April 9, 2003
By Elliott Finebloom
Few Seminoles have come as far or had to make as many transitions to get where they are than senior Robyn Larson. The third baseman was the opposite of a recruited walk on two years ago as FSU coaches were telling here that she shouldn’t come to Florida State.
“I didn’t have any direct contact with the coaches here. The only contact I had was indirect through my coaches at Florida Community College. The message they passed along was that they didn’t need a third baseman and weren’t really interested in what I had to offer,” said Larson.
Despite the warning, the Bothell, WA native came anyway. She has made the transition form west coast to east coast, from being a starter her whole life to riding the bench, from being the popular, well-liked girl to the being the outsider. She has made the transition from average student to classroom star and from being surrounded by friends and family to being all alone. She endured it all and is one of the great success stories on this year’s 16th-ranked Seminole softball team.
Larson’s long, strange trip from Washington to Tallahassee started with a pit stop in Jacksonville. Upon high school graduation, Larson was confused as to where to go from there. She had options to play at Division II schools but even at that point she had her sights set on bigger goals.
“After high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was recruited by a couple of Division II schools but I knew a couple of girls at Florida Community College in Jacksonville and they really liked it there. The coach loved to recruit from Washington and I thought going to junior college would be the best idea while I worked on academics and figured out what I wanted to do,” recalls Larson.
“I got my grades up, developed great study habits and did well in softball. I decided I wanted to go and play big time college softball. I wanted to challenge myself and be the small fish in the big pond. I didn’t want to settle and always wonder if I could have made it at a big time program. After some convincing, my parents agreed to let me go to FSU.”
The decision to come to FSU was difficult for Larson because unlike when she went to FCC, Robyn didn’t have her best friend by her side this time. If she were going to make it in Tallahassee, she would have to do it alone.
“When I left for Jacksonville I remember saying good-bye to my mom and dad at the airport. The good thing was that my best friend Missy was there with me. She came to Jacksonville with me. It was such a big deal for her to be there. I was so grateful to have her there with me,” said Larson.
“When I decided to come to Tallahassee, Missy went back to Washington and that was a whole different situation. I miss her as much as my mom and dad. That was so hard. I had nobody now. I leaned on my parents and especially my mom during that time. I was totally on my own”
As hard as the decision was to come to FSU by herself, it would be the easiest obstacle Robyn would have to overcome on her way to earning a spot on the team in the field and the clubhouse. It started with the FSU coaching staff sending a message that they really wasn’t a place on the team for another third baseman.
“Rather than accepting that it made me more determined to make the team,” says Larson. “My parents, who have been my number one supporters my whole life, were even preparing themselves for the eventuality that I wouldn’t make it at FSU. In a way all the odds were against me. I was told by a lot of people that it would be easier to just return home to Washington.”
As soon as she got to Tallahassee, Larson started calling head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf and gathering information about tryouts and practice schedules. She filled out the necessary forms and all the paperwork but at every turn there was another problem and hurdle to get over.
“From filling out the paperwork to actually getting on the field, everything was so hard. All the signs were telling me I shouldn’t have come here. A bunch of weird things were happening and it would have been so easy to just go home,” recalls Larson. “I wanted to stick it out. I wanted to make the team. I wanted to show my parents, my coaches and everyone that I am good enough to play at a Division I level. So I showed up at tryouts and began the process of trying to make the team.”
What Larson soon found out was that making it on the field was not nearly as challenging as winning over her future teammates. Walking on is tough and it takes a lot of guts and being the outsider who doesn’t know anyone is the most difficult part.
“Making it as a walk on is a two-part process. Not only do you have to win a spot but you also have to win the girls over. I wouldn’t ever wish that on anyone because being accepted was much harder than winning a spot,” remembers Robyn. “I had some great tryouts and I wasn’t even playing third base. The coaches played me at shortstop where I hadn’t played in two years. I ended up having a great tryout and got along great with the girls on the field. Bonding with them off the field was harder. Becoming friends was difficult.
