Block, Spike, Set: Phillips Does it All

September 15, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Juliana Phillips is diversifying her game on the volleyball court this season.

The 6-foot-4 Traverse City St. Francis senior, one of the top players in the state, is now setting for the Gladiators in addition to her featured roles as an outside hitter and middle blocker.

A year ago, Phillips registered 441 kills and 135 blocks in earning all-state honors and helping the Gladiators reach the MHSAA Class C Semifinals.

Over the summer, though, coach Rita Jones devised a plan to use Phillips as a setter when she’s in the back row.

“Setter is one of the most mentally demanding positions on the court,” Jones said. “If you’re mentally aware and mentally smart, it’s a huge advantage – and Juliana is playing that to her advantage this season. I think it’s making her a more well-rounded player.”

Phillips admitted she was surprised when Jones first suggested the move. She had never set previously.

“I thought she was joking,” Phillips said. “Then at our first (summer) scrimmage she ran me out there to set and I thought, ‘OK, here it goes.’

“Now I think it’s pretty cool. I like it. It’s a different aspect of the game. It’s interesting for me because I’ve always been a hitter, and now I get to see the other side of it.”

Jones said she had nothing to lose by asking Phillips to take on a new role.

“I thought if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” she said. “But it’s definitely worth a shot.”

Phillips is one of two primary setters on the team. Junior Meghan Rysztak is also new to the position. The Gladiators lost senior setter Alayna Anderson to a torn knee ligament on the first day of tryouts. Rysztak had 14 assists and Phillips seven – to go along with 12 kills and three blocks – in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Charlevoix.

“Juliana is level-headed, very humble and such a team player – that’s what makes us most proud,” Lori Phillips, Juliana’s mother, said. “When she moved into the setter role she said, ‘I’m going to do what the team needs me to do, and whatever is going to make us better.’ It’s incredible she’s getting this opportunity because it’s teaching her such a different facet of the game.”

Phillips, a 3.8 student, has also moved into a leadership role on the team. The Gladiators had a strong senior leader a year ago in Madeline Rysztak.

“She’s a good leader,” said Meghan Rysztak, Madeline’s sister, of Phillips. “She knows when we can have fun and try different plays, but she also knows when it’s time to get serious, time to buckle down and start pushing some points.”

Phillips said her job is easier because of the team chemistry.

“What’s great about our team is that we know we’re always going to be friends off the court,” she said. “So at practice we push each other, hold each other accountable and just try to make each other better.”

Phillips is one of just two seniors playing this season. St. Francis, ranked No. 4 in this week’s coaches poll, is off to a 16-5 start. Two of the losses were to Class A Caledonia, an honorable mention pick this week. The Gladiators also fell to defending Class C champion Bronson, now ranked No. 2; Kalamazoo Christian, ranked No. 3 in Class C; and defending Class D champion Leland.

With a young lineup, the Gladiators are a work in progress.

“We’re asking a little bit more from our underclassmen, and they’re doing awesome,” Phillips said. “They’ve improved so much, so that’s good to see.

“It’s great that we played those (tough) teams early because it’s important for every team to know how much they can handle and how they can adjust to that kind of pressure and level of play. That’s been good for us. We’re just trying to learn and grow every day.”

Phillips committed to St. Louis University for volleyball after last season.

“Her upside is really big,” St. Francis basketball coach Keith Haske said. “I don’t think she’s anywhere near where she’s going to be in three years.”

A two-sport star, Phillips was instrumental last winter as the Gladiators reached the MHSAA Class C basketball championship game.

“She’s a Division I basketball player if she wants to be,” Haske said. “She’s athletic, and she’s skilled. She can shoot the 3, she can handle the ball, she’s a good passer, she blocks shots.”

Basketball roots run deep in the Phillips household. Lori (McClusky) is the all-time leading scorer at Gaylord St. Mary (1,555 points). She played collegiately at Colorado State and Central Michigan University. Juliana’s brother, Noah, averaged 19.8 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Gladiators his senior season. He went on to Ave Maria University before transferring to Grand Valley State University, where he’ll be eligible this winter.

Juliana, who has been playing basketball since kindergarten, always figured that would be her sport. But as a freshman she was called up to varsity for volleyball – and her passion for the game took off.

“I got more involved with it, started doing the club scene,” she said. “I fell in love with it. It was something new and something I thought I was pretty good at.”

“Honestly, I thought basketball was the sport she was going to play (in college),” Lori said. “It wasn’t until after her freshman year that she came to the conclusion that she wanted to pursue volleyball. It probably broke our hearts a little because we didn’t know volleyball very well. We’ve always been a basketball family. We didn’t realize what an incredibly fun game volleyball is to watch and be a part of. It’s been quite a ride and education.”

Before the start of her junior season in basketball, Phillips met with Haske, who had just taken over the girls program. He wanted to know if she was firm in her decision to play volleyball in college.

