Cook Perseveres Through Challenges
April 20, 2011
by Sam Hickman
Many student-athletes have to deal with personal tragedy, injuries and balancing a sport with a full slate of schoolwork at some point during their college career. Probably less than a handful of those are faced with all of those challenges.
Jessica Cook, a senior who plays at the top of the East Carolina women's tennis lineup, has overcome those different and difficult hurdles, making her a model for perseverance.
The Wadesboro native has started every one of her matches this year for the Pirates at the No. 1 position. Heading into Thursday's Conference USA Championship Tournament, she has compiled an 11-9 record in singles play thus far in 2011, while posting a 15-6 mark in doubles. Cook has played at the No. 1 spot in doubles in all but six matches.
Tom Morris, who is winding down his 13th season as head women's tennis coach, said being the No. 1 seed offers a different set of challenges than any other position.
"Jessica has won more in the No. 1 position than any other player certainly since I've been here," Morris beamed while speaking of his senior captain. "It's a tough position in the fact that every school has at least one great player. It's just a tough, tough position to play. Even if the opposing team isn't as strong, Jessica always faces a tough match and she has handled it well. Not only that, our schedule has gotten tougher so her record has continually improved in spite of more difficult opposition."
Although her success on the courts has been seldom seen from a No. 1 player in the Lady Pirate lineup, things have not always been as smooth for Cook. While enjoying a stellar prep career at Scotland County High School, which included a 4A Doubles State Championship, she fractured her spine as a sophomore - an injury she says bothers her to this day. Cook said that while playing with the pain is certainly not ideal, she has learned how to make adjustments on the court and battle through it as best she can.
She has also had to face the death of three immediate family members, her father and two brothers. Cook noted that her tennis career at East Carolina has been instrumental in helping face the tragedies.
"Coming here and being on the team gave me instant friends, which was very important," she stated. "A lot of the help I've received has come from Coach (Morris). He's been like another father to me, so being able to talk to him and get advice from him has helped so much."
In case playing a Division I sport at the highest level with a painful nagging back injury was not enough to keep her busy, Cook decided to major in nursing - a very demanding and time-consuming field of study. Her schedule includes a wake-up alarm at 5 a.m. on weekday and spending countless hours at an assigned hospital, which is an hour away from campus. Assuming the Lady Pirates do not have a match on that particular day, Cook drives back for practice before returning home to her apartment.
The work doesn't stop there.
Cook indicated she takes about 30 minutes when she returns home from practice to "wind down," trying to catch about a half-hour of television before homework begins. The success she has enjoyed on the tennis court mirrors her success in the classroom. Morris indicated her tennis results are made even more impressive by the fact she's an "excellent student." Cook also pointed out her school schedule and the time constraints that come with it have been beneficial to her.
"I really enjoy keeping busy," she smiled. "I think if I weren't as busy, I'd have way too much time and I'd be way less productive than I should be."
With the end of the season approaching and Cook's career coming to a close, she has left an indelible mark not only the tennis program, but on the entire athletics department at East Carolina.
When asked about Cook's career and what she means to the program, Morris' emotion was hard to miss.
"From day one, she's been a solid individual that always does exactly what we ask of her," he said. "She was voted team captain by her teammates, which speaks volumes to Jessica as a person. She embodies what it means to be a good person, a good teammate, a good student, and a great athlete."