Mom's Memory Inspires C-F All-Stater

January 9, 2021

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MONTGOMERY – Jocelynn Nicholls was first drawn to volleyball in grade school.

Over the years, the Camden-Frontier senior has made the transition from being a wild swinging middle-schooler to an apprehensive freshman on the varsity to an all-state volleyball player headed to Trine University to play the sport she loves.

“I fell in love with volleyball when I was in the fourth grade,” she said. “I’ve played basketball and softball, but nothing feels like volleyball.”

It wasn’t always easy for Nicholls, who has overcome the loss of her mother Amy Nicholls during her sophomore season to become a tower of strength for the Redskins.

“She’s been through a lot, but she’s a tough kid and is going to make something of herself,” said Camden-Frontier coach Dawn Follis.

Nicholls’ mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the early part of 2018. By volleyball season that year, her mom had become very ill, enough that Nicholls missed a match when her mom went to the hospital. That season, her mom lost her battle; she died on a game day.

Nicholls had asked her mom earlier that day if she should play.

“I said to her ‘What do you want me to do?’,” said Nicholls, who was 15 at the time. “She squeezed my hand and told me to go. She couldn’t talk, so we had a way to communicate through squeezing my hand. She wanted me to play.”

About halfway through the match against Pittsford, Nicholls felt something she had never experienced before – a feeling, almost like a change in her body.

“My aunt was at the game watching me,” she said.  “She even noticed the change in me. I got home after the game, and I figured out the news.”

Her mom, an English professor and dean of the Jannen School of Arts and Sciences at Trine University in nearby Angola, Ind., had passed away.

Nicholls turned to volleyball to help her through. Using her mom as her strength, she didn’t miss another match. Volleyball has always been a big part of her life.

“I’ve come a long way since my freshman year,” she said. “Being pulled up to the varsity was a huge thing. It was a great opportunity for me to grow as a player. It really opened my eyes.”

After that season on the varsity, she started playing club volleyball, first at a club in Hillsdale, then at Team Pineapple Volleyball Club in Angola, which is less than a half hour from her home.

"Once I started playing for other teams, I started playing up, against older girls,” she said. “When I was a freshman I was playing against a bunch of seniors.”

Follis and the Redskins have built a small-school powerhouse in south central Michigan, just north of the Michigan-Indiana state line. Nicholls helped Camden-Frontier to a school-record 40 wins that sophomore season and they won 36 matches and the school’s first Regional crown in 2019. This fall’s was another outstanding season for the Redskins, who went 25-3 and won a fourth-straight District title. Over Nicholls’ four varsity seasons, Camden-Frontier won more than 100 matches.

Nicholls had a great season in 2020, earning first-team all-state honors from the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. Playing about half the matches the Redskins typically play in a season, she recorded 395 kills, averaging 4.34 per set, and accumulated 141 digs. Two of her teammates, junior Dakota Sigler and senior Heather Shaw, made the all-state honorable mention list. (Camden-Frontier fell 3-2 to Lansing Christian in a Regional Semifinal on Nov. 10; Lansing Christian will play in the Quarterfinals on Tuesday.)

Follis said Nicholls knows how to use her height to her advantage.

“She’s very tall and very athletic and aggressive,” Follis said. “She’s worked really hard on her game. When she was in middle school, she was tall and had this wild swing. She played all of the time, and it shows.”

Nicholls stands 6-foot tall. She had 70 blocks and block assists this season.

“I’ve always been really tall,” she said. “I think by the fifth grade I was taller than any boy in my class.

“I always knew I was tall and that would benefit me, but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I worked hard to increase my vertical. I put in a lot of time. I definitely try and use that to my advantage."

Follis said Nicholls did use her height to her advantage, something not all tall players do.

“She’s a hitter, and she really jumps well,” said Follis. “In high school she has the ability to change the game with her hitting. She’s a game-changer.”

At the Camden-Frontier matches over the past couple of years, there was typically a large contingent of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins watching Nicholls and her teammates play. That is one of the reasons she chose Trine – her family will be able to see her play.

“I want to be close to my family,” she said. “I’d rather be 20 minutes away than 12 hours away. Family is a big deal for me.”

Nicholls said she loves to hang out with family and friends but doesn’t have time for a lot of other interests outside of sports. She likes to stay busy, no matter what sports season it is. Right now, she is lifting and running on nice days and staying ready for the upcoming basketball season. She’s been on the varsity softball team since her freshman season as well.

“I am fulltime, 100-percent motivated to focus on my game,” she said.

At Trine she plans on majoring in exercise science with the hopes of going into physical therapy or something in the athletic field.

“I want to be there for my mom,” she said. “It’s a big opportunity that I will even get to play there. That’s where I wanted to be.”

Trine is a big part of the Nicholls family. Not only was her mom a professor at the school, but she also graduated from Trine. Her dad Scott and brother Mason also went to Trine. Jocelynn started going there at a young age and impressed the volleyball coach years ago.

“When I was a freshman, I went there for a camp and the coach told me if I continued to work hard, I would get a (scholarship) offer,” she recalled.

Losing her mother a couple of years ago, Nicholls said, completely changed her outlook on life.

“It provided me an opportunity to grow,” she said. “It makes me want to give 100 percent all of the time and not take anything for granted. You are not promised tomorrow.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Camden-Frontier’s Jocelynn Nicholls holds up her team’s District title trophy from this season. (Middle) Nicholls serves during a match this fall. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

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.