The play of the Cookson sisters gives CV softball a chance to take the Pacific League this season.
By Brandon HENSLEY
One is a junior at Crescenta Valley High, the other a sophomore. One has red hair and freckles, the other a darker complexion. One is left-handed, the other right-handed. One plays centerfield, the other shortstop.
And yet people still get Hannah and Hailey Cookson mixed up, and some even think they’re twins. Not least of all, their own coach Mark Samford is guilty of it.
“He calls me Hannah all the time,” said Hailey, the sophomore infielder.
Hannah seems to have resigned herself to her position in life.
“I just answer to Hailey sometimes,” she said. “I’m used to it.”
On the field, though, both of their names can be synonymous with “Great.” Both players are crucial to the Lady Falcons program, putting up big numbers while leading the team as underclassman.
Last season, during a 20-8 campaign that saw CV lose in a CIF wildcard game, Hannah batted .731 with 53 RBIs and 16 home runs, not to mention boasting a robust 1.672 slugging percentage. Hailey was plenty productive herself, hitting .551 with 14 RBIs, and her 17 doubles led the team.
This year, with the Falcons struggling at 5-6-1 coming into today’s game against Hoover, the fault can’t lie with the Cooksons. Hannah is currently batting .477 with two home runs and 16 RBIs, and Hailey’s average is .488 with six RBIs.
Hannah has most plate appearances this year, while Hailey is third on the team. Hailey led the team in plate appearances last season, while Hannah was tied for third with Allie Lacey.
Both sisters have spent years in CSA and travel ball before coming to CV – they still play travel ball currently – and it’s their approach as different people that can help the Falcons compete in the Pacific League.
“The most valuable form of leadership she’s going to give us is by example,” Samford said of Hannah. “She’s going to compete. She’s prepared. She works hard.”
Even though Samford said Hannah is less of a vocal leader, her teammates should take notice.
“As a player, you look at her and say, ‘The best player on the team is working hard. What should I be doing?’” he said.
As for Hailey, “She’s a more laid back person,” he said. “But she’s a freaking gamer. When it’s time to play, she’s going to dig and bite and claw and scratch to get a win, and it’s hard to deny the value in that.”
Bite and scratch? That sounds like the sisters’ childhood growing up.
“We fought over stupid stuff,” Hailey said. “I don’t even remember what we fought about.”
“I used to punch her,” Hannah chimed in.
Hannah, who is slated to sign with Long Beach State next February, has since transferred her aggression to the plate, and she talked about her approach during each at bat.
“The mindset in travel ball is swing at the first pitch because they’re not going to throw you any more strikes,” she said. “But [in high school], you have to wait for the right pitch. It’s hard because I’m so aggressive at the plate, so I need to wait for a strike.”
On the field, Hailey is sometimes reluctant to chirp up when she wants to help others.
“Sometimes I keep my mouth shut because I’m an underclassman,” she said. “I like it when people help me, but I don’t know if they like people helping them.”
Hannah said the team is close, because everyone has played with each other for so long. But she did add that communication is the biggest concern. Maybe that’s no big deal, or maybe it’s just that the program has been in flux since the passing of longtime coach Dan Berry in 2011.
The team underwent a transition year in 2012 with Samford coming along and working with assistant Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo, a former first baseman under Berry.
“Sometimes they have different perspectives, but they talk it out,” Hannah said. “Coach Samford is coming from the coaches’ point of view. Ashleigh’s been there; she knows the situations.”
All of that is okay because there are many ways to play and coach softball, said Hannah.
“I love Ashleigh. She’s always there for me,” Hailey said. “Our coaches are really easy to talk to.”
If CV is to topple reigning league champion Burroughs and runner-up Burbank, it’s going to need everything the Cooksons have, but the team almost never had either of them.
Both went to Holy Redeemer Middle School, and both almost attdended different high schools; Hannah to La Cañada and Hailey to another private school.
But at the time, their father John, along with Coach Berry, convinced Hailey to become a Falcon. And what a difference a couple of years makes.
“My first week as a freshman was so hard. I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “Now that I’m here, I wouldn’t leave. Now that I think about it, that was crazy.”