Sophomore Day: Hudson, Taboas to be celebrated by Polk State Softball prior to clash with HCC

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

WINTER HAVEN – The sophomore class for Polk State Softball may be small but it’s largely accomplished.

For a young team under first-year Head Coach Kevin Lewis, Jillian Hudson and Jaylenne Taboas’ presence has been invaluable. Hudson is one of three captains on the team while Taboas, the team’s starting catcher, handles a pitching staff of exclusively freshmen.

The two will be celebrated prior to Saturday’s doubleheader against Hillsborough Community College as the Eagles celebrate their annual Sophomore Day. Polk State picked up its first two Citrus Conference wins against the Hawks with a doubleheader sweep on March 15.

“Coach Lewis has made a big impact on me,” Taboas said. “I’ve had moments where I was down. Him coming in brought me up and really helped my confidence.”

A transfer from St. Petersburg College, Taboas’ presence has been most felt this season behind the plate and in the dugout. Known as “J.J.” by her teammates and coaches, she’s started 22 of Polk State’s 42 games this season.

“My favorite thing about J.J. is her attitude,” Lewis said. “She’s always uplifting, she’s always smiling, she’s always cheering on her teammates. She’s one of those players you want on your bench or on the field just for the positive attitude she brings.”

Hudson is one of three returning players from the 2023 season, but the only one to see action over the last two years. Savannah Jacobs and Chelsi Rae’ Hebert were redshirted to nurse injuries. During fall practices, Hudson was named one of three team captains.

“This program made me a better player by becoming more of a leader,” Hudson said. “I found myself and learned how to play the game for my teammates and myself. I found my passion and intensity for the game all over again. With so many new players and a new coach, I felt I had to step up.”

After hitting just .146 as a freshman in 2023, Hudson has emerged as the top run producer for Polk State as a sophomore. This season, Hudson is hitting .282 and leads the team with 10 doubles, three home runs, and 30 RBIs.

“Her leadership on the field was one of the biggest things that stood out to me at first,” Lewis said of Hudson. “She’s been through a lot, but she’s stayed positive. She’s a hard worker and is always asking questions to make herself better as she figures out the next place she wants to go in life.”

Hudson has shown versatility throughout her career, playing first and third base. She’s been as dependable as they come, starting all 42 games for Polk State so far.

“I’ve developed and grown so much mentally,” Hudson reflected. “I’ve become a better teammate and a better leader.”

Over her year at Polk State, Taboas has also seen growth in herself. After playing in just 11 games at St. Petersburg, Taboas has been a mainstay in the lineup for the Eagles. Against 10th-ranked College of Central Florida on April 4, Taboas had a career day at the plate, going 2-for-3.

“I felt at home here,” she noted. “Having a sisterhood and a family was a big confidence boost here. I fit in really well with this team.”

Although the season hasn’t gone as Polk State hoped, Hudson and Taboas are proud of the role they’ve played with a young team and their personal growth. Lewis said they have helped lay the foundation for a culture of success moving forward.

“I’ve matured a lot as a player and a student,” Taboas noted. “I have a lot more confidence in myself. I’m more focused on my schooling. I have developed a greater want to be here.”

Just 8-34 for the season and 2-30 in Citrus Conference play, Polk State will look to end a 16-game losing streak against Hillsborough. Saturday’s game will take place at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.

“I’ll remember my teammates and all the fun times we had – the bus rides, playing hard together, playing intense, and having fun,” Hudson concluded. “This is something so special about (this team). I’ve never seen any group bond so quickly. We really are a family.”