Part of what makes Mackenzie Cole such a rare talent on the volleyball court is her attention to the minutiae.
The Connetquot libero is perhaps the most technical player on Long Island. She wastes no movement and knows exactly how to receive each ball in order to make an accurate pass to her setters.
Cole, a junior, has already made a verbal commitment to play at Duke, one of the premier programs in the nation.
“Once I went to Duke and saw how beautiful it was in person, and met the coaches who are outstanding, I just knew it was the right fit,” said Cole, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week.
It’s easy to see why Duke would be interested in Cole, who first received a college recruiting letter in eighth grade and had a shortlist including North Carolina, Maryland and Ohio State. She’s the defensive anchor of the reigning state Class AA champions and a major reason why the Thunderbirds are one of the best passing teams around.
And she’s been this talented for a long time.
“She’s so composed that it’s hard to see improvement because she’s just so concise and spot-on on a regular basis,” coach Justin Hertz said. “From a skills standpoint, a lot of times if the kids have a question or if they want to work on something specific, she may be the voice they go to because she’s so technically sound.”
Excellent training opportunities have influenced her growth. Cole is one of three liberos on the USA Volleyball 24-Player Youth National Training Team, an under-18 team featuring the best players of the age group in the country.
Cole spent two weeks this summer in Florida training with the team and plans to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs after Christmas for another five days.
“I play with the top players in the nation, which is a huge honor,” she said. “Every time I go there, I get better. I learn from Olympians and coaches, and it’s an awesome experience.”
As is the case with the rest of her Connetquot teammates, Cole is quick to deflect individual praise. She is focused on the betterment of the program, which boasts an 11-0 record this season.
They’re the favorites again in Suffolk AA after a storybook run to a state championship last fall, even if every member of the team can pinpoint the tiniest adjustments to be made.
“I think going from being the underdog last year to now coming off a state championship, we can definitely improve a lot, but we need to stay humble and hungry,” Cole said before the season started.
The Thunderbirds are certainly both, and with Cole at the forefront, they’ll be able to fix any minuscule issues they find.