All eyes on the tall girl: Cole thriving for No. 1-ranked Bucs

Grand Haven junior Abby Cole is used to it by now.
Nate Thompson
Mar 13, 2012

Especially in crowded places like the mall or a movie theater, she constantly feels eye balls staring her down and hears whispers behind her back.
It comes with the territory for being a 6-foot, 5-inch female.

“I get it a lot,” Cole said with a shrug following the Grand Haven varsity girls basketball practice on Monday. “When I was younger, it used to get me a little angry when it would happen.

“People are always like ‘Oh my gosh, look at her,’ Cole added. “It’s like, ‘You do know I can hear you?’ But it doesn’t bother me anymore. It happens everywhere, so it’s not a big deal.”

Cole will get the same kind of attention from the Buccaneers’ opponents from East Lansing tonight. The Bucs will square off against the Trojans for the third time in five seasons in the Class A quarterfinals at Lansing Eastern High School. The opening tip is set for 7 p.m. The winner advances to the Breslin Center at Michigan State University for the state semifinals, which are Friday.

Although it has made shopping a little more difficult, Cole’s height has served her quite well. Blessed with a combination of tremendous agility and athleticism that’s rare in someone her size, Cole has excelled on every court she’s stepped on since her freshman season. She began her prep career as a three-sport standout, with basketball, volleyball and tennis filling her schedule, but hung up her racquet because travel volleyball became a top priority.

“Basketball was my favorite sport for a long time,” Cole said. “I liked it because I was able to get more exposure through travel basketball. But then I started to do travel volleyball, and everything just clicked for me.”

Grand Haven varsity girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer remembers watching Cole first play on the hardwood in third grade. Even then, she was the tallest player on the court.

“I actually went to college with her parents (Scott and Dawn Cole) at Hope, so I’ve known Abby for a long time,” she said. “You see these girls grow up over the years and you look forward to the day you’re able to coach them.”

The awkwardness on the court that is often common with young, tall basketball players was never an issue with Cole, Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.

“She’s always been able to dribble the length of the court and she’s always had a nice soft touch with her shot,” she said. “Abby’s also a great tennis player, which people sometimes forget. She was third singles as a freshmen. Her mom played tennis at Hope.”

On the basketball court, Cole said she’s capable of dunking a tennis ball on a 10-foot rim. She has a standing reach of 8 feet, 4 inches, which explains why she’s been a record-setting shot blocker for the Bucs the past two seasons.

“I’ve tried to (dunk) a volleyball, but I can’t get it,” she said.

Cole already shattered the Bucs’ single season record for blocks last year with over 140 and she’s close to breaking her own record with a total of 125 through 25 games (5 per game) this winter. She’s also averaging 8.2 points and a team-best 6.1 rebounds per game.

Strangely enough, Cole has both of her parents beat in the height department. She said her dad stands at 6-2 and her mom is 5-11.

“I had one grandpa who was like 6-3, but that’s all,” Cole said. “I guess I’m just a freak of nature.”

Kowalcyzk-Fulmer, in a half-joking, half-serious way earlier this year, said Cole was the only member of the Bucs with the potential to one day play in the WNBA.

Unless she has a serious change of heart, that will never happen for Cole because she’s decided her future will lie on the volleyball court.

It’s hard to argue with her decision. Cole is a two-time Class A all-state selection in the sport and has surpassed the 200-block total in each of her past two seasons.

Cole began to realize her potential in volleyball at the AAU national tournament in Orlando last summer with her club team, Michigan Volleyball Academy. The tournament was flooded with Division 1 scouts and several were drawn to Cole’s dominance at the net. She said she was soon swamped with recruiting letters from schools across the country, but eventually narrowed down a long list of suitors to a final five of Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida.

“At first, being recruited was a lot of fun, but after awhile, when it came down to making a decision, it got stressful,” she said.

At the same time, Cole has also received some strong interest from Division 1 basketball coaches, including Michigan.

“I’ve tried to talk with some coaches and I sat down with Coach K and let her know that volleyball is the sport I want to play,” Cole said. “So she’s handled that.”

Cole said breaking the news to the schools who didn’t make the cut for volleyball was difficult, because some coaches weren’t pleasant being rejected.

But in the end, she was happy to call the University of Michigan with some good news.

“I grew up a U-M fan, plus my grandparents live right off campus, so I’ve been around Ann Arbor quite a bit,” she said. “On my visit there, I got a chance to meet (U-M quarterback) Denard (Robinson) and Jordan Morgan, who’s on the basketball team.

“After the visit, my brother (Grant) was like ‘You have to go to U-M!’ My parents also really liked it and their opinion really mattered, but at the same time, they were happy with any choice I made.

“Plus, academically, Michigan is the top of the line.”

Cole carries a 3.8 grade point average in the classroom.

Although she’ll have another year of eligibility with the Bucs and another season to intimidate opponents in the low post, Cole said she’ll definitely miss the sport once her career is complete.

“I might have to sneak back and ask Coach if I can join in on a practice or two,” she said with a grin.

Her teammates may call her “babygirl” because  at 16, she’s young for her junior class, but more than anything, she’ll always be referred to as “that tall girl.” It’s a title Cole has come to embrace, especially with the doors it has helped open for her athletically.

“I realize I’m so blessed to have an opportunity to play either sport in college,” she said. 

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