Former Ceres High School softball star Mahlena O’Neal is enjoying a much-needed break from the grind of being a NCAA Division-I student-athlete.
“The passion is still there,” she said. “But it’s different in college. You’re playing for a lot of things. When you’re young, you’re playing for the happiness it brings you.”
O’Neal traveled to Atwater and Oakdale on July 2 to provide hitting and catcher lessons to youth players.
“It’s a joy to give back,” she said.
O’Neal completed her junior season with the University of Georgia in May.
She batted .245 from the plate with five homers, six doubles, 35 RBIs, 14 runs and 16 walks.
O’Neal made three errors while posting a .991 fielding percentage on defense.
She threw out 12 would-be base stealers.
O’Neal hit .214 with eight homers, five doubles, 34 RBIs, 11 runs and 19 walks as a sophomore.
She had a batting average of .219, one homer, six doubles, 13 RBIs, seven runs and eight walks her freshman year.
“My confidence was up this year,” said O’Neal, who raised her average 31 points from a season ago. “I believed in myself more. I am where I am because of my skill and hard work.”
O’Neal started 60 of 61 games in 2019.
“I stayed healthier,” she said. “My training staff helped a lot with that. I got treatment after every practice and game.”
Defense is O’Neal’s strength.
She’s made just three errors in 150 career games.
O’Neal had perfect fielding percentages of 1.000 her sophomore and freshman years.
“It’s definitely very different from high school and travel ball. My team demands a lot more from me. It’s more than just being able to throw the ball hard. You have to be a leader to be a catcher. It’s forced me to come out of my comfort zone.”Mahlena O’Neal
“It’s definitely very different from high school and travel ball,” she said. “My team demands a lot more from me. It’s more than just being able to throw the ball hard. You have to be a leader to be a catcher. It’s forced me to come out of my comfort zone.”
O’Neal and the Bulldogs closed out the 2019 campaign with an 8-1 loss to host Minnesota in the NCAA Division-I Minneapolis Regional at JSC Stadium on May 20.
She collected one hit on offense.
“I’m pretty satisfied with how we did,” said O’Neal, whose team qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 18th consecutive season. “It was not really a surprise. It’s something we expect year.”
Georgia compiled a 42-19 overall record.
“We had a young team,” she said. “We had a lot of people learning their roles.”
The Bulldogs tied for fourth place in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) standings (12-12).
“SEC fans are rowdy at every place,” O’Neal said. “Every team is good. Every girl is the best player from their hometown. It’s a different level of competition. It’s not easy anymore.”
O’Neal and Georgia will strive for continued success in 2020.
“I’m an upperclassman now,” she said. “My leadership role has to come more into play. Next year, we definitely want to go to the World Series. Anything less than that would not be what we want. I want to finish my career in Oklahoma.”
O’Neal 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.
O’Neal 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, Mahlena hit .462 (171-for-370) with 21 home runs, five triples, 37 doubles, 147 RBIs and 50 runs.
She struck out just 15 times.
O’Neal threw out 31 of 48 base runners on steal attempts.