While Connor Rose Cook may be a beauty queen, she can also play volleyball.
The 2016 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival queen has played volleyball for many years, including three years at the University of Pikeville.
“Volleyball has been a huge part of my life since I was 12 years old,” said Cook, who will give up her crown to the 2017 queen at the famed KMLF which begins on May 25 in Pineville. “I started playing club volleyball in sixth grade and continued to play through my junior year of college.”
Cook, who is 5-8, won’t be playing collegiate volleyball any more. She recently transferred to Spalding University in her hometown of Louisville to study nursing after spending the last fall semester at UPike.
“Giving up volleyball was a very emotional and hard decision to make, but I ultimately knew the impact I could make in people’s lives by pursuing my nursing career would be far greater than continuing to play a sport I had already given so much of my life to,” explained Cook. “Volleyball was a huge part of my life but I knew that at some point I would have to hang up my jersey…little did I know I would be trading it in a season early for scrubs.
“I loved University of Pikeville, and I will always consider it a home away from home, but God was laying it on my heart to receive my bachelor’s in nursing so I returned home to do so as Pikeville does not have a bachelor’s in nursing program.”
Cook, who has worked as a lifeguard during the summers, also participated in the 2017 Miss Kentucky USA pageant several months ago in Somerset. Cook said it was an interesting experience for her as she hasn’t competed in a pageant other than KMLF.
“The most difficult part of preparing for Miss Kentucky USA was the mental and physical training,” she commented. “Before KMLF, I had never participated in a pageant before. As you know, KMLF is completely different than what is considered a traditional pageant and is more about becoming a part of tradition and part of a community than anything else.
“Miss Kentucky was a whole different ball field. There are so many components of that pageant, and being disciplined and learning how to master each one was definitely the most difficult part.
“The most fun part was meeting all the girls from Kentucky and making new friends, much like KMLF. There were so many girls from different colleges and areas of Kentucky so it was cool to meet them and establish friendships with them.
“Pageants are very stressful so having some new girlfriends to help you laugh and smile through the process always helps.”
While we already know that Cook has passion for volleyball and caring for others, there is one other tidbit that many folks may not know much about her.
“Something most people may not know about me is that I love animals,” she said. “When I was younger I seriously considered being a vet. Since then I decided that being a vet wasn’t for me but I’m known to take in homeless animals and find them homes every now and then. I just always have, and always will, have a special place in my heart for all animals.”
Cook is looking forward to the Memorial Day weekend when she returns to KMLF.
“One of my favorite memories from KMLF last May was of course hearing my name be announced as the 2016 queen but also the parade through Pineville,” she recalled. “I loved this experience because I felt like I got to see the town, all the people and seeing all the kids wave and families cheer for your school is such an amazing feeling. I felt like real royalty. Plus, who doesn’t like riding in a beautiful white Corvette convertible?”
* * *
A current Kentucky basketball standout will be returning to her hometown of Pineville during the KMLF festivities.
Maci Morris, who will be a junior this fall, will serve as grand marshal of KMLF’s Gala Parade, which begins at 10 a.m. on May 27 in downtown Pineville.
Morris finished her sophomore year in helping the Wildcats finish with a 22-11 mark and a No. 18 final ranking in the Associated Press Top 25.
Morris had a very good campaign as she started all 33 games, finishing fourth on the team with an 11.8-point average. The guard also led the Cats in 3-point field goals made with 53, hitting 32.3 percent from long range.
Before arriving at UK, Morris starred at Bell County High School where she played varsity basketball since the seventh grade. She became a starter as an eighth grader, and finished her prep career with 3,368 points, ranking sixth in state history. The all-stater was also named Kentucky’s Miss Basketball in 2015.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.