Bronson Finds Class C Championship Mix

November 21, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Alexa Ratkowski wears jersey number 1, and so she was first through the hug line as Bronson accepted its Class C championship medals Saturday at Kellogg Arena. 

She had a smile across her face until she hugged coach Jean LaClair and the first tears fell. Every teammate following her seemed to drop a few more.

Bronson often wasn’t the tallest or most physically intimidating team on the volleyball court this season, and especially the last few weeks. The Vikings even had to make up for graduating an all-state hitter this spring.

But they had other ingredients that make an MHSAA champion – most notably chemistry to go with a skillful mix of seniors through freshmen and an all-state setter like Ratkowski, who had 34 assists plus six kills in leading Bronson to a 3-0 sweep of reigning champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central – 25-22, 25-21, 26-24 – for its first title since 2009.

“Working together and just building with one another; all summer this is what we’d look forward to,” said Ratkowski, who ended this season with the third-most assists in MHSAA rally scoring history. “Playing throughout the season, we knew we were number one. But rankings didn’t mean it. It all came down to the state title and how we performed, and I think we performed to our ability.”

The Vikings did indeed hold the top ranking in Class C for the final two months of the season, finished 57-10-3 and added a league title after not winning their conference or making it out of their District a year ago for the first time since the winter 2006-07 season.

It was about a month into this fall that LaClair – who has coached at three schools over 22 seasons and went over 1,000 career wins in October – saw the makings of a championship contender.

“Early on in the season I think they were frustrated. But we have some freshmen, sophomores playing key roles, and it really took them some time to get into the mold of what varsity volleyball is all about,” LaClair said. “They get along so well. In girls sports, team chemistry is more important than anything else.

"The other thing, I think, is we have a lot of depth. I had some kids who came off the bench today to do some great things for us. That ability to go through 10 or 12 deep really helps in a big match like this.”

It definitely helped during Saturday’s first set as Bronson got down by as many as nine points. Senior outside hitter Kirin Cekander – who LaClair calls the team’s “energizer bunny” – admittedly got off to a rough start. But some switches helped the Vikings pull together a 21-9 swing to win the first set – with Cekander getting kills for two of the final four points.

“The first game just set the stage in all of us,” Ratkowski said. “We were down by eight, and we said this is not it. We’re not letting down.”

Bronson trailed again by two points midway through the second set, but broke away for the final four points, including a pair of kills by sophomore outside hitter Kiana Mayer.

The teams were tied 24-24 in the third set before junior Jill Pyles and then Cekander drove the final points home. 

“All the sets were close. It was different for us; we had leads. Maybe that was the difference – we had too many leads in each set,” SMCC coach Karen O’Brien said. “We just couldn’t finish them. We just couldn’t put them away. A couple points here, a couple points there really was the difference.”

Cekander finished with 11 kills and Pyles had nine, but Mayer added eight and junior Allison Sikorski added seven. Cekander also had a team-high 15 digs.

“We have a lot of people who can come off the bench and play like they’ve been playing the whole game,” Cekander said. “We have a lot of people practicing in different places, so we have four outside hitters and a lot of people who can hit back and a lot of middles. We have a really good, flexible team.”

Senior Skylar Iott led three Kestrels in double-figure kills with 15, while seniors Regan Hodgson and Nicole Pollzzie both added 10. Senior Abby Thompson had 15 digs.

St. Mary (37-9-1) played in its eighth MHSAA Final but first with former assistant and Division I college head coach O’Brien running the program. She inherited a strong group of seniors she and retired coach Diane Tuller nurtured last season who then came up big this fall.

“After last year, losing as many seniors that contributed a lot, our seniors stepped up this year,” O’Brien said. “Skylar, Nicole, Regan, Abby and then Rose (Kemmerling) – Rose was our manager last year. You go from manager to being setter in the state finals. I think that just says a lot about her character.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTO: (Top) Bronson’s Kirin Cekander tries to drive the ball through the block of Merina Poupard (15) and Nicole Pollzzie. (Middle) SMCC’s Skylar Iott goes for a kill with Bronson’s Kiana Mayer (10) and Jill Pyles blocking.

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.