DICKINSON — Four-year-old Taya Hopfauf sat in the wet, shady grass dreaming of the day when she would play college or semi-pro softball like older girls do. She imagined herself batting with perfect form, hitting any pitch – even the trickiest ones in unexpected ways that curve and dip towards the ground. She thought about hitting a ball so high and so far that no one would ever see it again. She imagined walking around the bases to see her father in the stands cheering along with a roaring crowd of spectators.

A little girl’s not-so-typical dream became an obsession, and with countless hours of practice, perseverance and patience, she found herself a decade and a half later, the proud owner of a personal trophy. which would be the envy of most schools.

This week, Hopfauf is playing in the North Dakota State Championship in Jamestown, ND. This will be his last season in prep sports, but not his last batting in uniform. Soon, her childhood goal will come true as she dons the historic green and white of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Hopfauf is ending his high school softball career as the 2022 WDA Senior Athlete of the Year and as a member of the WDA Championship team that defeated Bismarck High 4-2.

“UND is a perfect fit,” Hopfauf said. “It’s always been a goal for me. At a young age, I set my sights on playing at a senior college level…once I made that decision, it was full steam ahead.

Hopfauf says she started her recruiting process at a very young age. Knowing after her 8th grade season, where she played varsity, that varsity softball was something she wholeheartedly wanted to pursue. She began the arduous journey of hard work, time, training and sacrifice needed to be the best.

Taya was drafted to play softball at UND the next year and was offered a scholarship for her outstanding performance on the field at a tournament in Fargo.

Photo courtesy / Taya Hopfauf

Born and raised in Dickinson, Hopfauf threw the ball with her brothers in the yard as soon as she was able to walk. Her two older brothers both played baseball growing up, and even as a young child she knew she would play baseball too one day.

Over the years, Hopfauf has worked with many coaches who have helped her become a dangerously competitive player with an immeasurable will to win. She says her very first catcher coach, Claire Shoffit, was one of the biggest softball influences she had in her life. Although his impacts are at the top of his list, his father remains his greatest support and motivation.

“My dad is always there for me,” Hopfauf said. “Whenever I ask to go get better, hit or catch, he never says no. He is always there.

Hopfauf’s 2022 regular season stats speak volumes about his ability to perform on the court. With a .688 batting average and 75 hits, she was key in getting runs on the board for the Midgets in their repeat foray into the state championship season. His speed and focus earned him 22 doubles, 7 triples, 9 home runs and 63 RBIs.

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Taya says she likes the team aspect of softball. She is grateful to have played with a great group of girls for most of her life.

Photo courtesy / Taya Hopfauf

Hopfauf says she enjoys being a catcher because it allows her to watch everything that happens in the game and take charge of the infield when it matters most. One of his favorite parts of softball is helping his team decide their next best shot and tracking the ball.

“As a catcher, I learned that softball is 100 percent team sport all the time,” Hopfauf said. “If you make a mistake, you have eight other girls on this pitch who are going to support you. If you have a bad stick, there are eight other girls in the lineup who will come in and do it to prove to you that you are a team… It’s not individual.

For Hopfauf, winning the state title last year against Bismarck High in a 10-0 shutout was one of his most electrifying athletic accomplishments.

“It was definitely something every little girl who plays softball dreams of…” she said. “We came in and really put a point of explanation on the season.”

Her desire to pursue her athletic career after high school became a realistic option during a tournament in Fargo her sophomore year, where she was approached and subsequently recruited to play for the UND.

“Without even knowing it, my future coach was actually the referee of the game,” Hopfauf said. “You never know who’s going to be watching, so you always have to look your best and be a good teammate.”

Hopfauf was recently voted to the All-Conference team and is vying for the state championship this week as the Midgets attempt a feat never before achieved in Dickinson softball — back-to-back state championships.

As of June 2, the Midgets had completed one of three games in the state championship tournament, beating Valley City 11–1. On June 3, they will qualify for the Class A semi-final against Jamestown.

In the fall, Hopfauf will begin his softball journey to the next level. She plans to pursue studies in science and communication disorders before completing a master’s degree in speech therapy.

As she chases her final two high school matches for the state championship, she says she and her team will settle for nothing less than gold — but acknowledges that no matter the end result, she already has so accomplished with his unstoppable team, lifelong friendships and a personal dream come true.

“Softball is such a mental game and it challenged me to be mentally strong through the ups and downs,” Hopfauf said. “It taught me how to be a good leader when I’m not having as much success as I wanted on the pitch, and it made me a more balanced person.