Mahlena O’Neal doesn’t regret giving up softball.
The University of Georgia senior has more time to focus on education, family and other passions.
“I made the best decision for me,” she said.
O’Neal moved back to Ceres in August.
“I miss the independence of college and being able to fend for myself,” she said.
“It’s been great to be around my family,” O’Neal added. “I get to help my little sister (7-year-old Mahnyah) with her school work and spend more time with her. When I left college, she was 3. She’s a character. What I’m most excited about is being able to watch my brother (Derrick) play a full season of basketball at Beyer if they get to play.”
O’Neal’s completing her final two semesters of college via distance learning.
“All of my classes have been online since March,” O’Neal said. “I haven’t had to return to Athens. I’ve been staying home because of COVID. I’ve just been doing my school work. I’ve been reading a lot more. That was a passion of mine before I went to college. I’ve been catching up on shows. I don’t have a favorite genre.”
O’Neal will be enrolled in just three classes this spring, including statistics, horticulture and dance.
“I’ll go back for graduation,” she said.
O’Neal will make history this spring when she becomes the first person from her family to earn a four-year college degree.
She plans to return to Athens in May to attend the ceremony.
“In our household, both of my parents have always stressed the importance of education,” said O’Neal, who’s majoring in sociology. “They didn’t get the same opportunity I had.”
O’Neal could have returned for a fifth season of softball at Georgia but decided to close that chapter of her life.
She was granted an additional year of eligibility after the 2020 spring campaign was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Neal collected three homers, four doubles, eight RBIs and six runs during her final season with the Bulldogs, who posted a 23-5 record and won their lone SEC series against South Carolina.
“I didn’t get the ending I wanted,” O’Neal said. “It’s unsatisfying and frustrating. That will always bother me. I still follow Georgia softball on social media. I talk to a few of the girls I’m close to. I do miss my teammates, coach and schedule.”
O’Neal suited up for Georgia for three-plus seasons.
She made 143 starts at catcher.
Her fielding percentage of .996 ranks second in team history.
She made just three errors.
She threw out 26 would-be base stealers.
She totaled 99 hits, 17 homers, 21 doubles, 91 RBIs and 38 runs in 174 career games.
O’Neal’s teams at Georgia amassed a 148-60 overall record, qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times and advanced to the Women’s College World Series once.
O’Neal played softball from age, 5-22.
She filled a major role while leading Ceres High’s varsity softball program to 85 victories, one section championship, three Western Athletic titles and four playoff appearances from 2013-2016.
She was selected to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Super Elite Second Team and Medium Schools First Team her senior year.
She earned FloSoftball Second-Team All-American honors.
She was voted WAC Most Valuable Player.
She batted .479 from the plate with nine homers, 12 doubles, 43 RBIs and nine runs during her final season with Ceres High.
In 113 career games, O’Neal hit .462 (171-for-370) with 21 home runs, five triples, 37 doubles, 147 RBIs and 50 runs. She struck out just 15 times.
“I’d like to continue to give softball lessons,” O’Neal said. “I haven’t really thought about it (coaching). If I do, I’d like to work with Mike Baisdon. He did so much for me during my travel ball years.”