Upon learning that the head coaching position for the Essex High School (EHS) boys’ volleyball varsity team was going to be up for grabs, Laken Shook knew right away she’d be applying for it.

Shook has been hired to lead the Hornets after being an assistant for the varsity squad last year. She fills the vacancy left by Albert Gonzales who was at the helm for the previous three seasons.

“As soon as I knew Albert was leaving, I basically reached out and applied that afternoon,” said Shook. “I just have a huge passion. I love the sport; I've been around it for a really long time. I knew I wanted to be involved in it up here with a program, and I think this is a great place to get started and be involved.”

Shook came to Vermont from Ohio in March of 2019 after her husband received a job transfer. She has taken a position as a nurse at Summit Street School.

The Hornets’ new head coach developed that passion for volleyball in the Buckeye State when she started playing as a teenager before becoming a member of the squad at NCAA Division III’s Muskingum University -- graduating from the institution in 2012.

After receiving her degree, Shook started her coaching career and led an Ohio varsity girls’ team to the semifinal round of the state tournament. 2019, however, was the first time she had coached a boys’ team.

“It's different; it's nice different, though,” Shook said about coaching boys instead of girls. “I've been coaching girls all year long, basically for the last seven or eight years. So it's kind of nice to be working with boys and doing something a little different.”

Shook is not the first female to lead the Hornets’ boys’ crew as Karen Chesser was the head coach from 2013-16, winning three-straight state titles at the start of that tenure.

The new EHS head coach enters at unprecedented times as volleyball in Vermont will be played outside this year because of the pandemic. That will cause athletes who are used to being in consistent playing conditions need to deal with wind, the sun, and colder temperatures.

It has also led to uncertainty as to when the preseason will be over and the Hornets can finally get to playing other teams. Schools in Vermont cannot start regular season action until the Agency of Education allows them to enter into Step III of restarting.

“Trying to keep the boys engaged and interested,” Shook identified as being one of the biggest obstacles she thinks she’ll face in her first year as the head coach. “It's a long time to practice without an actual end date set in stone. Is that September? Is that October? So we're just trying to keep them engaged and entertained.”

An additional difference this fall is that Shook won’t be able to strive for Essex High’s first state championship since 2015, as the Vermont Principals’ Association is not facilitating a title tournament in 2020. Still, she’s thrilled for the season.

“I think it's going really well so far,” said Shook. “We have a really good group at this level. They all are passionate about the sport, which definitely helps a lot. The younger kids have a lot of learning to do, so I think that this time is really good to develop and work with them. But the upperclassmen this year are just so passionate, and I think that helps bring the younger kids’ interest and keep them involved. It's a great group, and I'm pretty excited about that.”

The 2020 EHS varsity squad consists of six seniors, three juniors, and three sophomores. Shook thinks that the big senior group will be invaluable as she navigates being a first-time head varsity coach of a boys’ team.

“It's extremely helpful,” she said. “It's nice to have a responsible group that takes on some leadership roles. They get here, they get this net set up, they get stuff started, and it's just nice to be able to rely on them to do that stuff because of the experience that they have.”

The boys’ season-opening match is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 29, that being a 4 p.m. home contest against Lyndon.

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