The game of softball has taken Céline Lassaigne all over the world. She’s coached in the United Kingdom, Australia and now for several years in her home nation of France. The Concordia University alum has followed a passion that developed as a teenager and continued to blossom throughout her memorable journeys and life experiences.
Lassaigne remains a major figure in the game of softball today. She was appointed head coach of the French National Team in 2014 and simultaneously serves as French National Softball Academy Director. She’s put together quite a career for someone who did not discover the game until the age of 14.
“I have achieved all I ever wanted as a player and as a coach,” Lassaigne said. “The dream would be to take a team to the Olympics, but my career is already pretty full of amazing memories. If it stops tomorrow it would be fine. I have no regrets.”
A native of Nice, France, Lassaigne herself played for the French National Team before making her way to the United States in the early 2000s. She used her final two seasons of collegiate eligibility playing for Coach Frank Greene’s Bulldog softball teams during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Greene referred to Lassigne as strong-willed and supremely talented. It was no surprise to him that Lassaigne rose up the coaching ranks following her collegiate career.
The highlight of Lassaigne’s coaching career actually came recently when her National Team placed sixth at the 2019 European Championship (out of 19 competing countries) and advanced to the Olympic qualifier. As an assistant coach and player for the Great Britain National Team, Lassaigne aided in a second place finish at the 2009 European Championship and an 11th place claim at the 2010 Women’s World Championships.
Softball is not necessarily the sport of choice for most young women in France. Says Lassaigne, “In France it is not a popular sport like it is overseas. However, I was quite sporty so I tried many sports. One day at a sports camp we got to try baseball. I was 14. After that I signed up for a club and never left the sport since then.”
Lassaigne has a unique recruiting story. She arrived in Lincoln for a camp at the University of Nebraska prior to the 2001-02 academic year. Lassaigne certainly had the talent to play for a major NCAA Division I program, but Greene and the Concordia program were in the right place at the right time. Lassaigne was essentially auditioning for colleges on that particular day.
“I was more than happy to have her for those two years,” Greene said. “I went over and watched her and really liked her ability so I invited her over while she was still here in America to visit our players and get to know them a little bit. It didn’t take us long to decide we really wanted her skills and talents in our program. I was just really glad to have her.”
Lassaigne could be fiery on the field. Her competitive nature is a big part of what fuels her. She excelled both as a hitter and pitcher and was named an NAIA second team All-American following the 2002 season. She’s one of the best to ever play in the program. Over her two years as a hitter, she posted a .453 batting average with 52 extra-base hits, including 13 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .785 slugging percentage. As a pitcher, she went a combined 21-12 with a 1.94 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 212.1 innings.
Lassaigne clearly acclimated well to collegiate softball within the United States. She says her biggest adjustment was “by far the language.” It would be a barrier she would overcome. There were high expectations when Lassaigne came to Concordia. She already had a 61 miles-per-hour fastball and had led the French National Team to a second-place finish at the European Cup. While a Bulldog, she lived up to the hype and departed with a degree within health and human performance.
Greene laughs when recalling how Lassaigne wasn’t fond of the many different signals the team used during games. However, there was a mutual respect between the two. Said Greene, “She was a very aware player. She knew what was going on. I know she’s an excellent coach with the French Team. She was an amazing talent. She pitched for us and she played third base for us. She could have played any position on the field – that’s how good she was. She had all the tools.”
Greene still communicates at times with Lassaigne through Facebook. Says Lassaigne, “I will be forever thankful to him for trusting me and giving me the opportunity of playing college ball.”
At one time regarded as one of the top softball players in all of France, Lassaigne made a lasting mark at Concordia. It would be a shame to forget the two incredible years she enjoyed as a Bulldog. Lassaigne doesn’t have a specific favorite memory of her time at Concordia, but says that the whole experience was memorable. She added, “The combination of my softball career as a player and my education in sports science and teaching gave me pretty much all the tools to be where I am at.”