Kasey Cooper: Focusing on the long goal - Tokyo 2020

Nov. 17, 2017, 11:53 a.m. (ET)

This past summer was my second year wearing and competing for the United States Softball Women’s National Team. I can tell you that because of all the experiences it brought me, I am the strongest I have ever been spiritually, mentally, and physically.

As I completed my last collegiate season, my mental game was lacking and doubt had begun to creep into my mind. I know the USA coaches recognized where I was because throughout the season, they checked on me and kept telling me that they couldn’t wait to get me back in the summer and to hang in there. I will always be grateful to them for asking me how I was doing and investing in me as a person, not just as an athlete.

When training camp began, the focus was to get better every day. Boy did we work! We had two- a- days every day to prepare us not only for the Japan All-Star Series and our summer games, but also for the 2020 Olympics. Those early days together showed us a glimpse of what we can do, and they were the beginning of a team chemistry that would prove extraordinary during the Pan American Qualifier.

After training camp, we played exhibition games in Southern California, and I was happy seeing my teammates welcomed home with loud ovations and cheers!  Then we headed to Japan for a three-game series at multiple venues. We had some memorable experiences in Japan. First, we played in the same stadium where the Olympics are going to be held (Yokohama Stadium), and we got chills imagining ourselves competing in the jersey representing our country. Second, we visited a local middle school. While we were there, we learned about the students’ lives, aspirations, and hobbies! Our next stop was Oklahoma City for the World Cup.  Since ESPN and USA Softball signed a contract, the games were televised! The films gave us the opportunity to analyze ourselves and other teams to create game plans. After OKC, we continued our summer with stops in Sacramento, Tuscaloosa, and Auburn. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to play on my home field of four years in the USA uniform.  Hearing the fans yell, “COOOOOOOOP” and having a packed house was FANTASTIC…not to mention Coach E gave me the green light on my last at-bat on a 3-0 count, giving me the chance to end my time on Jane B. Moore Field with a home run. Having my teammates waiting on me outside the dugout after the homerun and having them congratulate and support me showed what amazing teammates and women they truly are.  Another great part of the tour stops was that we were able to share our knowledge about softball and life with girls at softball clinics! Being able to provide that foundation for some, tweaking for others, and sharing why we love the game was great because for once, the players weren’t asking the coaches, “Why?”  They were asking us…Because we were now the coaches!

The Pan American Qualifier games followed the tour stops, and it was a different feel for four of us. For the first time in our lives, we did not make the cut for the roster. That instant was the pivotal turn in the summer for us. We practiced and supported our teammates on the field, but we had a fire in our soul and it ignited passion and grit like nothing had before. We knew that we did not want that feeling ever again, and it pushed us to work harder and to become better. It was also a great test for the entire team because not once did we let a roster divide our team.  We were one unit -- one team -- one group working towards the long goal, not the short goal.

The Pan American Qualifier Games brought us closer when a few introduced the game, Mafia. If you haven’t played it, DO IT. Oh my gosh, it was so fun! Who was lying? And when in doubt, Spaulding and Tooly were always the Mafia, and to have some fun they would accuse Chiddy, Jess, or Val! Oh, the memories. The team chemistry poured over into the games, and we were able to watch our team play with their backs against the wall, and welcome the challenge. We were one game away from losing our chance to play in the Olympics. One game. However, not one time did a single person doubt what we were capable of. As the movie goes, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” The next games were played loose, and each player played with the confidence that if she did not get the job done, the next player would. Because of the “Hey, we got you” attitude and the trust we had in each other, we won a Gold Medal at the qualifier. We topped off Championship day by joining together at the pool to celebrate two girls welcoming Christ into their lives and being baptized. Wow, what a feeling to be that connected as a unit to grow not only mentally and physically but spiritually together. Finally, we finished the summer by competing in the Japan Cup. We were one out away from a Gold Medal, and that bitter taste has added fuel to the fire in everyone’s training. We know that each year, each spot on the USA Softball Women’s National Team is going to be harder and harder to obtain, and we are ready for the challenge.