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Massena’s Francis now plays out of the box

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Cheap shots, taunts and being treated inferior by her teammates was how Massena senior Erin Francis began her lacrosse career.

Francis, a native of Akwesasne, started out playing on boys box lacrosse teams — an indoor version of the sport played on a surface about the size of a hockey rink.

“That’s pressure right there, being the only girl, but I held my own,” Francis said. “At first I’d hear things like, ‘She’s a girl,’ or ‘She’s not as good as us.’ But I showed them and they knew I could play and then there was no problem.”

Still, being the only girl on a team full of boys, and being better than some of them, caused problems for Francis.

“Sometimes I would be open and they wouldn’t pass it, or they’d try to check me,” Francis said. “They didn’t know I could play, yet, and I made them look silly. Then they knew I could play.”

Once it came time to play at the high school level, Francis had to leave boys teams and began playing for Massena’s girls squad.

She has become the top player in Section 10, leading in scoring with 55 goals and 29 assists, and next year, she’ll join NCAA Division I Syracuse University.

“It was a huge adjustment,” Francis said of playing girls lacrosse, which has less physicality allowed in its rules. “I didn’t know the rules and everything was the exact opposite. There was no contact. I still have those box lacrosse tendencies sometimes. In box lacrosse you keep your stick low and I’ll drop my stick without noticing, because that’s where it’s comfortable.

“Box lacrosse really shaped how I play. It’s a big part of my life. It really helped me out a lot. All the coaches, when they first see me play, they ask if I played box lacrosse before. I really liked playing box. I liked the contact and everything.”

Francis’s coach at Massena, Jeffery Slack, played for the Red Raiders as a prep athlete and previously played box lacrosse.

“As a coach I like to hop in the drills sometimes,” Slack said. “I have a great love for the game. I love coaching it and playing it. I like to play with Erin because she’s very creative and she’s very deceptive. I have a great time when I get into the drills and have the opportunity to play with her.”

Francis, who also plays for the women’s Iroquois national team, said she grew up a fan of SU men’s lacrosse and that the Powell brothers of Carthage fame were her favorite players. She met Casey Powell as a kid and told him she was going to play for the Orange someday.

“I’m very excited and can’t wait,” Francis said of SU. “I went on a visit to watch one of their practices, went into the (Carrier) Dome and knew that’s where I wanted to go.”

“We’re very proud of Erin, not so much because she plays for Massena, but because she works so hard and you see what she puts into her game,” Slack said. “She’s a team player. That’s one of the things that is most important about her. She is constantly looking to get her teammates involved.”

Francis has also become a role model for girls in her community and helps coach youth lacrosse in her spare time. Slack recalled he heard about a girl who tried to wear her hair the same way as Francis because she wanted to do everything just like her.

“I think it’s cute,” Francis said. “I love it. It means what I’m doing is helping other girls to help their dreams come true.”

The immediate focus for Francis is helping Massena make it to the state tournament again, and perhaps win a game.

“We definitely can do it,” Francis said. “It’s all about the focus. If you aren’t focused on a game, you won’t have a good game.”

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