Cooper leaves Fitch softball to become an assistant at Coast Guard
Coast Guard Academy softball coach Donna Koczajowski calls Arielle Cooper “arguably one of the best Division III players I've ever seen.”
“I intentionally walked her eight times in a row (in a doubleheader). She was leading the country in on-base percentage, slugging percentage … I thought, 'This kid, she's too hot with the bat,'” Koczajowski said. “She could make it all happen.”
Cooper, a 2009 Fitch High School graduate and a former All-America third baseman at Eastern Connecticut State University who coached the Fitch softball team to two state championships in her three seasons as head coach, announced Monday she was leaving the high school level to take an assistant coaching position at Coast Guard under Koczajowski.
Coast Guard begins practice Feb. 5 and the Bears' first game is scheduled for March 10 in Leesburg, Fla.
“As far as her, success has just followed her,” Koczajowski said. “She is someone I wanted to be affiliated with. I'm tired of coaching against her. … I've been trying to recruit Cooper for several years to come coach with me at the academy.”
Cooper, a 2013 graduate of Eastern Connecticut, first became the interim coach at Fitch in 2014 at the age of 22, leading the Falcons to a 26-1 record and a Class L state championship. She returned to a role as assistant coach in 2015 under Kate Prpich, but returned to the head coaching position for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Fitch again won the Class L title in 2016, finishing the season 27-0 and ranked No. 1 in the final state poll.
Cooper finished with a three-year total of 74-8, with the Falcons amassing a 65-game regular-season winning streak during that time.
“I'm, in a sense, falling back to being more of a student again,” Cooper said of the change. “It's a different perspective to one, be back at the collegiate level and two, I'm going to be watching Donna's lead. I'm ready to just go back into learning the game again and how somebody else perceives it. Softball has always been a big part of my life. It's a good opportunity and step for me.
“Obviously, it has been a very, very difficult decision for me. I'm always a Fitch fan. You always bleed red and black.”
Cooper played third base for Fitch during its 2009 Class L championship run.
She then had an extraordinary career at Eastern, becoming the first third baseman in program history to earn first team All-America honors and being named the 2013 Little East Conference Player of the Year. That season, she led Eastern in batting (.538), slugging (1.076), total bases (142), on-base percentage (.629), runs (61), hits (71), RBI (43), home runs (16), doubles (13) and walks (34). During one stretch of her junior and senior seasons, she hit safely in 63 out of 64 games.
Cooper, now 26, said that in coaching she draws on her playing experiences from Little League all the way through Eastern, where she played in the Division III World Series in 2010 and 2011.
“I had a lot of girls rise to the occasion, from Jackie Lewis to Jayden Delaporta to Caroline (Taber). The whole team rose to the occasion,” Cooper said of her time at Fitch. “I was able to coach the best girls in the state for a long period of time.
“… (Coaching) is starting from nine years old and we're playing in Pennsylvania against Pennsylvania for the New England (Little League) championship. It's being at Eastern. It's all the same situations, just at a different level. Softball is such a mental sport. It helps you in game situations, but it helps you in life, as well, whether you can pull yourself out of it. You're down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh; what are you going to do?”
Koczajowski said Cooper will work a great deal with Coast Guard's hitters and corner infielders. She said Coast Guard sophomore outfielder Claire Hurley, a Waterford High School graduate and a fellow member of the Eastern Connecticut Conference when Cooper coached, has been telling her teammates about Cooper.
“I hope Cooper can live up to whatever Claire's been building up for them,” Koczajowski said with a laugh. “'She hit home runs off of Hayley (Feindel, former Coast Guard All-America pitcher). She's been to the World Series.'
“She's different than me and that's good,” Koczajowski said. “You want someone to complement you. Everything about Arielle is what we're after. There will be no softball learning curve.”