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The Case For Softball At The Division III Level

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(Photo courtesy of Salisbury Athletics/Sports Information Director Cyrill Parham)

Natalie Paoli didn't always see herself at the Division III level of college softball. The shortstop, who is currently a senior at Salisbury University, went into her recruiting process hoping to land at a Division I program. But it turns out that the Division III level was a phenomenal fit for Paoli.

Paoli has put together an impressive career at Salisbury. The 2022 Coast-To-Coast Athletic Conference Scholar of the Year was also a Third-Team All-American who helped Salisbury to a fifth-place finish at the College World Series.

Softball America chatted with Paoli about why she chose the Division III level, what drew her to Salisbury and how to thrive as a college softball player.

Softball America: What made you choose Salisbury and who helped you get there?

Natalie Paoli: Ultimately, I chose Salisbury because I felt it was the best option for my overall college experience, both on and off the field. I felt like Salisbury fit into my life and my goals rather than me conforming myself to fit into a university. For travel ball, I played for the South Jersey Mystics, who have a great recruiting reputation. Also, my high school program (Caravel Academy) sends almost all of its players into college ball. Former head coach Margie Knight watched me in a few games against my now fellow teammates, which started my communication with the program.

SA: Did you know right away that you wanted to go to Salisbury or did you hesitate?

NP: To be honest, I did not think Salisbury was for me at first. It was the first of many unofficial visits I took, so I kind of wrote it off. However, I fully believe every athlete ends up where they are meant to be and I'm so grateful to be here.

SA: What made you choose to play at the Division III level?

NP: My entire recruiting process was centered around D1 programs in the Northeast. However, after much consideration, I realized that D3 was a better fit for me. I am a very competitive person and wanted to experience postseason play and striving for a national championship. Realistically, D1 programs in the Northeast are not competing for a D1 national championship. I also knew that I wanted to get as much playing time as possible freshman year.

SA: Has the game gotten slower for you since you’re in your senior year now?

NP: I wouldn’t say the game has gotten slower. However, I think I have found my rhythm in the college game. I learned to control the controllables and not let the game get bigger than it is. In pressure situations, such as in our multiple walk-off wins last postseason, I force myself to remember I have been playing this game for 15 years and that I have been here before.

SA: How was last season different than your other years of college softball?

NP: Last season, I really focused on my why. Since I don’t see playing professionally in my future, I realized these college years are my prime time to fully enjoy the sport I love. Six-year-old Natalie would be so happy to be living out her dream of playing in college.

SA: What advice do you have for youth softball players who want to play in college?

NP: My biggest advice for players who want to reach that next level in their play is to take advantage of alone time in the offseason and in the weight room. There’s a quote that comparison is the thief of joy. You want to go out and be the best version of yourself every day. Ask yourself, what have I done today that makes me 1% better than yesterday? How you do one thing is how you do everything.

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