'Favorite' Just Fine for Monroe St Mary

November 9, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MONROE – Karen O’Brien took the whole “rankings-don’t-matter” approach and threw it out the window this year.

And, for her Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central volleyball team, the method has worked.

SMCC took over the top spot in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Division 3 rankings in Week 3 after beating formerly top-ranked Bronson, the three-time reigning Class C champion.

The Kestrels appear to be thriving in the top spot.

“In my past years, when we have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2, I’ve kind of disregarded it,” said O’Brien, a veteran volleyball coach in her fourth year at SMCC. “I’d always say that it didn’t matter where we were ranked until after the season. But, this season, I took a different approach. This year, we’ve embraced being No. 1, that people are coming after us.

“We have a saying, ‘Embrace the Noise,’” she said. “The noise is people who are out to beat us. It puts a little more pressure on us, but I think we’ve responded well. Since our last loss, on September 15, we have won 25 straight matches. We haven’t lost a set during that time.”

SMCC is 44-3 on the season. The Kestrels captured multiple regular-season tournament titles, breezed through the Huron League without losing a set, won the District title and Thursday beat No. 10 Brighton Charyl Stockwell 25-15, 25-17, 25-20 for the 14th Regional championship in program history.

SMCC will move on to the Quarterfinals against fifth-ranked Manchester. Several ranked teams remain alive in the Division 3 tournament – but they are all looking up to SMCC.

“We’re looking at it like, ‘Hey, we’re glad we are No. 1. We’re ready. Give us your best,’” O’Brien said.

She said she changed approaches to the rankings because, simply, the last time the team tried to ignore being ranked No. 1 and it didn’t work.

“I’m always willing to try new things, a new approach,” she said. “If something doesn’t work, why not?”

Just about everything has been working for the Kestrels this season, starting with the right blend of four sophomores, four juniors and four seniors on the team.

“It’s a unique group,” O’Brien said. “There is a lot of unity and a good blend of personalities.”

Maddie Haut and Abby Jackson are the senior co-captains.

“Their leadership has just worked very well,” O’Brien said. “This is the closest group that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Everyone knows their role, they understand their role and they do their role well. There’s no selfishness on this team. That’s a huge part of (the success). All 12 girls know their role, and their parents know their role. There’s no drama with this group.”

Maddie Haut leads the team in blocks, followed closely by Kylie Barron. Maddie’s sister Mikayla is a sophomore with enormous potential and leads the team in kills, averaging 4.4 a set, and aces with nearly 90. Jackson averages more than 4.5 digs per set and senior Jessica Long and junior Sarah Reicker lead the team in assists.

SMCC has been able to have amazing focus all season.

“Volleyball is such a game of momentum,” O’Brien said. “Not just from set to set, but from rally to rally. We’ve been down in a set, and we’ve been able to come back. We’re pretty good at just rolling with the punches.”

O’Brien is a Livonia native and was the first female athlete in Stevenson history to earn nine varsity letters. She was a first-team all-state volleyball player in 1981 and also played basketball and competed in track & field. She played college volleyball first at Schoolcraft Community College and then at the University of Georgia. The two-time All-Southeastern Conference pick coached at Georgia for two years before moving back to Michigan and becoming an assistant coach at Michigan State University in the late 1980s.

She was the University of Toledo’s head volleyball coach for five seasons and later coached at Siena Heights University and served a couple of stints as an assistant at Eastern Michigan University. She coached the Dundee High School volleyball team for nine seasons and became head coach at SMCC in 2015.

Her and her husband, Dan, started the Teal Attack to raise money for the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. The program has raised more than $130,000 and has events at fundraisers at various Michigan high schools and colleges.

The Kestrels have won four straight District titles under O’Brien and played in the 2015 Class C Final, falling to Bronson in three sets decided by four points or fewer.

SMCC has been a state volleyball powerhouse for several years, winning championships in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2014 and producing several college volleyball players. A handful of this year’s squad will likely move on to the next level as well, including the senior co-captains.

The Kestrels have had some spirited practices this season, O’Brien said. While the first halves of practices often begin with routine ball-handling drills and teaching technique, practices usually end with some highly-competitive drills.

“We will go after one another,” she said. “The girls are competitive. I always tell them to make the other person better because that will make the team better.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central coach Karen O’Brien instructs her team Thursday during a timeout in its Regional Final against Brighton Charyl Stockwell. (Photo by Tom Hawley).

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.