Keegan Cook Early Profiles

Ignatius L Hoops

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Sep 9, 2015
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A Seattle Times profile from when Cook took the UW job in 2015. From math whiz to headcoach. Here's the last half of the article

Cook’s statistical bent comes naturally. He attended St. Mary’s as a math major, with the intention of teaching it in high school and coaching volleyball.

He had become enamored with the sport while following the career of his sister, Meg, and was a strong amateur player himself, until his size precluded playing at the highest level. The love of volleyball remained constant, but about three years into college, Cook’s affection for math waned.

He recalls one of his teachers telling him, “Keegan, you don’t love math, you love arithmetic,’’ he said.

Translation: Cook loved the tangible side of math, especially sports analytics, which was just starting with volleyball around that time.

Cook began dabbling with coaching at his sister’s volleyball club and caught the attention of St. Mary’s coach Rob Browning, who put him to work in his program as a sophomore. Cook coached under Browning for eight seasons, honing his use of metrics, a skill he took with him to Washington.

“I like to see what people don’t see, and find value in what people don’t really have a lot of value in,’’ Cook said.

An example, he said, are nonscoring plays that don’t necessarily have a statistic attached to them, and can appear insignificant to fans and even some coaches, but can be quantified.

“When you add up all those little touches that seem meaningless, you can make a big impact on your team,’’ he said.

As with baseball analytics, however, more coaches are catching on. The advantage of being on the cutting edge is narrowing.

“The margin of error to be great seems like it’s shrinking, because people are starting to know what some of the right choices are,’’ he said.

The Huskies believe they made the right choice in Cook, who sometimes can’t quite believe how quickly he ascended to one of the most prestigious positions in college volleyball.

“Probably two weeks before training camp, I had this huge feeling of gratefulness,’’ he said. “That’s a pretty good feeling.”

The big office is his now, and the future of UW volleyball looks as bright as ever.

A more recent write-up

The seventh-year head coach invests in his student-athletes as he lives a lifelong volleyball dream​

Keegan Cook’s life story reads like a fairy tale — a sweetly-fated, feel-good, purple-tinged account of a California kid whose adventures in volleyball shaped every aspect of his life from college to career to true love.

Like many good stories, the UW Volleyball Head Coach’s yarn begins with a hero: his big sister, Meg.

“As a kid, I was dragged around to all her volleyball tournaments,” recalls Keegan. “I’d steal a ball from the cart and play by myself in a corner of the gym. We were close and competitive, and I wanted to do what she’d done.”

After playing volleyball in high school, he followed Meg to St. Mary’s College of California, where he volunteered to coach almost the moment he arrived. He also assisted with the high school and traveling teams his sister coached.

“For four years while the rest of my peers were going to music festivals or traveling abroad, I was spending all my free time coaching,” Keegan explains. “When you’re 18 years old and coaching 17-year-olds, you have to carry yourself in a manner that’s very professional. You have to take your job very seriously. Everyone’s expecting you to be mature. I was very conscious of those things early on.”

His maturity and professional approach were rewarded. Keegan graduated from St. Mary’s on a Friday in 2007 and, three days later, started his first professional job as a full-time assistant coach at his alma mater.

While he loved St. Mary’s, Keegan was intrigued by the longevity, passion and values of all the UW coaches and staff he met while playing Washington. When an assistant coaching position opened at the UW in 2013, he won the role. It’s the only job he’s ever formally applied for.

“The way I express my competitive desire today is by investing in the young women I coach,” he says. “When your vocation is to invest in people, the return is unbelievably fulfilling. When you can help someone grow and change the course of their life, that’s a different level of joy. Teaching them to live their lives based on principles is critical and I try to remember that every day.”

With a degree in mathematics, Keegan puts his analytical skills to use as a head coach who makes objective decisions about player rotations and practice schedules.

“I believe in the power of little behaviors repeated day after day so they become a powerful force in your life. What are you doing each day that will transform into a life-changing experience for you and everyone around you?”

It’s a philosophy that has paid off in three Pac-12 championships; six trips to the NCAA Tournament, including two appearances in the Elite Eight and one in the semifinals; and dozens of stellar players and proud UW graduates since Keegan joined UW Volleyball.

Now in his seventh year at the UW and his fifth as head coach, “the passion I feel for people in this department, this university, this city just keeps growing. Washington is a place that balances high achievement without sacrificing the true mission of college athletics in helping student-athletes grow.”

Like any good tale, this one includes a love story. Keegan met his fiancée, Sarah, on a foreign tour with the team in 2017. A former pro volleyball player, Sarah joined Keegan in Italy this past summer when he coached the U.S. Team. Chances are, they’ll live happily ever after

From November 2019 coaches corner:

Coaches’ Corner: Keegan Cook​

Posted on November 14, 2019 by Matthew Leib. This entry was posted in Spotlight, Staff Stories and tagged Coaches' Corner, Spotlight. Bookmark the permalink.

In college, Keegan Cook knew he wanted to do two things in life: teach and compete. A math major at St. Mary’s College in his home state of California, Cook planned to teach math and coach high school volleyball after getting his degree, but the closer he came to graduation day, the more wary he felt about that ultimate plan.

