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Nov. 24, 1996

Spartan Co-Captain Can Do It All

by Brenda McGuire

If you love what you're doing while learning new things, there is no limit to your success. And with each new success, you want to learn more and extend your own boundaries.

It is that love for learning which keeps Michigan State's Dana Cooke focused on her goals and ready to accept new challenges.

The senior from Burlington, Ontario, has proven this year she is MSU's best all-around player. The Spartan co-captain plays middle and outside, is MSU's primary passer and even sets in one rotation.

"I can't believe this is my last year," Cooke said. "Everything I've done has paid off, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be where I am. Every year has been a new challenge.

"As a co-captain with Val Sterk, I'm trying to lead by being a stable and reliable player. It's nice to stand on the court and say this is my team. When you become a senior, you look at everything you've put in to get where you are."

Cooke's success includes the honor of becoming the first player, along with Sterk, in MSU volleyball history to earn First-Team All-America kudos. She also was named First-Team All-Big Ten, First-Team AVCA All-District 2, MVP of the NCAA Mountain Regional, Academic All-Big Ten, Academic All-District IV and GTE/CoSIDA Third-Team Academic All-America.

Entering this weekend's matches against Illinois and Iowa, Cooke ranks third on the Big Ten's all-time chart for block assists with 458. She trails two Wisconsin players on the chart; Arlisa Hagan, who holds the record with 465 block assists (1989-92), and current Badger Heather Dodaro, who ranks second with 460. Cooke also ranks seventh on the Big Ten's all-time chart with 541 career blocks.

"As a middle hitter, blocking is the only defensive thing you can do in the front row," Cooke said. "As the middle blocker, I'm hard on myself if the ball is hit by me. The more balls you stop, the easier it is for your team.

"It's the easiest way to stomp on your opponent's enthusiasm. I love blocking, but I hate being blocked. I love making the other team feel sorry for themselves."

As soon as she rotates out of the front row, Cooke is frustrating opponents with her serving. She currently leads the Big Ten with 45 service aces and is among the national leaders with a 0.53 aces per game average. And those stats come from the hardest, most inconsistent serve in volleyball -- the jump serve, which Cooke has steadily improved on during the season.

"I kind of had a serving complex my sophomore year," said Cooke, although she lowered her serving errors from 71 her first year to 45 the following season. "I tried jump serving my freshman year, but Chuck (Erbe) cut me off after the first tournament.

"Now, I'm better at it than standing on the ground serving. It's a much more aggressive serve. If someone is jump serving at you, they're attacking you and serving for points. It's an aggressive tactic and it looks cool. Other teams are afraid of you if your team can jump serve."

In the next couple of rotations, Cooke gets to be the setter.

"I love that," she said enthusiastically. "There's a saying that all hitters want to be setters and all setters want to be hitters; it's true. It's so much fun and it changes things up. That's my favorite rotation."

In addition to ranking among the Big Ten leaders in service aces, Cooke is in the top 20 in hitting percentage (.246) and digs per game (3.04).

"I've been criticized as being a perfectionist," Cooke said. "I know what I'm capable of doing and I haven't had the strongest season. I like to play big in big games, and I like to be the steadiest player on the court. As long as I'm stable, then I'm doing my job.

"There's nothing to say that we can't repeat what we did last year. We are the best team in the Big Ten. We have higher expectations of ourselves. We want to play our best and our best games are yet to be played."

Next year, Cooke may be seen in the Spartan bleachers, following the team around "like a little groupie," she said, and eventually playing beach and/or international volleyball.

"It might be nice to go abroad and play overseas," she added, "or maybe play beach volleyball because that's something I've never played yet. I want to keep playing, and learning something new is good because I'm all about learning."

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