By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn's Kasey Cooper is heavily invested in the result of an upcoming election that could largely determine the course of her next four years.
Not the one in November. The one next Wednesday, August 3rd, when the International Olympic Committee decides whether to restore softball to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
"We couldn't be more excited about the upcoming vote," said Cooper, the 2016 SEC Player of the Year. "We know softball has made it so far and it's so popular right now. Just to see if it becomes an Olympic sport again, and how much more popular it would grow, it's going to be great to see, and it's going to be great to watch and be a part of."
Cooper, the first Auburn player to compete for the U.S. Women's National Team, would figure to be a strong candidate to be part of Team USA in 2020. The IOC dropped softball after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Sunday, Cooper helped Team USA win the World Championship for the first time in six years, beating Japan 7-3 in British Columbia, Canada.
"It's been awesome. It was a great experience," Cooper said. "Hearing the Star-Spangled Banner come on as we got the gold medal was amazing. You're so prideful, and you love to wear the red, white and blue when you hear that sound come on because I know that Team USA hasn't heard that song since 2010."
Team USA finished the World Championship with a 9-0 record, including two wins over rival Japan, the two-time defending world champs.
Two weeks earlier, Japan defeated Team USA to win the World Cup championship in Oklahoma City. In June, Cooper and the Women's National Team played an All-Star Series in Tokyo.
"We were in Japan, and we played in front of a crowd of over 31,000 people," she said. "To just play in front of that big of an audience is something I'll never forget. People cheering `USA,' and the Japanese people just being so welcoming, and just loving the sport of softball is something that I'm always going to hold near and dear to me."
With a simple act of kindness, Cooper witnessed how softball can connect people from different parts of the world.
During an autograph session at the World Championship, she wrote a note to the French team, a few days after a terror attack in Nice killed 84.
"I wrote them saying, `We're praying for you. We're with you. It shows so much character that you're here playing through this tournament and representing your country well. You're going to be a light for the city. And we're with you 100 percent.'
"I'd never met Team France. Never interacted with them. And I wrote the note and the next day, a few of the players and the coaches stayed after our game and told me, 'Thank you,' and that it meant so much to them," Cooper said.
It wasn't the only bridge-building gesture of the competition. Players from New Zealand purchased softball cleats for Team Kenya, whose members played their first game in sneakers.
"Things like that remind me of why I play the game. It makes me so humbled to be a U.S. player and it just makes you realize how grateful you are," Cooper said.
Accustomed to starring on every team to which she's ever belonged, Cooper said adjusting to a lesser role on Team USA gave her a new perspective.
"It was an eye-opening experience because I've grown so much as a player just from this summer and taking on new roles. I've had the opportunity to see softball from the bench, to see softball as a pinch-hitter, the bottom of the lineup," she said. "All the parts of softball and the softball team that really I haven't experienced before and it'll help me go into senior year at Auburn."
Cooper, the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the Year with a 4.0 grade point average in mechanical engineering, continues to balance athletics with her education.
Two days after winning the gold in Canada, the aspiring physician traveled to Birmingham to shadow doctors at UAB, where she will also participate in research.
"It will help me gain knowledge in the medical field and show me what life is like," she said.
Cooper spent her one day between softball and shadowing at Auburn, recording a promo video for Auburn's School of Engineering in which she lip syncs to "Can't Stop the Feeling," an appropriate choice for a student-athlete who will never be accused of coasting.
"When you win gold and do what hasn't been done in six years, it's such an adrenaline rush," she said. "It's a humbling experience. Why sleep, and why be lazy? Take action, and take charge. With all of the opportunities available, I know it's going to pay off in the end. That's how I keep going."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer