Monday, August 3, 2015

Lauren Chamberlain Steps Into Justin's World, Part 1

If ever a player didn't need an introduction, Lauren Chamberlain would be that individual. The all-time NCAA home run queen, Norman's favorite daughter, and the first name countless young softball players list when they think of their role model are just a few of the numerous titles, descriptions, and monikers Chamberlain carries.

Even prior to hitting her 91st career home run this past season to set a new all-time record, Chamberlain's career was one of legend. A national champion in 2013; a three-time all-American, including following an injury-shortened junior season; and the spark plug for an always-deadly Sooners lineup, #91 only cemented what was already a sure thing.

As players active in college today look on Stacey Nuveman, Jessica Mendoza, and Caitlin Lowe as their offensive role models, Chamberlain is at the top of the short list of names that will be listed in the same roles by players that will see college ball inside the decade.

Chamberlain's popularity is high with kids, parents, press, even her opponents. The question many must ask is how could you not root for a young woman who is not only exceptionally talented, but exudes a love for the game and makes it "catchy" to everyone around her... one who knows she's a role model for a young generation and embraces it instead of running from it.

In the first of a two-part series featuring my interview with Lauren, you'll find her give her thoughts on a number of topics, including:

  • Remaining overall consistent in the batter's box in the midst of a record chase
  • The 2013 championship season
  • Being a power hitter batting leadoff
  • Coming back from injuries in her junior year

Justin’s World:
Let’s start at the beginning… tell me how you got started playing softball and when you really knew it was something you would excel at.
Lauren Chamberlain: I started playing softball when I was eight years old. The first year I picked up a ball I made the A-All Star team, so from there my dad knew I had pretty good hand-eye coordination. I would say when I got on the Firecrackers travel team my sophomore year of high school, I really saw my game grow and personal play excel.

Justin’s World: Talk to me about the championship season in 2013… as that season wore on and the Sooners kept winning game after game, what was it like to be a part of that team, a part of that incredible success y’all had?
Chamberlain: That was hands down the best team I’ve ever been a part of. Top to bottom, our lineup was stacked and so fun to be in. I got to witness greatness on a daily basis and not many people can say that they’ve played alongside the players I did, and all at once, for that matter.

Justin’s World: Lost amongst the home run press seems to be the fact that you are just a stellar hitter overall. You hit over .450 in your sophomore season and batted .395 for your career… that’s consistency in the batter’s box, period, not just the often home-run-or-bust mentality of many sluggers. What do you do and how do you keep yourself level at the plate and reach base so consistently?
Chamberlain: I pride myself on consistency and my average. I’ve learned that the more I think about hitting the big home run, the less it tends to happen. If I focus on having good at-bats and put myself in good situations to be productive, the home runs will come.

Justin’s World: It’s rather rare to see a hitter with your power bat batting leadoff, but it worked and worked well for Coach Gasso. Talk to me about that and adding “tablesetter” to your many roles at the plate.
Chamberlain: I have always loved leading off, and the fact that Coach Gasso and I were on the same page about it was great. She had a lot of faith in me to create a presence that was hard for a pitcher to deal with. The hitters that came behind me made it ten times better too, because the pitcher wasn’t going to get a break any time soon.

Justin’s World: In your junior year, you had multiple injuries, if memory serves, and missed a good bit of time during the season. Tell me about working through those injuries and putting yourself in a position to come back even stronger in your senior year.
Chamberlain: My injuries proved to be the toughest mental challenge I ever had. Before them, I had never missed more than a game or two due to a serious injury. My team really helped me during that season of my life, because they gave me something to pour into mentally. Sometimes when you physically can’t play the game, it mentally becomes a lot clearer. I learned a lot that season just observing and trying to teach and mentor some of my teammates. My rehab was extremely important with my trainer Brittani Beaver, and helped me physically perform the end of my junior year and on. 

Justin’s World: What has been the hardest adjustment you’ve had to make in moving from college to the pros?

Chamberlain: The hardest adjustment would have to be the strike zone and the quality of pitching. I have learned to hit some pitches that I don’t necessarily think are strikes. It really makes you appreciate how tight the college zone is! I also get to face somebody’s ace every single day. There are no days off for a hitter in the league, and in turn for a pitcher. The quality of players is incredible.

Justin’s World: This question I always ask, and in your case you have many to choose from, but what is your favorite memory or moment from your career, to this point?
Chamberlain: My favorite moment was winning the National Championship in 2013. We had worked so hard to get there the year before and fell short. 2013 was such a rewarding season for our team, and there is no better feeling than being the last team standing in June. Pretty sure I blacked out after the last out. But I do remember being on the bottom of the dog pile. Still recovering.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the second and final part of my interview with Lauren, where we'll talk about the pressure leading up to home run #91; her time with Team USA; her career as a pro softball player; and her future plans.

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