Grand Haven senior Abby Cole has been invited to participate in a tryout for the USA Volleyball Junior Olympic team.
The tryouts take place at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Cole will leave Thursday morning and return Sunday night.
Cole, who was recently named a finalist for Michigan’s Miss Basketball award, was initially hesitant to accept the invitation because it will force her to miss the Bucs’ girls basketball team’s regular-season finale at Hudsonville on Friday. Grand Haven is currently 18-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class A.
She’ll return in time to be ready for the following Monday’s Class A district tournament opener against Reeths-Puffer.
“The Michigan coaches are really encouraging me to go,” said Cole, the Bucs’ 6-foot-5 senior who was runner-up for the state’s Miss Volleyball award this past fall. “They’re not as concerned with me making the team as much as they want me to get more national exposure, because they said they’ll be sending me there the next few years.
“It will be a cool experience on its own just going out there and seeing the facilities that all the best athletes train at,” Cole said. “I’ll be staying in the dorms there, and that’s where all the people who train there stay.”
If she makes the team, Cole will spend a few weeks this summer traveling around Europe playing against other national teams.
Cole found out about the tryout a few weeks ago, and considered turning down the invitation because she didn’t want to let down her team by missing any time on the basketball court.
Support from her coach and teammates helped ease her concerns.
“I had to talk to Coach (Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer) before I made my decision,” Cole said. “Obviously, she was taken by surprise, but she was so supportive. She knows that volleyball is my No. 1 sport and she told me I can’t pass on this. It’s a dream for me to play at this level. It’s exposure to the future for something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Cole’s teammates have also been very supportive.
“They made me feel good about my decision,” Cole said. “The hardest part for me is letting them down. It’s a big game, because Hudsonville is good, but as long as we win Tuesday’s game (against West Ottawa), we’ll have the conference championship and that’s one of our big season goals.”
Kowalczyk-Fulmer said the Bucs will obviously miss Cole on Friday, but wouldn’t dream of standing in the way of such a huge opportunity.
“Obviously, as a coach, you’re not excited that my starting center isn’t going to be there against Hudsonville, and they start 6-3, 6-2,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “But Abby’s such a good kid, and this is such a great opportunity for her.
“If she makes this team, she gets to travel throughout Europe this summer. She’s got the opportunity to play with the best players in the nation and play overseas. That’s so cool.”
On the court, Kowalczyk-Fulmer will look for someone else to pick up their game in Cole’s absence.
“Abby’s a game-changer, but teams don’t fall apart if they lose one player,” she said. “Other players step up. We’re just thrilled that she played basketball. A lot of kids in her position would have given up basketball a long time ago.”
Cole led the Buccaneers’ varsity volleyball team to the Class A state semifinals this past fall, the best finish in school history.
The Bucs lost to Temperance Bedford on a Friday night, and the following Monday, Cole made the switch over to basketball. She hadn’t played volleyball since that point until this past weekend, when she was invited to join the Michigan Volleyball Academy (MVA) team for a tournament in Chicago.
“I’m not playing winter club, but a girl on our team got hurt and I had a free weekend, so I traveled to Chicago with (Grandville’s) Jessica (Dood) and palyed with them this weekend,” Cole said. “I had fun. It’s the team I will play with this spring. We did OK. It was a tough weekend for us because we just haven’t played together as a team very much, but we finished strong.
“I thought I was going to be a little bit rustier than I was, but just coming back and playing, I had a great time. The girls were very encouraging. They know I’ve been playing basketball and haven’t played volleyball since we lost in the semifinals. They all understood where I was coming from.”
On the basketball court this winter, Cole is averaging 14.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.4 blocks per game. Those numbers, along with the Bucs’ continued success (they’re now 71-2 in her three years on the varsity team) led to her inclusion in the Miss Basketball voting.
Other candidates are Freeland guard Tori Jankoska (31.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.1 steals per game); Grosse Pointe South center Claire DeBoer (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 steals per game); Goodrich guard Taylor Gleason (21.2 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 steals per game); and Detroit King’s Antania Hayes (16 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists).