Northern Neighbors Sharing More Success

By Dennis Chase
Special for

October 13, 2017

TRAVERSE CITY – Dave Hall laughs when he talks about his almost daily phone conversations with friend and coaching companion Ron Stremlow.

The two are among the most successful volleyball coaches in MHSAA history. Stremlow, now in his 34th season, has amassed 904 victories in stints at Kingsley and Fife Lake Forest Area. Hall, who Stremlow coaxed into replacing him at Kingsley in 1999, has 857.

“We probably talk for an hour every night,” Hall said. “He’s been a great mentor to me over the years. I’ve bounced a lot of ideas off him. 

"It’s funny because about four or five years ago he called me a couple times and started asking questions. ‘Hey, what would you do …’ For 12 years or so, it was always him giving me advice. He would rarely ask me anything. So when Ron started asking me what I would do in certain situations – ‘would you double block against them?’ – I thought, I finally made it. I got the master’s attention.”

Forest Area and Kingsley – the schools are about 12 miles apart – are attracting a lot of attention this season. Both schools reached the Regional Finals a year ago, and despite losing three key players to graduation, are ranked No. 5 in their respective classes this week by the coaches association – Kingsley in Class B and Forest Area in Class D.

It’s the first time Kingsley (36-2-1) has been ranked in Class B.

“We were in Class C a long time and were ranked a number of years,” Hall said. “We had one stretch where we won 50 games or more four years in a row and in one of those years we were ranked No. 1 for a few weeks. But we’ve never even cracked honorable mention in Class B until this year.”

Kingsley won the school’s first Class B District title in any sport last fall.

Forest Area (28-4), meanwhile, clinched at least a share of the Ski Valley Conference title Tuesday, giving the Warriors back-to-back crowns, a first for the school in the league’s current setup.

“The conference had (two) divisions for several years and we won our division a lot, but since we (eliminated the divisions) a few years ago we had never won back-to-back (championships),” Stremlow said.

Coaching consistency has been a hallmark in the two programs.

Stremlow and Hall have had a strong coaching relationship since 1996 when Hall, a former head football coach at Central Lake, accepted a teaching position at Kingsley. Stremlow was coaching the JV football team at the time and had just taken on the varsity volleyball job after a run at Forest Area. Hall assisted him with JV football.

When Kingsley decided to start a freshman volleyball program, Stremlow asked Hall if he would coach the team. After some arm-twisting, Hall accepted.

“I said, ‘Ron, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a volleyball game,’” Hall said. “He said, ‘That’s OK. I’ll help you.’ Well, the first volleyball I ever watched was my first practice.”

After one season, the JV job opened and Stremlow talked Hall into that position as well. After the 1999 campaign – and three District titles in four years – Stremlow returned to Forest Area to coach volleyball.

“We (Kingsley) had a good team, but I was teaching at Forest Area and that makes it a little easier (to coach),” Stremlow said. “I told Dave, ‘I think you’re ready to take that program.’ In 1996, we won the first District at Kingsley so we got things going. And Dave has kept it going, which I expected.”

That’s not to say Hall felt prepared to replace Stremlow.

“I wasn’t ready,” he admitted.

But he had a junior on the team, Atesha Olds, who helped him through it.

“I’d come into practice and say (to Atesha), ‘Hey, what do you think we should do today? Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s do that.’” he recalled with a laugh.

“It’s a funny story because by the time she came back for her senior year I had watched every video, read every how-to coaching book, watched a lot of college games. I had a plan. About the second day of practice, she stopped and said, ‘What happened to you?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘Well, you kind of know what you’re doing.’”

The team won a District in Hall’s first season and the victories started piling up from there.

“I fell in love with it,” Hall said.

Still, he had a decision to make in 2007 when the MHSAA switched seasons for some sports, including volleyball, which went from winter to fall. Hall was still coaching football and had moved up to the varsity staff under Tim Wooer.

“I’m a football guy. I love it. I thought I’d spend my career coaching football,” he said. “But I gave it up and haven’t missed a minute of it. Volleyball took over and then having a daughter (Leah) come through the program gave me the full buy-in.”

Hall’s overall record is 857-210-85. His team tied a school record with 56 victories last season.

“We’ve had great kids, lots of talent,” Hall said. “And, hopefully, I’ve had a little something to do with it somewhere along the line.”

The key, he added, is communication.

“I credit a lot of (success) to being able to communicate with girls and get them on the same page working together,” he said.

His players notice.

“His dedication, passion and love for volleyball inspires us,” senior libero Lacey Benton said. “It’s what we thrive on.”

“He wants us to do our best, and that (motivates) us to work harder and play better,” senior middle hitter Bekah Crosby added.

For the big games, Hall likes to put together a highlight video, accompanied by music, to fire up his team before the match.

“It’s one of the little things he does that shows how much he cares,” Benton said. “It’s really cool.”

For Forest Area, led by senior outside hitters Payton Leonard and Kelsey Mills, this is the second highest it has ever been ranked. It’s ironic because Leonard’s mother, Teri, was on the team that was ranked as high as No. 4.

Stremlow, 904-511-178 overall, has led the Warriors to 10 District titles, but they are still seeking that elusive first Regional crown. They’ve lost to perennial power Leland in the Regional Finals the last two years.

“We’re right there,” Stremlow said. “We’ve been in the Regional Finals eight times. It’s not like we didn’t try. We’ve just run up against some good competition. When you’re the second or third best D or C team in the area, it’s tough.

