NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Surrounded by her friends and teammates this past weekend, Maddie Cook took the next step in a personal journey that two years ago helped bring her to Belmont University.
On Sunday, Cook was baptized.
Walking out for the ceremony, a familiar feeling crept over her. Like on hundreds of basketball gamedays in her recent past, she started to feel butterflies in her stomach, a swirling of anxious excitement. Looking out at her Belmont women's basketball teammates dressed in their Sunday bests, she felt something else: joy.
"It spoke volumes to me. They're my teammates, but they've become sisters to me," said Cook, affectionately known as "Cookie" to her fellow Bruins. "To see them want to celebrate with me and to be so excited for me, it's really special. I can't speak to being at another university, but I don't think you get that with every team."
Belmont basketball's personal mix of faith and excellence on the court created an atmosphere that stuck out to Cook as a prep standout at Oakland High in nearby Murfreesboro, Tenn. The middle child of nine siblings, a competitive and supporting family feel was something she wanted to be a part of.
Now a redshirt freshman, Cook has made an instant impact in her first season playing for the Bruins. The 5-foot-10 guard starting on opening night at nationally ranked North Carolina State back in November and has twice reached double figures scoring to provide Belmont much-needed depth.
Cook is among six true and redshirt freshmen on the Bruins' roster this year working alongside a corps of seasoned veterans. The junior group is well aware of the role it plays in the immediacy, but also what will be asked of the young players soon as heirs apparent for a program reaching new heights in recent years.
While sitting out last year during their redshirt seasons – in which Belmont went 31-4 and reached a third straight NCAA Tournament – Cook and the other freshmen filled the gaps between practices dreaming of those coming opportunities.
"We didn't get to play, so we talked a lot," she began. "We talked a lot about the qualities we wanted to have when we were players the next year, where we wanted to take the program by the time we were seniors.
"I thought the hard part was last year sitting out and not getting to play, but it gets harder. I love the challenge and the work though. It's so worth it."
After a brief break in the action for fall semester final exams, Cook and the Bruins are back in action this Monday. Belmont travels to Chattanooga to face the Mocs at 6 p.m. (CT).