UNDERWOOD, Iowa — Nearly 20 girls walked in wearing purple T-shirts with bright green and orange designs. They were attending a visitation at a funeral home.
More specifically, they were supporting teammate Brooke Cooper.
Most members of the Underwood volleyball program were there Aug. 30 as Cooper mourned the death of her grandfather, Norman Cooper. Giving up part of a Saturday evening was an easy choice if it meant helping their beloved senior setter through a tough time.
“It was a sight to see,” Brooke Cooper said. “I knew my best friends were coming, but not the whole team. My family was in awe that girls from my school would do that — it was very nice.”
Teammate Emma Bonnet said the gesture felt natural considering what Cooper does for others on a regular basis. A positive demeanor makes her easy to talk with in general. On the court, she’s the spark that has Underwood off to an encouraging 7-2 start after a 16-13 campaign last year and an offseason full of change.
“I can say this honestly: Without her, I’m not sure where we’d be this year,” said Bonnet, a junior outside hitter. “She’s just flat-out amazing. Her defense is wow — I don’t know how she gets half the balls up that she does. She just betters our game all around.”
Cooper’s average of 8.69 assists per set ranks second in the Western Iowa Conference. The 5-foot-5 standout is also No. 2 among the Eagles in digs per set (3.69) and fourth in kills per set (1.19).
A captain and four-year varsity player, Cooper contributes most in areas statistics don’t measure. Her court savvy and quick sets allow Underwood to play up-tempo in fluid and unscripted fashion. She credits teammates like Bonnet, Cailynn Wichman and Jasmin Benedict for the steady passing that makes her job easier. She interrogates hitters as to how she can best help them.
“Brooke is constantly asking questions like, ‘Is it okay? What can I do better?’ ” Bonnet said. “That’s like every day in practice. Eventually it gets a little annoying and we’re all like, ‘OK, Brooke, you’re wonderful, we know.’ ”
The Eagles endured some difficult change in the offseason as the school hired new coach Mallory Bolduan and found out now-senior Maddy Powell was transferring to Tri-Center. Cooper was the one who met with a group of distraught girls and requested an attitude adjustment for her senior year of volleyball.
“You just kind of have to go with the flow. It’s a lot different this year,” Cooper said. “When we get down, I want to be a player that someone else can go to just to get their mind clear and start playing again.”
Cooper also serves as an assistant coach with a youth soccer team in Underwood when time allows during the fall. She will suit up once more for the Eagles in basketball and soccer — she’s a center midfielder or forward in her favorite sport — and is considering soccer at Buena Vista after graduating.
But for now the youngest of Kent and Kristin Cooper’s three children is relishing her final fall of volleyball with an Underwood group that appreciates what it has.
“She goes after everything and she’s one of those kids that isn’t going to let the ball hit the floor,” Bolduan said. “She knows what to do and she gets the other girls going.”
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