“It was the hardest thing I ever did. I went in to it having no idea what was going to happen. It was really hard going into a situation where everyone was already on the team, knew each other and were friends. Then here I am trying to make the team and essentially take somebody’s position. It isn’t a favorable position to be in and I have never had to deal with that before. I had to be strong every day. My mom was there for me because I didn’t know anyone or have any relationships with anyone.”
On of the things Robyn remembers most about that time were the people who really welcomed her in from day one. While everyone was nice to her, there were some players that went out of their way to make the process easier on her and that made an impact.
“Kimmy Carter, Becky Brock and Beth Wade were so supportive when I was trying out. Becky, who also played third, was constantly trying to get to know me. Jessica van der Linden really made a great effort also,” she remembers. “After every try out I found myself talking about softball with Beth and that really helped. I will always remember those girls for making me feel welcome especially Becky since we played the same position. I tried out at short but I was a third baseman like her.
“That’s why this year when we had walk on tryouts I went out of my way for them because I remember what it was like for me last year.”
As hard as the tryouts were and as much as she had to overcome, Robyn reached her goal and she remembers the day like it was yesterday. After making the first cuts after a week of tryouts, she still wasn’t sure if she was on the team or not.
“I tried out for a week and coach said she would post a list of everyone who made the first cuts on the locker room door. I went back that day and I was the only walk on that made it on to the list. I called my parents and told them I made it but I wasn’t sure if I made it. I didn’t know if there was another tryout or not,” she recalls.
“I came back Monday and took it as another tryout instead of a practice. The next day coach had Seminole practice gear in her hand. She sat down and said she has told the team that I was going to be playing for FSU this year. I went into the bathroom and changed into official gear and was just so excited. I thought it was so cool getting to walk around in my FSU gear and it was such an honor for me.”
So after all the challenges and obstacles Robyn had made it but earning that spot on the roster didn’t immediately earn her a spot on the team. To her surprise, some of her toughest times came after she had achieved one of the greatest challenges of her young life.
“I always wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and play at this level. Even after I made the team I wanted to continue to prove I deserved to be here and it wasn’t just a lucky tryout. There were times that fall that I wasn’t sure that I would come back because I was having such a tough time fitting in,” said Robyn.
“My family and friends helped me. They just kept telling me what a huge opportunity this was for me and I knew that but it was reassuring to hear that. It is hard to realize that sometimes when you are in the middle of it. It takes an outsiders perspective to help you see that. They reminded me about all the benefits that came with being a part of a team of this caliber. The strength and conditioning, the academic support and the travel were all awesome benefits.”
After all the trials and tribulations and adjustments Larson did return in the spring. She had successfully made the transition from one coast to the other. She had overcome the huge obstacle of walking on to a Top 25 team and she had done it alone. Now she had to make another transition. She had to go from being a star to a bench player, which is never easy.
“I was a starter my whole life and I never was on the bench but it was easier for me than it would probably be for other people because I walked on. After my last year at FCC, I prepared myself for the possibility that this could be the end of my softball career. If I made this team, everything after that would be a bonus for me. This is a two-year extension of my playing career and I am very grateful for everything I have,” said Robyn.
“The fact that I accepted my role from the beginning was a huge help. I knew I wasn’t expected to get the game-winning hit. My role was to provide support and I accepted that. It is still hard at times when I don’t get into the game because I am competitive but I know my role. A lot of things in life are out of your control and I knew that when I came into this situation. I just planned on making the best out of whatever situation I found myself in. That really helped me. I could have been down about not playing but why do that. I am happy with everything I have gotten and this has been a great experience for me.”
It is that attitude that has made Larson one of the most important role players on this year’s team. Younger players look up to her because of her positive attitude that she hopes will infect the rest of her teammates.
“I have always been a positive person. I think that comes from my dad who is such an optimistic person. He is positive about so many things in life,” said Robyn. “One of the few things you have control over in life is your attitude. It can affect so many people both positively and negatively. It has never been hard for me to tell somebody else they are doing a good job and acknowledging somebody else’s hard work. I enjoy that role on this team.”
Just because Larson has accepted her role that doesn’t mean she doesn’t cherish the time she gets on the field. The senior has struggled at the plate in 2003 but her defense has been impeccable. She has appeared in 30 of Florida State’s 39 games and has made five starts this year. She is often inserted into the line-up defensively in the fifth or sixth inning to lock things down at third.
