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06/24/2021 12:00 AM

Cooper Chips His Way to All-Conference Honors

Junior captain Dakota Cooper garnered All-Shoreline Conference honors for his performance on the golf course with the T-Birds this spring. Photo courtesy of Dakota Cooper

Dakota Cooper grew up playing golf, but he didn’t start competing in the sport until his freshman year at North Branford High School. Dakota found his groove on the greens with the T-Birds and rose up the ranks to become a junior captain for 2021 campaign in which he earned a top-three finish at the Shoreline Conference Championship.

Dakota’s grandmother Patricia bought him his first set of clubs. After his grandmother moved to Florida, Dakota would visit her, and the two of them would often end up playing golf. With that type of support behind him, Dakota decided to pursue the sport back in his hometown.

“My nana picked up the game of golf just to do something. She really wanted me to do it. I really started from there. Whenever I would go down and visit, we would always play golf,” Dakota says. “She started getting lessons. Every time she would go, I’d join her and watch. I ended up teaching myself. It was a fun experience watching the person instruct her and then figure it out myself.”

Prior to high school, Dakota had never joined a golf league or competed in a sanctioned tournament. He just played for fun, but still tried to improve with every round. Heading into high school, Dakota wasn’t even aware that North Branford had a golf team.

At the beginning of his freshman year, Dakota attended an event in the school’s gym that showed incoming students all the athletic teams at North Branford. Dakota decided to join the golf squad that year and, while he was nervous at first, Dakota felt more and more comfortable as he continued playing.

“Freshman year, it was a little scary going to the first practice. I had really only played golf for fun. I had no clue what it was going to be like,” says Dakota. “My teammates were really nice. We had practice every day, and I learned a lot. It helped my game. I remember my first match. I played pretty well. I improved my confidence.”

Dakota wasn’t able to play for North Branford as a sophomore after the season was canceled due to COVID-19. However, even though he couldn’t be on the links with the high school team, Dakota made sure to continue improving his game, practicing as much as he could to come back better as a junior. Dakota says that being able to play golf was what helped him get through the everyday changes that occurred during the early portions of the pandemic.

“Honestly, that was the most fun I had playing golf. It was the only thing that wasn’t being restricted at the time,” Dakota says. “I worked on it really hard. I got a personal coach. I really worked on my game and my swing.”

Dakota returned to the T-Birds for his junior season and became one of their top golfers. When North Branford competed at the Shoreline Conference Championship, Dakota scored a 78 for his 18-hole round to finish in a tie for third place. Dakota and freshman Jack O’Brien both earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for North Branford this year.

“This season started off rough, but I did really well in the Shoreline. I had an amazing day,” Dakota says. “That was the best round I have ever played. It was just a great experience.”

As he was performing well on the golf course, Dakota also led the T-Birds as a junior captain. Dakota prided himself on being a leader in his freshman season, and he enjoyed helping his fellow golfers improve while holding the captain’s role as a junior.

“I was kind of leading the team back then. This year, it was just really fun. We’re all friends, and we’re all really close,” says Dakota. “With the new people coming on the team, it was nice to help guide them and help them improve. I just told them to play their game. Once we played our game, everybody did really well.”

When Dakota was a freshman, Head Coach Andrew DaCorte told him that he was going to be a captain one day. Now that he’s worked with Dakota for a couple of seasons, DaCorte says that the rising senior is everything that North Branford could ever ask for in a golfer.

“Dakota has been a leader on the team ever since his freshman year. He is the team captain and works very hard to improve his game. His hard work paid off when he shot a 78 in the Shoreline Tournament to finish tied for third,” says DaCorte. “Dakota is everything a coach wants in a player and a team captain. I can’t wait to see how much he improves next year.”

Alongside golf, Dakota is also a member of the North Branford boys’ hockey squad. Dakota joined the team as a sophomore and plays right wing for the T-Birds. Dakota says that playing hockey has helped sharpen his skills on the golf course.

“A lot of people say that hockey players are good at golf. I could agree with that,” Dakota says. “When I picked up golf, swinging was kind of like a slap shot. It’s what guided me. It’s different, but similar. Hockey helped me stay balanced, which helped me with my swing path in golf.”

After considering himself a “below-average golfer” as a freshman, Dakota dedicated himself to the sport and took it more seriously during his next two years at North Branford. As he looks forward to one more season with the T-Birds, Dakota says that golf has become his true passion and is something he wants to pursue after he graduates from high school.

“I look back on some videos, and it’s exciting to see where I’ve come from. I’ve come a long way,” says Dakota. “I would love to take this somewhere and keep playing golf. Maybe have it as a career. It’s nice to see how far I’ve come.”