Francais Olexa’s big sister Samantha played a big part in her becoming a fast-pitch player for the Lynn University Fighting Knights.
While there is a four-year gap between the sisters, they are close and Francais always tagged along, even on trips recruiting camps and tournaments. Francais was with Samantha when she got her scholarship to play for the Simon Fraser University Clan.
“It was my sister’s goal to play collegiate softball and it kind of wore off on me,” she said. “It was the same thing that I ended up wanting. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Francais, 18, grew up in Penticton but moved to Delta when she was 10. She joined the Delta Heat Softball Association and said her sisters experience was a big eye opener for her, it showed her people can achieve their goals.
While Samantha chose to stay in Canada to be close to her family and watch Francais grow up, she encouraged her sister to do the opposite.
“It’s funny because when we started looking at schools, Sam said go somewhere far away, we can come visit you,” she said. “My dad told me, no matter where you go, you can be home in a day.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for myself and I know my family is very proud of me,” said Francais, who volunteers with Delta Special Olympics.
The process of getting a scholarship was lengthy partly because she needed to get things in order as an international student. It was initiative that led Francais to becoming a Fighting Knight, one of nearly 50 schools she contacted. The Boca Raton, Fla., university was one that needed a left-handed pitcher.
“It is obvious that her pitching was the initial draw,” said Fighting Knights head coach Amy Bellisari in an email. “Pitching dominates our sport and our conference. But, we also like to recruit student-athletes from different parts of the country (or a different country altogether) as well as Florida. We knew she would help us in the circle, but when we met her and her parents, that really sealed the deal. She brings a positive, competitive attitude and is as excited to be here as we are to have her. She has the intangibles you can’t teach in an athlete.”
Francais made contact in late July 2013, then visited the campus and met the players last September.
“It still feels surreal,” said Francais, who also earned an academic scholarship to Lynn University. “It just doesn’t seem like it’s happening.”
Her career started to move upwards when she won a provincial bronze medal at 13 with the Heat. That same year, she travelled to Montreal for the Canadian National Championships and earned a bronze. She has since earned several most valuable player awards.
In 2011, she pitched the final game as the Heat won a provincial championship then finished fourth at nationals. The next year came another provincial championship and a victory at nationals. In 2013, her team was the first Canadian squad to qualify for the American Softball Association National Championships in San Jose, Calif. She helped her team place in the top four in the Washington Qualifier. In ASA Nationals, they placed 17th out of 138 teams, where she pitched in the final game. Francais finished the season batting .425 with an on-base percentage of .486 and an ERA of 1.68.
Bellisari said she has great spins on her pitches and command. Francais will also strengthen the Fighting Knights pitching rotation by being a left-hander and Belissari sees Francais playing a big role this season.
“There are not enough kind words to say about Francais,” she said. “She exemplifies the kind of student-athletes we have here at Lynn. She is good-natured and very intelligent. All of the conversations we have had, and our meeting on her official visit were enjoyable, and she has that competitive side to her as well. We are thrilled to have not only Francais the softball player, but Francais the person as well. August can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.”