Central York grad excels on softball mound while talking openly about bouts with depression

EDWARD LEE
Baltimore Sun (TNS)
UMBC's Courtney Coppersmith during an NCAA softball game on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Courtney Coppersmith

Two days before Christmas of 2019, Courtney Coppersmith was driving on a road near her family’s home in York.

The car slid on a patch of black ice, struck a tree and three mailboxes, and came to a stop against a second tree. The then-sophomore starting pitcher for the UMBC softball program climbed out with only a slight knee injury suffered when she banged it against the dashboard.

Months earlier, the Central York High School graduate had trouble sleeping and avoided social interaction as she dealt with depression. She drove her car around Baltimore without wearing her seat belt and began to wonder whether anyone would miss her if she died by suicide. In her struggle with mental health, this accident was a critical moment.

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“That [accident] was something that I wished had happened for the longest time, and I walked out of that car, and I was happy that I was alive,” she said. “I was grateful that I was able to walk out of the car and be perfectly fine. That was the kicking point of [showing] there is so much more to live for in life because you never know when something is going to happen.”

A distant memory: That memory seems distant considering what Coppersmith and her Retrievers teammates have accomplished, capturing three consecutive America East Conference Tournament championships and automatic bids to NCAA Division I tournaments.

They earned a berth in the Durham Regional, which includes No. 12 seed Duke, Georgia and Liberty. UMBC (31-10) is scheduled to face the Blue Devils (41-8) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. at the Duke Softball Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, after the Bulldogs (40-16) and Flames (43-16) play at noon.

The Retrievers’ chances of advancing might rest on the left arm of Coppersmith, who leads the nation with a scant 0.26 ERA, is tied for 30th with 211 strikeouts and has amassed an 11-3 record with 13 complete games. Coach Chris Kuhlmeyer said Coppersmith won’t shy away from the challenge of trying to limit a Duke offense that ranks fifth in the country with a .337 batting average and sixth with 1.9 home runs per game.

“The kid is one of the most ultimate competitors you can find anywhere in the nation,” he said. “She has this will to not lose at anything she does — whether it’s academics or on the softball field or it could be something as simple as playing kickball in the RAC. The kid just doesn’t like to lose, and everyone around her wants to elevate their play because they want to compete as hard as she is at the same level or as close to the same level as she does.”

Success didn't come easily: Coppersmith’s prowess on the mound did not come easily. She had a stellar freshman campaign in 2019 during which she became the school’s first All-American, was named the conference’s Pitcher and Rookie of the Year with an 18-15 record, a 2.77 ERA, five no-hitters and one perfect game, and set program records for strikeouts in a season (346), shutouts in a season (14) and lowest opponent batting average (.157). But amid it all, Coppersmith was dealing with depression.

A number of factors contributed to Coppersmith’s declining mental health. Two weeks before arriving at campus, she dislocated her right elbow during a summer softball tournament and was sidelined for the entire fall ball season. The end of a romantic relationship soon followed.

Coppersmith was cleared to return in time for the spring season, but road trips meant she and her teammates missed important classes. And she struggled with a workload north of 200 innings pitched.

The tipping point: Coppersmith, who turns 22 next month, said the tipping point occurred in mid-April when UMass Lowell swept UMBC in three games during which she was credited with all three losses.

“I know that was not a fun ride back for me,” she recalled. “I take a lot of the pressure on myself, and I hold myself to a high standard.”

Back on campus, Coppersmith found herself unable to sleep, staying awake until 2 or 3 a.m. before joining her teammates for conditioning at 6 a.m. She also began to stay in bed during the day, skipping classes.

Coppersmith avoided social interaction, staying in bed rather than join friends and teammates for game nights and birthday celebrations.

“Obviously, that was not OK,” she said. “I didn’t talk to anybody about anything. I didn’t try to relieve any of the tension or stress that I had. I just kind of kept it all in.”

Help from a friend: Coppersmith began to overcome her state of depression thanks to a friend who became a sounding board. Later that summer, she got involved in a new relationship and submitted an essay on her battle for her mental health that won first place in the Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers Contest.

Since then, Coppersmith has been open about her bout with depression, recording videos with the America East. Kuhlmeyer said he wished he had been better at sensing Coppersmith’s struggles and praised Coppersmith’s activism, especially in the wake of a recent spate of suicides among college athletes, including Stanford soccer goalie Katie Meyer in March and Binghamton lacrosse goalie Robert Martin, Wisconsin track and field distance runner Sarah Shulze and James Madison softball catcher Lauren Bernett last month.

“Her being able to get it out there in the open for everybody to read and present herself in that manner was completely eye-opening to me,” Kuhlmeyer said. “With her being so open about it now, we’re able to know the warning signs and be able to communicate with her if something’s going on. It takes a brave person to step out from the shadows and be able to lay themselves out there. So I’m very proud of her and the way that she is still putting herself out there and being an advocate for mental health for student-athletes and just all people in general.”

She still has her moments: Coppersmith, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in biochemistry and molecular biology, acknowledged that she still has her moments of “low morale.” She chose to skip a friend’s birthday party Sunday to talk to another friend and improve her outlook.

Coppersmith said her perspective on life has improved since reminding herself that she is “more than just an athlete.”

“I know that I have a lot of those days where I feel like I’m back there, but I guess for me, I’ve learned how to deal with it,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to succeed in life and succeed every single day while also dealing with it at the same time and not let that stop me from having a life.”

If you or someone you know might be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) anytime day or night. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.