Local prep coaches launch volleyball at Benedictine Univ.

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                </div>  The addition of yet another college on the Arizona landscape brings with it expanded opportunities for in-state athletes – and also for their coaches. Two local high school coaches were […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The addition of yet another college on the Arizona landscape brings with it expanded opportunities for in-state athletes – and also for their coaches.

Two local high school coaches were selected by Benedictine University at Mesa at the start of the summer to launch the school’s first volleyball programs.  Steve Crook has been hired to direct the men’s volleyball program and Sonia Jones steps in as the school’s first women’s volleyball coach.

Haven’t heard of Benedictine?  That’s not surprising.  The Catholic school is based in Lisle, Ill., but last September it added a branch campus in downtown Mesa that opened with an inaugural enrollment of just under 100 students.

Generally referred to more simply as “BenU”, it has an athletic program that will now offer men’s and women’s teams in golf, tennis, cross country, and volleyball.  The Mesa branch is the university’s only campus outside of Illinois.

The new coaching hires are getting in on the ground floor of a campus that holds all its classes in one building and will play its volleyball at the local YMCA.  But school officials want to be ready to add additional sports in time for the 2015-16 school year.  The wish list includes men’s and women’s basketball and soccer, as well as softball and baseball.

For Jones, it’s a step up to the college level.  She has logged 14 years as a coach, most of it in club programs. But she is coming to her new job after putting in the last two years as the head varsity volleyball coach at Seton Catholic Prep in Chandler, where her teams made state tournament appearances both years and she compiled a 27-8 record.

“Sonia is an exceptional teacher and coach, with a proven track record of success at both the high-school and club level,” says BenU Associate Athletic Director Steve Schafer, who has 12 years experience in college athletics and spent two years at the Illinois campus as the men’s assistant basketball coach and athletic recruiting coordinator.

Crook put in 18 seasons at Westwood High in Mesa in the ’80s and ’90s, leading the Warriors to a 5A state title and two runner-up finishes.  He was the Arizona Republic Coach of the Year and the Arizona Coaches’ Association Coach of the Year and finished with a 431-227 overall record.

Like Jones, he has put in his time with club programs, but Crook has also coached at the college level.  During his six years as head coach at Central Arizona College, a two-year school in Coolidge, his teams were the conference runner-up four times and he finished that tour with a 132-60 record.

“When we set out to add men’s volleyball here at our Mesa branch campus, we wanted to find someone with strong connections in the East Valley, as well as years of experience in building a program,” Schafer explains.  “We found that in Steve Crook.”

The educational paths for both Jones and Crook wound throughout the state.  Crook has his bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from University of Arizona in Tucson and his masters from Arizona State in Tempe. Jones received her AAS degree in Paramedicine and her bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, and her master’s in Human Relations from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

And now their careers converge in Mesa where they will try to introduce a brand new sports program to high-school recruits anxious to find yet another option to take their game to the next level.

(Photos: Benedictine University)