Nordmann Finds Place Among State's Elite

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 13, 2016

DEWITT – Lexi Nordmann had a hard time finding her place at first after joining DeWitt’s varsity volleyball team four seasons ago.

A rare freshman playing for one of mid-Michigan’s top programs, Nordmann played the middle, just like then-junior Abby Nakfoor – and Nakfoor figured out quickly that her younger teammate’s skill level was already far above her own.

But what Nakfoor also found about the new teammate she fondly called her “Baby Lex” no doubt has helped Nordmann turn into much more than another tall player standing in front of the net.

“She was still always open to my input, even though skill-wise she was a full head above me,” said Nakfoor, now a sophomore on the Ferris State University basketball team. “She’s so open to learning. As a freshman she’d get frustrated, and who doesn’t, but if she didn’t get something she was always texting me – ‘in practice, what would you run here; what should I do differently?’ – and that just comes from her eagerness to be a better player.”  

“It sounds kinda dumb, but it’s like a mom thing. I’m so proud. I’d always call her my baby Lex, my baby freshman, and we’d always take pictures of me holding her, cradling her. But now … what she’s meant to that volleyball program, those girls look up to her so much.”

And for plenty of compelling reasons.

Nordmann is one of 10 candidates for this season’s Miss Volleyball Award sponsored by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association, and that means a little more than it might in other regions of the state. Not including Corunna’s Meredith Norris, who also is a finalist this season, the last mid-Michigan player to make the ballot was Lake Odessa Lakewood’s Chelsea Lake in 2010. Drawing closer the home, the last player from Lansing or its closest suburbs to be considered was East Lansing’s Heather Brooks in 2006. 

Nordmann is 6-foot-1 with a vertical jump that allows her to touch above 10 feet. She’s powerful in the middle, no longer the “scrawny freshman” coach Christy Thelen brought up to varsity straight out of junior high. And her athleticism is drawn from a family tree that has included multiple generations of basketball stars including a grandfather who played in the NBA.

But the difference might be what sits above her ball-smashing shoulders.

Also the daughter of a former DeWitt High School teacher, Nordmann loves to learn. She especially likes math; it’s an academic discipline that fits the 4.0 student’s perfectionist personality.

If she sees something wrong, she fixes it. And despite relatively limited experience on the volleyball court heading into high school, she picked up quickly a knowledge that combined with her intellect continues to give her an edge.

“I think it’s actually contributed a lot to my being able to play at a higher level,” Nordmann said. “Because I’m used to not only multi-tasking, but being able to read the court and see other things. Being able to understand and read the other side of the net and not focusing on just you, but being able to take in everything at the same time. I think that’s very important, being able to see the court.”

Nordmann already has accomplished much. She’s listed twice in the MHSAA record book; her 239 blocks last season rank third since the rally scoring era began with the 2004-05 season, and she had 39 kills – tied for sixth-most – in last season’s Class A Regional Final loss to Mattawan. Nordmann finished the season with 511 kills and a ridiculous .460 kill efficiency in helping DeWitt to a 44-4-1 record.

The Panthers are 16-0 this fall after winning the Mount Morris Invitational over the weekend, and Nordmann has had her share of impressive performances during the opening run. She had 67 kills with only eight errors over six matches at the Alma Invitational, where DeWitt defeated among others Class B No. 1 Lakewood, and she had 12 kills Wednesday against Mason despite facing triple blocks.

As noted, she’s from a basketball family. Her late grandfather Bob Nordmann played four seasons in the National Basketball Association as a 6-foot-10 center and later served as an assistant coach at Michigan State. Her dad Matt played at Navy and then George Washington University, while her uncle Eric played professionally overseas and her aunt Andrea Nordmann played college basketball at Bowling Green State.

Lexi didn’t take up volleyball until seventh grade, and didn’t take it up seriously until eighth, when she tried out for a club team in part to get a free T-shirt. Thelen, who teaches math at the junior high, knew more about Nordmann as a student – she took the advanced math class and was selected by teachers to go to Japan as part of an annual exchange program – but Nordmann then also showed enough potential to be brought up to varsity immediately after entering high school.

“Her knowledge of volleyball and understanding of blocks and the scheme of it, she’s probably one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached,” said Thelen, in her ninth season coaching the varsity and a former all-state setter for the Panthers. “Understanding why we’re doing such things, why she should go here on a tip, those kinds of things; a lot of times you have to coach that a lot, and she just knows.”

Nordmann has grown only two inches in height since freshman year but tremendously in other ways. Nakfoor was a natural leader and Nordmann, admittedly, is naturally quieter. In fact, Nordmann sent her mentor a video last year of a postmatch interview they gave where Nakfoor answered all the questions while Nordmann nodded and added, in essence, “Yeah, what Abby said.”

But Nordmann has taken on a leadership role since Nakfoor graduated, telling Thelen in part that on the court that she tries to do what Nakfoor would do, say what Nakfoor would say. And Nordmann has become a mentor as well for a number of younger players like sophomore middle Desiree Becker, another big-time player in the making.

“She’s grown leadership-wise, as a junior especially, and she’s just leading, showing the younger girls the ropes just how she had been shown the ropes. She has a much bigger voice now too,” Nakfoor said. “I have a cousin on the team right now (Bailey Yonkman) who looks up to Lexi a lot, and my little sister (Meredith) is in the program (and does too).”

Nordmann will play after high school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, not far from where her aunt Andrea is an associate athletic director for compliance at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Lexi is thinking about becoming an engineer, or she might study business. Then again, she took an Advanced Placement history class last year that she loved. “I do enjoy learning all different (subjects),” Nordmann said. “I’m still looking for that one that I’m passionate about.”

She’s got time to figure out her future, of course, and will have plenty of options given her academic mastery.

But athletically, she’s found her passion – and her place as DeWitt’s leader as well.

“In junior high, obviously I used to play basketball. Coming from that family, that’s what they did,” Nordmann said. “But the team aspect of volleyball is just so much more evident. After you get a point or your teammates get a point, there’s so much more excitement and momentum and there’s more coming together. That feeling of getting a block or a kill, or when your teammate gets a sweet dig, it’s so exhilarating. It pumps you up.” 

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) DeWitt's Lexi Nordmann celebrates a point with her teammates this season. (Middle) Nordmann, a senior middle, unloads a kill attempt. (Below) Nordmann awaits an opponent's serve. (Photos by Tom Pearson/TCP-Photography.)

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.