Cooper returns home to Fitch as interim softball coach

Groton - Arielle Cooper, a Fitch High School senior in 2009, was in the middle of a recruiting interview with Eastern Connecticut State University softball coach Diana Pepin and wanted to cry.

"I was looking at my parents for help," Cooper said. "... I didn't even think I'd make it to the collegiate level. I needed a nice push, a nice shove."

Cooper, however, went on to become an All-American at Eastern, a player Pepin last year referred to as the best third baseman in the history of the esteemed program.

On Monday, the 22-year-old Cooper met yet another challenge: her first day as the interim head coach of the very same Fitch team she helped win the 2009 state championship with a diving stop to preserve a run.

Cooper is in the top spot this season replacing Kate Prpich, the coach of that team which won the state title, who along with husband Andrew is expecting their first baby in late April.

"What a great fit I thought she would be," Prpich said. "I think she brings a lot of things. Her youth is something that's going to be great. Her college experience, she's been there, done that.

"She's played at Fitch just like the rest of us that coached there. She played for me, so our philosophy the way she runs things is similar."

Cooper now has a message she wants to share to help shape her young players. Details matter. If need be, she will be the one who provides the shove.

Not only did Cooper become a better player at Eastern, she said "I became a better person. Sports do build character. I credit that a lot to my teammates and the coaches. It's something you want to share.

"I had a bad attitude (in high school). I wish I had taken it a little more seriously. I realize you can only give so much physically, but as long as you keep working on it. It's all a mindset. You've gotta want it. You have to want to be the best. Be coachable. Be a sponge."

Cooper walked around the gymnasium at Fitch on Monday afternoon, appearing to pace. She said it was part energy, part keeping her players on alert that she was noting everything.

The Falcons worked on situational fielding and baserunning. Afterward, Cooper met with Prpich and the rest of the staff, including fellow 2009 graduate Brittany Duclos, who played for UConn the last four years, to discuss their players. The gathering had a lightness among the friends, yet a seriousness.

"I'm not going to be soft," Cooper said. "You build expectations from the get-go. If I expect you to sprint everywhere or hustle everywhere, then you should. It's the little details."

Cooper said she has so many of Pepin's coaching directives in her mind from the last four years, she finds herself repeating them.

"It just comes out," she said.

Cooper, the first third baseman in Eastern history to be named first team All-American and the 2013 Little East Conference Player of the Year, batted .538 with 16 home runs, 43 RBI, 61 runs scored and a slugging percentage of 1.076.

Beginning her junior season, Cooper had a hit in 63 of 64 games, including a program record 33-game hitting streak in 2012. She finished as Eastern's career leader in batting average (.406), slugging (.739), hits (221), homers (40) and total bases (403).

Cooper returned after graduating last year to help Prpich, with Prpich recommending her to athletic director Marc Romano as the program's interim coach.

The Falcons were 16-8 last season, reaching the quarterfinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference and Class L state tournaments.


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