CHAMPAIGN — Evan Hook has stayed connected to youth volleyball for most of his adult life.
Coaching the sport essentially became second nature to the former California resident.
He stepped outside his comfort zone five years ago, when the first of his two sons was born.
“I said, ‘I’ll stay home and watch (him) and run the (Standard High Volleyball) club. Piece of cake,’” Hook said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Even so, Hook didn’t plan on returning to the coaching ranks any time soon.
But, following a rapid courtship, Hook is the new St. Thomas More volleyball coach. The school announced the hiring on Thursday.
“This all happened like warp speed. Literally six days ago, I wasn’t even talking about coaching,” Hook said. “They offered me the job (Wednesday). I didn’t hesitate. I said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Hook said some STM parents reached out to him about the Sabers’ job opening, created in January when Kelly McClure stepped down after three seasons at the helm.
His initial reaction? Thanks, but no thanks.
“But then, after I kept talking to them, it was the strangest feeling — like, wait a minute, all these signs, it’s like the man upstairs was guiding me to do this,” Hook said. “And Coach Kelly, I met with her, and she was so nice and helped encourage me a little, too.
“If you told me a week ago I’d be coaching at STM, I would’ve thought you were crazy.”
Hook directed both volleyball programs at Champaign Central High School and Edison Middle School volleyball between 2011 and 2015. In charge of the Maroons, he compiled a 131-53 record that included a Class 3A regional championship in 2014.
He’s filling the shoes of McClure, who put together a 94-6 record at STM that included a Class 2A state championship this past November.
“I’m going to be honest: I’m a little nervous,” Hook said. “I’ve been out of the game for a while coaching. … I don’t know if coaching is like riding a bike because I’ve never stopped before (until I became a stay-at-home dad).”
The 44-year-old Hook became a first-time varsity coach at Central after numerous assistant gigs at different levels, among them a stint at his alma mater Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School and a one-year stay on the Southern Illinois staff.
He remained involved with the Champaign-based Standard High Volleyball club even after entering fatherhood, though he noted the club hasn’t really operated since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“I learned a lot about culture (at Central). … My goal going in (to STM) is to keep the culture exactly the same,” Hook said. “You’ve got to really focus on the program as a whole and what direction it’s going.”
Hook said staying at home with his 5- and 4-year-old sons has provided him with a fresh perspective on coaching.
“I’m excited that I have a new outlook as far as … I’ve never been a parent. I’ve always coached not having a kid,” Hook said. “I can relate more to parents. Having kids has really done a 180 on my brain.”
Hook is taking over a STM program going through significant transition.
In addition to McClure’s departure, STM also is losing three future Division I volleyball players to graduate among six outgoing seniors — setter Caroline Kerr, libero Colleen Hege and outside hitter Anna McClure.
Kerr, The News-Gazette’s All-Area Player of the Year for the 2021 season, will play at Tennessee, with Hege bound for Illinois-Chicago and Anna McClure taking her talents to Ohio State.
The Sabers are returning a few regular contributors to their recent state title victory in outside hitters Mallory Monahan and Shannon Monahan and middle hitter Erin Henkel.
Hook said Kelly McClure is “100 percent willing to help out” from afar, which is an offer Hook described as “a no-brainer” for him to accept.
Beginning this coming August, Hook will see if he can create results similar to what McClure accomplished.
“I didn’t think I’d be coaching this season. It’s felt really surreal,” Hook said. “I just felt more and more, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”