Thursday, August 27, 2015

Allyson Fournier Steps Into Justin's World

In the "names you may not know, but absolutely should" category, we have Allyson Fournier. A four-year starting pitcher for Tufts University, the school that has won three consecutive National titles, Fournier's dominance in the circle has had no small part in that trio of championships.
Photo: Ryan Breiding

Without a doubt one of the greatest athletes in Division 3 history, Fournier's statistics and trophy case speak for themselves. 

During Fournier's four seasons at Tufts, the school posted a 111-5 record and won three back-to-back-to-back national championships from 2013-2015. Fournier gathered the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player award twice, as well as first-team All-American honors in all four years, and the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year trophy in all four seasons.

Just a look at her senior season's statistics show the sheer dominance that Fournier had over opposing hitters. An ERA of 0.20; four hundred twenty-two (422) strikeouts; and a perfect 35-0 record are just a few of the numbers that make your eyeballs want to pop out of your head. 

She threw five no-hitters, including two perfect games, and had a scoreless innings streak of more than 105 innings. For perspective's sake, that's fifteen consecutive full-length, seven-inning games. In a row. Without allowing a single run.

While Division 3 may be seen as Division 1's younger, less-exciting sibling, any time you were able to see a Tufts game with Fournier in the circle over the last four years, you were ready for some seriously-impressive pitching. Already holding my vote as the greatest D3 pitcher of all-time, she can hold her own in the conversation of the very greatest hurler of all-time at any level of the college game.

After her career at Tufts ended, Fournier earned a ten-day tryout with the Pennsylvania Rebellion. Upon her first appearance in a game for the team, she became the first non-D1 alumni to officially play for an NPF team. The highers-up liked what they saw, as she stayed on the roster and pitched until the end of the season.

On the very beginnings of her career… I got started playing softball when I was around age 7, although I had played tee ball with the boys before that.  I played in the recreational leagues in my town of South Windsor, Connecticut where my dad was my coach.  He was the one who encouraged me to start pitching as well, around age 9.  I began to fall in love with softball during the summer All-Stars program, where my team was able to win our District three years in a row. 

On how she ended up at Tufts… Coming out of high school, my main priority was finding a school that would provide me with a good education.  I also wanted to stay relatively close to home and continue my softball career where I would be competitive.  This led me to consider many schools, but my top three choices were Tufts University, Williams College, and Cornell University.  I ultimately chose Tufts because it was close to Boston, had a medium size (around 5,000 undergrads), and allowed me to pursue a degree in engineering.  I had also attended the Tufts softball camp where I was able to meet the team, and felt it was a place that I would be comfortable. 

On differences in her preparation in the midst of her scoreless streak… I believe that the key to keeping a streak is to focus on the process rather than the outcome.  I was privileged to be a part of a very special team this season, which was able to go undefeated.  After each game, we would discuss what improvements could be made and always strive to be better.  My approach on the mound was to strike out every batter that came to the plate, one pitch at a time.  I knew that if I threw my best pitch in every situation, I would be successful, so that was the goal.  When I found out that there had been a scoreless streak of over 100 innings I was actually very surprised.  It is also a testament to the quality of the defense behind me, and the experienced coaching that went into our season. 

On her status as one of the game’s greats… If you asked me this question over the phone, I would have started laughing out loud. I definitely don't consider myself one of the game's all-time greats, but I am extremely humbled to be asked that question.  My journey in softball has literally been a dream come true, and I hope that my experience paves the way for many other girls to accomplish their dreams.  I was very lucky to have the best support system both at home and at school, including my immediate and extended family, my teammates, coaches, and the community.  I credit much of my success to the people around me.  I also believe that a key factor to my success is my mental toughness, my focus when out on the mound.  I truly love the competitive feel of going head-to-head with a batter.  To get back to the question, my whole college experience seems unreal and I hope it sets the stage for the continued success of the Tufts softball program.

On what needs to change in the discrepancy of coverage of lower divisions…  This is a tough question, because I realize that lower divisions will likely never get as much coverage or support as Division I.  However, I hope that people will continue to gain respect for the athletes that compete in other divisions, because we play with just as much heart and just as much dedication.  Having many friends that have gone both ways, I can see the benefits of all divisions, depending on the individual.  Although I graduated with a hefty student loan payment due to the absence of athletic scholarships, Tufts allowed me to grow as a person and reach my highest goals, so I will be forever thankful that I chose to be a Jumbo.  As for future goals, I would like to see TV coverage of our championship events and an increased respect among the softball community.  (I also would have liked to play in OKC but that standard is changing, just a little too late for me).  People have been nothing but supportive when they hear about my team's accomplishments, and I am grateful that athletes at all divisions have the opportunity to make a difference in their communities. 

On her role model in the circle… Growing up, I always looked up to Jennie Finch because of her incredible respect for the game and desire to give back.  Throughout college, I have been a huge fan of watching the DI College World Series so my inspirations are usually drawn from there.  Now I am lucky enough to be on the same team as several great pitchers that I definitely look up to!

On her career’s favorite moment… My favorite moment in softball was winning Tufts' first softball national championship in 2013.  It was the first time that my team and I got to experience truly being at the top of our sport, and there is no better feeling.  It is a day I will always remember, especially because I got to share it with my best friends/teammates! 

On keeping her focus in the middle of a perfect game… In the midst of a perfect game, the key is to focus so intently on each batter that you pretty much "forget" that you are even throwing a perfect game.  I am no expert at this, because for every perfect game that I have, I have two games that were blown on one pitch or one batter.  It's extremely difficult to accomplish, which is why it is so respected in softball and baseball.  Perfect games also require solid defense, which I was lucky enough to have at Tufts.

On her tryout with the Rebellion… My tryout with the Rebellion came about very quickly, as I found out it was happening about 12 hours before I hopped on a plane to Pittsburgh.  My college coach had been in touch and helped me secure the opportunity.  At first it was a whirlwind of being around talented athletes and having no idea how I would be able to compete, but now I have become more comfortable.  To be honest, playing professional softball was never really on my radar, since it was unheard of for an athlete to be drafted from division III.  I'm incredibly humbled to have been able to make this jump, and hope it inspires future players to take a chance even when it seems crazy. 

On the added pressure of a short-term contract… I didn't necessarily feel more pressure on the field because of the short contract, because my goal is to do my best under any circumstances.  As expected, it did take some adjustment to get used to little things such as playing on turf, new catchers, a different type of ball, and facing a very different type of hitter.  I have so much to learn from the players in this league and a lot of work to do if I want to be successful.  However, no matter where my career in the NPF takes me I'm just grateful to get to experience it all.

On her plans for the future… I was a chemical engineering major in college, so my plans for the future involve starting a career in engineering.  I hope to move back to Boston in the fall and begin a new journey, somewhat apart from softball.  However, I will definitely stay involved in the game and likely teach pitching lessons.  I'm not sure whether my playing career will continue after this summer, and coaching is a possibility for the future.  Softball has grown to be such an integral part of my life that I'm sure I will always stay involved in some form. 

On what three things she’d take to a deserted island… I would take goggles for swimming underwater, a water filter, and a sleeping bag, assuming that other people or pets are not allowed.

1 comment:

  1. Already holding my vote as the greatest D3 pitcher of all-time, she can hold her own in the conversation of the very greatest hurler of all-time at any level of the college game.
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