“I said you know we’re going to play a couple games and people (college coaches) are going to start saying, ‘We’ve got to get her,’” Haske said. “I told her I need to know because you don’t want those people to waste their time.”

Phillips didn’t waver. She told Haske she was going to commit to St. Louis.

Phillips had actually already received recruiting interest from colleges for basketball, St. Louis included. Phillips called the coaches to thank them for their interest and to inform them she was pursuing volleyball.

Soon afterward, Phillips was playing in a volleyball tournament in Grand Rapids, Lori recalled, and a St. Louis coach was there to watch.

“The (St. Louis) basketball coach had called the volleyball coach and said, ‘You better jump on this girl,’” Lori said.

The 17-year-old Phillips visited St. Louis twice, as well as several other schools.

“My mom went through this (recruiting) and she said you want to go on as many visits as you can to see what you like and don’t like,” Phillips said. “I knew the instant I got on the St. Louis campus that was the perfect match for me. I can’t help but smile when I think about it because I love that school so much – the campus, the coaches, the players.”

Lori also imparted some other words of wisdom on her daughter.

“I was always taught to use what God gave you,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing. Work hard, have fun and good things will happen. I always try to make sure she focuses on that. There are so many incredible lessons we learn through sports – not just the wins and losses, and the points, but teamwork and leadership.”

Phillips, who plans to go into the nursing program at St. Louis, will also be in a leadership role on the Gladiators’ basketball team, which will be strong again.

“She’s excited about it,” Haske said. “She’s a great team, chemistry person. She has no ego about her.”

Ironically, the Gladiators play at Gaylord St. Mary – her mother’s former school – early in the season.

But, for now, volleyball is her main concern.

“Obviously, we have high goals,” Phillips said. “Last season was incredible (with the trip to the Final Four at Kellogg Center), but it was not how we wanted to finish. It happens and it’s OK, but hopefully we can get back there this year.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Juliana Phillips makes a block during Saturday's Traverse City Central Invitational. (Middle top) Phillips sets up a teammate for a spike during the Central event. (Middle below) Phillips wins the tip-off at last season's Class C Basketball Final. (Below) Phillips celebrates during the Charlevoix win this week. (Top two photos by Rick Sack/TC Rick Photo, bottom photo by Julie English.)

2023 WISL Award Honoree Glass Continuing to Create Leaders On Court & Off

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 2, 2023

Hailing from one of Michigan’s smallest communities, Laurie Glass has made an impact that continues to connect all over Michigan.

But her impact on women’s athletics began long before a career that has seen the longtime Leland volleyball coach become one of the winningest in her sport in state history.

As a high school junior in 1976, she recruited seven classmates and a coach to form Leland’s first girls sports team – for basketball – and the same group then played volleyball that winter. She was a senior and major contributor when, during their second season, the Comets won the 1978 Class D volleyball championship.

More than four decades later, Glass is a Michigan legend in that sport – a winner of 1,218 matches with Leland and Traverse City Central and three Finals championships with the Comets. She’s also a nationally-recognized voice in volleyball and women’s athletics as a whole – and this year’s MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership honoree for those many and continuing contributions.

“Because I’m a teacher and coach, that’s my desire to help the youth be the best they could be. And if I can impact a coach or impact another district or program, that means I’m affecting more youth in a positive way,” Glass said. “So for me, it’s just the ripple effect; it gets a lot bigger when I’m starting little drops in other places. So I can affect the hundreds of kids that I’ve seen go through Leland, or I can impact the larger audience by impacting coaches or impacting kids in other places that can then impact other people. It allows me a wider audience for wanting to help young women to be their best young woman self in however way I can make that happen.”

Each year, the Representative Council considers the achievements of women coaches, officials and athletic administrators affiliated with the MHSAA who show exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics.

Leland finished 49-13 this past season and reached the Division 4 Quarterfinals. Glass has a record of 1,218-393-122 over more than three decades as a varsity volleyball coach, having led the Comets for a combined 29 seasons over three tenures, the first beginning with the 1989-90 winter season and later picking up with her most recent return for Fall 2010. She also coached Traverse City Central for four seasons beginning in 1991-92.

Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.Glass led Leland to Class D Finals championships in 2002, 2006 and 2015, and runner-up finishes in Class D in 2014 and Division 4 in 2018 and 2019. She was named to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) Hall of Fame in 2006, and selected as national Coach of the Year in volleyball in 2014 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She’s a three-time MIVCA Coach of the Year and was named Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Coach of the Year for volleyball in 2015. She also was a finalist for National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) national Coach of the Year in 2014. 