“But it’s like I tell the kids, ‘Enjoy your moment, enjoy what you’re doing, create good memories. That’s what it’s about.’”

Stremlow, 57, is a believer in the “success breeds success” mantra. After all, he runs the winningest program in the school.

“The girls see it’s a successful program, and they want to be part of it,” he said. “That helps. And volleyball is more a team sport than some others, so it allows our girls to be part of something big.”

Leonard has been a part of the program for years. She’s a three-year starter, but before that served as a manager since third grade. It’s been an invaluable experience, she said.

“He gets super intense during games,” the 17-year-old said of Stremlow. “But (by listening) it makes you understand the game better, hearing his points of view and perspective.”

In addition to losing three starters to graduation off a 45-8-1 team, the Warriors have been playing without another starter, Morgan Kniss, who was injured in an automobile accident last spring. She was cleared to play last week.

In the meantime, Stremlow has had several players step up to complement Leonard and Mills, namely setter and ace defender Maddie Cummer, libero Annie Nietling, setter Kelsey Boyd and hitters Bella Hulwick and McKenzie Szymchack.

“They stepped up in their roles, and that’s what you want to happen,” Stremlow said.

The Warriors, who have won four of five tournaments this fall, would like nothing better than to three-peat in Districts and, of course, take another shot at Regionals.

“We want to win it this time,” Mills said. “We don’t worry about what’s happened in the past. The past doesn’t define us.

“Personally, I want to make it to the (Final Four). I want to play on that (Kellogg Arena) floor. I know what we’re capable of.”

So does Leonard.

“We’re super competitive,” she added. “We have this mentality that nothing’s going to stop us, that nothing’s going to get in our way. It’s a mindset.”

Forest Area has never won three Districts in a row.

Stremlow has had just four losing seasons in his career and he points with pride to last year’s seniors, who finished last in the league as sophomores.

“They went from last to first,” he said. “I told them that as long as you believe in the process you’ll get better. Just pay your dues and keeping working hard. That’s what they did. That’s the stuff you like to remember; keep working towards something and your time will come, and when it does step up.”

Stremlow, who was inducted into the coaches association Hall of Fame in 2015 (Hall was his presenter), uses his experiences to convey that message to his players.

“There are only 17 other coaches with 900 wins, but, I always tell the girls and I use it as a teaching tool, I’ll guarantee you I’m the only one with 500 losses, too,” he said. “I’ve experienced both ends. You’re going to fail sometimes, but don’t give up, keep working, keep trying. That’s my theory – keep working, have fun, create good memories and then pass it on.”

What’s made this season so enjoyable, the players agree, is that it’s a tight-knit group.

“We’ve made it so far already,” Leonard said. “Winning is awesome and so much fun, but it’s 10 times better when you love the game so much and you have a team that’s so close and bonded as we are.”

The same could be said of Kingsley.

“We’re so connected,” Benton said. “We’re all on the same page.”

Hall lost five of his top nine players from last year’s 56-7-3 team – three to graduation, one to another sport and one to transfer.

But he returned a nucleus that included Jessica Lefler, Brittany Bowman, Benton and Crosby.

Although he knew his team would still be strong, Hall worried about the void at setter. But Maddy Alger’s play eased that concern. Alger benefitted from some tutoring with Leah Olds, a setter at Lawrence Tech, who was back home this summer.

With the postseason in mind, Hall also elected to beef up the schedule, adding three tournaments against predominantly Class A and B schools. Despite all its regular-season success, Kingsley, once it moved up to Class B, has had trouble with Cadillac in the MHSAA tournament.

“They’ve ended our season eight of the last nine years,” Hall said. “They’ve been a thorn in our side.”

Seven of those years finished in Districts. The two teams were in different Districts last season, but met in the Regional Finals with the Vikings prevailing.

Cadillac and Kingsley will both be in a tournament at Mount Morris on Saturday. Monroe, ranked eighth in Class A, is in Kingsley’s pool.

And that’s the type of competition Hall wants his team to see.

“We were upfront with the girls before the season,” he said. “We said, ‘We’re not going to have a similar record (as last year) because we’re going to be playing in some tournaments where we might take some lumps. But we’re going to grow from it.’

“They all said, ‘We don’t care (about the record). We want to get better. We want a chance to make a run in the tournament.’ They understood we needed to play better competition to prepare us for teams like Cadillac, which plays a lot of Class A schools.”

The record, though, has not suffered.

“No way would I have predicted we would be 36-2 at this point,” the 48-year-old Hall said.

Kingsley started the season by winning a tournament at Allendale, beating Grant twice and Holland Christian. Both are honorable mention Class B teams.

“Our girls gained a ton of confidence that day, and it probably put us on some peoples’ radar,” Hall said.

Kingsley has gone on to win five of six tournaments. The two losses – to Leland and Calumet in the Cadillac tournament – were avenged last week.

With a win Thursday over Buckley, Kingsley could clinch a share of the Northwest Conference title, the team’s first goal.

“We’re focusing on what’s right here, what’s right in front of us,” Crosby said.

Soon that will be Cadillac. The teams will meet in a District opener.

And Hall expects his team to be ready.

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) Fife Lake Forest Area coach Ron Stremlow, left, and Kingsford coach Dave Hall huddle with their teams this season. (Middle) Forest Area’s Payton Leonard player winds up to swing. (Below) Jessica Lefler connects on a kill attempt for Kingsley. (Photos courtesy of the Forest Area and Kingsley volleyball programs.)

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.