Nov. 19, 2013
The K-State volleyball team has more Academic All-Big 12 selections than any other program in conference history. This year, the Wildcats added nine more honorees, tying the school record for most in a season, but more importantly, bringing five first-time selections to the list of accolades that now sits at 117.
Of this year's five first-time selections, no player probably deserves more recognition than senior Courtney Cook.
Cook puts the student in "student-athlete" with apparent ease.
Cook is an outside hitter on the volleyball court, providing depth to the Wildcats and relieving players in the middle of the match, a task that is not too easy when losing all the benefit of any sort of pregame warm-up.
While Cook spells her teammates on the court, her spelling - of the writing variety - in the classroom has never been a concern.
Cook has a 4.0 grade point average, and not just a 4.0 last spring semester or in the fall semester of her sophomore year. Cook has never received less than "A" in a class; not even in high school. "Maybe in elementary school, but I don't know," said a laughing Cook.
The Fremont, Nebraska native is majoring in Veterinarian Science & Industry and aspires to be a veterinarian.
"I've always been drawn to animals," said Cook, "but I like working with people, too. A lot of people just think being a veterinarian means taking care of animals. It's actually more about working with people because, ultimately, the owner will tell you what's normal and not normal. I would be able to determine what's best for the situation based on what the owner says."
Her field of study played a big role when choosing colleges. She debated attending other schools, such as Iowa State and Colorado State - also prestigious universities for the veterinarian sciences field - but in the end, Kansas State's volleyball and academics had the best match.
"When I first got a tour of the vet school, everyone was much more helpful," said Cook. "Ronnie Elmore [associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine] said, `If you have any questions, let me know.' He even told me stories about his dogs. He just seemed more sociable and treated me like I was important."
Although Cook's academic results showcase her intelligence, it was and has been her parents' desire for Courtney to succeed in all facets - in and outside of the classroom - that helped make her the person she is today.
"My parents always said to try your best in every class you have," said Cook. "I don't really think I am that smart; I just like to think I work really hard."
On Tuesday, Cook's hard work as a student-athlete finally received some well-deserved recognition. Cook, who also has been selected to the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll four times in her career, was named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team and was one of four student-athletes in the conference nominated with a perfect GPA.
Cook has played in 37 matches over her four years, including 12 this season, but fell short each year of qualifying for the Academic All-Big 12 honor based on participation. A player must play in 60% of a team's matches to be selected.
A senior, however, can become eligible for the award despite not playing in enough matches (which would be 17 for a K-State player this season). Per the Big 12, a senior is eligible as long as she attended the institution for a minimum of two years.
Cook arrived in Manhattan as a freshman with a First Team all-state volleyball distinction in tow and possession of her high school's career aces and hitting percentage records (She was also, to no surprise, her high school's valedictorian). Playing collegiate volleyball was as much of a factor in attending K-State as was the education. Similar to when she chose a school for its major, the personal relationships in volleyball helped bring Cook to the Little Apple.
"I really like the coaching staff," said Cook. "I had heard so many good things about [head coach] Suzie [Fritz], and she treats you like, I wouldn't say like a daughter, but it's not just about volleyball with her. It's about the person. The volleyball team is a business for Suzie, but she doesn't make it seem like a business [for the student-athletes].
"Suzie does want to win, and she will definitely try, but she makes a point to develop personal relationships with each member of the team."
Four years at Kansas State has given Cook plenty of memories, on and off the court. From the perspective of volleyball, however, no moment was as sweet for the Fremont-Bergan High School product as the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
"Best volleyball memory? Beating Nebraska, on its home court," said Cook. "I've been going to Nebraska matches since I was really small, so it was kind of surreal. Everybody still talks about it when I go home."
Cook's volleyball career, which started as a true freshman in 2010 against No. 5 Hawai'i on the Rainbow Wahine's home court, will come to an end over the next couple of weeks. Attention - as if ever wavered from such - will turn to a new competition: getting into Kansas State's Department of Animal Sciences graduate program. Her application interview is scheduled for mid-December. She has already gone through a few mock interviews, practicing for the big day. For an athlete, the idea of preparing and game planning for a big event should come as no surprise.
Once Cook completes her undergraduate career by the summer of 2014, it is on to another four years of veterinarian school. This time, though, the four years will be simply as a student, minus the athlete part, a role she feels quite prepared for.
"Volleyball, by prioritizing as a student and an athlete at the same time, is going to help me balance an even fuller load of school in the future," said Cook. "I think I will have some sort of advantage over other students as I will know how to compartmentalize.
"It will be weird this spring, though, when I'm working towards graduation, and not be going to volleyball practice."