting that Taylor jumped at the opportunity to start a women’s sport podcast with Halftime Huddle co-host Sarah Burt.
“Sarah actually contacted me over Instagram and was like, ‘hey, you’ve reached out to my friend [Melbourne Vixen and Australian Diamond] Jo Weston for an interview, I’ve always wanted to start a podcast focussing on women in sport just because I think they deserve a platform and opportunity to tell their stories, I’m moving back to Melbourne, does this interest you?’ and when I got the message I was like, ‘yes, of course!’”.
The Halftime Huddle remains an ongoing project, covering sports from AFLW to aerial skiing. Regular episodes showcasing amazing female athletes and their stories – exactly what Taylor thinks we need to see more of.
“If you walk up to someone on the street and give them the name of a female Australian athlete, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to tell you who they were. If you gave them a name of a male athlete, they’d probably be able to tell you their life story.”
When I ask Taylor what makes her so passionate about women’s sport, I see a seriousness that isn’t always visible in her light-hearted, bubbly exterior. She answers without missing a beat.
“The fight. They are fighting constantly to be where they are, I feel like sometimes it’s the easier path for men to get where they are, just because it’s been carved out for them in generations that have passed. Whereas women, using AFLW as an example, they are making it their own, they are carving it out themselves. Before the 2017 season, they played and then they had to stop, there was no next level for them. I’m just in awe of all of these female athletes who are just fighting to be where they are because I think it’s a continuous battle to play female sport in this day and age. But also, they are now role models for the next generation of girls out there and also young boys that look up to them, and I just think that’s beautiful.”
By the end of our chat, I reflected on Taylor’s initial claim that she wasn’t that interesting. At this point, we had talked well beyond my last question, with Taylor innocuously taking on the role of the interviewer; asking for my opinions on the topics we were speaking about and how I feel about women’s sport, excitedly responding to my points with examples from various sporting matches and tweets from female athletes.
It sounds cliché but I couldn’t shake the age-old classic of “interesting people are interested”. Everything about Taylor, both personally and professionally, embodies this statement, and even if she hadn’t been selected in the Milo 10s all those years ago, I have a feeling she would still have a lot to say.