High School Volleyball

Bluffton's Cooler not wavering on College of Charleston

ccox@islandpacket.comJanuary 4, 2013 

Bluffton High School's Mackenzie Cooler is the 2013 Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette Volleyball MVP.

FILE -- THE ISLAND PACKET

For most, this year's edition of the AVCA Phenom Program was just another chance for the country's most talented high school volleyball standouts to advertise their skills in front of college coaches.

Not so for Bluffton's Mackenzie Cooler.

"I wasn't up there to showcase myself or try to get more looks," the junior said. "I was committed."

A budding relationship with the College of Charleston Cougars and coach Jason Kepner helped win over the Bobcat in November. The Southern Conference tournament champions were the first to offer Cooler -- who set Bluffton's single season kills record this year -- and nothing at the Phenom Program was going to change that, despite 275 college coaches making their way to the recent event.

Cooler made the trip to Lexington, Ky., "just to play with other girls at a higher level," she said. The opportunity to perform in front of Kepner and to speak with him and future coaches were an added bonus on the holiday trip, too.

The two-day camp was attended by 300 girls, who underwent physical assessment, skills testing and educational sessions. It was held in conjunction with the annual AVCA Convention, giving coaches the opportunity to scout future players.

But that wasn't necessary for Cooler, who still finds herself counting down the days until her move to Charleston.

"I'm just eager to get up there," she said. "I say every day I'm just ready to (go). I wish I could graduate early and go up there right now."

Unfortunately for Cooler, that's not going to happen. That also means more advances from college programs, despite her insistence on sticking with the Cougars, who knocked off Miami (Fla.) in this year's NCAA tournament.

Coaches like Joe Sagula, who leads the University of North Carolina program, have been hot on the Island Packet all-area standout for some time now. Sagula approached Cooler once more at the Phenom Program, but again found himself spurned in favor of the Cougars.

"He had been watching me play for the past year," Cooler recalled. "He has just been persistent the entire time. I knew that he wanted me to play for him."

"(But) I was committed, and I'm not going to do that to Coach Kepner," she later added. "I told him what my commitment was and I'm going to stick to that."

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