Ava Cook was coming off a historic junior season for the Grand Valley State University Lakers, one that every athlete works hard for in the off-season.
Cook gained recognition with a unanimous first-team All-American selection, leading the nation in goals (29) and points (70), an All-GLIAC first-team selection, an All-NCAA Tournament team member, and of course, a National Championship.
That euphoric 2019 season may be the last time Cook suited up in a Lakers uniform due to the GLIAC suspending all Fall sports, but she is glad to have her team behind her during this unruly time.
“Personally, at least for me, it’s pretty tough,” Cooks said. “It’s always going to be tough to have a sudden change like we have right now. However, none of us have ever been through something like this, so it’s nice to have all these other girls who are going through the same thing.”
Cook believes this challenging time is something that she and the team can use to grow stronger. With the entire fall to focus on aspects that may not get to develop with a busy season, the Lakers may be even scarier if they can compete in spring 2021.
With what happened in the 2018 season, and now with what is happening in the 2020 season, Cook firmly believes it made last season that much more special.
“We went from losing in the 2018 National Championship to then coming back and winning it in 2019,” Cooks said. “I think that if we would have done anything else, then it would have made not playing this fall a lot harder. I think that really does help, we ended on such a fantastic note last year. That’s fresh in our minds, it’s the last soccer-related thing we’ve been able to do together was winning that game. It’s a nice reminder for why we are putting in the work this fall, for the spring, and be the best we can be.”
With nothing being official when it comes to fall sports being able to compete this year, Cook is using goals as a motivator to continue her training as well as keep her team’s spirits up.
“We always set goals and I think that having that mindset now and knowing how we are going to prepare for a potential spring season is a lot easier to do than just saying, well we don’t know what we are going to do,” Cook said. “It will give us the motivation to push through the fall, work on ourselves, and work on our team. I always think it’s good to have something to look forward to, and that’s what we are doing with this potential spring season.”
A mindset like this shows the underclassmen what it takes to win national titles and continue the winning tradition that Cook has contributed to her entire career. As a senior leader, this fall has brought more than just the hardships of not being able to compete but also with how to lead still. Cook and her fellow seniors have had to get creative to continue to push their message of hard work.
“Obviously, a lot of natural leadership comes through competition,” Cook said. “It really brings it out of people.”
Cook attributed her junior season as a big help due to only having one senior, Riko Sagara, which brought opportunities at times for others to step up vocally.
“Being one senior in the first place is going to be tough, and she (Sagara) did a fantastic job leading through her Soccer I.Q and her play especially,” Cook said. “I think it gave my class the opportunity to step into a ‘senior-esque’ leadership role as juniors. I think having that in our pocket going into this unknown COVID season that we are having, really helps us get creative in how we connect, and how we still lead even though we are not on the field.”
Cook and the team have been doing Zoom meetings, rollerblading, biking, tennis, and everything they can do while still social distancing and staying safe under the guidelines. This has helped them remain involved and keep the team chemistry while having fun as a team has contributed to keeping morale high. While staying together as a team has changed severely this fall, the coach’s message to the player has stayed the same.
“Truthfully, the coaches’ messages really don’t change, and I think that’s special,” Cook said. “Not only does that show consistency, it shows that we can persevere through anything that we do. I think for me, that’s something that is really nice because we could have a coaching staff that is down in the dumps. That’s the opposite of what we’ve had. We have such a fantastic coaching staff that is showing us support on and off the field and sending positive messages all over the place. To have people we can look up to, who we know have our back regardless if we are having a season or not, is critical for us.”