Malibu High softball program excited for season with new coach

The Sharks softball team has been awarded for earning the highest GPA in the CIF Southern Section. Sharks softball team members (from left) Mollie Armitage, Rachel McConnell, Xena Amirani, Isobel Anthony, Elizabeth Walker, Abby Gibson, Hali Norris, Zoe Dunne, senior co-captain Zena Kesselman and senior co-captain Alena Kaye have been awarded for earning the highest cumulative GPA in the CIF Southern Section. (Not pictured: Nancy Walecki)

A breath of fresh air has come across the Malibu High softball program. Long-time and highly respected club coach Mark Cooley was hired last month as the new head coach of the Sharks. With a strong reputation for knowledge and a wealth of experience at his side, Cooley comes to Malibu looking to build a program literally from scratch.

“He is an outstanding coach,” Malibu Athletic Director Chris Neier said. “He has come here and already done a great job of organizing the practices and teaching the girls the tools to be successful. We are happy to have him.”

Cooley, an assistant coach at Westlake High School for the past four years, as well as a club coach for WAGS (Westlake-Agoura Girls Softball) since 2001, inherits a team with only four seniors, no juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen. Depth could be an issue throughout the season with only an 11-player roster.

Coming off a season one year ago where MHS didn’t win a game in league, Cooley has his work cut out for him, but you would not know it by his enthusiasm and positive attitude.

“I’m very excited to be here. I am looking to re-build from the ground up. The full culture we need to rebuild,” Cooley said. “It’s why I get up each day is for stuff like this right here. It’s a personal challenge. I wake up in the night thinking about softball, I wake up in the morning thinking about it and go to bed thinking about it. And who wouldn’t want to work in Malibu?”

The strength of this year’s team is the return of two ladies who have been starters since their freshman years. Senior pitcher Alena Kaye and senior catcher Zena Kesselman form a solid battery that benefits from experience on the field and friendship off of it.

Kaye and Kesselman have been playing softball together since fifth grade. The two team captains refer to themselves as “Pinky and the Brain” because Kaye wears pink zinc on her nose when she pitches and Kesselman represents the brains behind the mask.

“Through the trauma and struggles that we have had, we know each other very well,” Kesselman said. “I started softball here with her and I am ending it with her. The chemistry is there.”

Kaye has been a workhorse for the MHS program. Throwing six innings each game for the past three years caused a slight torn labrum in her pitching shoulder last year. She had surgery in October and is fully healed now and ready to carry the load again for one final season.

“I’m feeling really good. I do have the experience of pitching in high school and that’s something that you are not going to get overnight,” Kaye explained. “In the past we really didn’t have a strong defense behind me so I was the only one pitching and the only one carrying the team on my shoulders.”

Senior outfielders Abby Gibson and Zoe Dunne join Kaye and Kesselman as the only upperclassmen on the team.

Cooley emphasized discipline and fundamentals as the two main areas of focus as he rebuilds the program.

“We need to have discipline because everything has to fall in order. Fundamentals are a necessity here with these girls,” Cooley said. “The future is really bright here because we have a talented group of freshmen. In years to come, I should expect good things from us.”

Cooley’s energy and passion for softball ought to make up for some of the team’s shortcomings and lack of varsity experience on the field.

The Sharks play their first home game on Friday against Hueneme at 3:30 p.m. Kaye and Kesselman can’t wait to take the field as captains to lead a revamped team full of hope and unbridled vigor.

“I’m super excited for the season,” Kaye said. “We have a bunch of new freshmen on the team who have all played before and they share the same passion for the sport as I do.”

“We are going to finish our last season with the knowledge that we are trying the best we can,” Kesselman added. “Without a doubt, I can see us ending up better than we have for the last three years. Softball is a ton of work but a lot of fun.”