“People always say ‘Oh you just got to play a couple of innings’ but those are crucial innings. When the coaches put me in to the game in the sixth and we are up by just one run that means a lot to me,” said Larson. “So much is made about the mental approach players take to hitting but I take all of that and focus it on to my defense. This year is all about defense for me. I love going into the game with everything on the line. I really like my role on this team.”
Robyn’s role was a little different last year on one of the most important days in recent FSU softball history. Going into the final day of the 2002 NCAA Tallahassee Regional, FSU was one loss away from elimination and three wins away from Oklahoma City. The problem, they didn’t have their starting third baseman. Brock was out with a sprained ankle and Robyn was called upon to fill in with the Seminoles’ World Series hopes on the line.
“It was awesome getting to be a part of championship Sunday at Regionals but I have never been so nervous in my entire life. I hadn’t played or practiced third base all season and then Becky (Brock) got hurt. The next day the coaches told me I was starting,” recalls Robyn. “I never felt more pressure than I did that day. We had to win three games to get to Oklahoma City.”
The junior stepped in and played all 25 innings, as FSU needed two extra inning games to get to the school’s sixth College World Series. She didn’t make an error all day and the uninvited walk on who was warned not to try out, was on the field to celebrate the Seminoles first trip to the WCWS since 1993.
Few would have imagined that a journey that began four years ago in Bothell, WA would carry Larson to the pinnacle of the softball world. The kid who was playing for Florida Community College the year before was now being introduced in front of 4533 people and getting set to face the most storied program in NCAA softball history as No. 1 UCLA sat in the opposite dugout.
“I was not expecting to get to the World Series. It didn’t even really hit me when we won Regionals or even when we got there,” she remembers. “I remember considering the trip as another road trip and a chance to spend one last week with the team. When we got there and played UCLA I was stunned by how huge the crowd was. It was amazing.
“My favorite thing, other than beating UCLA, was how we were the underdogs but we came together as a team. Nobody expected us to be there. We had nothing to lose and there was no pressure on us. We went out and had so much fun. I remember our warm-ups and how loose they were. We were dancing and they were the best they had ever been. The other teams were looking at us and were probably jealous because we were so laid back and having so much fun.”
As exciting as the nine-inning win over UCLA was, it was what happened after the game that meant even more to Larson. The way everyone wearing a Seminole uniform was embraced by the fans, both young and old, was something Larson says she will never forget as long as she lives.
“Another great part was the way the fans treated us, both kids and adults. After the games people congratulated us and wanted our autographs. I will never forget the autograph sessions. It didn’t matter if you were a starter or on the bench because you were part of the team. The kids wanted to talk to you, sit by you and hang out with you. I enjoyed that so much,” said Robyn.
Those are the things Robyn appreciates because of how hard she had to work to become a Seminole. There is a different appreciation you have when you have to work just a little bit harder to get where you are and when nothing is guaranteed.
“I think I have such a huge amount of appreciation for where I am because of the path I took to get here,” said Robyn. “The first time I walked into the locker room and all of our practice jerseys were laid out for us, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe when I got a backpack full of FSU gear, it was like Christmas. I couldn’t believe there was a strength and conditioning coach for us that had workouts planned out. I was on the phone everyday telling my family and friends about all this awesome stuff that was happening. Not many people get this opportunity and I know I will miss it and appreciate it even more when I am done.”
Now that Robyn is just 15 games away from senior night and the last regular season game of her career, she has no regrets about the decision she made that day two years ago in Jacksonville. She will leave Florida State and head back to Seattle a better and stronger person for all that she has overcome. She set out to make one of the country’s top softball programs and she proved to everyone that she could do it.
“There are so many reasons I am glad I did this. I proved to myself and a lot of people that I could play Division I ball. I got to the highest level I could get to in this sport and that was a goal of mine. When things were hard and I absolutely hated things I stuck with it and finished what I started. I learned that I could deal with adversity. I am so grateful I got to experience being part of a team like this. I got to meet amazing people I would never have met otherwise. It has been an awesome experience and I have learned so much about myself”