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Familiarity, film & extra work the path back for Reagan Cooper

Bouncing back from ankle injury nothing new for KU outside hitter

4 min read
KU senior Reagan Cooper times her swing during an early-season match against Marquette at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena. [Chance Parker photo]

She knew it hurt, she knew she was probably not going to play the next day and she knew the feeling was familiar.

Still, KU senior Reagan Cooper had to see exactly how it all happened.

So, last Friday night, after returning home following a thrilling five-set victory over in-state rival Kansas State, Cooper sat down and watched the replay of the injury that knocked her out of the match with her teammate and best friend Mykayla Myers.

That clip still lives on Cooper’s phone, and she’s using it as motivation to return to the KU lineup as quickly as she can.

The senior outside hitter who transferred to KU this offseason from Texas Tech, is currently day-to-day. But she’s putting every ounce of effort and energy into healing her sprained ankle while still staying engaged with the team’s plans so she’ll be ready to roll when she returns like she never missed a minute.

“It’s not a completely new experience for me,” Cooper told R1S1 Sports before Monday’s practice. “And I’m pretty familiar with how to manage it.”

So familiar, in fact, that it’s the same ankle that she’s nursing back to health this week as it was two years ago at Texas Tech when she rolled it the first time, which marked the first significant injury of Cooper’s career.

Even before re-watching the video of her awkward landing, Cooper knew what she was dealing with.

“When I first went down, I kind of, like, cleared out everything,” she said. “I couldn’t really hear what was going on around me and I didn’t really know how I had injured myself. There wasn’t really much going through my mind besides, ‘Ow.’”

That changed when she reached the bench and her thoughts immediately shifted to, “Dang, I hope this isn’t season-ending.”

“Which, for me, would be career-ending,” she added. “But I know for a fact that it is not, so I’m just going to stay on top of it and work as hard as I can to get back as soon as possible.”

Regardless of how long she’s limited, be it a day or a week, Cooper said her plan beyond regular treatment on the injury was to lean on the other elements of the game that have made her so effective throughout her career.

“Mental reps,” she said. “I’m pretty good at watching film on myself and watching other games in the Big 12, especially for teams that we haven’t played yet. Staying on top of what’s going on with teams outside of ours can help, too.”

The 6-foot-2 graduate senior currently is tied with junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady for the team lead in kills, with 246. Her impact on the 14th-ranked Jayhawks’ offense has been enormous.

So big, in fact, that it has allowed KU coach Ray Bechard to move outside hitter Caroline Bien into more of a defensive specialist’s role, with Cooper, Elnady, London Davis, Toyosi Onabanjo and others left to swing away at the net.

Bien, who started her playing career as a libero, loves playing defense and she’s one of the Big 12’s best passers. So, Cooper’s emergence as a big time offensive weapon made the Jayhawks better in two areas.

Considering she was on the brink of giving up the game and not playing her fifth and final season of college volleyball as recently as this spring, Cooper said her performance and production with the Jayhawks have been unexpected.

“I hadn’t touched a volleyball in months,” she said of the period before she decided to join Myers in transferring to KU for one more run with her best friend. “The most I was doing was conditioning and lifting just to stay in shape. So, I am surprised by the year I’m having and I’m very pleased. But it’s not just me. It’s Cam (Turner) and it’s our defense, it’s everybody — the coaches, their scouting and the systems we run.”

Cooper plans to get into sports marketing when she’s done with college. Her undergraduate degree at Texas Tech was in creative media and her grad studies at KU have a social media marketing emphasis.

Just recently, though, she started having conversations with KU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Billy Ebel about potentially playing professionally somewhere after college.

All of that will come in time and, just like a perfectly set ball right off the net, Cooper will be ready for it when it arrives.

For now, though, her emphasis is on finishing this season and her college career as strong as possible and helping lead KU on a deep run this postseason.

Cooper and the Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 9-3 Big 12) will travel to Iowa State (16-7, 7-5) this weekend for a pair of matches with the Cyclones.

First serve on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum, with Saturday’s match set for 4 p.m. Both will be shown on ESPN+.

Wave the Wheat's Volleyball Appreciation Week

• The unexpected meet & greet that made Toyosi Onabanjo a Jayhawk

• A look at KU in the rankings & their chances of hosting this postseason

• Molly Schultz: 'The definition of happiness and sunshine'

• 'K-State killer' London Davis delivered one of KU's top performances of the week

• Familiarity, film & extra work the path back for Reagan Cooper

• Junior Caroline Bien goes from the back row to the big time again

• How sophomore Katie Dalton found a home at Kansas and on defense

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