Making the jump from a Texas Class 3A high school volleyball player to NCAA Division I action — during a COVID-19 season no less — might have been too much for some student-athletes to handle. But not for Nacogdoches’ Chloe Cook.
After dominating play for the Central Heights Lady Blue Devils in the fall of 2019, Cook took advantage of an extra semester of prep time and made her presence known in the Big South Conference, earning Freshman of the Week honors four times — the most ever by a Camel in a single season for any conference award — in only eight weeks of action.
Cook was also was one of only two Campbell freshmen — along with her roommate, Claranne Fechter — who landed on the Big South All-Conference volleyball team. Cook was named Freshman of the Year, finishing eighth in the league in kills/set.
Campbell, located in Buies Creek, North Carolina, had its fall season postponed because of COVID-19, and was forced to only play conference games in the spring of 2021. But the Camels made the most of it, finishing 11-5 and in second place behind High Point, which claimed the league title with a 16-0 mark.
“(Playing in the spring and her first college year overall) was a little different, I’ll say that,” Cook said via telephone on Thursday. “It was a little harder meeting friends because most of classes were online and we had to quarantine the first two weeks of classes.
“But it was okay because everybody on the team are all best friends with each other. So I walked in with already 13 best friends made, and we spent a lot of time together. We couldn’t come in contact with any other sports or people, so we got to know each other real well.
“It was different from the regular college experience, but it worked out real well in the end, by having those other girls right by my side.”
Because the season was delayed until the spring and didn’t start until Feb. 6, Cook took advantage of the situation by getting used to her teammates, studying hard and using the fall to improve her skills, as she jumped from high school to college athletics.
“College met my expectations and more,” she said of 2020-21 year. “I knew I was going to be kind of an underdog coming in because I was coming from a small town, a small club team and a small high school. I knew I was going to have to work hard. It wasn’t as much of a shock, but I had to work hard and put in extra reps to get to the point where I needed to be (before the season).
“One positive was that I had the entire fall semester to train for the spring season. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to play when we were supposed to, and we couldn’t play as many matches as we wanted to, but it was really amazing for me and my roommate (Fechter) — who was the starting libero — to train for an entire semester, which made it a good situation.”
Cook said the major challenge heading into her freshman year at Campbell was the isolation.
“As a team, not being able to play anyone except ourselves before going into conference play was difficult,” she said. “Normally you get to warm up for conference play by playing bigger — and smaller — schools and having a lot more time to adjust your lineups.
“Personally, it was just the experience of not having played (college ball) and not having played these other teams and knowing who they are. But it was a good year overall.”
Cook, who began the year in the starting lineup, said she is gratified for the individual awards she earned this year, but her focus stays on the future and improving her game.
“The weekly awards are nice and I’m blessed to receive them, but you kind of smile and put them behind you. I want to be a better teammate and help the team even more. I was always looking ahead to our next opponent,” she stated.
“But I think it helped me made it to someone’s scouting report and I think that earned me some respect.”
Cook finished the season ranked No. 2 on the Campbell’s squad in kills (138) and kills/set (2.65). She was also sixth in digs (68) and seventh in total blocks (13).
Now, as she prepares for her sophomore season, she is looking at areas to improve.
“I really want to improve my serve receive and defense. My goal these next three years is to be a six-rotation outside hitter instead of just playing on the front row and then getting to serve. I have a lot to work on with my serve receive and then my defense.”
After being forced to play and practice with masks this past season, Cook is looking forward to returning to more normalcy, not having to wear masks, attending classes, meeting new friends and having a normal season in the fall.
“We’re looking forward to the season because we didn’t lose anyone essential to the team, so we’ll have pretty much the same team that finished the year,” Cook said. “We’re excited about this year’s team. I’m sure we’ll be picked in the top three (in the Big South) and it’ll be interesting to see where they seed everyone.”