By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Kasey Cooper hopes to pass two arduous exams in June, each known best by its four-letter abbreviation: the WCWS at the beginning of the month and the MCAT at the end.
The Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City starts on June 1. The Medical College Admission Test is June 30.
To return to the World Series, Cooper and the Tigers would need to win this weekend's NCAA Regional in Auburn and next week's Super Regional, which could be a rematch of last year's championship series between Auburn and Oklahoma.
"Everything before this, we can eliminate and erase because it doesn't matter," Cooper said.
The most decorated player in program history, Cooper earned SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors for the second consecutive season.
The SEC's all-time RBI leader, Cooper's career batting average, .386, is exceeded only by her grade-point average, 3.98.
After she takes the MCAT, Cooper will compete for the second summer on the USA Women's National Team. After graduating from Auburn next spring in mechanical engineering, Cooper hopes to remain on Team USA while attending med school, hoping to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"When I first came in, it was always a dream," said Cooper, a three-time All-American. "It was always a goal I tried to obtain. I remember Coach telling me freshman year, `If this is your goal, then make them see you. Make it where they can't deny you.'
"I said, `Alright. That's the goal,' and that goal was attained. Coach Myers said, `What's your end goal?' I said, `Play in the Olympics. That's my end goal, Coach.' He said, `What are you going to do to get there?' That's what we've been working for every day."
Cooper set the bar so high her first three seasons, averaging 19 home runs and a .410 batting average, her senior season stats, while solid, did not match her previous lofty standard.
"I can't look at my numbers because I'm disappointed," she said. "I saw Second Team All-SEC, and I wanted to puke. It's a big disappointment."
A member of the SEC's All-Defensive Team, Cooper's glove work helped Auburn win 46 games and earn the No. 7 national seed. Cooper enters the NCAA Tournament with 9 home runs.
"It's much harder," she says. "Teams know how to play you your senior year. Even when I hit it hard, I feel like there's always people there. I think I've told the coaches, I feel like I was snake bit. Even when I am barreling the ball, if it's not going over, it's getting caught.
"It's definitely been a grind and a struggle, but I feel like I've had to become more of a leader this year and to be more of a team player and role player. It's about getting a job done, finding a way on base. Even now, I was still second in the SEC for on-base percentage. I was first in walks, just finding a way on, because you've got to get on to score runs."
Auburn plays East Tennessee State Friday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU, one of the final chances for fans at Jane B. Moore Field to cheer for No. 13.
"This year has been very hard, but I've grown a lot throughout the year," Cooper said. "Every month I've gotten better, I've gotten stronger. Seeing how much I've learned from myself this year is definitely going to help prepare me for postseason and to be a better leader.
"At this point, you can't really save a season. I can't go back and fix anything. It's just about seeing this as a new year, a new part of the season. It's full of new opportunities, so finish strong."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer