Thursday, October 17, 2013

Francesca Enea Steps Into Justin's World

Besides being one of the best-known players I've ever interviewed, this may also be one of the highest-anticipated interviews I've conducted in a while.

If you're a softball fan that hasn't been living under a rock for the past five-seven years, chances are you've heard of Francesca Enea. While at Florida, she was one of the best players in the country, and even set the Gators career home-run mark that stood until Enea's former teammate Megan  Bush broke it in 2011.

After being drafted by the USSSA Pride, Francesca spent four seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league. Following the Pride's 2013 championship, she quietly announced her retirement, avoiding much fanfare that she richly deserved.

I believe she's still giving lessons in the Central area of the state of Florida, so be sure to check out her website in you're in the area and are looking for a top-notch coach! Also, you'll want to be sure to follow her on Twitter @frangator10

Q: Your older sister played (and was an All-American) at OU; did her success there help motivate you to greater things, as well?  
To some extent, yes. I always wanted to be just like my older sister, until about the age of 15 and I wanted to be better than her. She was such a natural at softball and growing up being her biggest fan was a blessing. You could not have asked for a better role model. By the time I got to college she became my biggest fan! It is safe to say without my older sister I would not be the softball player I am today.

Q: You played a couple of different times with an ACL injury, including a full season in 2009. How were you able to battle the injury bug and fight through the pain to stay on the field?
The first time I tore my ACL was my freshmen year in 2007. I totally let it affect me as a player and person. I was forced to accept a new role and I wasn’t prepared to handle that type of adversity. So in 2009 when I reinjured it, I was NOT going to let it beat me. I didn’t even want it to be an issue. I made sure to get treatment three times a day and was smart about making sure I didn’t over work myself or push it. I wanted to play and succeed for my team so much more than the little pain in my knee.

Q: Describe, if you can, just the WCWS experience – the atmosphere, the environment…
Goodness! Megan Willis once described it perfectly, you feel like a superstar for the first time. You walk onto the field and you have thousands of people cheering, you have cameras in your face, little girls make signs with your name on it, you’re shooting commercials for ESPN! It is just incredible. Especially because the minute the first pitch is thrown the environment is no longer a factor, only winning. You literally play with all of your heart and 1000% effort goes into each moment. By the end of the tournament you are both physically and emotionally drained!

Q: I know you got a lot of them, but is there one award or accolade that really stands out to you or perhaps is a “favorite”?
My favorite accolade was an award called the Work of Heart. I volunteered a lot while being a student-athlete and the Gainesville community thought I did the best out of the student population! That was very special to me because I was more so trying to use the platform that the University of Florida gave me to try and make a difference in anyone’s life.

Q: Prior to your career, what kind of legacy did you hope to leave on the Gator program? Do you think you accomplished that goal?
I never thought about leaving any type of legacy, I was just trying to survive each day! But looking back now, I hope I left a memory that UF softball will always be a national championship contender, we play with class, we respect every aspect of the game, and we play for the girls on the team and our coaches.

Q: You’re a Cali girl. How & why did you choose Florida?
I was ready for a new adventure! Plus Coach Walton had just become the head coach for a school I had never heard of (that’s right, I know, terrible!) and he was the Assistant Coach at Oklahoma University where my sister played. She always spoke very highly of him and I knew that I needed to play college ball with him as my coach.

Q: What does it mean to you to even-now represent and be part of the Gator family?
Indescribable. People always joke about how us Gator fans are obnoxious about school spirit. I agree. We are obnoxious, because we love the University of Florida so much! I love talking about the atmosphere in the Swamp, the Mr. Two Bits cheer, perfecting the chomp, showing off all my Orange and Blue clothes, and yelling out “Go Gators”. I am getting goose bumps just typing this out right now! I am very proud to be a Gator and I feel honored that I can be branded a Gator for life.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time as a Gator?
Goodness, another tough question! I have a ton. The long lasting friendships I created, Gator football games, taking the softball program to it’s first ever College World Series, making it to the National championship game. But if I had to choose just one…my favorite memory is when my husband proposed to me on the field before my senior day.

Q: To you, what are the biggest differences between the college & pro games?
The biggest difference is having earned the title “pro”. We might not get the full lap of luxury that professional male athletes do but it is a start. Professionally, the talent is just unreal. You never know how a game will go because everyone is a fighter and are used to winning from college. Any person on each team can get that big hit or make that big pitch that will be the difference in the game.  

Q: How did you hear about the NPF league and decide you’d like to play pro ball?
I heard about the NPF from my older sister who played with the Chicago Bandits. She had such a positive experience and encouraged me to try and play after college.

Q: Was playing pro ball something you had always dreamed of doing?
I do not think I dreamed about it because I was unaware that there was a professional league. I did dream about one day being able to represent my country and play at the Olympics, but unfortunately by the time I graduated softball was voted out of the Olympics.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Relax! I put so much pressure on myself to “be the best” that I would forget to even breathe. Sometimes as players we get so wrapped up about the little things that we cannot control. We forget about how much fun the game is and why we first picked up a glove and bat.

Q: What would you say is the proudest moment from your career?
My proudest moment was back in 2008 when we made it to the Women’s College World Series. The team that we had was incredibly talented, humble, and we knew how to win as a team, not just with one person. You hear coaches preach a lot about winning as a team, but it’s easier said than done. That whole season was such a journey for all 17 of us and it has forever bonded us together.

Q: Say you were stranded on a deserted island and could have three items along with you. Boats and phones are off-limits. What would you take along?
Let’s assume that there is enough food, running water, a house over looking the ocean, a comfortable bed with blankets, and all other items I would need to survive. I would then bring a radio so I can listen to music while staying updated on the world, my dog Parker so he can keep me company, plus he is a good scavenger, last but not least, my retainer J.

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