Cook embodies ‘European style’ with women’s soccer

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Photo by Alex DeBuhr

Isabella Cook (15) played for the U-18, U-19 and U-20 U.S. Women’s Soccer Youth National team.

Isabella Cook grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois but played soccer on the biggest stage.

Cook played for the U-18, U-19 and U-20 U.S. Women’s Soccer Youth National team.

“It brought some of the better players in the country together,” Cook said. “That was a high-intensity experience for me and it made me a better person.”

Cook said it was through an Olympic Development Program camp in Illinois, while she was still in middle school, that she was discovered by scouts from the U.S. National Team.

The Olympic Development Program identifies and develops the best youth soccer players in the country. It promotes players to the U.S. National Teams, which represent the United States in international competition.

Cook called representing her country on the national stage “the best experience” that she has had.

“I was really honored,” Cook said. “I remember when I got the email that I was invited to camp, I was so excited. It really made me want to push myself harder if I wanted to keep going.”

Simultaneously with the U.S. National Team, Cook enrolled at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The decision to enroll in the “world’s most prestigious sports, performance and educational institution” was two-sided for Cook.

Aside from competing at IMG, Cook had to start training outside the national team.

“I knew if I wanted to keep going to the camps, I would have to keep getting better,” Cook said.

This led to her private trainer, Nick, who played professional soccer in Greece since he was 16 years old. “He basically molded me into the player I am,” Cook said. “He really brought a European style of soccer for me to learn.”

Cook believes the differences in American and European soccer make her “different from other soccer.”

“(The) American (style) is a lot of big, athletic and you are running up and down the field,” Cook said. “Meanwhile European is pass, pass pass. I’ve always been the type of person who likes the ball at my feet and finds passes.”

The national team provided Cook with unique opportunities such as participating in the U.S. U-19 Women’s National Team training camp in the Netherlands.

“It was amazing. It was actually my first time out of the country,” Cook said. “It was so intriguing to me to play against another country for the first time. It was kind of crazy because we got there at Netherlands time, which was like nighttime here (in the states), and we all wanted to go to bed but we had to stay up and adjust to the time.”

Cook said competing against other countries continued to develop her skills in different ways.

“When you play club (soccer) here you are playing against the same people and style of play every year so playing against another country, the girls are either bigger, stronger, or faster than us,” Cook said. “They were better in the air and winning 50-50 balls than us. I tried to adapt different things from every team we played.”

Cook’s collegiate career began at the University of Tennessee. During those three years,Cook solidified herself in the midfield but after a head coaching change she entered the NCAA transfer portal.

“I wanted to kind of break out and get a new experience for my last year,” Cook said.

Cook said she came across Marquette and head coach Frank Pelaez through one of her assistant coaches at Tennessee, Joe Kirk.

“He (Kirk) told me he (Pelaez) had a good team and culture here and he was a good coach,” Cook said. “I was emailing other schools and Frank replied so I came to visit and I loved the campus and the coaches. I actually didn’t go visit the other schools, I liked it (here) immediately.”

The adjustment to Marquette was hard for her at first.

“I wasn’t used to the Big East, I was used to being in the SEC and a huge football school,” Cook said. “What helped me adjust was being with the girls more, getting (that) bonding time, which of course helps on the field (when) trusting each other (with) passing.”

Senior midfielder Elizabeth Bueckers said Cook is a “true center midfielder.”

“She’s very technical. The ball sticks to her foot almost,” Bueckers said. “She’s very smooth with the ball, she has a lot of moves, she can take players on 1-v-1, she’s very choppy, very hard to defend and really gritty.”

Pelaez said one of Cook’s strongest assets she brought to the team is her ability to “control the ball out of the air from the ground and distribute it to her teammates.”

He said Cook’s “European style of soccer” is similar to how senior midfielder Katrina Wetherell plays.

“They watch soccer all the time and they try to imitate that which is the best way to learn,” Pelaez said. “We got to get her to move off the ball and play some defense.”

Bueckers said as a veteran on the team, Cook is not afraid to hold her teammates accountable.

“That’s not a trait that everyone has, (but) she really always pushes her teammates to make them better,” Bueckers said. “Not afraid to tell them where they messed up, make it constructive and really help them to improve in the future.”

Cook has earned starts in each of Marquette’s 13 games while recording three goals and two assists.

Since arriving at Marquette, Pelaez said he has seen Cook’s biggest growth come in the classroom.

“She’s applying herself,” Pelaez said. “At the end of the day, I want her to get a degree from Marquette because it is going to take her a long way.”

Meanwhile, for Cook, she has seen growth through becoming more confident and finding the ball better on the field.

With three games left in the regular season, Marquette remains in the chase for one of six spots in the Big East Tournament. It’s weighing on Cook’s mind.

“I definitely want to see us be able to make the (Big East) tournament and go as far as we can,” Cook said. “I don’t want us to end up not being able to do that.”

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.