PHOTO BY TIM COWIE

Blaxers Blog: Talen Francis, Pre-Law Superstar of Gardner-Webb


Talen Francis has been underappreciated in the lacrosse world at large for several years.

The Gardner-Webb senior attacker has scored 101 goals during her time with the team, even tying the program’s freshman points record with 44 in 2018. Francis does it all. She rides relentlessly, causing turnovers with regularity.

She’s also a consistent threat on the draw and a fierce competitor when the ball’s on the ground. On a Gardner-Webb team that has traditionally struggled but is 8-4 since the beginning of 2020, Francis is a force. She is also an exceptional student who is president of the Black Student Association and president of the Pre-Law Society.

She spoke with Brian Simpkins of Blaxers Blog about her lacrosse background and about what it means to be Black in this sport.

TALEN FRANCIS

Hometown: Kennesaw, GA
Position: Attack
College: Gardner-Webb (2018-pres.)
High School: Kell (2014-17)

Notable Accolades:

  • 2018-2019 All-Big South Second Team

  • Three-time Big South Freshman of the Week in 2018

  • In 2020, led the Big South with 31 points, 27 goals and .614 shooting percentage

  • President, Black Student Association

  • President, Pre-Law Society

WHAT GOALS ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACHIEVE THIS SEASON?

My main goal is to empower my teammates to be the best players possible by demonstrating techniques or setting aside time to watch film and run drills with them.

Confidence and communication are important pillars in any sport, especially in lacrosse. Effective communication with your teammates is crucial to your team’s success. Any breakdowns on the field must be discussed in order to move forward. Common understanding and open mindedness with your teammates help the team gel towards success.

It was rewarding to win second-team All-Big South honors. Although second team is an honor that most don’t have the opportunity of achieving, it wasn’t enough for me. It pushed me to limit my turnovers and improve my shooting accuracy in hopes of finishing with first team honors.



HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COLLEGE CAREER?

It was a learning experience. Being a collegiate student-athlete is something that I’d recommend to anyone. You learn a lot about working with people from different backgrounds when trying to achieve the same goal. Being able to work well in a team environment is something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life.

My favorite moment in my career was beating VCU last year. It was one of the biggest games in our program’s history and solidified the end to our best season ever. For the first time, our team gelled together for a statement victory over an opponent that was predicted to dominate us.

HOW DID YOU BALANCE ACADEMICS?

It was difficult! Double-majoring is not for the weak. I would take six classes per semester while trying to balance clubs that I represented and being a present teammate at practice. Honestly, my passion for each area I was involved in was what helped me persevere. I wanted to excel in my academic avenues, and that determination got me through tough times. I admit that agendas and Google Calendars saved my life. Those frequently scheduled reminders and email checks helped keep me on track.

HOW DO YOU DOMINATE ON THE FIELD?

I’ve modeled my game after players with successful skill sets, whether they’re opponents who beat me in certain areas or teammates who excel in practice drills. I love adding new skills to my repertoire.

Every attacker must be adaptable to any scheme that the defense shows. The ability to read their movements and move on a dime will help you dominate.

In terms of draw controls and ground balls, timing your first steps and boxing out are keys to winning. You must train yourself to be quick off the referee’s whistle during the draw. Once you hear the whistle, quickly box out your opponent and look for the ball. Never underestimate yourself when doing both! Even when it seems like the ball is out of reach, you’re more than capable of scooping it.








WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS?

Personally, my mother is the most inspiring person in my life. Through her own perseverance, she taught me how to keep pushing forward through any obstacle and take every challenge headfirst. Through her successes, she stayed humble and an asset to her community. I hope to replicate her during my journey.

LeBron James comes to mind because of his dominance in basketball and his philanthropic avenues. It’s amazing to see fellow athletes like him be very vocal about injustices while focusing and excelling in our respective sports.

From the women’s sports perspective, Serena Williams inspires me as well. We both play predominantly white sports that negatively stereotype Black women as aggressive due to lack of education from others. Her endurance and grace shines through these attacks while setting the standard. She made room for her own unique self in a space that was very monolithic. This is one reason why she’s the greatest athlete in history.

WHY IS SOCIAL ACTIVISM IMPORTANT IN LACROSSE AND TO YOURSELF?

Social activism is important in all categories of life, including sports. Despite not seeing all the hardships Black student-athletes endure, people must acknowledge that we are multidimensional and affected by injustices in this world. As a Black woman, there’s no escaping the wrongs of this world.

Lack of protections and solidarity have caused many Black women to leave lacrosse completely. Lacrosse can operate as a safe space for Black women like me, and the sport must unconditionally respect us. Eliminating extra stresses allows more time to focus on the sport that I love.




PHOTO BY TIM COWIE


WHY SHOULD NATURAL HAIRSTYLES BE UNIVERSALLY RESPECTED?

As a Black woman, you can’t ignore the close relationship with your hair. The world has treated us subjectively based on our hair.

Natural hairstyles should be universally respected like people from various communities. When different heritages coexist in an entity, it’s everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves on the nuances of other cultures.

Hair that grows naturally from a Black person’s head is going to look different than another. However, that doesn’t mean that one culture’s hairstyles are unacceptable nor worse than others. There’s beauty in hair diversity.

Some Black women customize their curl patterns and hair color. Other Black women oblige to straightening their hair or wearing wigs on top of protective styles. Each style receives a different type of treatment. I can attest to that because I’ve tried all of them.

My favorite hairstyle to play with is long, tribal box braids. It’s the most time-saving hairstyle that I use during the season. It’s a cute and fun hairstyle that allows me to be unique while still functional. These styles are convenient during my season schedule, and the maintenance helps me reserve time to focus on other things.

Black hair is versatile and boosts your confidence. Black women want to be loved and respected just like everyone else.

WHAT WISDOM WOULD YOU GIVE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS OF WOMEN’S PLAYERS?

Be true to yourself and have confidence in your craft. Take heed to advice given and personalize it to fit your game. All great athletes have self-reflected at one point en route of strengthening their abilities.

Mentorship is imperative in the development of people, regardless of age. It allows you to gain wisdom and can save yourself from making preventable mistakes. Most successful people had a mentor involved in their lives to guide them in the right direction.

As you grow into a mentor, you must become the person you wish you had in your life. Remember the struggles you experienced and try to eliminate it in the lives of others.

Be purposeful when connecting with young women. We need more outreach in our communities to help Black girls thrive in lacrosse. Providing funding to establish more grassroots and club programs are keys to growing the sport further.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR LIFE AFTER GRADUATION?

I plan on applying to law school in Georgia to eventually become a civil rights attorney. My biggest goals in life are to be happy while being helpful to others and be surrounded by people who love me. Timeliness, patience and importance of communication are lacrosse lessons I’ll carry into my new chapter.