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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Sports

UH volleyball setters Annie Cooke, Morgan Janda bond over common goal


In 32 matches played this season, UH setter Annie Cooke has recorded 623 assists to help the Cougars reach the Sweet 16. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

In 32 matches played this season, UH setter Annie Cooke has recorded 623 assists to help the Cougars reach the Sweet 16. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

The starting setter job had been Annie Cooke’s since she arrived at UH in 2020 for a good reason.

Cooke couldn’t have drawn up a better start to her collegiate career, doing things during her freshman season that hadn’t been done within the UH volleyball program for a long time.

The UH setter, who led the American Athletic Conference in assists per set during league play, racked up every award imaginable, earning first-team All-Conference honors as well as being named the AAC’s Freshman of the Year and Setter of the Year. On top of that, the American Volleyball Coaches Association named Cooke the Southeast Region Freshman of the Year.

Cooke followed up her historic freshman campaign by notching 1,189 assists as a sophomore on her way to being named to the AAC’s All-Conference second team.

While Cooke had all the credentials to once again be the Cougars’ starting setter entering the 2022 season, it was Sam Houston State transfer Morgan Janda whose name was called more often than not when the UH starting lineup was announced before each match.

Like many collegiate athletes in this type of position, Cooke could have easily felt sorry for herself and even looked for a new home in the transfer portal.

In fact, this type of response to losing a starting job has become the norm in college athletics, said UH volleyball head coach David Rehr.

“If someone loses their starting job or had to share a starting job, they could easily fracture, could easily pull apart,” he said.

Cooke took a different approach.

“Someone close to our program mentioned to me that one of the biggest differences of this team this year is that Annie is a glue piece,” Rehr said. “She glues people together. She glues parts of the team together.”

Building bonds

When Morgan Janda arrived on the UH campus, the Sam Houston transfer didn’t know what her role would be since Cooke had successfully held down the setter spot for the past two seasons.

“I tried to come in with no expectations because I knew I would have to come in and work hard,” Janda said.

Transferring from Sam Houston, Morgan Janda has found the success she was looking for during her first season at UH. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

After transferring from Sam Houston State, Morgan Janda has found the success she was looking for during her first season at UH. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

All Janda knew was that Rehr was building something special at UH and she wanted to be a part of it.

While bringing in a veteran setter like Janda was tough for Cooke to swallow at first, knowing her time on the court would likely decrease, the end goal of UH winning an AAC title and going to the NCAA Tournament outweighed Cooke’s individual desires.

“At first, someone (new) comes in and you immediately think competition, but at the end of the day you have to put the team first,” Cooke said.

Cooke looked for ways to bring the team closer, which included creating a special bond with Janda so that the Cougars’ two setters could find ways to best help the team win.

“Between us is a lot of respect,” Janda said. “We both really respect each other and know that we play at the highest level.” 

Having played under Rehr for two seasons, Cooke took it upon herself to help Janda familiarize herself with UH’s terminology.

On the flip side, Janda reminded Cooke to play loose and just go out and have fun every time she stepped on the court.

Janda described her relationship with Cooke as a “revolving door” as the two setters constantly bounce ideas off each other, exploring different ways to make both themselves and their teammates better.

While there was still friendly competition between Cooke and Janda, the two UH setters’ shared the same No. 1 goal — the desire for the team to win.

“It becomes a lot more of a relationship and less of a competition when you have a bigger goal at hand,” Cooke said.

One-two punch

Though having two completely different personalities, according to Rehr, Cooke and Janda’s unique bond has been crucial to the Cougars’ historic 2022 season.

Regardless of which of the two has been on the court, the duo has gotten the job done. Through 33 matches, Cooke and Janda have combined for 1,367 of UH’s 1,596 assists.

“They complement (each other) because they both care about each other,” Rehr said. “They both care about the No. 1 thing (being) the team.”

The goal of winning, the foundation of Cooke and Janda’s bond built during the offseason, has come to fruition as the Cougars have reached new heights that the program hadn’t experienced in over two decades.

Program-record 20-match win streak. Check.

Co-champions of the AAC, UH’s first conference title since 1999. Check.

Going dancing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000. Check.

Winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 1994. Check.

“Coming in, we knew what we wanted to accomplish as a team,” Cooke said. “How we got there didn’t really matter as much as the results. If that meant she started and she played or I started and I played, it just meant whatever was best for the team and whatever got us to our goal.”

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