TERRE HAUTE —
If senior Paige Cook enjoys the success that Rose-Hulman women’s tennis coach Dan Hopkins expects from her in 2013, she’ll end up as one of the winningest players in program history.
Although Cook would be fine with that, that’s not among the top two reasons why she’s excited about this season, which started over the weekend with triumphs over Defiance (9-0) and Oakland City (6-3).
One reason is her confidence that Rose is good enough to qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since her freshman season in 2010.
“I want to get back in the national tournament,” Cook told the Tribune-Star. “That was one of the greatest experiences of my life when we did that my freshman year.”
That season, the Engineers lost to the University of the South at Sewanee, Tenn., by a 5-0 score in the first round of the DIII tourney.
But the main reason for Cook’s excitement in 2013 is she gets to play on the same team with her younger sister, freshman Morgan Cook, one last time.
They also were teammates four years ago at Terre Haute North High School when Paige was a senior and Morgan was a freshman, although Morgan primarily played junior varsity that season.
Not surprisingly, Morgan is thrilled about this year’s opportunity as well.
“I’m so proud of her,” the younger Cook said of Paige. “She’s doing a great job. She’s always been a role model to me. I look up to her. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been looking up to her.
“If I can do as well as she has, I would be very excited.”
Paige, who’s playing No. 3 or 4 singles and teaming with Kylie McCollum at No. 2 doubles, entered this season with the second-highest winning percentage in program history. Last season, when Paige was an all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference selection, she posted records of 12-6 in singles (6-2 in HCAC matches) and 12-5 in doubles (8-0 in HCAC).
A four-year starter, the elder Cook entered the weekend with career marks of 26-10 in singles and 32-14 in doubles (58-24 overall). At the time, she needed 11 more singles victories to climb into second (she started the season eighth) and eight more doubles victories to move into second (she started the season fourth) on the Rose-Hulman all-time lists.
“She should end up in the top three or four for all-time wins in school history,” Hopkins said of the senior Cook. “She’s solid. She’s almost a sure winner every time we go out to play in conference matches. She’s a hard worker. She’s an interesting story because we had to convince her to play [in the middle of the 2010 season].”
Ah yes, Cook enrolled at Rose in 2010 without any intention of being on the tennis team, even though she had played four seasons of varsity at North. Instead, she came to concentrate on her major of biomedical engineering.
“You would hear stories about what a difficult school Rose-Hulman is, so I wanted to focus on my studies,” Paige explained.
But she realized about a month into the 2010 season that she was capable of balancing academic and athletic responsibilities at the same time, so she agreed to join the squad.
“Some of the girls on the team [who lived on the same floor in their residence hall] and coach Hopkins talked me into coming out for the team,” Paige Cook recalled, admitting that she hadn’t touched a racquet since May of that year.
“They said [being on the team] was fun and it was a low-stress environment. … It took a few days to get back into the swing of things. I’m very grateful to the girls for convincing me to play.”
Paige Cook acknowledged that it would have felt strange not to be on the courts for the last four years, considering she started playing tennis when she was 9 and Morgan started playing she was 7.
“Growing up, we were always hitting partners with each other,” Paige reflected. “We’d practice at Otter Creek Middle School all summer and after school.”
“We’d make it an evening,” Morgan added. “We’d usually go out for ice cream with our parents afterward. It was fun.”
Nowadays, the competition is a little more serious with a conference championship and a potential Division III tournament bid at stake.
“I just want to do the best I can,” Paige Cook emphasized. “I love doubles, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to slack on my singles. … What’s more important to me is that I get the victories so my team can get the victories.”
Hopkins mentioned that Morgan Cook may not see action in more difficult matches at first, stressing that she needs more experience. But that will come with time.
“She’ll get to play some,” he pointed out. “But we’re a senior-team laden. For our bigger matches, we’re going to use our more experienced players.”
“I’ll play where ever they think I can do best,” young Cook said with enthusiasm.
Considering that Rose will lose four seniors after this season — including Paige Cook and Lauren Reberger of Brazil — Morgan should receive more opportunities to play in 2014.
After Paige graduates in 2014, she hopes to be able to watch Morgan continue developing as a player, although she plans to attend graduate school next fall and she’s not sure where yet.
Meanwhile, Morgan Cook is majoring in computer science while trying to improve her skills on the court.
“I need to work on my doubles,” she admitted. “I played singles all four years at North.”
Next up for the Cooks and the Engineers is a homecoming-weekend match Sunday against Transylvania, starting at noon.