Life returned to normal for Marybeth Cook when she stepped on the volleyball court last week.
Before each serve, she signaled calls while focusing on the movements of her teammates and opponents — her glare shifting through the white frames of Oakley sports glasses.
The Paradise setter had the team clicking, and Cook was on fire.
Aside from the new glasses, it appeared that nothing had changed for the two-time All-Wise volleyball player and District 10-3A Setter of the Year as she teed up her teammates to the tune of 27 assists in the three-set win over Poolville. However, each kill and perfectly weighted pass was an act of defiance from the injury that altered her life less than 10 months ago.
Cook lost her left eye in a freak accident last October. While giving out candy to trick-or-treaters at her boyfriend’s house, the metal clasp of a lanyard snapped and changed her life.
“[My boyfriend and I] were just talking. He had his keys on his lanyard, just swinging them, and the metal broke apart,” Cook said. “The keys came and hit me in the face. It essentially cut my eye completely in half.”
Cook was rushed to Cook Children’s Hospital that night. Doctors attempted to repair the eye. She stayed at the hospital for nearly a week and her doctor broke the news that she would never be able to see out of her left eye again.
They decided it would look better to have it replaced with a prosthetic, which is what she has now.
Instead of accepting the end of her athletic career, Cook left the hospital undeterred, driven to return to the court.
Returning to play varsity volleyball alone is an accomplishment. However, Cook’s comeback was even more unlikely given her critical and demanding role as a setter.
Like a quarterback, the offense runs through the setter in volleyball. And Cook, the top setter in her district last year, is required to assess and communicate plays before reception and in free-ball situations. The position requires the player to know where the team’s hitters and passers are on the court at all times, visually and verbally communicating with the coach. This year, Cook is running the show at a high level with one functioning eye.
“I think the biggest thing is depth perception for me,” Cook said. “A lot of people think that since I lost a whole eye that I’ve lost 50 percent of my vision, but I actually only lost 30 percent. I obviously do have a blind spot and that sometimes gets me on defense, but that perception is really the biggest struggle I’ve been having right now.”
According to Paradise coach Makala Rogers, Cook has come back even stronger.
“When you watch her play right now, it is amazing to watch considering her incident last year,” Rogers said. “She’s not skipping a beat right now and she’s working through it. There’s a couple of times where it might be a little different for her, but she has done a really good job of pushing through everything. I think it’s made her stronger.”
Cook did not leave an easy act to follow for herself. She made the All-Wise volleyball teams in 2021 and 2022, tallying 923 assists, 317 digs, 107 kills and 79 aces last season. She was also named the 10-3A Setter of the Year last year.
To Cook, the thought of missing her senior year was simply not an option.
Volleyball has been a constant in Cook’s life. Since the third grade, she has competed with many of the same girls who are her teammates today. Cook said those teammates stuck by her side after the unexpected incident last fall.
Thanks to them, Cook said, she found the encouragement to get back on her feet.
“It took a while to get back to feeling normal, but the support system I had here was crazy,” Cook said. “They literally took a whole bus and came to my house and saw me and brought flowers and signs and it was super sweet. I think the support system here is what helped a lot, just knowing that I had all these girls out here that have my back.”
On Tuesday, she racked up 42 assists to nearly upset Millsap.
In the face of adversity, one of Wise County’s best volleyball players roared back to play the sport that has become her grounding force.
“Volleyball has been the normal, the consistency in my life,” Cook said. “And to know that was still going to be there for me after [the accident] was a sense of relief — just knowing that no matter what happened, I was going to be able to come back and play and be with my girls.”