Volleyball's coach Rosen uses passion to inspire players

BY MARK BURNS
Daily Sports Writer
Published September 18, 2008

“We’re going in there,” Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen said.

It was two weeks ago, when the Michigan volleyball team was playing at the Georgia Tech Invitational in Atlanta.

The team was in a close set against the Yellow Jackets when Rosen called a timeout. He needed to give his players a few directions, but there was no way they could hear him.

Sophomore libero Maggie Busch headed over to a stairwell near the Wolverine bench, trying to find a quieter spot, but she was stopped by one of the Georgia Tech towel boys. He told her they couldn’t go in the stairwell, but the host school was across the court in a stairwell of their own.

Busch was going to walk away, but then Rosen walked over.

The youngster knew Rosen was getting his way.

“Whether he’s fighting for a point or fighting for a call or even fighting for something as simple as that, he’s always there for us,” senior libero Kerry Hance said.

That passion has generated a great deal of camaraderie between Rosen, the players, and the other coaches — one of whom is his wife.

Leisa Rosen is no stranger to the volleyball world. She played at Ohio State for four years, earning Big Ten Conference Player of the Year in 1991.

“We’re one big family,” Hance said. “Sometimes, we’ll have dinner at their house or their sons will be at practice. It’s not like their volleyball family is separate from their family at all.”

But Rosen might not have been in this position had he stuck with his first passion.

The Anchorage native grew up playing ice hockey. But when Rosen finally realized in his junior year his future was not on the ice, he stopped playing and picked up another sport: volleyball.

He played club volleyball at Oregon State for two years before heading south to play at California State Northridge under head coach Walt Ker.

“Walt was a great teacher of the game,” Rosen said. “But he was also a great teacher for coaches.”

Rosen would sometimes watch Ker as he coached, picking up strategies and techniques that he still uses today. And though Rosen played well at Northridge, he knew his future would be in coaching.

In 1992, Rosen got a call from Dave Rubio, head coach of California State at Bakersfield. Rubio offered him the head coaching position.

He was there for two years before heading to Marquette to coach Northern Michigan.

Rosen quickly made a name for himself, leading the Wildcats to a Division II National Championship in 1994.

“I really liked the athletic director there,” Rosen said. “The school was really committed to volleyball, and they even built a separate gym for the volleyball team.”

But Rosen’s stay in the Upper Peninsula didn’t last long.

Four years later, the job at Michigan opened up after Greg Giovanazzi, the Wolverines’ former coach and a good friend of Rosen's, stepped down.

Mark and Leisa, then married, knew Michigan would be a great place to compete.

Rosen applied for the job and started calling the Athletic Department, each time to no avail.

Months went by before he received the call he had been hoping for, but the rest is history.

Coach Rosen came to Michigan in 1999, bringing a new attitude with him.

“There’s that sense of expectation, of wanting success and wanting to win now,” junior Megan Bower said.

Ten years later, coach Rosen is on the verge of becoming Michigan’s winningest volleyball coach but no one’s even taken notice, not even Rosen.

“He probably doesn’t even know about it,” sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “He’s that humble of a person.”

Rosen’s attitude, along with his dynamic coaching, has led to success for the Wolverines.

In his first year, Michigan snuck into the USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll for the first time in program history.

Rosen has led Michigan to 20 wins in four of the last five seasons, and he and his wife have raised the bar for the Wolverines ever since they made the NCAA Tournament in their inaugural season.

If the Wolverines want to head deeper into the tournament this year, they’ll have to be willing to fight for every point, just as Rosen does.