Today you know Claire Davidson one of the premiere sluggers of college softball. It’s been a long path for the senior to reach her career year. A peak she even questioned whether or not she could reach.

Davidson arrived at Duke as a highly recruited two-way star from the Tampa Mustangs organization. After previously being committed to Auburn, Davidson ended up taking a chance to be a part of the startup Duke program.

She spent most of her early career in the circle. Part of that was also due to struggles at the plate. Davidson finished her freshman year with a .097 batting average in 31 at-bats. She began to doubt herself midway through her first season.

“I felt like I was so out of my game,” Davidson said. “I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to compete at the college level.”

Obviously, she figured it out. Her .428 batting average, 18 doubles, 17 home runs and 61 RBIs this season has translated into an ACC Player of the Year award and an Athletes Unlimited draft pick. To put in perspective how remarkable her season has been, this season’s output in doubles, home runs and RBIs is more than what she had combined in her first three seasons.

Breakout year for @claire7davidson

— Duke Softball (@DukeSOFTBALL) May 6, 2024

What changed? A few things truthfully. Davidson stopped pitching this season to focus solely on hitting. She points to the fact she had more confidence at the plate coming into this year. But ultimately Davidson started to play within herself again.

“Coming into this last year, I got back into who I was as a softball player and as a person,” Davidson said. “Stopping pitching helped me focus on hitting and I got back to the hitter I was and the approach that I had in high school. I reminded myself that this game is fun and results aren’t everything. If I enjoy my last year here it will mean a lot more than anything else.”

Davidson has been a complete hitter all year. This is the first season of her career in which she’s earned more walks than struck out. According to Synergy Sports, Davidson’s 37 extra-base hits this season have come off a variety of pitches and she’s scattered them to all fields. She’s had a ton of success against rise, drop and curveballs.

Davidson’s extra-base hit spray charts via Synergy Sports

Davidson mentioned that her confidence was low during her freshman season and she truly wondered if she would make it at this level. Her confidence certainly changed after her sophomore season. Davidson spent the summer at home playing for the Lakewood Ranch Rodeo of the Florida Gulf Coast League. While she had a 9-0 and a decent ERA after two collegiate seasons, the additional at-bats would really help the hitter who only had 20 hits in her career up to that point.

The Duke star thrived in the league dominating on both sides. She led the Rodeo to the FGCL championship and earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Davidson would become a full-time starter in the lineup as a junior. By the time April rolled around last year, she talked to Duke head coach Marissa Young about the best role for herself. Davidson stopped pitching to be the hitter that the Blue Devils needed. She continued to pitch through the summer and the fall. Ultimately after seeing what the staff of Jala Wright, Cassidy Curd, Lillie Walker, Dani Drogemuller and Sophie Garner-MacKinnon could do it was in everyone’s best interest that Davidson be a hitter. And with a team-high 1.439 OPS and Duke’s fourth straight National Seed secured, it was clearly the right choice.

“Claire is a great story of remarkable perseverance. She will be the first to tell you her recruiting journey and few years were challenging and did not go as planned,” Young said. “She went from being a highly recruited player bound for the SEC to rethinking her decision and electing a new program and a great education at Duke. She came in so unsure of herself. As she worked to find success in the circle, at the plate and in the outfield, minor failures really shook her confidence. Over time she put in the work to improve her mental game, learning to find joy in small wins and not be so hard on herself.

“She also took a big leap outside of her comfort zone to play in the college summer league, where she had a ton of opportunities and success as the league’s MVP. That really took her confidence to new heights. We also had additions to our pitching staff which allowed her to take pitching off her plate and focus on hitting and playing the outfield. I’m so proud of her for her perseverance and trust in the process of her development.”

The maturity of Davidson to do what is best for the team shows a lot about her. That also illustrates the culture Young has built at Duke. It is far from easy being a student-athlete at Duke and its high standards academically but it’s clear that Davidson has wanted what was best for her in her life and has the support to strive for it. Her relationship with Young and knowing she could come to her about the decision to stop pitching opened the doors to stardom. There were plenty of ways Davidson’s career could’ve gone. She decided she was going to stick to what she knew and it couldn’t have been better.

‘For freshmen, sophomores or anyone coming in, you have to know that your first year isn’t necessarily a good year or struggling with softball just know that there are four years of belief and growth, forming relationships,” Davidson said. “It really is great to stick it out and reap the rewards of all the work you’ve put in. If I as a freshman would’ve given up, I would’ve left softball very unfinished and not be where I am today. It’s made me such a stronger person.”

We don’t typically see perfect linear growth from a player throughout their career. That’s been the case for Davidson. She turned a rocky freshman season into a player who will forever be known at Duke. Davidson serves as a reminder that you’re never defined by the first chapter and she’s certainly had a storybook ending.