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What It's Like To Play Division 2 Softball

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(Photo by Seton Hill Athletics)

Seton Hill University graduate student Morgan Toal wakes up for each Saturday doubleheader around 9 a.m. She’ll mosey around her apartment for a little while and sometimes make herself something to eat—though her eating is sparse because she tends to get nervous before games. Then, her roommate, who’s also a member of Seton Hill’s softball team, braids her hair. Toal likes to keep the same braid for every game, and for the last two years, she’s donned a sunflower with blue, purple and red ribbons in her hair, the same colors she laces up on her cleats.

She wears blue and purple for mental health awareness in honor of her former travel softball teammate, Lauren Bernett, who took her own life in April. The red and blue were the colors of the travel team they both played for.

She’ll put on her socks, stirrups and pants and throw on her jersey when she arrives at the field around 10:45 a.m. In order, Toal puts in her ponytail, then the bubbles for her hair, then the sunflower and finally the ribbons before heading off to the field.

Toal doesn’t really see a difference in talent between Division 1 and 2 college softball. Sure, she’s played at Pittsburgh’s softball stadium during fall ball and gawked at the 600-seat Vartabedian Field and indoor batting cages adjacent to the field. But no one “got stuck” playing D2 softball, she says.

Teams, especially Seton Hill and the rest of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, have the same level of talent as Division 1 programs, according to Toal. She knows the Griffins aren’t the Oklahoma Sooners, but her team has some of the most talented players she’s ever competed with or against.

“I think being at the D2 level, a lot of people look down (on us),” Toal said. “But, the competition's amazing. Everything about being a D2 athlete and playing a D2 sport, I don't know, it's just amazing.”

Toal tore her ACL during her junior season of high school, which is one of the most crucial times for college softball recruiting. She was talking with Division 1 program Saint Francis University at the time and, much like Seton Hill, liked its small campus in Pennsylvania that was close to home. But, she ultimately chose the Griffins, in part because her travel coach had a close relationship with then-head coach Bill Monstrola. The facilities—including Seton Hill’s turf field and in-ground dugouts—appealed to Toal.

She liked the idea of playing in the PSAC, a conference which includes teams mainly from Western Pennsylvania. Road games are Toal’s favorite part of playing at Seton Hill. The team will take a Coach USA bus the morning of an away game and drive to the opposing school, with each player having their own seat. With either the team budgeted debit card or cash from the travel budget, the head coach will give players $10 each to spend. Last year, Seton Hill usually stopped at Walmart on the way to a game.

“I think that it's just like really good competition because I think anyone Division 2 that we play, at least in the PSAC and the regions around us, are D1-(quality) players,” Toal said.

The Griffins will travel as far as Maryland for games, play and then return home that same evening, usually stopping at a Sheetz gas station or somewhere else to get dinner.

Division 2 is still as time-consuming as the D1 level. Toal estimates that she spends a total of 30 hours a week doing softball-related activities during the spring season. NCAA regulations allow her to have a job during fall ball doing patient registration at the emergency room at a nearby hospital. But once the season ramps up, she foresees that she can only work one or two shifts a week. But, she’s able to have the job, play softball at a PSAC-division winning level and still work toward her master’s degree.

“I don't think it's as time-consuming, but it's definitely still like a job, but a fun job,” Toal said.

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