Ask any athlete or coach, and they’ll tell you that the most fun they have is when they’re winning. That’s why it’s easy to understand why the Cooper Lady Cougars didn’t have much fun last year on the softball diamond.

One season after winning 20-plus games and going four rounds deep in the Class 5A playoffs, last year’s group got off to a promising start before hitting the skids in District 4-5A play. Cooper suffered several close losses, and despite an overall winning record of 13-11, the district mark of 2-8 left the Lady Cougars in fifth place and out of the state playoffs.

But with a solid returning core, veteran head coach Stacey Herring (93-90-4 in eight seasons at Cooper) is looking forward to better days in 2023.

“We had so many girls who had played together in 2021, and that made a huge difference,” Herring said. “They played together year-round, knew my system and how we do things. You can’t replace that. Last year was a different story. When you go as far in the playoffs as we did in 2021 and only graduated three seniors, it’s almost like you think you’ve made it, but you hadn’t put in the work like the team the year before did to reach that point.”

This year’s group, though, has already recognized that and is working to fix that and other shortcomings from last year’s team.

“I think they’re more relaxed and seem to be having more fun on the field,” Herring said. “We’ve got a good flow as a team, and I’ve already felt a difference in the attitude of this team over last year’s team. We’ve got a lot of girls who are hungry to get back to where we were two years ago.”

Two of those players, senior outfielder Chyann Sutton and junior outfielder Jazlyn Hatcher, were on the 2021 team that finished 27-9.

“Last year was devastating because we could have done what the team in 2021 did, but we had communication issues on the field, which really hurt us,” Sutton said. “But this team already has a better bond and communicates better on and off the field.”

Hatcher said getting back to having fun will help the Lady Cougars return to the postseason in 2023.

“We just had fun in 2021,” she said. “There was pressure on us once we got into the playoffs, but during the regular season, we were relaxed, had fun, and just played the game. We didn’t do that last year. Our communication wasn’t good, and we didn’t make plays. But I already see a difference this year: we’re more positive with each other, and our communication is better. It’s probably too early to tell if we’re where we need to be, but we’re getting there.”