Some of the key pieces of the success of the Valpo volleyball program over the last few years have announced that they will return for the fall 2021 campaign, as setter Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll), libero Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) and middle hitter Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) will each utilize the additional season of eligibility granted by the NCAA to fall sport student-athletes due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020-21 season.
For all three, it was a pretty easy decision to take advantage of the opportunity for one more season in the Valpo uniform.
“I immediately knew that I wanted to continue playing volleyball for another year when Carin presented the idea to the seniors last fall,” Cookerly said. “I knew I wanted to continue my education eventually, but there is no better time than now. My love for the game of volleyball is unmatched, and after talking with my family and my coach, it was a no-brainer to play the game I love for another season.”
“The day I heard we could potentially get a fifth year, I called my mom and said I wanted to stay — I love this team and was already dreading saying goodbye,” McCarthy said. “After playing volleyball my whole life, I wanted to go out on a season with a semi-normal schedule.”
For Anderson, the decision was as immediate as the others, with the added consideration of the impact of this past season being moved to the spring.
“I recently started the sports administration graduate program here at Valpo, so I would still be a student at the university next year,” Anderson said. “Being able to play another year fell into my original plan of being here for five years. Not being able to play this year due to the overlap between volleyball and softball did play into it, as I was not ready to be done with my volleyball career. Now I am able to finish my playing career with four volleyball seasons under my belt.”
The closeness of the trio of seniors and the culture of the program as a whole also were key factors in helping make their respective decisions to return easy ones.
“I went into Rylee’s room after talking with my parents and she said she was staying, and there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to come back,” McCarthy said. “We are bringing back three out of the six from my class and I can honestly say they are my best friends.”
“I am excited to be back with the volleyball program for my last season because it gives me the opportunity to play one more time with Peyton and Rylee,” Anderson said. “I am grateful to be welcomed back into the program that centers its values around culture and being a family. I love being a part of that atmosphere.”
And as far as on-the-court success goes, across the board, all three feel like the Valpo volleyball program is poised for a breakthrough.
“The thing that excites me the most about the opportunity to stay here for another year is our potential,” Cookerly said. “Since joining the Valley, we have continually built on previous years in our successes, and I think our potential for next year is through the roof. I also think we have the right people on the team to do something with that potential.”
“As far as the team goes, I want to play postseason — I believe we had a chance this year before our season came to an end due to COVID,” McCarthy said. “I think this team is ready to go out and prove we belong in the top-three of the Valley.”
“For my final season, I hope to continue to help the program make a run at clinching our first MVC regular season title and conference championship,” Anderson said. “We bring back a team full of veterans and will be able to welcome in the new players to begin building our program right away for those conference titles.”
Anderson will return to the volleyball court in the fall of 2021 after opting out of the spring 2021 season due to it running concurrently with the softball season. Despite not playing this past year, she ranks ninth among active Division I players with 3,850 career assists and is fourth in program history in career assists. Anderson, who played every set of her first three seasons from 2017 through 2019, was an MVC All-Freshman Team selection in 2017 and a First Team All-MVC choice in 2018.
Academically, Anderson completed her bachelor’s degree in sports management in December 2020 and is currently enrolled in the sports administration master’s program. She is a two-time MVC Honorable Mention Scholar-Athlete and has received the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award.
Cookerly continued her standout career this spring, as she was named the MVC Libero of the Year for a second consecutive season and earned a spot on the AVCA All-Midwest Region Team. Her average of 5.78 digs/set this spring was good for ninth nationally and is third in a single season in program history. Cookerly now owns 2,514 career digs, over 350 more than any other active player in the country. She ended the shortened season second in Valpo history and third in MVC history in career digs, and is just outside the NCAA’s top-15 all-time in the category as well.
Academically, Cookerly will receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing this month and will continue on in Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions into the DNP program with plans to become a nurse practitioner. She was named the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year this season, is a three-time MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team honoree and has twice been named a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection.
McCarthy enjoyed another strong season out of the middle for Valpo this spring, finishing second on the team with 0.87 blocks/set and contributing 2.30 kills/set on .240 hitting offensively. She was a First Team All-MVC selection in 2019 and led the conference in blocks in 2018. McCarthy enters the fall 2021 campaign just 141 kills shy of 1,000 for her Valpo career and also owns 331 career blocks, just 20 away from cracking Valpo’s career top-10 in the category.
Academically, McCarthy is studying communication and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in December 2021.