STANFORD, Calif. -Were it not for his older sister Karissa, outside hitter Brian Cook might never have discovered volleyball or followed her to Stanford.
“The reason I got into volleyball was because she and I played in the house and at the beach,” said the Cardinal senior, who grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif. “She taught me the fundamentals. She’s an amazing player.”
Karissa was a setter and helped Stanford capture three Pac-12 titles, earning conference all-academic honors three times. After finishing her degree, she moved to Hawai’i and is now playing sand volleyball for the Sandbows.
A straight-A student at Harbor High School, Karissa inspired Brian to buckle down in academics at Soquel High and to his surprise, he drew interest from The Farm.
“It wasn’t really an option until she started getting recruited,” he said. “In my sophomore year of high school, I turned my grades around and made that my goal.”
The 6-foot-5 Cook also attended a volleyball camp at Stanford and played for San Jose-based Bay to Bay Volleyball Club in 2010, which became the first undefeated team in NorCal Association play. His coach was Ken Shibuya, current associate head coach to John Kosty at Stanford.
“He was very, very raw and basically didn’t know what he was doing indoors,” said Shibuya. “It was pretty amazing how fast he grew into a player because nobody was recruiting him until the end.”
Shibuya knew he had talent and liked his versatility and positive personality.
“He always has a smile on his face,” he said.
Shibuya also considered making him a setter.
“I could have really messed up his career,” he laughed.
Once Cook got accepted to Stanford, he flourished. He started 22 matches as a true freshman in 2011 and his 179 kills were third most on the team. In 2012, he was second in kills with 367 and third in points with 414, and was named to the All-MPSF second team. Cook led the Cardinal to an upset win against top-ranked BYU with 20 kills, a .390 hitting percentage, seven digs and three blocks.
Last year, he firmly established himself as one of the best players in the country and was selected a first-team All-American by the AVCA and Volleyball Magazine. Cook ranked fourth in the NCAA and MPSF in kills per set at 4.01, and fifth in the MPSF and sixth in the NCAA in points per set at 4.57. His 417 kills were the ninth-most at Stanford in the rally-scoring era. Twice, he collected 24 kills in five-set victories against Pacific and Pepperdine.
“He was a diamond in the rough,” said Kosty. “We got lucky with him. That doesn’t happen much in the Bay Area, where there aren’t many volleyball hubs. He’s a game-changer.”
Cook does it all on the court. He leads the team in most statistical categories and has collected 375 kills this season.
“He’s a great passer, defender, blocker and offensive threat from anywhere,” Kosty said. “He can pass with anybody in the country. He’s just an all-around great player.”
Cook has heredity on his side. His father, David, played basketball at the University of San Diego and professionally in Australia, while his mother, Suzy, played collegiate volleyball for the United States International University. His uncle, John, is the head coach for the women’s volleyball team at Nebraska.
Kosty credits Cook for sparking Stanford’s current 11-game winning streak. This after a rough early start that saw the Cardinal drop four of five matches to seemingly doom its postseason chances. Since a March 1 win against Cal State Northridge, Stanford has been on a roll, losing only seven sets.
“A lot of our turnaround has to do with him and his personality,” said Kosty. “He was tired of losing. In the fifth game against Hawai’i, he took over and won it for us. When it gets tight, he wants the ball and is not going to let us lose.”
Cook admitted things looked bleak earlier in the season. It was not the way he wanted to end his Stanford career.
“We found ourselves in a bad situation,” he said. “After that bad start, it was now or never. At that point, we were just looking to make the playoffs.”
Cook cited a more balanced attack, lineup adjustments, and the play of senior Eric Mochalski for getting the Cardinal back on track.
“We’ve been killing teams and winning close games,” said Cook. “When we’re on our game, I don’t know if we can be stopped.”
Cook said being around so many great student-athletes at Stanford has inspired him in the classroom and on the court. He attends many on-campus sporting events.
“Everyone is pushing each other and coming up with ideas,” Cook said. “Everyone is proud to be part of the athletic program. We’ve got so many athletes that are at the highest level of their sport, people like Maggie Steffens (women’s water polo) and Kristen Ipsen (men’s diving). Just being in the athletic community, it’s amazing how humble they are.”
Stanford will look to extend its winning streak on Saturday in an MPSF quarterfinal match against sixth-ranked UC Irvine at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion. It will likely be the final home match for Cook and his four senior teammates.
“One of our great players of all-time,” said Kosty.