When Danielle Bernstein was finishing up her studies and prep softball career at West Forsyth High School two years ago, her parents made it clear that her main focus moving forward would be school first, sports second.
Bernstein held an athletic scholarship offer from Piedmont College, a Division III program in Habersham County. Instead, Bernstein chose to attend Georgia College in Milledgeville.
“I loved the atmosphere down there, the town. My parents told me to go to college for school, not softball. Really, I just really wanted to go to Georgia College,” Bernstein said.
Bobcats coach Jamie Grodecki wanted her there too. Even though the softball team at Georgia College didn’t have another scholarship to offer—a commonality for DII athletic programs—Bernstein was invited to join the softball program as a preferred walk-on.
So she joined the Bobcats outfield, while also focusing heavily on mathematics as a student. As semesters rolled from fall to spring, Bernstein decided to focus on statistics. She then began transferring her statistical prowess to the softball field.
“I remember there was a day where my Dad would help me out with some stats. I had to get on base three times in a double-header to keep my average above a certain point. Things like that. I try not to, but I definitely get caught up in my stats,” Bernstein said.
As a freshman, Bernstein played in the outfield for 47 games. She accumulated a batting average of .336, had eight RBIs and scored 25 runs. That performance landed her on the Peach Belt Conference’s second team.
“Then my goal was to raise my batting average. I worked hard all summer and moved it up 100 points,” Bernstein said.
This past season Bernstein, now the starting center fielder, played in 56 games, recorded 19 RBIs, scored 40 runs and finished with a .435 clip at the plate. She also stole 13 bases.
Her performance in her sophomore season earned her another All-Peach Belt selection, as well as a spot on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association all-region team and the Daktronics/D-II Conference Commissioners Association all-region team.
More notably, Bernstein has fully earned a scholarship with the Bobcats. Now she’s heading into her junior season with two goals: to reach the Division II World Series, and to raise her batting average another 100 points (which would put it at .535).
“I don’t know how realistic that is, but why not? Right?” she laughed.
Bernstein arrived at North Georgia as a walk-on in a crowded outfield, but channeled her motivation into a considerable playing time as she pushed upperclassmen. As a sophomore, she said there was a role reversal—she was the starter, pushed by incoming freshman in Hannah Coursey and Emily Robertson, former teammates of Bernstein on Team Georgia.
It’s the efforts that don’t show up on the stat sheets that give Bernstein her perspective as she becomes more of a team leader.
“We as a team work so hard every day,” Bernstein said. “Our team had so many people on the all-conference team whether it was first or second because we work so hard as a team, and even the people who didn’t make all conference work just as hard and push us to become better.”
Georgia College had a banner season in 2015, finishing 47-11 and second in the Peach Belt, only behind the national champions in North Georgia.
“We came so close, made it to super regionals and then lost to North Georgia who won the entire thing. Our goal for next year is to do what they did, really,” Bernstein said.
Softball came second, but that isn’t to say it isn’t working out for Bernstein.