By Tom Williams
A little more than two years ago, the lead-off batter for this spring’s Division III state softball runner-up was batting from the wrong side of the plate.
Then a sophomore coming off her first regional tournament basketball game, South Range’s Morgan Czopur decided to give softball another shot.
At her first practice, the left-handed basketball guard stepped into the batter’s box that right-handers use.
“That’s the only thing I did right-handed, I have no idea why” Czopur said of her first softball career. ”It just felt more comfortable.”
Raiders softball coaches Jeff DeRose and Don Feren immediately turned Cozpur around.
“She said, ‘What are you talking about?’” DeRose said on June 4 after South Range lost the Division III state championship game, 8-3, to Wheelersburg at Akron’s Firestone Stadium. “So we turned her into a slapper and a bunter.
“It didn’t take her too long and the results showed,” DeRose said. “Because she’s such a good athlete it wasn’t hard for her to learn.”
In her first varsity season, Czopur, an outfielder, batted ninth. Feren, her head coach for her first two seasons, moved her to lead-off the next season.
“She had one of the highest batting averages on the team and the most singles,” said DeRose as the Raiders (30-4) appeared at state for the first time. It was South Range’s third straight season as district champion.
In basketball, Czopur’s teams won district titles in her sophomore and junior years, giving her five regional appearances. Earlier this year in a game against Springfield, The Vindicator’s Female Athlete of the Year surpassed 1,000 points.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it that game because I needed [a lot of] points,” said Czopur who will pursue a degree in sports management at Youngstown State University.
She said felt good at the game’s start.
“Coach [Tony] Matisi said, ‘We’re going to get it this game, just keep passing her the ball, just keep shooting every time you get the ball,’” she said.
It worked, becoming one of Czopur’s most memorable moments.
In the Division III district tournament at Struthers High School in February, the Raiders (23-3) rallied for a victory over Ursuline, then lost to Canton Central Catholic, 50-47, in the title game.
Czopur averaged 21 points as a senior.
“We’re going to miss her so much,” Matisi said of his point guard. “The one word I used to describe her is passion — don’t see that [much] anymore.
“It didn’t matter if it was practice, a pickup game, horse,” Matisi said. “Of all the players I’ve coached, I’ve only had a few with the passion that she plays with — that’s what I am going to miss.”
South Range’s regional basketball trips to Cuyahoga Falls ended with semifinal losses. Czopur’s first two trips to Massillon for the softball regional ended at the same level.
This spring was different. In the regional semifinal, the Raiders ousted defending champion Champion, 6-1. Three days later, powered by Caragyn Yanek’s 12-inning shutout, the Raiders defeated West Salem Northwestern, 1-0, for their first regional crown.
“It such a great feeling that we went to state,” Czopur said. “No one expected us to get that far.”
In Akron earlier this month, the Raiders defeated Edison 7-0 in the semifinal game before falling to Wheelersburg.
“We got to play on that field twice — such a great experience,” Czopur said. “We were all so excited.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted. But getting to play my last softball game on that field with my best friends, it was a great time and something I will never forget.”
Like Matisi, DeRose will miss his only senior on this year’s team.
“Her athleticism is fantastic,” said DeRose who became the softball head coach last summer after Feren became the South Range athletic director. “Her speed is tremendous, the leadership [positive]. “She made some fantastic catches over the years.”
The daughter of Bob and Joyce Czopur, she credits her mom and brother Zac (now a computer science major at YSU) for helping her progress in basketball.
“My dad never played basketball,” said Czopur whose mom played for Struthers High School.
“She was the one who would work with me outside in the summer, the one you would hear yelling at me [during games],” she said, laughing.
Sibling rivalry was an inspiration.
“We used to go outside and play against each other,” Czopur said. “We’re both really competitive, so one would get mad at the other.”
Matisi said several Division III colleges were interested in her for basketball, but Czopur said it’s time to focus on her education. Her dream job would be to work for the Cleveland Indians.
“I like watching baseball,” she said.
She’ll miss basketball the most.
“Just because I’ve been playing it so long,” said Czopur, who played on travel teams during the summer since she was in sixth grade. “I love the sport so much, more than I ever thought I would.
“Letting that go is really hard. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it will.”