After Concordia Closure, Cox Gets New Start At WOU
Cox played in nine matches and saw action in 23 sets in her freshman season at Concordia.
Cox played in nine matches and saw action in 23 sets in her freshman season at Concordia.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
by Blake Timm, Assistant Commissioner for Communications

MONMOUTH, Ore. – The worst day of Carly Cox’s life began with a cryptic text at 5:30 in the morning.

It was the same text that her roommate and many other students received that Monday morning. Classes were canceled and all students were to meet in the Hagen Campus Center at 9 a.m. for an important announcement.

Cox immediately assumed that a member of the campus community, maybe a professor, had passed away and the meeting was the school’s way of compassionately informing the tight-knit campus community. But upon entering the room, Cox and others were met by a lot of men in suits. That felt out of place. Something didn’t feel right.

Before long, those men in suits delivered the news that changed the lives of everyone present: Concordia University was closing.

“I left that building and I was just walking down the streets and sobbing,” Cox said. “I didn’t know what to do. The place that I thought I was going to be at for four years was closing. The friends that I thought I was going to have for those four years of college won’t be with me. Knowing that we were all going to have to be separated shattered me.”

It was bad enough that the Concordia family would have a semester to say goodbye after that fateful Feb. 10 meeting. When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt in March, that long goodbye turned into a quick, sudden loss.

Before the pandemic put sports into a freeze-frame, Cox succeeded in finding her new family with the volleyball program at Western Oregon. While she continues to miss Concordia, she is relishing the chance for a new start.

“I am trying to be as positive as I can about this new start and it has been great so far,” Cox said after her first week of practice with the Wolves. “I love my new team. They picked me up and took me in because they knew everything that I had been through.”

When it came for Cox to choose a college, it quickly became clear that Concordia was the place for her to be. Attending a camp on campus during the summer of 2018, Cox found herself quickly embraced by members of the Cavaliers’ squad even though she hadn’t yet committed to the program.

“I went to that summer camp and instantly fell in love with the campus,” Cox said. “Something in my heart after that visit said that I saw myself living there, getting my degree there and playing volleyball in that gym for four years.”

Like many freshmen, Cox’s first year at Concordia was more about learning the college game than it was experiencing it in matches. She appeared in nine matches and 23 sets, averaging 1.43 digs per set as a defensive specialist. She was looking forward to her improvement, and that of her team, in her sophomore season.

Then it became clear that there wouldn’t be a sophomore season at Concordia.

On that fateful February day, head coach Melanie Hambleton called a team meeting. The team sat in a circle. They cried together. They consoled each other. They shared in the moment of loss.

The team then made a decision that, while they won’t have a chance to get better for another season together, they could work to make each other better for whatever was next. The Cavaliers continued to hold offseason practices throughout February and the first part of March, helping everyone to be their best to attract themselves to new programs.

Hambleton and her staff were essential parts of that process, running practices and helping guide her athletes through the unknown.

“She kept giving it her all,” Cox said in appreciation of her former coach. “She made sure that she helped us all individually and contacted anyone we needed. She was willing to help us research on where we should go and lead us in the right direction. It was really appreciated at a time when we felt so lost.”

That guidance led Cox and two of her teammates in early March to Monmouth, where they were able to make an official visit at Western Oregon just ahead of the pandemic shutdown. A native of Spokane, Washington, Cox knew that she wanted to stay in Oregon if possible and the small-town atmosphere that Monmouth offered was attractive.

She toured the campus with members of the WOU team and then took part in one of the Wolves’ offseason practices. It was there that Cox demonstrated her competitive drive and her ability to leave it all on the floor.

“I made a dive and I split my knee open. I didn’t even feel it because I was so focused,” Cox said. “Allie (Spear) finally came up to me and said, ‘Hey Carly, your knee is bleeding.’ My kneepad was just red from the blood. I played that whole practice out and the next day I had to go to the emergency room because it almost needed stitches. I went so hard at that practice to try and prove myself and I am glad that I did.”

During that visit, Cox found that the team culture fed her competitive desire. While Concordia was also competitive, there was something different, even next level, that she felt from head coach Stacy Metro and her staff.

“The coaches were like ‘Go, go, go,’” Cox said. “It was super cool because, to me, it felt like volleyball again. I had lost that feeling after the school closure was announced so to be back in that setting was great. I was very driven.”

Cox was the only former Cavalier to commit to Western Oregon and is one of four transfers to enter the program for the 2020-21 season.

And while her Concordia team will always be family to her, she is excited about the family she has been welcomed into at Western Oregon. She lives with three other teammates, all of whom are transfers. One of those roommates is Spear, who transferred from Concordia to Western Oregon after the 2017-18 season.

“It is nice to have her around. She can relate to me a lot,” Cox said of their common Concordia connection. “It’s been nice having all (of the transfers) to look toward or to lean on them so they can guide me through these weird times.”

While adjusting to a new school is difficult, adjusting to athletics life during the pandemic makes it even more difficult. With the GNAC volleyball season suspended, but with hopes of a spring season, the Wolves are actively engaged in offseason practices.

But even those practices feel and look different in the name of student-athlete safety. Athletes wear masks and practice in groups of nine on opposite ends of the gym floor.

“The whole team is there at the same time but since we are grouping up in sets of nine we can’t do a six-on-six scrimmage,” Cox said. “We’re having to do a lot of ball-handling skills and a lot of skill-focused drills. That is nice since we haven’t played since March and a lot of us, especially myself, need to work on the little skills before we can focus on competition.”

Cox acknowledges that the pandemic took a lot out of her, as it did for many, in terms of her fitness level. She believes that being able to roll into an off-season practice regimen, rather than into fall competition, will help her to be able to compete for playing time in the spring.

“Once we started practicing in January (at Concordia), something clicked in me and I started playing the best volleyball that I had played in my life,” Cox said. “I need to find that in me again. I need to get into good physical shape. I need to not be freaked out about being in a new setting. I need to let myself be comfortable. I need to focus on getting myself where I want to be.”

The volleyball court may be the best place for Cox to become more comfortable at her new home. It was volleyball that made letting go of her old home easier.

“Volleyball was a light during that dark time,” she said. “We looked forward to those practices so we could play.”