The Stony Brook softball program has a knack for turning relative unknowns into stars. After breaking out in year two, shortstop Kyra McFarland can be added to that list.
Coming from the plains of Colorado, McFarland is a long way from home. During her time as an athlete, she has fought several battles that have made her who she is today.
McFarland’s toughest conflict continues to this day. Stony Brook’s rising star began her career at five years old when she joined her first baseball team. At the age of eight, she switched over to softball, officially setting her career in motion. However, her run in this sport almost came to an end recently, as she struggled mightily with her mental health in 2022.
Last year, McFarland was diagnosed with Bipolar II. Scared by both the challenges of the disorder and the stigma surrounding mental health issues, she considered leaving her softball career behind.
“Last spring, I think was some of the lowest points of my life that I had ever hit mentally,” McFarland said in an interview with The Statesman. “It even trickled in a little bit to this past semester. At one point, I didn’t know if I was even going to come back for this year.”
Though she was struggling inside, McFarland bowed her neck and did not let the disorder win. She played through her mental struggles and thrived as a sophomore, starting in all 47 of the Seawolves’ games in 2022. As the team’s everyday two-hole hitter, she batted .313 with a .368 on-base percentage, en route to racking up seven doubles and 15 RBIs. She also led the team with two triples, 11 stolen bases and nine sacrifice bunts. Her 47 base hits tied her for second most in the America East Conference (AE).
Fittingly, McFarland was also the toughest hitter to strike out in Stony Brook’s starting lineup. She averaged 13.6 at bats per strikeout, which is symbolic of her resilience.
“Continuing to play through that, I made myself really proud,” McFarland said. “It really strengthened myself as a character.”
Her decision to ultimately return for this upcoming 2023 season had nothing to do with her statistical achievements. McFarland knew that she could get by with the help of her teammates and coaches, who have become a second family for the Colorado-native.
“My reason to come back was this team, truthfully,” McFarland said. “Some of the best friends that I’ve ever met are on this team. So I didn’t want to abandon them at all. This support staff that we have here is really good. So I don’t think that I had any doubts that if I would come back, that I couldn’t get through it — because of this staff and this team.”
McFarland has a track record of overcoming challenges. Not many colleges had her on their radars while she was at University High School in Greeley, Colo. In fact, Stony Brook softball head coach Megan Bryant was the only NCAA Division I coach to offer her a scholarship.
“I was not very highly recruited coming out of high school,” McFarland said. “Stony Brook was actually my only Division I offer. I had a couple Division II’s, I had one Division III and then I had a couple of junior colleges as well.”
McFarland was fortuitous just to receive that one offer. The club team that McFarland was playing for at the time had already provided Bryant with two good players: Melissa Rahrich and Riley Craig. That helped her travel coach form a connection with the staff at Stony Brook, which opened the door for McFarland.
McFarland did not let her severe lack of recruitment faze her. She proved herself right away to be a diamond in the rough, becoming the only freshman starter on the 2021 Stony Brook softball team. During her first season, she won a pair of America East (AE) Rookie of the Week awards and wound up being selected to the conference’s All-Rookie team. She played excellent small ball for that team, batting .267 and leading the team with seven sacrifice bunts. She also was perfect on the basepaths, stealing eight bases in as many attempts.
Her effectiveness as a freshman helped the Seawolves go 27-16 and reach the conference championship game, where they ultimately fell short against the UMBC Retrievers. Her successful debut season helped give her confidence for the long run.
“I think that [season] was a big confidence boost for me, for sure,” McFarland said. “I think that kind of solidified my idea of ‘Yes, I can play at this level. I will be okay.’ When you’re a freshman, that’s all you’re thinking of.”
Another obstacle McFarland faced was her defensive struggles as a freshman. She did not play a good second base in 2021, committing nine errors in 76 chances, good for a measly .882 fielding percentage. Luckily, she found a mentor in former starting shortstop Nicole McCarvill, who helped make her a better fielder. The two were throwing partners and put in a lot of work during their two years together, which reflected in her defensive performance in 2022.
Bryant moved McFarland to third base to start the 2022 season. Unfortunately, McCarvill suffered a season-ending injury in mid-March, so Bryant shifted McFarland to shortstop to fill her place. Playing shortstop, McFarland improved upon her 2021 fielding percentage by 62 points. In 10 more games played, she committed three fewer errors.
She attributes her improvement to McCarvill’s leadership.
“[McCarvill] was trying really hard to make me the next shortstop,” McFarland said. “She was teaching me everything she knew. She was critiquing every little thing I did just to make sure that if I had to go in, that I was ready for it. And so I think that having her behind me made all the difference in the world.”
She intends to keep trending upwards with the glove. Her goal is to commit no more than three errors this season: a tall task that she feels ready to take on.
“It’s a bit of an ask, but you’ve got to set your goals high,” McFarland said.
Even in high school, McFarland faced difficulties that required perseverance. Her freshman year at University High School was the first year the school had a softball team. The University Bulldogs softball program started off on the wrong foot, going 7-13 overall in its inaugural year.
That poor start did not stunt McFarland’s growth. Over the next three years, she significantly improved her slap-hitting ability and became a star player. She earned All-State honors in her junior and senior years and received an honorable mention for the award as a sophomore. She wound up being named team captain as well. Her performance and leadership helped build the program up, as the team pulled off three consecutive winning seasons over her final three years.
By her senior year, McFarland had become the first-ever four-year letter-winner in program history. She made the most of this feat by leading the Bulldogs to a state championship victory. McFarland helped turn what was once a brand-new program into the 67th-best high school team in the nation.
Softball was only one sport that McFarland lettered in four times. She also played ice hockey in high school and was the captain of that team, too. She started playing hockey the same year she switched over to softball. The 10 years McFarland spent playing hockey helped develop her athleticism, which has helped make her even more lethal on the softball field.
“I think that playing two sports all the way up until I left for college helped my body learn different ways to move,” McFarland said. “I can cut on angles, I can stop on a dime.”
No matter how many bumps there were in McFarland’s road to success, she has found a way past all of them. Stony Brook softball’s transition into a new conference will bring her and the team yet another obstacle to overcome. However, if McFarland’s history is any indication, you cannot strike her out.