Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lacey Waldrop Steps Into Justin's World

Lacey Waldrop needs no introduction. At the mention of her name, many softball fans will recall her stellar career at Florida State; her Player of the Year trophy earned in 2014; her first-round selection in the NPF draft in 2015; and her one season thus-far with the Chicago Bandits.

Waldrop's career contains too many accolades, awards, honors, and stellar performances to mention them all, so let's just hit some of the high notes:

A highly-decorated athlete coming out of high school in Virginia, Waldrop landed at FSU and was immediately stellar. As the "new kid on the block", she posted a 19-5 record with a 1.33 ERA. She stymied opponents to the tune of a .179 batting average and just twenty-one extra-base hits in more than 162 innings.

An all-conference second-team selection that year, she did herself one better in her sophomore campaign, earning not only ACC first-team honors, but also the honors of being named an all-American. She collected 259 strikeouts in more than two hundred nineteen innings pitched, good enough for an average of 1.18 Ks per inning.

She continued her meteoric rise in 2014 by not only earning all-American honors but by being named one of the top three finalists and the eventual winner of the National Player of the Year trophy. She beat out stiff competition for the award and took it home to her trophy case following a season where she led the nation in wins with thirty-eight and recorded a stellar 1.13 ERA, the lowest mark of her career.

When she wrapped up her career as a 'Nole in 2015, Waldrop held a lot of titles: National Player of the Year; three-time all-American; two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year; and four-time all-conference selection. She never posted an ERA over 1.53 and sent 917 batters down KO'ed.

Following her stellar collegiate career, Waldrop was the #3 overall selection in the 2015 NPF Draft, selected by the Chicago Bandits as their top selection. She joined their pitching staff and, while her numbers didn't quite match up to what she was used to in college, she contributed well to the squad's championship run.

I asked Lacey a laundry list of questions and she was candid and willing to share her thoughts on several topics. Due to length, we've split the interview into two pieces and will bring you Part 2 tomorrow.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball?
Lacey Waldrop: My very first memories of anything related to softball are of my mom, my dad and I hitting the ball around in our front yard. I had a little black wooden bat that I used and my parents would toss me the ball when we had free time on the weekends. From there, I think we all decided that I wanted to play for a team, so I started with slow pitch for about 2 years before I began playing fastpitch when I was 10. Just as a funny side note, I still remember my very first day of practice with the Enon CYSA Rec League 10u fastpitch team because I tried to pretend like I was sleeping so that my dad wouldn’t take me to practice! At the time, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to play; I was just really nervous to start playing with a team of girls and coaches that I didn’t know at all. From that exact team, I ended up meeting my best friend and her dad, Kelly Robinette, who would end up coaching me for 6 years in travel ball after that!

Justin’s World: Why FSU? What made being a ‘Nole so attractive to you?
Lacey Waldrop: I still remember my very first time ever stepping on the FSU campus, I was completely blown away by the facilities. I’d never seen a field so nice, let alone an amazing locker room, lounge and all of the other amenities provided to us at the Softball/Soccer complex. I thought the campus was beautiful with its brick buildings, mossy oaks and fountains.  All of the aesthetic things I think initially attracted me to the school, but once I met the coaches and started to understand the tradition behind FSU and what it meant to be a Seminole, then there was no turning back. There are so many legendary athletes that have not only played at FSU but made an impact on the community through their academics and community service, and I wanted to be a part of continuing to grow that legacy. I wanted to walk the same path that some of the great people and players before me had paved and I wanted to leave my own special mark as well. The family atmosphere that our coaches establish in our program was what allowed me to be able to accomplish those dreams that I wanted to pursue at FSU. I could tell that they cared not only about what we did on the field, but also that we grew and became better people in the process.

Justin’s World: Tell me about winning the Player of the Year award and your feelings and thoughts when you found out you were in the Top 3, then when you were named the winner.
Lacey Waldrop: I called my mom right after I found out I was named a finalist and I could barely get out the words to tell her about it before I started tearing up. I was so happy and just in such disbelief; I could barely grasp what was happening. I actually think I may have started crying while I was waiting for my mom to pick up the phone! Growing up, I had always dreamt of playing softball in college and playing in the World Series, but it never even crossed my mind that I could ever be considered for the National Player of the Year. They announced the winner at the banquet before the WCWS, and everyone asked me if I was nervous, but I didn’t really feel any nerves until they started announcing each finalist and their season statistics; then my heart started racing and it all became real. When they were about to announce who won, I’m pretty sure they actually said “and the winner from the University of…”  before they said Florida State University, so I thought for that split second that it wasn’t me and I think my heart sank just a little bit, but then all of a sudden I heard Florida State University and my name was being called, and then I was engulfed in hugs from all of my teammates and they were cheering and it was honestly the very best part of the whole experience. Just knowing how excited my team was and how much they cared and were invested in what we had all worked towards for the whole season was the best feeling I could have asked for. Without each and every one of my teammates, our coaches and staff, I wouldn’t have gotten any awards to begin with, and being able to share that special moment with them was what made the experience unforgettable.