Glass has spoken multiple times at the MHSAA Women In Sports Leadership Conference and several times at the MIVCA Coaches Clinic, and among various other engagements was the featured speaker at the Nebraska Athletic Association Coaches Clinic. She will receive the Women In Sports Leadership Award during the MHSAA Division 1 Girls Basketball Final on March 18 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“Laurie Glass is recognized most on the statewide level for leading one of the most successful volleyball programs in state history. But she is known among her peers most for the way she teaches not only volleyball but life skills to her athletes,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Her leadership creates more leaders, be they the athletes who have the opportunity to play for her or the coaches who learn from her and receive her mentorship.”   

Glass’ roots are in one of the most accomplished athletic families in Michigan high school history.

Her father Larry Glass coached Northwestern University’s men’s basketball program from 1963-69, and later took over the Leland girls basketball program and led the Comets to a 388-110 record and three straight Class D Finals championships (1980-82) over two tenures from 1977-91 and 2000-05. Laurie’s sister Rebecca McKee played basketball at Leland and Michigan State University, and her brother Michael Glass played basketball at Lansing Community College before also becoming a high school and college coach.

Laurie also coached and parented arguably the most accomplished volleyball player – and perhaps top female athlete across all sports – in Michigan high school history. Her daughter Alisha Glass-Childress graduated from Leland in 2006 with national records for career kills, aces and blocks, and the first two still top those respective lists. Alisha, also an all-state basketball player, went on to star on the volleyball court at Penn State and as the U.S. Olympic team setter in 2016 in helping that team to the bronze medal.

Larry Glass’ lessons still ring true as Laurie passes them on to another generation. One of her favorite sayings from her father was “you can’t take money out of the bank until you put money in” – in essence, a coach can’t expect athletes to accept criticism or a hard ask if that coach first hasn’t invested in them. Another of her dad’s themes involved making sure players learned fundamentals at young ages and improved on them at all levels, whether they won games or not during those early years. As one of his middle school coaches, that stuck with her, and it remains a basic component of her coaching.

“I’ve always said that we compete with teams that are way more athletic, have all the things on paper that should beat us. And the fact that we know how to be a really good team is what allows us to beat people who on paper should be better than us,” Laurie Glass said. “I’ve always valued the time spent on culture and team because that’s the advantage we hold. We’re never going to be the tallest or most talented – Alisha being the anomaly, of course.”

Laurie Glass has served on the MIVCA Executive Board, including as president, and is a member of the MHSCA and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Locally, her program annually hosts the Forever Dig Abby match in honor of former player Abby Gross, who died after a fight against cancer in 2015. Proceeds most years go to benefit another community member battling the disease, and this past season went to a fund for efforts related to ovarian cancer.  

Glass has served nearly 35 years in education and retired from her duties as a behavior intervention specialist and special education teacher in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District in 2019. She has returned to the school setting, however, and is in her second year as a behavior intervention specialist at Leland.

Glass earned a bachelor’s degree in special education with an endorsement in emotional impairment from Western Michigan University in 1988, and has done master-level coursework in education administration and technology. She also is a certified instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute. Glass first attended Grand Valley State University and played a season of volleyball before transferring. (NOTE: Glass also coached the Kalamazoo Central varsity for two seasons during the mid-1980s. Those records are unavailable currently but will be added to her overall record when research is complete.)

Past Women In Sports Leadership Award Winners

1990 – Carol Seavoy, L’Anse 
1991 – Diane Laffey, Harper Woods
1992 – Patricia Ashby, Scotts
1993 – Jo Lake, Grosse Pointe
1994 – Brenda Gatlin, Detroit
1995 – Jane Bennett, Ann Arbor
1996 – Cheryl Amos-Helmicki, Huntington Woods
1997 – Delores L. Elswick, Detroit
1998 – Karen S. Leinaar, Delton
1999 – Kathy McGee, Flint 
2000 – Pat Richardson, Grass Lake
2001 – Suzanne Martin, East Lansing
2002 – Susan Barthold, Kentwood
2003 – Nancy Clark, Flint
2004 – Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Grand Rapids 
2005 – Barbara Redding, Capac
2006 – Melanie Miller, Lansing
2007 – Jan Sander, Warren Woods
2008 – Jane Bos, Grand Rapids
2009 – Gail Ganakas, Flint; Deb VanKuiken, Holly
2010 – Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2011 – Ellen Pugh, West Branch; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2012 – Janet Gillette, Comstock Park
2013 – Barbara Beckett, Traverse City
2014 – Teri Reyburn, DeWitt
2015 – Jean LaClair, Bronson
2016 – Betty Wroubel, Pontiac
2017 – Dottie Davis, Ann Arbor
2018 – Meg Seng, Ann Arbor
2019 – Kris Isom, Adrian
2020 – Nikki Norris, East Lansing
2021 – Dorene Ingalls, St. Ignace
2022 – Lori Hyman, Livonia

PHOTOS (Top) Leland coach Laurie Glass confers with one of her players during the 2019 Division 4 Final at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.