Veteran Eagles Soar to 1st Semi since '79

November 18, 2015

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Christian volleyball team has enjoyed one of its best seasons in school history.

One main reason for the Eagles’ unbridled success: Experience.

Grand Rapids Christian entered this fall with a wealth of it, including one four-year varsity player and a core of three-year varsity players.

“We have six seniors on this team and they have a lot of experience,” Eagles fifth-year coach Tiffanie Gates said. “They have played together for a long time, in club and high school.”

The veteran leadership has been beneficial in their historic run to the Class A Semifinals. Thursday’s match against top-ranked Novi will be No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian’s first at this late round of the MHSAA Tournament since 1979.

Grand Rapids Christian (49-4) defeated No. 2 Mattawan 3-1 (25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 25-21) in Tuesday night’s Class A Quarterfinal at Caledonia High School.

“This season has been a blast,” said senior outside hitter Sam McLean, who’s been on the varsity all four years and earned all-state second-team honors last season. “We’ve been playing so well together as a team, and we’ve been playing some of our best games lately. It’s fun because we’re super close, and we’re friends outside of the court. It’s been a real good time.”

The seniors, which also include returning all-state first-team outside hitter Dylynn Otte, plus Ellen Long, Jessa VanderWeide, Maria Bolt and Megan Noordewier, have provided a calming influence to the underclassmen. 

When things have gotten tough, they’ve persevered and proceeded with a confident demeanor. 

“Any outside factors that get in our way, like a huge crowd or a team that is good, our seniors have calmed our players down,” McLean said. “We emphasize to our younger players to focus on us, and when we’re down or struggling, our seniors have been huge in helping our team out.”

The biggest evidence of a senior-dominated team has been its ability to not give an inch. They’ve developed a killer instinct, refusing to let other teams gain momentum.

The Eagles didn’t drop a set through 10 conference matches en route to an Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship and have lost only one set during the MHSAA Tournament.

“In this sport, it is whoever finishes and sees matches through,” Gates said. “I attribute that to our senior leadership with not letting up and not riding that rollercoaster that you see sometimes in high school volleyball.” 

In last week’s Regional Final against No. 9 Hudsonville, the Eagles were up 2-0, but on the verge of losing the third set down 21-18.

“They rallied and finished it in three,” Gates said. “We’ve had conversations about not expecting it to go that way from here on out and the further you go the harder it gets, so they are prepared for it not to be that way. They have definitely worked hard to finish strong every time.”

Grand Rapids Christian has drawn motivation from two straight years of early exits in District play. They have refused to allow history to repeat itself.

It has changed their mental approach to every match. 

“It’s been our theme,” McLean said. “We even break it down to one point at a time and one set at a time. Last year I think we looked ahead too much, and that’s why we ended so early. This year we’ve barely looked at the state finals. 

“We’ve only looked at the next game and what we have to do to win the next one and the next one. That’s all we’ve been focusing on, and it helps a ton.” 

The seniors have dedicated themselves to making this season a memorable one.

“It’s a special year for all of us, and we want to go as far as we can,” McLean said. “A lot of the seniors won’t play in college, so this is their final games. I love our underclassmen because they want to do well for us. It’s really cool to see.”    

Added Gates: “The core group have been playing club together since they were 11 or 12, so it’s been a dream for them since they were little. You see it coming to fruition now, and it’s pretty neat. They are definitely motivated and driven.” 

On the court, Grand Rapids Christian doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. A balanced group of big hitters and solid blocking at the net have paced their attack.

“We have good ball control and defense,” Gates said. “And we’re pretty deep offensively. It’s difficult for teams to camp out on one hitter. We can definitely mix it up. I don’t think there’s a hole in our game so far.” 

The Eagles overcame a major hurdle when they swept perennial state powerhouse Grand Haven in the Regional Semifinal.  

The Bucs knocked Grand Rapids Christian out in the Quarterfinals in 2012 and entered this postseason ranked No. 5.

“We split with them in the regular season in tournament play so we knew their game and practiced for it,” Gates said. “It’s a fun little rivalry with them because it’s always been back and forth. It was an exciting and emotional match for us.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian players and coaches pose last week with their Class A Regional championship trophy. (Middle) Jessa VanderWeide, one of six seniors, prepares to unload a serve during a match earlier this fall. (Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Christian High School.)

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.