By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala - One look at her stats and GPA might lead you to conclude that Auburn’s Kasey Cooper is without weakness.
SEC Player of the Year, SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, espnW softball player of the year.
But for this super hero, there is one piece of kryptonite.
“I’m still a terrible speller,” Kasey says. “It’s bad.”
Like every other challenge in Kasey’s life, spelling inadequacies have been overcome with a relentless work ethic.
“I remember a lot of nights, my mom would actually help me study for spelling tests,” Kasey says. “And she has her master’s in English and Spanish. It was hard for her because that’s her subject.”
Kasey’s mom, Peppi, taught school in their hometown of Dothan, Ala.
“Every year, my mom would buy the Grammar book so she could help me.”
Academics were important in the Cooper home.
“They knew if we had the potential to make an A, and we weren’t putting forth the effort, then they would take away all extracurriculars, so that kind of motivated us,” she says. “If we wanted to do things after school, or if we wanted to go to practice, then we needed to make good grades.”
Kasey and her older sister, Kortney, did not miss many practices.
From kindergarten through three years at Auburn, Kasey has never earned a B.
Despite her 4.0 grade-point average in Mechanical Engineering, Kasey says Kortney, a former college softball player at Troy, is “definitely the smart one.”
“My sister has her PhD in Nuclear Chemistry and she speaks way over my head,” Kasey says.
Kasey’s academic struggles were limited to English.
“Math and science came easy, and since I enjoyed it, I wanted to learn more about it.”
When she enrolled at Auburn three years ago, Kasey was still deciding whether to become an engineer or a doctor.
She settled that dilemma in true Cooper fashion.
“Why can’t I be both?” Kasey concluded.
She’s shadowed doctors in Dothan, family members of a close friend.
“It just opened my eyes that I wanted to be a doctor,” she says.
And a year ago, in the midst of helping lead Auburn to its first World Series appearance, Kasey saw first-hand the importance of the patient-doctor relationship.
“Last year, I had to have ovarian surgery in the middle of the season.”
While her teammates were in College Station for a series against Texas A&M, Kasey was in Birmingham at UAB Hospital.
“I had a cyst the size of a cantaloupe,” Kasey says. “It was going to have be removed. But I didn’t know if I was going to be out for two or six weeks when I woke up.”
Thankfully, Dr. John Straughn Jr. was able to remove the cyst laparoscopically, a less invasive procedure.
“My whole team was behind me. It was really cool, but it was really hard for me to get back in the swing of things mid-season,” Kasey says.
She missed the A&M series, then returned the following weekend against Alabama, getting two hits in her first game back. She hasn’t missed a game since.
“I played with quarterback padding for the rest of the year. So that everything would be a little bit safer,” Kasey says.
Along the way, Auburn picked up another softball fan, in Dr. Straughn.
“He’s awesome at what he does,” Kasey says. “I still talk to him. He comes to Regionals now.”
Kasey has rewritten Auburn’s record book with her powerful left-handed swing. A career .412 hitter with 55 home runs.
Before practice begins, you’ll find her in the cage, taking extra swings.
“You can’t get complacent. We need to keep moving forward,” she says. “It’s all about, ‘Keep perfecting your skills.’”
Hitting, like math and science, has always come easier for Kasey. Defense, like spelling, required extra effort.
“The coaches really helped develop me as a defender,” she says. “I really had to work on that. And when you have multiple people at your position, they push you.”
“Haley was so good, and she still is, with short hops and throws on the run,” she says. “And she would push me to go work on that because I wanted to be as good as she was.
“Same way, if I was beating her out on something, she would come and work extra, because that’s what competition does.”
Kasey’s efforts paid off with a spot on the SEC’s All-Defensive team.
“It’s all about being the best you can possibly be. Be the best teammate that you can for your team,” she says.
Auburn’s first USA Women’s National Team member, Kasey hopes the International Olympic Committee will decide in August to return softball to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“I really want to stay with the national team, and I want to play with them as long as I can, especially if the Olympics come back,” she says. “I think that would be awesome.”
With her academic and athletic resume, Kasey would be a strong candidate for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in England after she graduates from Auburn in 2018.
When she’s not studying or practicing, you’ll find her competing in another venue.
“I really like shooting pool. We play pool a lot. The coaches, they’ll come down and they’ll play during breaks,” she says. “It’s really fun. It’s a stress reliever.”
She’s not a natural, but with Kasey’s track record, Auburn’s coaches better enjoy their billiards bragging rights while they still have them.
“I didn’t start shooting pool until I got here,” Kasey says. “Gotten a little bit better. With my spring course load, I haven’t been able to play in a while. It’s fun, but they always welcome me back with a kick in the butt. Anytime the coaches have a chance to kick some tail, they will.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer