BUCKHANNON – Mary Cooper is simply carrying on a tradition.
Last week she was named the Mountain East Conference "Defender of the Year." Cooper has led thhe Lady Bobcats to a sterling 17-2-1 record this season, and earned her second consecutive First-Team All-Conference Award. She spearheads a solid Wesleyan defense that has only allowed seven goals through the season's 20 matches.
In leading Wesleyan to a 12-3-3 mark in 2016, Cooper was named to the All-Mountain East Conference First Team as a defender, and in doing so led a defensive corps that only allowed seven goals as well through the season's 18 games (0.37 goals per game). This continued a series of seasons, where the Lady Bobcats have produced one of the top defensive units in the country.
"It is definitely a pride factor in terms of honoring that history of great defense here," Cooper said. "We understand what the teams' have accomplished before under Coach Holguin and his coaching staffs, and we do not take that lightly."
Cooper's trek to Wesleyan, included a multi-sport journey that produced accolades every step along the way. She is undoubtedly, one of the most gifted all-around athletes in the athletic department.
As a youth athlete, Cooper was a year-round performer, who excelled in a wide array of sports; she was a standout gymnast, an athletic point guard in basketball, a swift sprinter in the sport of swimming, and a multi-event star in track & field.
This culminated in a stellar career at Elizabeth Forward High School. She was a state qualifier in swimming, producing strong races statewide in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle. Her best 50-meter time 25.1. In track, she was a strong sprinter, but in track, she was one of the top jumpers in the WPIAL. Her 36'1" triple jump was one of the top jumps in the state. She was a track teammate at EFHS with current Bobcat javelin star Andrea Paterra.
However, it was the sport of soccer where Cooper has been a truly dominant force. She was a forward during her youth career, that started in Association Soccer when she was five. When a spot came open on the defensive back line at EFHS her freshmen year, her coach inserted the ultra-athletic Cooper to the spot…she has never looked back.
Cooper became an immediate impact player and by her senior year, was a highly sought after recruit. This is where her life intersected with WVWC.
"It is a pretty interesting story of my recruitment here," Cooper explained. "I was on my visit to Davis & Elkins and we were driving back on Route 33. When we were approaching the Wesleyan exit, my mom said 'this is where I went to college, let's swing by and see what it looks like now.' I really liked what I saw when I walked around the campus…that's how it got started."
Cooper applied to Wesleyan, and sent a video to the coaching staff. By spring, she was a signed and committed Bobcat.
After coming to Wesleyan, found herself in an unfamiliar situation. She got to travel, but rarely saw the field as the team was loaded with veterans on the defensive backline.
"I got to travel, but I didn't get much playing time," Cooper said. "I had never sat on the bench before, and that part was frustrating, but I can't overstate how much I learned watching that group of girls play. How hard they worked and how they approached the game, it really taught me what it was going to take to be a successful college athlete."
"Cooper is the anchor of our nationally recognized defense. Mary is so strong and fast and is great in the air," Holguin said. "She has become a fantastic leader and has the respect of all her teammates because she respects them as well. She is always the concern of opponents trying to figure out a way to get past her. She was groomed by our former All-American Rachel Ritchey. Rachel set the example and was a great role model for Mary. Mary has now also become a threat on scoring during corner kicks and set plays as Rachel was. Mary has become the complete player and more importantly is a fantastic person with great character."
Cooper is an Exercise Science Major, and is looking to work in that field professionally. This past Summer, she was able to work an internship in Houston Texas where she was able to work with some high level marathoners, as well as some NFL athletes.
"My goal is to work in the areas of sports performance and bio-mechanics," Cooper said. "It would be nice to still be in the Pittsburgh area, but in reality, I will take a good look at all of the options that might be out there once I complete grad school."
For now, there is an exciting post season for Cooper and her teammates to tackle. Wesleyan opens NCAA play this Friday against Gannon at East Stroudsburg.
With a leader like Mary Cooper leading another air-tight LBC defensive unit, 2017 has been another banner year for the Wesleyan squad.