The former All-American fought between defenders and sped up on her way to the goal, instantly recognizing the pass coming her way from junior forward Lauren DeBeau. Meeting the cross, she swung her left leg into the ball, knocking it up for a clean, slow bounce into the net.
Goal, 1-0 MSU. Not the prettiest. Not the most graceful. But it's one graduate forward Ava Cook worked hard for, a key part of her philosophy as a player.
“My biggest thing every time I step on the field is just to work as hard as I possibly can,” Cook said. “Because at the end of the day, like if you can’t control that … you can always control your effort. That’s kind of something I hope others see and do the same as most of us are doing right now.”
Cook’s team-leading third goal of the season in Monday’s 1-1 draw against FAU was hardly a new sensation: the Grand Valley State University transfer led Division II women’s soccer with 29 goals and 70 points as a junior in 2019 as the Lakers won their sixth national championship.
After her senior season was initially canceled and moved to the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19, she put her name in the transfer portal and followed former GVSU coach Jeff Hosler to Michigan State.
It’s a new school, new pitch and a new division and yet, it’s also a perfect reunion between two of the former top names in Division II women’s soccer as they take the next steps in their careers.
Hosler smiles when asked about the player he’s worked and won with for the past four years.
“I mean, I love that kid,” Hosler said. “She’s here for a reason.”
While Cook played four years on the varsity soccer team at Lakeview High School and earned third-team All-State honors as a senior, Hosler said the Battle Creek native received no offers from other schools and started her collegiate soccer career as “essentially” a walk-on at GVSU.
The hardworking and humble qualities he saw in her would soon provide a vital strength to an already dominant program.
“She truly checks her ego at the door, if she ever has one to begin with," Hosler said. "She’s just a winner … She always finds a way to dig a little bit deeper.”
Hosler noted that those qualities played a key role in the two national championship appearances at GVSU as Cook earned GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors and two unanimous All-American selections in her junior and senior years.
If that’s not enough, Cook’s play warranted her a legendary, Michael Jordan-esque status within the program.
“At Grand Valley, at least, there was a mythical lore about Ava, where there was this version called ‘Postseason Ava’ that just kind of came out and would just take over games,” Hosler said. “She’s shown some of that at various moments here.”
Cook said she “definitely” wanted to pursue a fourth year following 2020’s abbreviated spring season and the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for athletes affected by the pandemic. According to a June 25 article from the Battle Creek Enquirer, Cook has aspirations to play professionally.
With Hosler making the move, MSU became the right spot.
“Ava accomplished pretty much everything you can expect to in Division II,” Hosler said. “I think she was looking for an opportunity to expand her horizons, be challenged in a different way."
Now, as a Spartan, she’s working to bring some of the same magic she created on the pitch at GVSU to East Lansing. Of course, not before she thanks her teammates. Cook partially credited her teammates’ warm embrace for her recent run of form.
“The girls could not be any more welcoming to me, which makes it so much easier for me to just come out and feel good and play good,” Cook said. “Michigan State’s an awesome program so I'm just super blessed to be a part of it.”
Hosler isn’t the only one praising Cook’s impact on the program. DeBeau, one of Cook’s fellow forwards, said Cook is a “born leader” and downplayed the notion of her struggling with the adjustment from Division II to Division I.
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“There’s no difference,” DeBeau said. “She plays the same way... I’m sad I only have her for one semester but I’m keeping her as long as I can.”
As Cook casts aside any doubts about her abilities as a player, Hosler believes she's starting to settle into the group and develop the chemistry necessary for the Spartans to take the next step this season. He said that MSU isn't a "one-trick pony" with Cook on the line but added her offensive abilities have greatly improved the team.
"The kid's a baller," Hosler said. "She was on 90-plus minutes today ... really as our primary target through a lot of the run. She just keeps going."
A fresh season and an unblemished record have brought life into a program that finished 1-10-1 in the spring. For Cook, it's an opportunity to become a legend somewhere new.
Anything else she'd like to add?
"Go Green," Cook said.
Fitting in well.
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