From the Court to the Field: Mallory Odell’s time as a dual-sport Division I Athlete

Mallory Odell used to be a single-sport athlete. Then she went into the fourth grade.

Mallory, a senior at Longwood University, has been a dual-sport athlete in basketball and softball not only since arriving at college, but for most of her life. She began playing her first sport, softball, in the second grade, after being introduced to baseball by her father.

Mallory playing softball as a child.
Mallory playing softball as a child. Photo courtesy of Mallory Odell.

“My dad is a baseball coach, so that’s why I started playing softball,” she said. “It was always there because I had seen him around it and I had been around the game growing up as well.”

Mallory continued playing softball for the next few years, but when she was in the fourth grade, she became interested in basketball. It was something new that she had never tried before, and since her older sister Alley played, she decided to give it a shot.

“Basketball appealed to me because it was something different,” Mallory said. “The speed of the game is totally different from softball, and things change more quickly, so it was a total switch for me.”

Mallory playing basketball as a child. Photo courtesy of Mallory Odell.

Mallory continued playing both sports throughout her elementary and middle school years, but once she got to high school and began the college recruiting process, she had a tough decision to make. It is unlikely for two-sport high school athletes to play both at the collegiate level, so Mallory had to make a choice: softball or basketball.

The decision was not easy, but in the end, she chose to pursue basketball.

“I had made the decision around my sophomore year of high school when things got more competitive that I was going to try and pursue a basketball scholarship in college,” Mallory said. “The idea of playing both appealed to me, but it did not seem that realistic.”

Despite making that decision, while going through the recruiting process, things fell into place for Mallory, and she was able to come to Longwood to play both sports at the Division I level, an opportunity that very few student athletes receive.

Mallory with her parents on signing day. Photo courtesy of Mallory Odell.

“What Mallory’s done, is simply not done anymore,” said Head Women’s Basketball Coach Rebecca Tillett. “There’s so few student athletes across the country that, one, have the skillset to play two sports, and then two, have the fortitude to do it.”

Which is true. According to the NCAA, around 1.3 percent of women go from high school basketball to the Division I level, and 1.8 percent do the same for softball. An even smaller percentage play both.

A huge part of that is the intense schedule. Mallory begins her days with classes starting as early as 8 a.m. that run through the morning into the early afternoon. She only gets a short break for lunch before heading to the training room for workouts, lifting and practice, which can average up to four hours per day. Once that is over, she heads home for school work and sleep before she does it all over again the next day. She travels often for games, which means missing class and having to make up assignments. The days are long, but Mallory, who was recently named to the Big South All-Academic Team for the second straight season, enjoys her classes and learning. When it comes to staying on top of her work and getting things done in her limited free time, Mallory emphasizes the importance of staying organized.

“I’m a list-maker, so I make a lot of to-do lists in order to keep everything sorted as best as I can,” she said. “And when I do have a little bit of free time, I know I need to be working on something for my classes.”

And free time does not come often for Mallory. In order for her to play both sports, an agreement was made to ensure the seasons do not overlap, so she only plays one sport at a time. She begins the year with basketball and continues that until the end of their season before joining the softball team.

Mallory at the Longwood vs. Towson WBB Game. Photo courtesy of Sam Hovan/Longwood University.

“We have an agreement with basketball where once she finishes with them, she comes to us,” said Head Softball Coach Dr. Megan Brown. “And then she will finish out the season with us through May.”

Because of her schedule, it can be easy to feel tired or burnt out, but Mallory says that she tries to focus on the positives, and stays motivated not only for herself, but also for her coaches and teammates.

“Even if I’m not feeling it one day, I still get to show up and see all of the people that I care about and who care about the same things that I do,” Mallory said, adding that it’s all about perspective. “Instead of looking at this as things that I have to do, I view it as things that I get to do.”

Mallory playing softball. Photo courtesy of Mallory Odell.

Both coaches agree that Mallory has a great perspective on life, and that she is always present at practice, never worrying about outside problems or even her other team.

“She’s so present and involved with our team, it never feels like we’re sharing her,” Tillett said. Dr. Brown added, “She focuses on what’s in front of her and always stays in the moment.”

Because of her commitment to sports and academics, Mallory has grown tremendously as both an athlete and a person. Specifically, she has become a better leader, and has figured out what’s important to her.

“Mallory is an amazing leader on and off the field,” Dr. Brown said. “She is very grounded; she knows who she is, what she’s about, and has a high level of maturity.”

Tillett agreed, adding that she has seen her confidence bloom over the past few years.

“I think her confidence on the court grew so much, and so did her confidence as a woman,” Tillett said. “I’ve seen her take on big challenges in her life, and she’s spoken up for what’s right. I think she always had that ability, but now she’s developed her own voice.”

As for what’s next for Mallory after her May 15 graduation, she is still in the decision-making process.

“Everyone gets fifth year eligibility due to COVID, so I could come back and play another year,” she said. “I’m also interested in being a graduate assistant at another program where you get your masters and then you’re the lowest level like assistant coach or dobo, getting a feel for everything, since I might be interested in coaching. I’m exploring everything and figuring it out.”