CENTRAL HEIGHTS — Chloe Cook used to think of volleyball as just another sport. But as she has grown, matured and worked at perfecting her craft, it is now a special part of her life, thanks to her parents, former coaches, teammates and, yes, most definitely because of her faith in God.

Cook took another giant step in her playing career and education last week when she was joined by her coaches, family, friends and other supporters in Russell Gymnasium on the campus of Central Heights High School as she signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at NCAA Division I Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina.

“It’s amazing,” Cook said about the opportunity. “Not many people get this opportunity to play at college, much less the highest level — playing at DI. So, to be able to get a scholarship is truly amazing and a gift from God.”

A mainstay of the Central Heights volleyball program that has won four straight district titles during her high school career, Cook aided the team to a school-record 41 victories (41-9) this season as the Lady Blue Devils advanced to the Class 3A Region III semifinals for the second straight year in a program that has won 79 matches in the past two seasons.

“I really want to thank the many people that made it possible for me to be here today,” Cook said. For my coaches, Coach (Stephanie) Bradford, who, from the beginning, taught me how to love volleyball. Coach (Brittany) Castledine, who was with me during my seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grade and taught me so much about being mentally tough. Then (current Central Heights current) Coach (Logan) Smoak, who came in and took over and, oh my gosh, have I ever learned so much from her. She’s an astonishing coach. Then my club coaches, Coach Amber (McCray – current head coach at Louisiana Tech) and Coach Jane (Hays), they taught me to fall in love with the game.

“Obviously I couldn’t have done any of this without my dad [Stan Cook] and mom [Christie]. They have been so huge in every step of the way. When I’m down, they bring me back up. And when I’m up they make sure they tell me how much they love me.

“It’s been so amazing to be able to see God work in all of those ways and bless me. And, lastly, I want to thank my team. I couldn’t have done what I have without them with me, and helping me and supporting me every step of the way.”

Central Heights head coach Logan Smoak said Cook’s leadership on and off the court has been impressive and the main reason why the program has won nearly 80 matches in the last two seasons.

“Chloe brings unmatched leadership to this program,” said Smoak about her talented senior. “She brings a desire and passion to the gym daily that been unmatched. She’s been great for our program, leading not only on the floor in games, but also in practice.

“She’s always the first one wanting to get extra reps and always staying after practice. She brings a level of competitiveness to the gym that really makes everyone better. I think that’s a true trait of a good player is that you don’t just make yourself better, you bring everyone else up with you, and Chloe definitely does that.”

For the 5-10 senior outside hitter who has posted an impressive 776 kills this season, while lifting the Lady Blue Devil team to its highest ranking as No. 4 in the state, her career has been about challenges, hard work and overcoming obstacles.

When she was in eighth grade, Cook was talking with her orthopedic doctor and he told her, at the height of 5-feet, 8-inches, that she was finished growing forever, she explained. “He said I could play at a small college, but I would never go DI.”

The then-14-year old returned to the car with her mother and said she became emotional because she had fallen in love with the sport and had high hopes of great things in her athletic career. She thought those dreams were shattered and over. But her mother didn’t let her give up, saying, “Just because one person tells you that you can’t do something, that doesn’t mean anything. You go out there and prove them wrong,” Christie Cook told her daughter.

Bradford, who coached Chloe in both club and city leagues wouldn’t let her give up on her dreams either.

“(Coach Bradford) was also a huge factor in me getting to where I am today,” Chloe described. “She said, ‘Hey, you’ve got the talent and you’ve got the skill to go DI.’ So those factors made me want to go and prove everybody wrong. I never really thought of myself as a DI player, and getting a scholarship is still something I can’t believe that I’m going to get the opportunity to do, but I think that it was my work ethic that has pushed me to go get the scholarship and play at the next level.”

Smoak said it is that hard work and determination that is the reason Cook will continue her career at Campbell next year.

“Getting the opportunity to play college volleyball at all is an incredible feat, but getting to play at the highest level of college volleyball, there’s nothing better than that,” Smoak said. “She’s worked hard since she started playing in sixth grade, and you can tell it’s for sure paid off.

“She’s really excited about it, and for our program it’s really done great things. She’s helped a lot of the younger kids get excited about volleyball and what they can do, and Chloe has been a great role model for everyone, just setting the standard for it.”

Cook said her continuing to learn the game of volleyball has been a big part of her success and growth within the sport.

“I think my biggest improvement in the sport during high school is my volleyball IQ,” she said. “Going into my freshman year playing on varsity, it was just volleyball. And then the next year and the net year and the next year I was able to figure out more about the game. And I figured out, I love this game. I love playing it. I love my teammates and my coaches and fell in love with it. So, falling in love with it made me want to learn more and more. And the growth of my volleyball IQ has helped me get to where I am today.”

Cook said so many people had instrumental parts in her advancement in the sport of volleyball. For example, former Florida All-American, Panola College and currently Louisiana Tech head coach Amber McCray taught her that cramming the ball over the net is not the key to success when playing in the front line.

“Coach Amber is an outstanding coach,” Cook said. “That’s when I learned it’s not about cramming the ball each and every time. There are so many opportunities to go up there and place it where you want it and, basically, psych the other team out. That was something I was fortunate to learn.”

Like any good student, she took the knowledge from those around her and put it to good use at the present and combined it with the teachings of others in the future. With that being the case, there is no doubt that Cook will be soaring high next season in the college ranks.

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