Thursday, February 18, 2016

Brittany Lastrapes Steps Into Justin's World

In my years of watching, enjoying, and covering the sport of softball, there are few instances that stand out individually in my mind. Those that I do vividly remember, though, all have a unique and special aspect to them.

The University of Arizona's Brittany Lastrapes' endurance during the 2010 Women's College World Series is one of these memories. Stricken with mononucleosis ("mono") for the final weeks of the regular season and throughout the postseason, she battled the illness while still taking the field nearly every inning and stepping into the batter's box every time her number came around on the lineup card. It was a remarkable show of endurance and strength.

Those same high-level qualities were evident throughout her stellar four-year career in Tucson. A three-time first-team all-American and four times an all-conference first teamer, few trophy cases are utterly filled more than that of Lastrapes.

The line of legendary players to come through the Wildcats program is lengthy and legendary, and Lastrapes earned her place on that list. Taking over for all-time great Caitlin Lowe is no easy feat, but Lastrapes did it and did it well.

Following her own playing career, Lastrapes embarked on a coaching path that has now landed her at Bowling Green under first-year head coach Sarah Willis.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball? When did you know that this was “your game” and something you could excel at?
Brittany Lastrapes: I started playing softball at the age of 5.  My older sister, Dominique, was already playing when I started and as she excelled in the game, I continued to play.  She was always my role model and my life was spent chasing after her.  She is still the best softball player I know!

Justin’s World: What led you to Arizona as the place you wanted to go to school and play ball?
Brittany Lastrapes: I took a trip to visit Arizona in March of my junior year [in high school].  I knew it was a great place, but it was my first of three trips, so I wasn’t in a position to make any decisions at that time.  After the Colorado Sparkler tournament in July of my junior year, a member of the Arizona coaching staff met with me and my father at our hotel.  They explained to me their situation and that they really wanted me to be a Wildcat.  They told me they would do whatever it took and to talk to my family before making a decision. Right in that moment, I knew I wanted to go to Arizona.  I told them I would call them later that afternoon with my decision.  I couldn’t believe that such an amazing school with such a rich softball tradition actually wanted me to play softball there.  It was truly a dream come true and the decision really wasn’t difficult at all. I called my mom and sisters to tell them I was going to commit!

Justin’s World: As one of three elite-level softball-playing sisters that are fairly close in age, backyard pickup games must have been quite fun. Tell me about growing up as all three of you excelled so well at the game.
Brittany Lastrapes: In a game that isn’t very forgiving, my sisters and I really used each other for support more than anything. We definitely had many days of playing games in the cul-de-sac or throwing in the backyard, but those were times to enjoy the game.  When we got older and the game got more competitive, the time spent in the backyard was where I could pretend to be a pitcher or my younger sister would act like she was a slapper. Having sisters that knew exactly what you were going through made all the difference in the world because no one could relate better than them.

Justin’s World: Tell me about playing for coach Candrea and what being under his tutelage did for you as a player and now as a coach, as well.
Brittany Lastrapes: Playing for Coach Candrea was such a tremendous honor and privilege.  He taught me so much about softball, life, and myself, for which I am forever grateful.  I never doubted that he believed in me or would do anything for me at the drop of a hat.  As a coach, almost everything I do is centered on how he coached and what our team was like at Arizona.  We were the definition of a family and still are!  Coach Candrea still sends me advice and notes on how I can become a better hitting coach, along with video clips to help me share with my girls.  Without him, there is absolutely no way I would be where I am today.

Justin’s World: I recall the season where you played several weeks and many games while suffering from mononucleosis. Tell me what that was like, fighting through the side effects and the illness itself while still playing day-in and day-out. I seem to recall a televised game where you were shown laying on the dugout bench with ice packs during half-innings that you weren’t in the field…
Brittany Lastrapes: Looking back on that time now, I realize how much stronger that made me as a person.  Coming down with mono during the most vital time of the season (regionals, super regionals, and the World Series) was extremely unfortunate due to the fact I didn’t have time to rest and get better.  I knew that I had to continue to play for my team and I knew I might end up regretting it for the rest of my life.  I was so exhausted all the time, but found just enough strength to get through games.  I didn’t practice or warm up at all during those weeks to conserve energy.  Honestly, most of those games are a blur, as I think I was playing on autopilot so to speak, but I didn’t have to miss any games.  Not really having the option to sit out or quit reminds me how much stronger we are than we ever give ourselves credit for.

Justin’s World: Who was the toughest opponent that you have faced?
Brittany Lastrapes: This is a tough question, as I have played against so many amazing athletes throughout my career. I think I have to go with the 2008 Arizona State Sun Devils. It was my first year in college and honestly, they had one of the best teams overall that I played in my entire career.  They won the national championship that year and deservedly so!

Justin’s World: Was playing professionally, either domestically or abroad, something you considered or at any point wanted to do?
Brittany Lastrapes: I have been asked this question quite frequently actually and the answer is no.  The time I spent playing at Arizona was so special and unique that I couldn’t imagine ending my playing career in anything other than a Wildcat uniform.  The game gave me so much and I only wanted to end it at my very best in the only place I ever wanted to be.  

Justin’s World: Is coaching collegiately something that has always been in your plans after your own playing career ended?
Brittany Lastrapes: Never did the thought of coaching cross my mind until I became a coach.  It was never part of the plan, but after one season away from the game, I just missed it too much!  Like I said previously, I never had a passion for playing after college; coaching was an option, but I just didn’t know how to go about it.  With help from former coaches, I was able to get an assistant coaching position right away and I am very grateful for that.

Justin’s World: What are your eventual aspirations, both in the coaching profession and outside of it?
Brittany Lastrapes: I want to stay around softball until my time has run out.  If coaching does not work out, I would eventually love to stay around sports and go into athletic administration. I have found through coaching that my passion is in working with athletes and trying to help them duplicate the positive experiences I had.  I am getting married in June [2016] and my fiancĂ© also works in athletics, so we both share that passion.  We would like to have a family of our own one day, but for now we just want to enjoy this season of lives we are in.   

Justin’s World: Let’s end with my favorite question. Say you’re stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but can take three things with you. Anything tangible other than boats and phones is doable. What would you take?
Brittany Lastrapes: A knife; water filter; and my fiancé!

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