Justin’s World: After winning that award, did you prepare any differently for the next season? Did you feel like there was added pressure to be even better? How did you handle that?
Lacey Waldrop: I definitely put a lot of added pressure on myself, not even just for the next season, but as soon as I won. I felt that after being named the Player of the Year, I had to prove that I was actually worthy of the title because I think, in my mind, I still didn’t really feel like I deserved it. Ultimately, I think that was my downfall in the WCWS: I put so much pressure on myself to perform at such a high level that I tightened up and didn’t have as much fun on the mound as I did in all of the games that led me up to that point in the season. I wanted us to win so badly that I let the pressure cloud my mind instead of enjoying the experience and playing free. My senior season, I let the pressure get to me even more.  I’ve always had the fear of staying the same or not improving from one season to the next, so I’ve always worked harder and harder to make sure that I was continuously getting better, and my senior year I was the same way. I worked even harder in the fall than I felt I ever had on the field and in the weight room and the team did the same, but once the spring came around, I had a couple games that weren’t necessarily bad games, but I just didn’t feel like my usual self on the mound. I didn’t really understand what or why certain things were happening for a little while, but long story short I had somewhat developed the “yips” in pitching. It would come and go, some games I would be totally fine and others I would throw the ball 5 feet over my catcher’s head multiple times during the game or even during an inning. My coaches worked with me every day to try and figure out how to help me get over this “speed bump”, but for the longest time I was compounding the problem by questioning why it was happening and putting even more pressure on myself to get over it because I felt like I was letting everyone down every time I threw a ball to the backstop. I think all together I put so much pressure on myself the previous year after winning the award, that I eventually let disappointment in my performance overwhelm me. Eventually, I just realized that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and focus on accepting and fixing my yips problem, whatever it took, and I’m thankful that my coaches were willing to do the same. I felt that I finally got over the yips in the final few innings of game 3 against Tennessee in Super Regionals, I felt like myself again on the mound, and despite losing the game, I was thankful to have finished my career not feeling completely affected by the pressure I put on myself to succeed.

Justin’s World: Talk to me about the postseason experience, specifically playing in the Women’s College World Series and the atmosphere there in Oklahoma City.
Lacey Waldrop: Postseason is definitely the most exciting month of the year, and we were able to host regionals my junior and senior year and Super Regionals my junior year. Playing at home in regionals and super regionals was something so special because we got a great fan turnout. Everyone was invested in every single out, and with moments so important, it was so calming to have your home crowd cheering you on. The atmosphere in OKC is like none other. First you realize that a dream you’ve had since you were a kid is actually coming true, and that is the most amazing part; then you see the field that you’ve been watching your idols play on for years, and then all of a sudden, it’s time for you to play on it. In some of the biggest games, the stands are packed and it’s exciting to just look around and see how many people have truly become invested in softball over the years. These fans aren’t just families from each team, but also young softball players that have been looking forward to watching these games all year, and to play in front of that kind of atmosphere is something so special to experience. I was lucky enough in my freshman and sophomore seasons to go to OKC with our head coach, Lonni Alameda, and work camps associated with the WCWS. When we weren’t working the camps, we got to watch the games, so I’ve been able to see the atmosphere from both sides of the field. On the field, it’s amazing to see the big crowds, but I think once the game starts, you get into a zone that almost drowns out the sounds of the crowd.

Justin’s World: Having played on the same pitching staff with Jessica Burroughs, tell me how you think she will fare as the FSU staff ace in 2016.
Lacey Waldrop: I could not be more excited for Jess and what I know she’s going to accomplish this year. To see her come in as a freshman and work her tail off to transform into such a competitive and driven pitcher has been fun to be a part of. There are not many people in the country that can move the ball like she does while also throwing with such high velocity. We always had a great time in the bullpen catching each other’s spins, and I remember plenty of times where it stung my hand a little bit, but I was always excited to see how much her ball moved. Last year during the post season was really when I saw Jess grow into the pitcher that will take the team so far in this next season, and really, she was the work horse during post season last year. When I was struggling, she really stepped up and became a leader for our team, and I think the team really responded to that because we had always believed in her and knew how great she could be. During that span of the post season, I think she started to trust herself and all of the hard work she’s put in over the years. There’s a sense of calm in knowing that, when you graduate and leave a program, it will be in a good spot for years to come, and with Jess on the mound, I’m confident that the team can go just as far and even farther than we did in my four years.

Lacey (far right) and her teammates
on the March Madness-themed trip
Justin’s World: Do you have a favorite road trip story?
Lacey Waldrop: Actually, our coaches made a point for most of our road trips to be themed travel in my last two years, so we’ve had some pretty great times just goofing around with our wardrobe. I think my favorite of those trips was our March Madness themed travel my senior year. We actually brought a basketball with us and we got people in the Atlanta airport to shoot free throws (our arms were the basket).

Justin’s World: Who was the toughest opponent you have faced, either an individual or team?
Lacey Waldrop: This is a tough one. Throughout my four years, the talent level just seemed to grow and grow. Within the ACC, I think Notre Dame always gave us a run for our money; their lineup was stacked all the way through, so as a pitcher, you never really got a break. Also Virginia Tech was always a tough opponent; it didn’t seem to matter what our individual records were at the time, they were always a tough series. As far as out of conference goes, I think Michigan was the toughest opponent we faced in my 4 years. Again, their lineup is stacked with lefty and righty power hitters all the way through, and they had and still have a ton of talented athletes, so those were matchups I always looked forward to. 

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