As a sophomore, Mackenzie Cooler is one of the younger players on Bluffton High School's volleyball team.
She's also the most experienced.
Cooler began playing varsity volleyball in eighth grade, and she made her impact immediately. She was a permanent starter in the team's lineup and a key cog in its offensive attack.
A year later, as a freshman, Cooler led the team in blocks, kills and assists. She was later named by PrepVolleyball.com as one of the top 25 freshmen in the country, the only South Carolina player to earn the selection.
Now, despite coming off shoulder surgery, she says she is primed for her best season yet. That has to be a scary thought for her opponents.
The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette caught up with Cooler for a question-and-answer session before the Bobcats headed to Brunswick, Ga., and Glynn Academy for a weekend tournament.
Question: Do you feel like the veteran on this team even though many of these girls are older than you?
Answer: Yeah, I think so. I'm more of the big dog now. People look up to me because I have the most experience on the team. ... Ever since seventh grade, I've always played up a level in age group. It's good for me. It helps to play better competition.
Q: You're playing pretty much everywhere on the court -- would you prefer to stick with one position?
A: No, I love being a versatile player. It's why colleges look at me, so that's really good. I like playing outside, and I like setting. I like the feeling of setting up a kill, and I like the feeling of getting a kill.
Q: What's been the rehab process for you coming off shoulder surgery?
A: Once the club season finished in Baltimore in April, I had surgery on my right shoulder on April 22. It was not fun at all. I missed about four months. It's been very difficult getting back, a lot harder than I expected it to be. Some things are really frustrating. I've worked hard to get back.
Q: Where do you notice it affecting you most?
A: Hitting, for sure. I lost a lot of power.
Q: Are you starting to get it back?
A: I got it back this week. Wednesday night was the first time I've been back to 100 percent. I felt really good.
Q: What's it like being labeled one of the best 25 freshmen in the entire country?
A: It was shocking, first of all. Coach (Al) Stern nominated me, and he told me he nominated me, but I didn't think I would come close to the top 25. I was basically hoping to get honorable mention. When the list came out, I was shocked. It was an honor.
Q: How has that changed things for you? I'm guessing you hear from colleges a lot more often?
A: Definitely. Over the summer, I visited Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois and Georgia. I got to meet the coaches there, and they showed me around a little bit. It's been really exciting getting to see what the programs are like and what the college atmosphere is like.
Q: It's sort of hard to believe you still have three years left of high school first -- what are your expectations for this season?
A: I think we can win state. We're going to do it. This team has really come together. We're like a family. We love each other. It shows on the court. I want that state championship.