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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Larissa Franklin Steps Into Justin's World

Photo: Don Martukovich / Used by permission.
When Amy Tudor left the Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) prior to the 2015 season to become the Western Kentucky head coach, she was swiftly followed by a talented group of seniors from her previous school. A group that wanted to finish their careers with the coach that had recruited them from the start. And though all-American pitcher Miranda Kramer dominated headlines with her play, she was not the only talented senior in the class of 2015. Canadian outfielder Larissa Franklin had some eyebrow-raising stats of her own.

A culture shift like that would likely have an adverse affect on most players; not Franklin. Moving into the competitive Conference USA, where the league crown is up for grabs nearly every season, she hit .417, scored thirty-nine runs, knocked in twenty-two, and stole nineteen bases. She led her team in four categories and earned first-team all-region and all-conference honors at the season's end.

Long a member of the Canadian National Team, she joined the senior national squad in 2013, donning her country's colors for the World Cup of Softball that same year, as well as the World Championship in 2014 and the Pan Am Games a year ago. At the World Championship in the Netherlands in 2014, Franklin registered a .409 batting average against international competition.

Larissa and I talked about a variety of subjects, centering mainly on her move from IPFW to WKU; the 2015 gritty regional battle against Georgia; and international softball.

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Justin’s World of Softball: How did you get your start playing softball?
Larissa Franklin: I got started playing softball when I was 5. Both of my parents played slow pitch at the time so I was always around the park, I loved it and wanted to be out there playing with them. I played t-ball though, until I was finally old enough to play what we call “rep” (in other words, I had to try out for the team).

Justin’s World of Softball: Take me through the decision to follow coach Tudor to Western Kentucky and finish your career there.
Larissa Franklin: A decision like that is always difficult, weighing the pros and cons. I had been at IPFW for 3 years and it always sounds a little crazy to transfer for 1 year. Things change though; I just had a gut feeling it would be a good decision to go to Western Kentucky. My gut was right. Very right. It worked out that my whole class (and roommates) were there for my last year with me. That is something I will forever be thankful for. I will never forget the sporadic feeling I felt the day Dani Pugh and I were sitting there and we said, “Let’s do it!” As far as Coach Tudor goes, I am very appreciative of everything she did for me over the three years and it was a no-brainer in that sense that I wanted to finish my last year under her. I transferred to win a championship and I knew she could get us there.

Justin’s World of Softball: Tell me about the 2015 regional matchup versus Georgia, especially to come out victorious after such a grueling, lengthy game only to be defeated and eliminated just a day later.
Larissa Franklin: To be honest, it is somewhat of a blur to me. I am a completely in-the-moment player. 14 innings is a long game mentally and physically. I had full confidence each person that came up to bat would do something to get us the win. That didn’t necessarily happen for 13 innings, but we had Miranda on the mound and just had to keep pushing… before her arm fell off. To have a freshman step up (Carleigh Chaumont) was huge and, of course, the players that got on before her to give her that opportunity. Yeah, we got eliminated the next day and of course we wanted to make it to Super Regionals but so did they. We knew they were going to come out hard and they did.

Justin’s World of Softball: When did you first have a desire to play for Team Canada? When was it something that you realized was more than just a pipe dream?
Larissa Franklin: When I was younger, we had a tournament near my house called Canada Cup (now called Canadian Open). A lot of international teams played in it each summer. I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw Team Canada play but like any kid who is passionate about softball, I wanted to be on that team. I had no idea how to do it, and like I said earlier, I play in the moment. I went to the field, I worked hard, and as far as I was concerned, that would take me where it took me. The day I realized it was more than just a pipe dream, I was in grade 11 playing in Vegas. My coach told me that a couple of national team coaches had shown interest. I was shocked and excited. Fortunately, there was an open tryout for the Junior Canadian Team. I was dreaming softball every night at that point and knew it was completely in my hands to give myself the best chance to make the team.

Justin’s World of Softball: Though the US and Japan have been the traditional softball ‘powerhouse’ nations, the competition has gotten better in recent history. Why do you think that is?
Larissa Franklin: First of all, it is great to see the competition that is arising and the gap that is closing. Not only between us, the U.S., and Japan but many of the other teams we face each summer. Even in my three years on the team, I have seen a difference. Like anything, I think there are a lot of factors. First, a lot of countries are taking advantage of dual citizenship which expands the pool of athletes that they can choose from. Also, the softball community is just that: a community. People talk, people learn; nowadays, there are all sorts of traveling and those seeking knowledge and experiences from within this community. Many players go to the U.S. to play softball so what that says to me is that we are all learning similar things, from similar people.

Justin’s World of Softball: What was your feeling the first time you walked onto the field with a maple leaf on your jersey?
Larissa Franklin: Everyone has those feelings they can’t explain, and that’s one for me. I think with each game, the feeling gets better and better. This summer, for example, I (and I think I can speak for everyone else when I say, we) have never felt more proud to be wearing the leaf in front of our fans. It really is surreal and I remember thinking exactly that, “I am on the field with the maple leaf on my jersey and Canada across my chest!” It was an amazing feeling the first time and it just keeps getting sweeter!

Justin’s World of Softball: What are some of your favorite things about playing for and representing your nation?
Larissa Franklin: We are very lucky to get to travel to other countries and in addition, I love being able to have an impact. Yes, I step on the field because I love the game, I want to win for the girls beside me, but I love knowing that there are girls following me that I can have an impact on. It makes me a better person. Also, I have never had the opportunity to play in front of such a large fan base like I do for Canada. I love that wherever we are playing in the world, there are people back home that are behind us. It is very motivating and makes it even more fun. (Note to all Canadian fans coming to Worlds this year…We need you all out there! The louder the better!!) I have so much pride for my country that, for me, nothing beats representing it!

Justin’s World of Softball: Canadian softball seems to be on the rise as a whole, both with better showings on an international stage and the production of top-level players to the college ranks. What do you think is to be attributed to for the rise for Team Canada in recent history?
Larissa Franklin: 100% our culture and team chemistry. I could talk for days about it; it is one of my favourite things about playing on this team. It’s something we work at just as much as our skills on the field. It makes it easier that we have such a great, hardworking group of girls, but it is a daily focus of ours. No one is too cool to ask questions, nor are they too sensitive to be held accountable and because of that, we keep growing. It’s a very healthy culture to be around. We have fun.

Justin’s World of Softball: How do you think the game will benefit as a whole if it is re-included on the Olympic slate?
Larissa Franklin: There are so many kids who dream of going to the Olympics when they are young. There are so many sports I saw for the first time on TV during the Olympics. If softball was re-included, it would not only introduce the game to many kids but also give them something to dream of and strive for. This in turn would create more healthy competition and talent in the game.

Justin’s World of Softball: Further expounding, if you were making your case to the IOC voting panel that would decide if softball were to return to the Olympics, what would you tell them? Make your case!

Larissa Franklin: Softball is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is a sport that can be played anywhere from a backyard to a dirt field. This is a game that promotes team play while also allowing individuality. There are many different roles that allow for a broad spectrum of athletes. In a sense, there is a place on the field for everyone. Also, softball promotes women’s inclusion in sport. It’s a step closer to equality. Softball being reinstated in the Olympics does not just keep the dreams of girls in one country alive, but the dreams of girls in many countries.

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