The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 31, 2013

Coccitto headed to Notre Dame

Conneaut graduate to play D-II softball

For the Star Beacon

— Lydia Coccitto would love to be a football player. Instead, she will have to settle for playing softball while attending Notre Dame College.

Coccitto, a Conneaut graduate, still has designs of one day finding herself on the gridiron, or at least on the sideline. She will pursue a degree in exercise science with the goal of becoming an athletic trainer. Ultimately, she would be a trainer for a professional football team.

“I really like football,” Coccitto, the daughter of Joe Coccitto and Theo Ahlberg, said. “I couldn’t really play, but I’ve always been interested in being on the sideline for football games. I have a good head and keep my head straight when things are happening around me. I want to be around athletes. I love sports.”

Notre Dame offered the perfect opportunity for Coccitto to follow her heart.

“I visited the school and I talked to the coaches,” she said. “They’re very nice. I also know a girl from Geneva who is going there. I think it’s Sarah Depp.

“I looked at trying to walk on (for softball) at Ohio University, but it was too far away and I couldn’t get ahold of the coach. I did talk to the Akron coach, but I didn’t know if I could do the big-campus thing. Once I talked to the Notre Dame coach, I was pretty sure I wanted to go there. And they have the exercise science major.”

Coccitto got a taste of the classes she will dig into in college while she was still at Conneaut and found it piqued her interest.

“I loved the classes when I had them in school,” she said. “I had Biology II and we covered a lot of anatomy. I also had an athletic training class. That sparked my interest when I took it last year.”

Being involved in just any sport as a trainer won’t be enough for Coccitto.

“Yeah, (I want to work) in football,” she said. “Hopefully, it will be professional football.”

This past fall, Coccitto got a taste of what it’s like to be a part of a football program.

“I had the opportunity with Angie Zappitelli to be on the sideline for football last year,” she said. “It was awesome.”

Coccitto came by her love of football honestly.

“When I was little, my aunt, Trenna Ahlberg, lived in Massachusetts and there, football is everything,” Coccitto said. “I’ve been a Patriots fan since I was little. I watch them every week. Even when my team isn’t playing, I still watch.

“Another thing that inspired me to love football was my grandpa, Erland Ahlberg, was really good. He played at Ohio University and is in the (Ashtabula County Football) Hall of Fame.”

It didn’t hurt that in her stint on the sideline, Coccitto was accepted into the fold.

“Our team isn’t very good, but it’s like a family,” she said. “I feel so bad when people talk crap about them. I always say they don’t know what is going on or what the players are going through. I love that family atmosphere. They treated us like we were family, too.”

Coccitto may never don a helmet and shoulder pads, but she will get a chance to pursue her other love in continuing her career on the diamond.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming since I was little about playing in college.

“When I signed the paper, I thought, ‘Whew! I’m actually on the team now that I’ve committed. It was awesome.”

Being at the Division II Notre Dame, Coccitto will be among a high percentage of athletes.

“Something like 60 percent of the students who go there are in sports,” she said. “I’ll be around athletes. I think it’s the second-most number of athletes in Ohio to Ohio State.”

Coccitto, naturally shy away from the athletic arena, has been a vocal and emotional leader the last two years for the Spartan volleyball, basketball and softball teams.

“When I first played for the (Ohio) Jaguars, Tammy McTrusty was my coach and she told me I had to step up and talk more,” Coccitto said. “I’ve been a leader since then. Still, I’m quiet until the game starts. I feel that it makes me an outcast. The girls will be talking about what they did yesterday or what they’re doing later. I usually say, ‘I’m not thinking about that right now. You guys need to be thinking about the game.’ ”

Becoming a vocal leader has helped Coccitto grow in her ability as a player.

“If I tell people what’s going to happen, I know what I’m going to be doing. In my head, if I know what’s going to happen, I don’t hesitate (to make a play).

“I’m pretty good at anticipating. By talking, that helps me because I’m thinking about what’s going to happen.”

Playing volleyball and basketball helped Coccitto as a volleyball player.

“Conditioning, mostly for basketball, helped,” she said. “Communication in basketball is so much harder than softball, but it helps with softball. Taking a bigger role defensively (in basketball) helped with my quickness and reading people.

“Volleyball was kind of like being an infielder because I was the libero. I had to get every ball.”

As a middle infielder, Coccitto benefited from her other sports in a way that truly shows on the diamond.

“I’m working on my range all year (because of volleyball and basketball),” she said. “Because of the way we set up in volleyball, I had to cover the whole back of the court. I had to cover a lot of ground.”

The coaches Coccitto had along the way have truly helped her achieve her goals.

“Some more than others,” she said. “(Basketball coach Tony) Pasanen yells and gets in your face. That helps me because I can take it. That’s helped me. Others don’t say anything and you have to read their facial expressions. That’s not easy. I like Coach Pasanen. I think he was my favorite coach.”

Pasanen has been known to expect a lot, sometimes too much, from his players, but only in terms of helping them reach goals.

“It helps tremendously when someone believes in you,” Coccitto said. “It’s a good feeling when someone believes in you because it fuels you. Coach Pasanen always believed in us.”

With Notre Dame being located in South Euclid, Coccitto will be close to home.

“That was part of (choosing Notre Dame), too,” she said. “I can be with my family. I’ve always been close to my parents. They’ve always supported me. I never wanted to get too far away from them.

“I know I can always come home. Also, I have family in Mentor who I can go to. It’s nice to have them close because they can still come and watch my games.”

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.