Runners often make big strides between their sophomore and junior seasons. Pioneer’s Emily Cooper took more of a leap than a stride this season and has ran herself into elite status to give an already loaded lineup another big-time runner.
As a tenth grader last year, Cooper was the Pioneer’s fifth runner at the Division 1 State Finals to help her school run off with a state championship. She placed 95th overall (last year was run in two races and then the times were compared and ranked accordingly) but only added 58 points to the team’s total.
She’s currently on course to trim plenty of points off that total this year. In her team’s first four races, Cooper finished in the top 10 every time including second at the SEC Jamboree on Sept. 14 and eighth at the MSU Spartan Invitational on Friday.
Cooper says joining track and field last spring “changed things for me.”
“Running track gave me a deeper passion for racing,” she says. “At Pioneer we have such supportive coaches who have cultivated a program that inspires running to our fullest potential while having fun. Our training program is a great balance of tough workouts and recovery.
“Last year, I was given the opportunity to attend Outdoor Nationals where I was inspired and motivated by the high performing athletes around me.”
That motivation has transpired into hard work and impressive results for a team on a path to three-peat as state champions. Cooper has bad news for other cross country teams – the Pioneers are “driven, positive and competitive.”
“It is so exciting to think about the potential for our season,” she says. “One big goal is to win the state meet for the third consecutive year. Personally, my goal is to continue to progress and improve my time over the season. So far, our team has started strong.”
Yeah, you could say that.
Pioneer has won every tournament they have lined up for so far this season, including the program’s first ever win at the Spartan Invitational on Friday in East Lansing.
Pioneer features some of the top runners in the state, including Rachel and Sarah Forsyth, Cookie Baugh, Charlotte Batra, Natalie Mello. And now Emily Cooper.
“I have learned so much from the leaders and top runners on the team,” Cooper says. “They are gritty and gutsy. They push through adversity. I look up to them and their accomplishments and have learned to maximize my workouts regardless of conditions. I learned that it is possible to balance academics and a high intensity sport. ALL of the members of this team are incredibly kind.”
Emily, 16, is the daughter of Jeanne and Wade Cooper and she participated in sports, music, theatre and dance when she was younger.
“When I got to high school, I decided to try cross country,” she says. “My parents ran in high school and suggested it. I immediately fell in love with the individual challenge of the sport as well as the team at Pioneer. I was planning to play tennis my freshman year when the pandemic hit, but after my sophomore year, I realized there is nothing I’d rather do than race.”
Cooper says it’s important to have a positive attitude towards working hard and running. “I have become so much better at listening to my body and knowing how and when to push myself,” she says. “Positive mindset is a skill that is as important to me as physical training. I am naturally a positive person but I am always working on this.”
So, what is running through her mind when she begins running these challenging courses?
“At the beginning of every race I am so excited to be on the line with my team,” she says. “In the race I am thinking about pushing myself and where I am in the pack. I also sometimes have song lyrics or phrases in my head.”
One song lyric could be “born to run,” because Cooper is running like it’s something she has always been meant to do.
“A huge goal of mine is to run in college,” says Cooper, who has a 3.91 GPA and is involved in other activities at school including GIDAS (Genes In Diseases And Symptoms), Red Cross, Lifeline, Loreleis (acapella group) and tennis. “My freshman year I never would have thought that was possible, but I have been lucky to find this sport, these teammates and coaches who are endlessly supportive.”