Volleyball assistant takes trip down memory lane

BY
BY BRAD JOHNSON
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 17, 2003

]When you walk around Value City Arena on the campus of Ohio
State, it is hard not to notice the enormous action photo of
Michigan assistant volleyball coach Leisa Rosen.

Janna Hutz
Volleyball coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen relax during practice. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

Rosen led Ohio State’s volleyball team to the Final Four
during her playing days and was named an All-American and the
school’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1991. The assistant
coach for the Wolverines was even inducted into the Ohio State
Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago. Even though Leisa tries to
downplay her connection to the school, all of this history made the
Wolverines’ trip to Columbus this past weekend all the more
intriguing.

“I just really try and play it up as more of a
match,” she said of her alma mater. “I think from a
university standpoint, (Ohio State) is the biggest rival, but I
would never say it was the biggest rival for volleyball.”

Leisa graduated from Ohio State in 1992. She came to Michigan in
1999 with her husband Mark, who is currently head coach of the
Michigan volleyball team. Mark remembers the interview process as
being especially interesting, seeing as how his wife was branded as
a Buckeye.

“We interviewed with seven or eight people over a two-day
time span, and with every single person (the Ohio State issue) came
up,” Mark said. “I think we went into the last
interview we had, with (former Athletic Director) Tom Goss, and the
first thing she said was, ‘Hey, let’s get it out of the
way, I’m a Buckeye, but I can work here and give it
everything I’ve got.’ ”

Recruiting trips have also been an interesting experience for
the Rosens. Many times, Buckeye fans will approach Leisa and heckle
her for wearing Michigan apparel, without even knowing her rich
history as a Buckeye volleyball star in the early ’90s.

“(The Ohio State fans) don’t have any idea, they
just think it’s some Michigan person,” Mark said.
“She will look at them like, ‘Are you kidding me?
I’m in the Hall of Fame!’ ”

Being inducted into the Buckeyes’ Hall of Fame was a
unique and important experience for Leisa, even though she could
not make it to the actual ceremony itself.

“I’m surrounded by some great athletes that went to
school with me,” Leisa said. “It was unfortunate that I
couldn’t go to (the induction) because we were actually
playing Ohio State that night. It was supposed to happen over the
weekend of September 11, but then obviously with everything getting
cancelled, it got switched. My mom got to go in place of me, but
obviously being in the Hall of Fame at Ohio State is a huge honor
for me.”

Despite being in the Hall of Fame for her volleyball
achievements, Leisa even gets heckled by her own players at times.
The Wolverines refer to the red-and-white net markers as
“Buckeye sticks” because of their resemblance to the
school’s colors of scarlet and gray.

“We give her a lot of crap about (being from Ohio State),
but we know she wants to be here,” senior Nicole Poquette
said. “It was weird at first, we always razzed her about it
and said, ‘Oh, you’re a Buckeye.’ ”

When it comes down to it on the volleyball court, however, Leisa
bleeds maize and blue. She said she is used to playing the Buckeyes
by now, but that her first year as assistant coach was the most
difficult. This was the most trying year because of the fact that
she had to coach against her former coach at Ohio State, Jim
Stone.

After five years of coaching against her alma mater, playing the
Buckeyes has become more of a sentimental exercise in remembering
the past than anything else for Leisa.

“It’s kind of a walk in memory park,” Leisa
said. “I think from a competitive standpoint all I want to do
is have Michigan win, because what I do every day of the year is
try and get us to be the best program we can be.”

When asked who his wife roots for during Michigan-Ohio State
football contests, Mark laughed and deferred to his wife for an
answer so as not to “get anyone in trouble.”

Not to worry though, because Leisa has steadily become
indoctrinated into the world of the Wolverines’ athletics
throughout her time at the University.

“I’m not dumb, I know who pays my paychecks,”
said Leisa when asked who she would root for on Nov. 22. “We
actually have recruits in here that weekend, so I think the
atmosphere around here would be very nice if Michigan won the
game.”

Over the years, Mark has enjoyed watching the transformation of
his wife into a Wolverine fan throughout her time in Ann Arbor.
There is no question that Leisa is wholeheartedly dedicated to her
team and to their success as well, despite the fact that she
attended their biggest rival.

“If you think about it, there are a lot of coaches here
who were at other Big Ten schools,” Mark said. “She had
a great career (at Ohio State), and in a lot of ways she’ll
always be a Buckeye just like anyone who graduates from Michigan
will always be a Wolverine. It’s been kind of fun to watch
her over the last five years evolve from where she was still very
much a Buckeye, except in volleyball, and now more and more she has
become more warmed up to Michigan. In volleyball, she’s
always going to be rooting for her team and whoever she’s
working with.”

Although Leisa still remembers her days as a Buckeye fondly,
when the whistle blows to start a game in Columbus, for the next
two hours, she becomes a Wolverine again.