North Platte has a rich history of women’s softball.

The city’s community college has hired a resident with extensive experience coaching the sport. Mark Franzen is the new head softball coach at North Platte Community College.

Franzen is the third coach in the history of the program. Jack Daniels coached the Lady Knights from 2006-10 and Janelle Higgins coached from 2011 until she was let go after two games into this season.

“I am looking forward to the challenge,” Franzen said. “This is the next step in my coaching progression and a big opportunity for me. I’ve watched this program since its inception and to be coaching it is very exciting.”

Franzen graduated from North Platte High in 1991. He is also a graduate of NPCC, earning an associate degree in general studies in 2014. He’s had extensive experience and achievements in the sport as the head coach of women’s summer club ball. From 2007-16, he was the head coach of the North Platte Express. During his nine years at the helm, he guided the Express to a Wyoming State Championship and an appearance at the National World Series tournament.

He has been around many of the figures who helped build the sport in North Platte.

“I’ve been fortunate to learn from Les O’Donnell, B.J. Songster and John and Shelly Byrn,” Franzen said.

Surprisingly, not a lot of North Platte softball players have signed to play for the Knights. On this year’s team, there was only one North Platte native, Juliana Ortiz.

Franzen’s experience can only help in that regard. But his roster can’t exclusively be from the area and not every softball player on the area wants to stay home, Franzen said.

“Coming from local ball, a lot of talent gets away,” he said. “There’s challenges in that. But we want to put our best foot forward.”

The Lady Knights seem to be starting from square one. The separation from Higgins early in the season in was chaotic and the season was cancelled after just those two games.

Franzen knows there’s a lot of work to be done in the next eight or nine months but he’s not fretting over it.

“There will be some challenges but the biggest one is getting girls who fit in the system and play within the team. It will be challenging but there’s players with lots of abilities,” he said. “It’s like a fresh start but we’re not at ground zero.”

Franzen wants to build a team that makes smart plays and doesn’t beat themselves by committing errors.

“I want us to be disciplined and fundamentally sound,” he said. “I know that’s easier said than done. I love speed and I want to have power. We’ll be focused on the way we attack other teams.”

Franzen said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a team.

“One thing I think that is underrated is players who can buy in and become part of a cohesive team,” he said. “It’s not about making a kid fit into your style but adapting your teaching style to them.”

2014 profile on Franzen

In 2014, the Bulletin published a story profiling many of the local softball coaches, including Franzen.

Mark Franzen likens coaching summer softball to having a second full-time job without being compensated.

Franzen coaches not just one team, but two teams as he heads both the 18-and-under North Platte Express and the 12-and-under Express. So he has been working overtime.

“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “It’s time consuming and it’s expensive. This is the last year that I will be coaching two teams.”

Franzen has been involved with softball in North Platte since his daughter, Kaite, started playing at age eight. In 2007, he took over as the coach of the Express and he has coached that team with his daughter playing on it ever since.

The Belles and the Sensations are the two names that have been around the longest when it comes to North Platte softball. But Franzen says that he is proud to have seen the Express build a tradition of their own over the past few years.

“We’ve just continued to grow,” Franzen said. “We started out without a lot of name recognition to becoming one of the top teams in North Platte. We’ve also got some respect from out of town. Teams from Colorado and Kansas City know who we are. We’ve set a high precedent for winning.”

Over the past few years, the 18-under Express have featured a lot of the best players in North Platte. In particular players who also play for the North Platte High School softball team in the fall. Kaite Franzen, who will be a senior this year at NPHS, was the starting shortstop on last year’s state tournament qualifying Lady Bulldog team. Kenzi Wiseman, who broke the school’s single season home run record, also plays for the Express.

Franzen said that the camaraderie those players developed by playing with each other as members of both the Express and the Bulldogs have really helped his team.

The Express will be playing in the ASA state softball tournament in Norfolk this weekend. They have had a good season but have been limited by injuries throughout the year. But their chemistry has helped them fill those unexpected gaps and stay competitive.

“It’s just been good experience for them to play together during the summer and high school seasons,” he said.

Franzen says that he stresses fundamentals and mental toughness.

“I want them to become the best athletes they can and smarter players,” Franzen said. “I want to teach them the fundamentals and to become stronger mentally when situations come up in the game. But the life experience they get is even more important and I want them to become better and more well-rounded people.”

Franzen said that he enjoys giving the players a chance to do something they love to do while opening doors they never thought possible without softball. Anna Crane, a member of this year’s Express, has signed a letter of intent to play at North Platte Community College. Kaite Franzen and Wiseman are also getting looks to play at the next level, as well.

“It will be a good thing that the girls will be able to look back on this time and see how much fun they had and how it has changed their life by giving them the opportunity to go to college and be the person they want to be,” Franzen said.

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