Restored Novi Aims to Extend Title Streak

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 8, 2017

NOVI – Eleven months ago, after Novi had won its second consecutive MHSAA Class A title, those in the volleyball community fully expected the Wildcats to easily make it a three-peat in 2017.

And why not? Novi won its second straight championship in a four-set victory over Rockford in the Final, and coach Jen Cottrill had nine seniors returning led by two of the state’s top players in setter Erin O’Leary and outside hitter Abryanna Cannon.

Those close to the sport, and the program, agreed that this team had more talent – and coupled with the experience, a third title would be a breeze.

But the world of sports, especially at the high school level, isn’t so predictable. It’s part of the allure of athletics. Each season, each game, is laced with unknown factors.

And so it was for the Wildcats. During tryouts Cannon suffered a sprained ankle, which forced her to miss much of the early part of the season. Soon after senior Kathryn Ellison, another outside hitter, suffered a shoulder injury. Midseason, senior middle hitter Savanna Frick suffered a concussion. And shortly thereafter Jaeda Porter, a junior who plays middle as well, suffered a high ankle sprain.

Those injuries caused frequent changes to the rotation that often had players playing out of position.

“We went through some changes, having four starters out at one time,” Cottrill said. “We were also dealing with a lot of pressure. People expect you to win. You get everyone trying to take you down. Just because you have talented players doesn’t mean you’re going to win. We’re fortunate that the top players we have are humble.”

Cottrill has all of her players back, and the No. 2-ranked Wildcats (53-3) are playing at a high level. They defeated No. 9 Northville in the District Final in straight sets and Walled Lake Central, also in straight sets, in a Regional Semifinal on Tuesday at Dexter. Novi will play South Lyon in a Regional Final on Thursday, also at Dexter, at 7 p.m.

The best of the best for Novi are O’Leary and Cannon, both of whom are among the 10 finalists for the state coaches association Miss Volleyball Award. O’Leary signed with University of Michigan on Wednesday; Cannon with Northwestern.

Cannon, a transfer from Traverse City West, moved to Novi after her sophomore season and has proven to be an important piece to the puzzle. She had a match-high 20 kills in last season’s championship match win. Ellison and Porter also played major roles in that trip to Kellogg.

O’Leary has been directing the attack from the start Novi’s rise, and she’s from a family where athletics are engrained. Her father, Brian O’Leary, was the soccer coach at Novi and her brother, Connor, was an all-state soccer player for the Wildcats who is now competing for Grand Valley State’s club team. Brian O’Leary was at Novi when the program won the school’s only MHSAA boys soccer title (Division 1 in 1998).

Erin O’Leary, a four-year starter, said she and her teammates are playing as well as they have all season and, in an odd way, the early-season injuries have been a blessing.

“This has been a different season than the other ones,” O’Leary said. “The other seasons we hadn’t faced much adversity. We were great in the beginning and we were great at the end. After the injuries, ultimately, looking back, the experiences were good for us. Now we’re better. We talk about being competitive in practice. Other players had to step up their game. Having everyone on the team playing helps elevate everyone’s game.”

O’Leary is quite the talent, on the court and in the classroom. She was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and is considered one of the top players nationally while also playing club for Legacy, coached by Rick Cottrill, Jen’s husband. O’Leary played for USA Volleyball’s Youth National Team in 2016.

She also carries a 4.2 grade-point average and is expected to graduate early and enroll at U-M in January.      

Few Class A teams have enjoyed the success Novi has had recently. The Wildcats lost in the 2014 Final to Romeo before winning the title the past two seasons. Should they capture a third consecutive title later this month, they would be the first Class A team since Portage Northern in the mid-1990s to win three straight.

Northern actually won four consecutive titles (1992-95), highlighting an incredible run of 10 Class A championship in 18 seasons (1982-1999).

This is Cottrill’s sixth season at Novi. She coached at Pinckney (seven seasons) and White Lake Lakeland (three) before coming to Novi. She’s taken nothing for granted. It’s been a coach’s dream to guide so many fine athletes during such a brief period.

“Being in a public school system, you go in cycles,” she said. “What you do (with talented players) is up to you. Erin was playing at a high level in the seventh grade. She was the star. We’ve been able to build (a team) around her.

“The system cultivates success. How to be disciplined. To remain humble. We spend a lot of time on leadership, talking about what it takes to be a leader. If they are leading a group, we want them to focus on the right things, the right direction to take.

“The goal when you’re coaching is not winning. We focus on making the girls better women. To be a great employee, a great wife, a great mother.

“In 2014 we did pull a rabbit out of the hat. We didn’t have any Division I players (in the senior class). You take a lot of joy seeing the girls work hard and being rewarded for that. There’s nothing more gratifying for a coach that to see them grow as a person.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Novi volleyball coach Jen Cottrill talks things over with her team. (Middle) Novi’s Miss Volleyball finalists, Abryanna Cannon (top) and Erin O’Leary. (Below) Cottrill is in her sixth season leading the Wildcats. (Photos courtesy of the Novi volleyball program.)

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.