Leisa Rosen, trio of players reflect on Ohio State ties ahead of rivalry trip

Thursday, October 3, 2019 - 10:53pm

Associate head coach Leisa Rosen is a member of the Ohio State Hall of Fame.

Associate head coach Leisa Rosen is a member of the Ohio State Hall of Fame. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

Leisa Rosen’s Hall of Fame plaque has been mounted on the wall of the Schottenstein Center in Columbus since 2001.

Three decades ago, Rosen’s dominance at the middle blocker position elevated Ohio State to a national powerhouse. The Buckeyes won their first-ever conference title in 1989 and made a Final Four appearance in 1991, netting her the 1988 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and consensus first team All America honors in 1991.

Last year, Rosen saw the plaque with her own eyes for the first time as she passed through Columbus while looking at colleges with her son. Her Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place during her third year coaching at Michigan, was originally slated for Ohio State’s September 15, 2001 football game. That is, until the events of September 11 forever changed the country on the Tuesday before.

When the ceremony was rescheduled, it coincided with the weekend the Wolverines, fittingly, hosted the Buckeyes in volleyball. Rosen’s mother attended in her place.

Now in her 21st year coaching at Michigan with her husband Mark, Leisa makes the trip back to Columbus nearly every year. On Sunday, she’ll return once again. Instead of working to hang banners on her college campus as she once did, she now aims to prevent it.

“I have been able to represent two of the best universities in the country at the highest level,” Rosen said. “For a person who thrives on competition, there’s nothing better than that. This is home for me, I absolutely love it in Michigan, but I had four-and-a-half years as an undergrad (at Ohio State) and I wouldn’t trade that for the world either.”

But this year’s homecoming won’t flood Rosen with the same memories. Following the conclusion of a $48.9 million construction project in June, Ohio State unveiled the Covelli Center — a 100,000 square foot space with a 3,700 seating capacity, the new home of five varsity sports.

While the aging St. John Arena still stands, the women’s volleyball team has already made the full-time transition to the new arena. To Rosen, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It was always very cool walking into St. John Arena, whether I was wearing the ‘O’ or the block ‘M,’ ” Rosen said. “That was where I started my collegiate career. That will always mean something to me. The Covelli Center will just be another arena now, which is fine. That’s the way Michigan State is, that’s the way Penn State is — they’re just a competitor and they’re someone we want to go beat. So I think it will take that part out of it, which is probably for the better.”

Rosen isn’t the only one within Michigan’s program with ties to the Buckeyes, as freshman libero Amber Beals, senior setter Katerina Rocafort and sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones all have reasons of their own to circle the matches against Ohio State on the calendar.

For Beals, Sunday is truly a return home. She was raised in Columbus, where her father, Greg, has spent the last decade as the head coach of the Buckeyes’ baseball team.

“I grew up on Ohio State’s campus, always going to Ohio State athletic events, so I’m very familiar with Ohio State and the campus,” Beals said. “ … I’m actually really excited just to go back home and be on Ohio State’s campus again, and I know I’m going to have a lot of family and friends there so that’ll be fun to see everyone.”

In Rocafort’s case, the divide runs through her own family. In the heat of Michigan’s home showdown with the Buckeyes last weekend, Rocafort peered into the crowd. She saw her parents, but something felt off. It didn’t take long to pinpoint the problem.

Her father sat in the Crisler Center stands, proudly sporting an Ohio State shirt. Her sister is a freshman setter for the Buckeyes, but it still took a double-take to process the sight.

Meanwhile, Jones hails from New Bremen, Ohio — a town dominated by scarlet and gray. After she publicly committed to the Wolverines, she was heckled during her high school season. Rival fans would deck out in Ohio State gear and chant “Go Bucks” as she served, but it didn’t get under her skin.

“It’s something I got used to,” Jones said. “Honestly, I played better when they did that. … I knew it was going to happen because everybody in that area was an Ohio State fan.”

After posting a career-high 23 kills in last year’s five-set victory in Columbus, Jones posed for a photo with 20 children from her hometown, all of which showed up sporting Michigan headbands from a match they attended in Ann Arbor. At the end of the day, friends and family trump rivalry.

For the four Wolverines with ties to Ohio State, one common thread brings them all together.

No nostalgia, no problem.