Contrary to popular belief, Jennifer Hawk’s introduction to the Center Grove volleyball program wasn’t as a freshman outside hitter during the 1997 season.
Eight years earlier, she was the Trojans’ water girl.
As a 6-year-old, the former Jennifer Gandolph, daughter of then-assistant coach Ann Gandolph, immersed herself in every aspect of a team that she would one day power to a Class 4A state championship.
In May, the 37-year-old Hawk achieved a trifecta of sorts by being named the new volleyball coach at her alma mater. She replaces Chris Due, who left after 78 wins in three seasons to spend more time with family.
Being an exceptional high school athlete can lead to reluctance when an opportunity arises to return as a coach. Hawk, who is Center Grove’s fourth head coach in the last seven years, experienced no such hesitation.
“It’s just one of those jobs that you don’t know when it’s going to come back around,” said Hawk, who spent the past four seasons coaching at Perry Meridian. “I knew last fall was going to be my last season, so I turned in my resignation.”
Due’s departure, coupled with the fact that Hawk’s niece, Ava, will be a junior outside hitter for the Trojans this season, forced Hawk to rethink her decision to step away from coaching.
“I figured I would probably be at her games anyway, so I might as well coach,” said Hawk, laughing. “No matter what sport you’re involved with at Center Grove, the expectations are high. That’s just where I’ve always come from. I guess this is going to be my way of continuing the growth and progress of Center Grove volleyball.”
Hawk graduated from Center Grove in 2001, earning 10 varsity letters in volleyball, basketball and softball. She was part of two of the school’s state championship squads — the 1998 softball team as a freshman and the volleyball squad her senior year.
The Gandolph surname is synonymous with athletic success at Center Grove.
Older siblings David, Dan and Tom were standout athletes at the school. Their father, Dave, was the Trojans’ longtime baseball coach, earning 701 wins, 15 sectional championships and a state finals appearance in 33 seasons.
Little sister, however, accomplished the ultimate at the 2000 state volleyball finals, finishing with 22 kills as Center Grove rallied to down three-time defending 4A champ Muncie Central, 17-19, 15-12, 16-14. The Trojans finished that season with a record of 38-2.
Hawk went on to be a four-year starter at the University of Michigan before channeling her energies toward coaching. She was an assistant coach at the University of New Orleans, University of Georgia and Samford University as well as the head coach at Archbishop Chapelle High School in New Orleans.
Every career stop added something new to Hawk’s talents as a teacher of the sport.
“I’ve always been more of a teacher-like coach. The drills are very specific. There’s always a purpose,” Hawk said. “I teach the girls how to scout other teams. Mostly, it is us watching our own matches to see a previous opponent again. I think the details are very important.”
Hawk is the initial coaching hire of Scott Knapp, who earlier this month began his first year as the Center Grove athletic director. He looks forward to watching one of the school’s all-time best players work in an effort to return the volleyball program to the summit.
“Coach Hawk stands out not only because of her high level of experience at Michigan, but because of her deep roots and love for Center Grove,” Knapp said. “She is high energy, has an incredible knowledge of the game and sets the bar high for her athletes. And that is exactly what we call for from our athletes at Center Grove.”