Junior college route helped prepare Cooper for UK


Junior volleyball player Caitlyn Cooper rises above the net during UK Volleyball Media Day on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

As a freshman athlete at UK, sometimes the rigorous practice and tutoring schedule, time spent on the road or grind of a longer season can overwhelm an athlete, especially on a nationally prominent program like UK’s volleyball team.

Despite this being her first year at a division one campus, outside hitter Caitlyn Cooper is expecting to be ahead of that newcomer’s learning curve thanks to her two years of playing at junior college.

“It [junior college] has helped me become a better person and athlete so it was actually a good thing to go JUCO and then figure out what I wanted to do,” Cooper said at UK volleyball’s media day.

Some athletes are not a fan of the junior college route because they believe that the competition is not as good or they won’t get recognized as much on the recruiting trail compared to high school prospects.

On top of that, some junior colleges don’t have high-end facilities or could be located in remote areas, which scares away even more talented athletes from the junior college route.

Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is where Cooper spent the first two years of her collegiate volleyball career at Iowa Western Community College, has a population slightly larger than the city of Bowling Green.

Cooper’s campus was also less than 20 minutes away from Omaha, Nebraska, so there was never a shortage of places to eat or things to do.

As for the volleyball, the Reivers of Iowa Western have been a national prominent program for the last 11 years. In those 11 years, the Reivers never finished worse than ninth in the NJCAA National Volleyball Tournament, and ranked No. 1 in the regular season national rankings in six separate years.

During Cooper’s two years at Iowa Western, the Reivers were ranked No. 1 both years and finished runner-up in the national tournament Cooper’s freshman year, when Cooper was named to the NJCAA All-Tournament Team and an NJCAA First Team All-American.

“People would probably be like, ‘Eww, JUCO’ but for me it was like, ‘Yes, JUCO,’” Cooper said. “I’ve matured as a person and a player from there. I still keep in touch with them so I’m glad that I went there.”

In Cooper’s two years at Iowa Western, she registered 1,066 kills, 798 digs and 186 blocks, which is more than Leah Edmond has done in her two years at UK. Cooper was an NJCAA First Team All-American both years at Iowa Western.

Cooper’s experience at junior college can be summed up as a positive one, which has her excited to see what she can do at UK. However, she knew that the transition to division one volleyball would be a difficult one, so Cooper made the decision to come to UK early.

Cooper graduated from Iowa Western a semester early, and she spent that spring semester getting acclimated to the increase in competition and her new teammates.

“We didn’t have a scholarship in the spring, paid her own way to get here,” head volleyball coach Craig Skinner said. “I think that says a lot about her wanting to make an impact, improve herself, so in terms of that, she’s wanted to put herself in position to contribute.”

Cooper admits that the transition has been a tough one, but she believes that everything she’s done leading up to this point has helped prepare her for the upcoming season.

If Cooper gets put in a position to contribute, she is confident she can help and is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

“There’s a lot of aspects of my game where I can help the team, but honestly it’s whatever I can do to benefit this team and whatever Coach tells me to do, I’m going to do and do it to the best of my ability,” Cooper said.