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  • Writer's pictureCollin Atwood

Plans Can Change - Just Ask GCU's Ashley Hoek

Starting college, Ashley Hoek never planned for basketball to be a part of her collegiate life. She already had enough on her plate - academics, friendships, growing in her faith and her spot on the volleyball team. Fortunately for the Grace Christian University women’s basketball team, plans can change.

The summer before Hoek’s first semester at college, she was invited to open gym workouts for the basketball team. After initially declining the invitation, Hoek couldn’t help thinking that she could be missing out on a great opportunity.

“I thought about it a little bit over the summer and just didn’t really feel at peace about saying no,” Hoek, now a senior, said during a recent interview.

Despite an already busy semester in the fall of 2018, the 6-foot-2 center from Jenison, Michigan started attending pre-season practices. From that point on, the next four years would be completely different for not only Hoek, but for the women’s basketball program.

“Had we not stumbled upon Ashley, we’d be in a very different spot as a program right now,” said Ashley Vang, the Grace Christian Tigers’ coach.

Photos by GCU Athletics

Always Keeping Busy

Taking on multiple responsibilities and keeping busy felt natural for Hoek considering she has been an athlete for basically her whole life. First, she was introduced to soccer, which she started when she was in kindergarten. Along the way, she picked up basketball in third grade and volleyball in seventh grade.

Once she got to high school, she dropped soccer and added water polo to the list of responsibilities and commitments.

“It’s definitely a lot,” Hoek said. “You go from one thing to the next and sometimes get a week off between seasons.”

Not only did she fill her days with athletics and physical challenges, but mentally, her schedule was just as time consuming with the seven Advanced Placement classes she took during her high school career. When she wasn’t playing sports or binge watching “The Good Place,” Hoek was deep in her studies.

At Jenison High School she was a member of the student council, a peer educator and she also made academic all-state teams for basketball and water polo.

“She has always liked to be busy,” Hoek’s mother, Doreen said. “She was in school, playing three sports and working by the age of 15.”

Not Alone

Thankfully for Hoek, she had a built-in partner with her every step of the way in her twin sister Allison. The Hoek duo played basketball and water polo together at Jenison.

“Growing up together was just amazing because we go to do everything together,” Allison said.

Ironically, these two “twins” could not be more different. They may share a birthday, a last name and their love for each other, but their personalities are polar opposites. In their social lives, Allison tends to be more outgoing, and Ashley prefers to focus her time and energy on a smaller group of peers.

Ashley understands she appears introverted, but that’s not because she doesn’t enjoy other people or making connections. The friendships made are the most important aspect of sports to her.

“I feel like being with the teams a lot has helped me grow my relationships with my friends,” Hoek said.

Hoek has always valued people and her relationships with them. Even when it comes to the game she has been playing since the third grade, the main reason for joining the basketball team was to make genuine connections with people.

“I have a hard time putting myself out there and getting to know people,” Hoek said. “For me, joining the basketball team (in college) was about making relationships with people and getting to know people more than playing the actual sport.”

Understanding others and figuring out what makes them “tick” led Hoek to pursue a degree in psychology. She truly cares about the way people think and she believes that understanding the mystery of how brains function brain could lead to a post-college profession.

“I’d love to help people as a career in some capacity,” Hoek said. “I’m not 100% sure which path I want to take with my psychology degree, but ultimately I would like to help people.”

Multi-Sport Superstar

Hoek originally signed to Grace Christian, which is in Grand Rapids, Mich., to play for the women’s volleyball team, but just like joining the basketball team, that was never a part of her plan. She wasn’t going to play any sports in college, but invitations kept coming her way.

“I actually wasn’t planning on playing sports in college at all,” Hoek said. “I was just taking what was coming to me and the opportunity came up.”

Something about her height, athletic build and the fact that she was a leader on her high school teams was attractive to college coaches to continue offering her opportunities.

Unfortunately for Hoek and the Tigers’ basketball team, the two sports that she played overlapped. Because she committed to the volleyball team first, Hoek finished that season before joining the basketball team.

“She wants to be a volleyball player first because their season is first and that’s what she came here for and then once volleyball season ended in mid-November, we got her full-time from that point on,” Vang said. “We knew what we were getting ourselves into.”

Waiting for Hoek to finish her volleyball season proved to be worth it. After an average first season, she finished her second season as the 2020 Mideast Regional Player of the Year and a First Team All-American for basketball. She also helped lead the Tigers to the 2020 National Christian College Athletic Association Regional Championship game where they beat Campbellsville-Harrodsburg, 75-58.

That basketball success did not diminish her volleyball skills. In 2020 she made the NCCAA All-American First Team and the scholar-athletes list for NCCAA Division II Volleyball.

“I never would have thought I would have accomplished any of those things,” Hoek said. “I’m so thankful for my coaches and my teammates just for their constant support and belief in me. I wouldn’t have been the player that I am without their support and encouragement so I’m very grateful.”

One Must Go

Competing as a two-sport athlete, an academic workload and excelling in every aspect would take a toll on anyone’s body and mind. That became evident by Hoek’s senior year.

“It was a lot, playing two sports these past three years. They overlap for about two months, and I struggled with shin splints, and it was just a lot to balance on top of school and work,” Hoek said. “I just needed to slow down this year and take care of myself and cut some things out of my schedule.”

Hoek decided it was time to focus on basketball during her senior year. Dropping volleyball to focus on one sport has paid dividends.

“If you thought that was her best year, man, this year has been even better,” Vang said about Hoek’s senior season.

This season, Hoek set the school record for blocked shots while also scoring more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Vang and the team took full advantage of Hoek concentrating her practice and game schedule for basketball. Vang looked to get Hoek the ball whenever possible.

“She’s shooting 65%. In basketball, why would you not give the basketball to someone who is shooting 65%? “Vang said. “We’ll sit down there, and we’ll play high-low all day.”

It’s evident that Hoek has a dominant paint game. She has had double-digit rebounds in well over half of her games her senior year and can block a shot in her sleep. Offensively, she can drive to the hoop (which she prefers to do from the left side even though she is right-handed) and resort to her killer hook shot whenever she wants. (This seems like a good point to mention that Hoek is pronounced hook.)

In recent practices, Vang has been encouraging Hoek to work on her 3-pointer. She has yet to take one in a game, but she states that it would be “pretty cool” if she saw an opportunity to attempt one.

A True Leader

Talent is not the only thing that Hoek brings to the Tigers. Her leadership skills and ability to keep the team motivated are more valuable than her post moves and rebounding.

“She’s quiet, but verbal when she needs to be and that’s what makes her a good leader,” Vang said. “If Ashley is saying something, we better buckle up and make sure we are doing what she says.”

While her on-court leadership is praised, it also extends off the court. Hoek is committed to her faith and helps lead team Bible studies and devotions.

By all accounts, Hoek is loved by her friends, family, coaches and teammates. She reciprocates that love back.

“We are very proud of the woman that she has become and look forward to seeing what God has planned for her,” her mother said.

Whatever comes next in Ashley Hoek’s life, planned or not, no one doubts that she will give it her all.

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