College softball returns THIS WEEK. No, you didn’t mark your calendars wrong; Division 1 softball doesn’t kick off until February 11th. But some of the top teams in Division 2 do get their seasons started in the final days of January.
D2 softball can, unfortunately, be something of an afterthought on the national scene. This does a great disservice to a number of quality teams and stellar players, who have the talent and put in the work, but for far less notoriety. As the Division 2 season officially gets underway in 2021, we’ve picked ten players whose names you should know and who you’ll want to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
(Editor’s note: Players are listed alphabetically by surname.)
1. Avery Barnett, Mississippi College
>>> Despite making just eleven appearances in her freshman season of 2020, Barnett performed well in the opportunities that she had as a rookie. Starting nine games, she collected a 7-2 record on the year as well as a 1.23 ERA and thirty strikeouts. She notched a pair of shutout victories, and added seven complete-game efforts. She tied for the most wins among Gulf South Conference pitchers, and finished third in the league in ERA. If she can keep up that pace across a full season, she could be a real ace-in-the-hole for MC.
2. Danielle Dennis, Illinois-Springfield
>>> After transferring from Illinois ahead of the 2020 season, Dennis started all eighteen of her team’s games in her inaugural year as a Prairie Star. She was the team’s primary second baseman, but also made seven appearances in the pitching circle and earned two wins. She boasted a .360 batting average on the year, with a .468 on-base percentage, a .680 slugging percentage, and seventeen RBIs. She finished tied for the team lead with three home runs, and her five doubles ranked third on the roster.
3. Elisa Favela, Southern Arkansas
>>> Favela is one of the more impressive dual-threat players in the country, starting every game in 2020 as the designated player while also making eleven appearances in the pitching circle. She recorded a .506 batting average on the shortened year, with eight home runs and thirty RBIs as part of a step-out performance for the Muleriders’ high-powered offense. A former community college transfer, Favela owns 21 career home runs at SAU and a 16-2 record in the circle. She’s one to watch on both sides of the ball.
4. Sarah Harkins, Francis Marion
>>> It was a simple elementary school poster that initially got Harkins into the game of softball, but Francis Marion coaches and fans are reaping the benefits of that poster’s effects. Harkins started every game behind the plate as a true freshman in 2020, leading the team in home runs (3), runs scored (29), and RBIs (34). She finished third in the nation in RBIs and fifth in the nation with four triples. She took nine walks, with just six strikeouts, and was riding a 20-game streak of reaching base safely when the 2020 season ended. Harkins is a budding superstar in the Peach Belt.
5. Skyler Jenkins, MSU-Billings
>>> After an inauspicious start to her career as a freshman in 2019 (.286 batting average in sixteen appearances), Jenkins enjoyed a breakout performance in the early-goings of the 2020 season. She batted .473 on the year with fifteen starts and twenty appearances, leading the team with five home runs. She more than doubled her career home run total in a single game in early March, clubbing three longballs against NAIA Carroll College, and ended the year with an .818 slugging percentage. We liked what we saw from Jenkins in the abbreviated season, and fans in Billings are certainly hoping for more of the same in 2021.
6. Kylee Leonhardt, Lenoir-Rhyne
>>> Leonhardt’s career has been one of the finest in Division II over the last few years, and she still has two years of eligibility remaining. She was the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2018, collecting 51 RBIs that year, and an all-conference first-team selection as a sophomore. She was red-hot out of the gate again in 2020, with a .420 batting average, ten home runs, and 27 RBIs to her credit. Her double-digit home run total led her team and conference, and ranked second nationwide.
7. Jenna Lipowski, Kutztown
>>> Lipowski more than doubled her number starts from her freshman to sophomore seasons, and maintained that pace into her junior year of 2020. A first-team All-Region selection in 2019, Lipowski posted career highs in batting average and slugging percentage that year, but topped both numbers in 2020, batting .381 and slugging .746 during the shortened year. She doubled her career home run total in 2020, now boasting fourteen career longballs to her credit, and did not make a fielding error in more than 140 chances.
8. MaKray Odom, Trevecca Nazarene
>>> Perhaps the most underrated player in all of Division II, Odom has never hit below .400 in a single season; in 2019, finished the year with an astronomical .565 mark at the plate. She is Division II’s active leader in batting average and hits, and should cross the 300-hit plateau this year. The 2-time Great Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Odom was well on her way to making a hearty case to win the award for the third season in a row when the 2020 campaign abruptly ended. Even if you’re a passive softball fan, you need to know Odom’s name as she gets set for one final season.
9. Kylee Smith, North Georgia
>>> There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about Kylee Smith. The Nighthawks’ pitching ace has cemented her place as an all-time Division II great, and she’s got one more year to go thanks to the NCAA’s extended eligibility waiver. A 2-time Peach Belt Pitcher of the Year, Smith was the National Player of the Year in 2018 and is also a two-time All-American. She was her usual self in 2020, with a 0.30 ERA, 12-2 record, 153 strikeouts, and an opponent’s batting average of .119. She gave up just eight extra base hits on the year, including zero home runs. Don’t expect to see Mike Davenport bemoaning the extra year of eligibility that allowed him one more year of his ace hurler.
10. Lindsey Stoeckel, Oklahoma Christian
>>> Stoeckel is another two-way, dual-threat player, and contributes handily to the Eagles on both sides of the ball. An all-conference honoree in 2019, her .348 batting average ranked just sixth on the OCU roster in 2020. She tied for second on the team with three home runs and was a perfect 6-6 in stolen bases. In the circle, she posted a 2.05 ERA with fifty strikeouts in 65 innings of work. On a loaded OCU roster, Stoeckel may fly under the radar at times, but expect her to play a hearty role in the Eagles’ success this season.