New Cyclones softball coach to emphasize offensive, defensive fundamentals in first year at helm of program.
At 25 years old, some may consider Megan Cooper to be too young to assume the helm of a high school softball program.
However, while Cooper may be young in age, she is old in softball knowledge, as the former star on the diamond will look to transfer her success as a player on the field for teams in high school and college to her new role as the leader in the dugout for the Alta Cyclones.
Cooper, a resident of Alta, was named as the school's new softball coach last week, taking over for Jeremy Dettmer, who resigned from his teaching and coaching positions earlier this academic year due to health-related issues.
A four-year letterwinner at second base for Division II North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., Cooper said she is ready to spread her enthusiasm for the game of softball to the future stars waiting to pick up gloves and bats for Alta High School this spring and summer.
"I'm really looking forward to it, because it's something that I've wanted to do for a while," Cooper said. "Softball's definitely my passion. I've played other sports, but softball's always been number one for me."
One of the all-time leaders in a host of offensive and defensive categories for North Dakota State, Cooper said the time she spent as a member of the Bison will serve her well in her new position as the head of the Cyclones softball program.
"That (playing experience) will definitely help me," Cooper said. "I got to experience different kinds of coaching styles from when I was younger in high school to when I was at college, and now I have two different coaching styles to learn from and to use as a coach.
"I think that experience will also help with the little things," Cooper continued. "At the high school level, sometimes you don't even have the time to pick up the knowledge of the little things that will help you win games, but that's what I've learned from playing in college. I know what I need to work with them on, and if they want to make it to the next level, I know what it takes, and I think I can help them with that."
While the Alta post will be the first time Cooper has been in charge of an official high school program, she does bring a history of leadership experience to the table.
Cooper was a coach for a traveling competitive fastpitch softball team in Minnesota for three years during her summers away from the North Dakota State campus, and she is also currently the instructor of the Springers gymnastics team in Storm Lake, a squad that travels to and competes at different competitions around the area.
The new Cyclone coach, who also earned a masters degree from Iowa State University in December of 1999, thinks that resume will help her immensely once the season begins for the red and black at home against Spirit Lake on May 27.
"I think for my age I have a lot of coaching experience," Cooper said, "and I think I have a lot of different things to fall back on. Hopefully that will help."
An exercise physiologist at Sports Rehab in Storm Lake, Cooper attended Forest Lake Area High School in Forest Lake, Minn., a town of 6,500 located 30 miles northeast of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, and lettered in softball, tennis, cross-country and gymnastics for the Rangers.
Recruited to play softball at North Dakota State by then-head coach Mitch Hanson, Cooper made an immediate impact for NDSU, starting all 66 of North Dakota State's games as a freshman in 1996, collecting 61 hits, nabbing 45 bases, picking up 53 assists and helping the Bison go 37-29 en route to a fourth-place finish in the North Central Conference.
Cooper then had a breakout sophomore season, raising her batting average to .390, driving in 25 runs and stealing 42 bases. While her team's record improved to 45-19, they finishing in a disappointing tie for fifth place in the NCC.
She then improved her statistics in virtually every category during her third year in Fargo, hitting .409 with a slugging percentage of .518 and an on-base percent of .452. Cooper drove in a career-high 51 runs on 101 hits, including her first two home runs as a collegian, and hit 19 doubles for NDSU.
She also did well in the field, compiling a career-best .982 fielding percentage with only five errors in 78 games, and helped turn 10 double plays as a second baseman for the Bison, who advanced to the NCAA North Regional.
Cooper then helped the NDSU program navigate through previously uncharted waters her final season in college, as she played a critical role in helping the Bison win their first-ever NCC title and first-ever NCAA North Regional Championship, and was a part of North Dakota's inaugural trip to the NCAA Division II National Tournament in Salem, Va.
Compiling a .271 batting average for a 53-12 team, which never lost more than one game in a row the entire season, Cooper played in all 65 games for the green and gold, and belted 51 hits and again committed only five errors the entire year.
While the Bison's dream of a Division II title ended with a 3-0 loss to Kennesaw State in the loser's bracket of the national finals, Cooper said she will try to help build the same kind of championship-caliber teamwork and chemistry with the Cyclones throughout the 2002 season.
"(That success) has a lot to do with team dynamics," Cooper said. "If your team is working well together and if you can get everyone to come together and work toward one goal, then you'll have a much better chance for success.
"It's definitely my goal to get into the state tournament, which to me in high school is comparable to nationals in college. It'll probably take time, but that past experience I've had will definitely help."
As a collegian, Cooper finished first in NDSU history in career (52) and season (21) sacrifice hits, second in career stolen bases (134) and assists (548), third in career at-bats (841), runs scored (204), fielding chances (1,114), walks (79) and games played (270), and is fifth all-time in runs batted in (120) and hits (289).
That all-around mastery was centered on solid batting and fielding fundamentals, and Cooper said one of her main goals is to teach the basic tenets of softball to each of her players in order for the team to build a solid foundation from which to progress from.
"That is definitely how I will coach," Cooper said. "It's fundamentals all the way. If you can make all of the little things work, then the big things will fall into place. If you work on the little things, the basics, and get those down, then you will win games."
Cooper will also install an aggressive attitude to the overall philosophy of the Alta program, as the former Bison will look to send her players running as much from the dugout as she did on the field in college.
"Aggressive ballplaying is how I will coach," Cooper said. "There will be a lot of running. You're not going to win games by sitting back and waiting for the other team to make mistakes. You have to produce your runs, and if it takes stealing bases or bunting or putting on hit-and-run situations, then that's what we'll do. I am definitely very aggressive."
While Cooper may not be able to swipe any bases herself anymore, the game of softball is still in her blood, and she said she was extremely enthusiastic about being able to lead the Cyclones this season.
"I can't wait. I miss it," Cooper said. "I want to play, but I can't play out there, and the next best thing is to get into coaching and to be there and be in the atmosphere and hopefully build softball up in this part of the state."