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August 14, 2013Sitting at a picnic table on the concourse of Lubrano Park, Penn State's 5,570-seat baseball stadium, Rob Cooper rattled off a list of goals that he hopes to accomplish as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
He wants to lock down the state's top recruits, or as he said, "build a fence around Pennsylvania." He wants to become one of the top teams in the Big Ten. He wants to make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and he wants to get there by winning a Super Regional on Medlar Field.
"I want to see us go to Omaha," he said. "I want us to host a Super Regional here, win it and go to Omaha. I really believe it can happen, I really do. Otherwise I wouldn't have taken the job. It's not going to happen over night. Its going to take some work and time. I'm not going to push a fast-forward button to get there. Our focus right now is to do the best today, take care of today and win today."
A two-month search ended Aug. 9 when Penn State hired Cooper to become the 14th coach in the program's 125-year history. He last coached at Wright State, where he transformed the Raiders into perennial contenders in the Horizon League.
After taking over a team that had suffered six losing seasons in a seven-year span, Cooper built Wright State into one of the Horizon League's top teams. He coached the Raiders to seven 30-win seasons and two regular-season conference titles.
At Penn State, he inherits a team that went 14-36 overall and 4-20 in the Big Ten in Robbie Wine's final season as head coach. The Nittany Lions have had sporadic success at the conference level - they were third in the 2012 regular-season standings in 2012 - but have struggled to get back to the NCAA tournament. While the program has made 19 all-time tournament appearances, it has made only one since 1976.
Cooper built Wright State from a Horizon League cellar dweller into a consistently competitive team who qualified for the College World Series in just his second season as skipper. He's hoping to have a similar track to success in Happy Valley.
"The first thing we did is come in there and change the culture and the mindset," he recalled. "We had to get those guys to believe that they could win and to expect to win. Part of the thing you do is take away the excuses. 'We're a northern school. It's cold' Well, so what? Those things only become problems if you say they are."
In nine seasons, Cooper accumulated a 286-230 record at Wright State. During his tenure, the Raiders twice defeated No. 1-ranked opponents (Virginia in 2010 and Georgia in 2009).
Lehotak has keys for success
It might be a difficult task in replacing Robin Petrini, who resigned June 7 as the winningest coach in Penn State softball history. But Amanda Lehotak will begin pecking away at her 489-win total next spring, as she begins her first campaign as Nittany Lion head coach.
On July 22, athletic director Dave Joyner announced Lehotak as the seventh coach in program history, ending a national coaching search that lasted just over a month. Lehotak, a graduate of Nebraska-Omaha, spent the last two seasons at Texas-San Antonio, where she led the Roadrunners to a 27-26 record and a berth in the Western Athletic Conference tournament in 2013, the first season UTSA participated in the WAC.
While her goals are tempered for her first season with the Nittany Lions, Lehotak has high expectations for her team. And that, she says, is a recipe for eventual success.
"There's three things that we can control every day," she said Tuesday at the Nittany Lion Softball Park. "That is: our attitude, our effort and our belief in our ability. So I want those things mastered in the fall. I think those three things equate to being competitive. Those three things, if we master them, will result in what everybody wants. That's wins."
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