It was the exact way LSU defender Shannon Cooke envisioned her soccer career unfolding.
The native of Rickmansworth, England enjoyed a pair of career-defining moments over a magical five-day span of her freshman season in 2018. She scored the first goal of her career with a penalty kick in a 7-6 victory over Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC tournament and followed that with a goal late in the second half in the title match against Arkansas which turned into another victory decided by penalty kicks.
LSU hosted the first round of the NCAA tournament, taking a 2-1 win in penalty kicks over Boston University for the program’s first postseason in nine years, before falling to USC 2-0 in the Round of 32.
Following that high, the Tigers went through a coaching change and a nightmarish 2019 season that included a 3-12-3 record and another coaching change.
“When that happened as a freshman, I probably thought this is how it’s going to be for the next four years,” Cooke said. “It didn’t happen that way. We went through coaching changes and changes within the team and a bit of a rough patch in a couple of the seasons. I was moving positions a lot to try and play wherever the team needed me. It wasn’t really going as planned.”
The losing was unsettling and pushed Cooke to consider a transfer. But she ultimately weathered the adversity, welcomed a new coach in Sian Hudson who after a winless 2020 fall season, guided the Tigers to six wins in eight matches in the spring to finish 8-8-3 overall. It set the stage for a 2021 season brimming with optimism going into Thursday’s home opener at 7 p.m. against Southern Mississippi.
“I came from teams in England where we never really lost,” Cooke said. “As a kid I never properly learned how to lose. When we went through that tough season I did struggle with the results and how to take them. But I’m glad I stuck it out. The program has continued to rise, and we really have a strong team this year that will do great things.”
Cooke played a significant part in LSU’s spring renaissance, helping to solidify a defense at center back where she was part of a backline that helped goalkeeper Mollee Swift produce four shutouts.
Not only was Cooke a central figure in her team’s defensive play, her communication a constant in helping to keep the backline moving in concert, but her play also proved pivotal in being able to ignite the team’s offense.
Cooke helped push LSU’s offense forward with lengthy runs into the offensive third of the field, resulting in her taking a team-high 42 shots, 18 of which were on frame with her two goals coming in the final two matches of the spring, a 1-0 win over Baylor and 2-1 verdict against Texas Tech.
“She’s fantastic with the ball at her feet,” Hudson said. “She’s the player that dictates our ability to play through our lines and to be composed and confident with the ball our feet. She’s instrumental in all that we are as a program. She’s a great ambassador for the program as well in everything she does off the field in recruiting and marketing.”
Cooke’s teammates thought so much of her they named her one of LSU’s three captains this season to go along with fellow senior midfielder Chiara Ritchie-Williams and junior midfielder Maddie Moreau.
It’s a reward Cooke will cherish when she puts on her captain’s arm band each match.
“I’m honored to be selected, it’s a huge deal,” said Cooke, her team’s defensive MVP last season. “We’re fortunate to wear the LSU crest on our heart when we step on the field but to have the captain’s band on at the same time is a great honor and privilege. I felt blessed to be recognized by our team as a leader because I do value that on and off the field.”
Over the course of her career, Cooke’s watched her role grow from her first two seasons in which she started in 29 of 37 matches, alternating between the backline and midfield, to a constant on the backline and team leader. She’s been among LSU’s leaders in minutes played with 4,410 in a career that’s included 47 starts in 55 games with four goals and two assists and a clear vision for this season.
“I feel like we have a real strong team, the strongest team I’ve been a part of here at LSU,” Cooke said. “My freshman year we went on to be SEC champions and had a little bit of a run in the NCAAs. This year we have the strongest team I’ve seen here. Our ambitions and goals are a lot higher, and we hope to go on to achieve them.”