“I realized what I really wanted to do was teach this sport at the highest level,” says Cook, who has served as head coach of UW Volleyball since 2015. “I finished my math degree as early as possible and started taking sports management classes. At some point, that’s what college is about: figuring out what you don’t want to do.”

Beginning as a volunteer assistant at St. Mary’s, Cook says he was as interested in “teaching” volleyball as much as “coaching” it. He credits his sister, who went on to play volleyball at the Division-I level, for first exposing him to the sport.

“Somehow volleyball just spoke to me—maybe because I got dragged around to too many tournaments with my sister and thought I could be better than her, which I never was,” Cook says. “Once you find your calling, everything else just kind of fades away. What was me playing six sports turned into me playing one sport.”

A game of angles and precision strikes, the sport challenged Cook’s mind in the same ways that math did—and in many ways math didn’t.

“I was a math major and this is harder than some of my math classes,” Cook says of how volleyball lends itself to statistical analysis. It’s something he’s embraced and utilized to his teams’ advantages throughout his coaching career and as a Volleyball Information Supervisor (VIS) for the FIVB, the international governing body for the sport.

“Volleyball is not a sport where one play can win it for you—one great shot at the end or one deep throw for a touchdown. Every rally is worth one point, so you have to be good over long periods of time.”

Volleyball’s capacity to teach is another reason why Cook says he likes to approach his work as head coach with an academic’s eye.

“[Volleyball] teaches you the importance of consistency—whether you’re working on your serve or trying to create some habits in your life where you just show up day after day,” he says. “When you start to do a little behavior over and over again, it turns into a powerful force in your life. Compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in the world. If you do something day after day, all of a sudden it will turn into something that just takes you places you never thought you could go.”

In Cook’s case, it took him to Seattle. Beginning his coaching career at St. Mary’s after graduating, he served for eight years—first as a volunteer assistant, then a full-time assistant coach, and eventually as top assistant for the Gaels. He joined the UW’s staff as an assistant coach in 2013. Now in his fifth year heading the program following two seasons as assistant coach, Cook says an ability to “show” and “do” have been central to his—and the team’s—sustained success.

“Telling isn’t teaching and listening isn’t learning,” Cook says, adding that that message of “showing and doing” has emerged as one of his core tenets as head coach. “Telling an athlete what to do is a really archaic way to teach. You have to be great at showing.”

Before facing an opponent, Cook, the UW Volleyball coaching staff, and team take part in three film sessions. He and other coaches also assemble individualized game footage with annotated analysis and written pointers for players. That consistent, communicative approach has helped speed the team to a 19-5 record overall in 2019, including 10-4 in conference play. The team is poised to contend for another Pac-12 Championship and a deep finish in the NCAA Tournament.

“Everyone’s battling out,” Cook says of the Huskies’ pursuit of first-place Stanford, a team UW beat for the first time on the road in Palo Alto earlier this season in what he describes as “a big moment for this group.”

It’s a group that remained almost wholly intact since last year—returning thirteen student-athletes from 2018, when the team reached the Sweet 16 following a strong finish to the regular season that evened their record in conference play to 10-10.

“We were playing our best volleyball at the end of 2018, so there was a lot of momentum and high hopes for this group and high aspirations for this year,” Cook says. “We really stretched ourselves in the preseason with a December mindset.”

The team spent the whole of preseason on the road, playing everywhere from Hawaii to Iowa. Following strong preseason showings, they continued as road warriors into conference play with a further two-week slate of out-of-state games.

“A lot of teams I’ve coached would not have been able to handle that,” Cook says, citing a grueling travel schedule that typically involves leaving Seattle on a Wednesday or Thursday, returning Sunday or Monday, and then practicing for a couple days at home before hitting the road again. “At the end, we realized, wow, that was a lot, but at the time, we were just going for it.”

Cook says the idea behind the preseason schedule was to “get really good at playing on the road, because, chances are, to go to the Final Four, we’re going to have to do that.” UW is likely to host games in the first two rounds during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament before its second weekend when regional round play cedes hosting privileges to the top four seeds. “We’re most likely at this point going to finish seeded somewhere between five and ten,” Cook says. “So we’re probably going to have to go somewhere and beat somebody to get to the Final Four.”

In accounting for the team’s progress from 2018 to 2019, Cook says players’ commitment to being connected and “communicating at a really high level with each other and with the coaches” has been a key factor.

“This is a really outstanding group of young women who have grown tremendously,” he says. “These young players came in during the transition when I took over as the head coach and all they’ve done is win a couple Pac-12 Championships.”

It promises to be a memorable and moving finish to the season and many of their careers as student-athletes. The regular season concludes with an Apple Cup game versus Washington State on November 30 that UW faculty and staff can attend with discount tickets via The Whole U and UW Athletics.

“Anytime you get a chance to see an athlete play their last guaranteed home game, to put an exclamation point on their career against a quality opponent, you have an opportunity to see something special,” Cooks says of the November 30 matchup. “If anyone is able to come to these last few matches or see us in December, you’re seeing a bunch of young women who really have grown and I think that’s what it’s all about being at the University of Washington.”

Any new fan that attends the game will be augmenting what in Cook’s view is an already unparalleled group of supportive fans. “I think we lead the conference in average home attendance and our fans just seem louder and more focused,” he says. “There isn’t another place in the Pac-12 that has an environment like this. Nothing comes close.”

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