Inside a plane destined for Orlando, Fla., Veronica Rood made a simple phone call to commit to play for the Michigan volleyball team.
But that call wasn’t made to a person on the ground – it was to Michigan assistant coach Leisa Rosen, seated 10 rows behind Rood.
During the recruiting process, NCAA rules prohibit coaches and high school recruits from communicating face-to-face during what the NCAA calls a “dead period.”
So, the Temperance native — not knowing she was on the same plane as Rosen — made the phone call, and so began Rood’s story at Michigan. Kind of.
It seemed like a picture-perfect scenario.
Rood lived just 45 minutes from Ann Arbor, so her parents and friends would be able to watch her during every Wolverine home match.
She was going to play for Mark and Leisa Rosen, two individuals that brought a family-oriented atmosphere to the gym every day. Sometimes, the Rosen’s two children came to practices and games — joking around with players, snagging balls and just being a part of the team.
“It’s very easy for us to talk to them outside of volleyball terms,” Rood said. “I find it very easy to talk to Leisa, and I know I can totally trust her. So, it’s nice to have a personal relationship as well as a coaching-player relationship with them.”
Everything was all set for Rood.
She played in every match her sophomore season, placing fourth on the team with 351 kills and helping the team make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.
But even though she had played very well, Rood committed a fair amount of attack errors from the left side, the position she was initially recruited to play out of Temperance-Bedford High School.
And with the arrival of strong-armed Alex Hunt in the fall of 2008, Rood’s placement on the left side looked vulnerable.
“Last year, Hunt came in competing hard for (the left side),” Mark Rosen said. “We were letting them compete for the spot and by virtue of Hunt and (then-junior transfer Juliana Paz), she lost out.”
With her playing time drastically reduced the last two-thirds of the season, Rood could have let the situation negatively affect her. But the transition from starter to role player motivated her even more — and that’s when her story in Ann Arbor really began.
Mark Rosen made it a point to note that Rood’s shift to role player wasn’t because of anything she did wrong.
“A lot of times, kids get focused on themselves and they get frustrated and pissed (when that happens),” he said. “And she was never any of that. … I respect that a lot.”
At the tail end of her junior year, with the Wolverines squaring off against powerhouse Nebraska in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, Rosen placed Rood at the libero position in the back row.
Michigan was severely struggling against the Cornhuskers and Rosen figured he’d put in Rood — a very good passer — at the new spot on the floor. So when Rood approached Rosen at the end of the season and asked to be evaluated at another position, there was no initial surprise.
But when she said she wanted to play at the middle instead of at libero, there was cause for confusion.
The Rosens discussed the possible switch over dinner that same night, and the two came to the same conclusion: the middle was the perfect spot for Rood.
“She’s fast with her feet, but she is also fast with her arm,” Rosen said. “The middle position is great for that. On the outside, she was playing too fast and that’s when the errors came.”
The following day at practice, Rood played in the middle. She stayed there in the spring, and now has cemented herself as the Wolverines’ middle hitter this year.
And over two-thirds of the way through her senior season, Rood has shown she firmly belongs at the forefront of the team’s offensive attack. She leads the team with a .313 attack percentage and has 227 kills, good for third on the team. Clearly, the switch paid off.
“Having a veteran player (on the floor) is great for our team,” junior setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “Veronica has great court sense, so she brings a level of volleyball knowledge that our team really relies on.”
Clownin’ in A2
“Vern-diddy,” as Rood is often called by her teammates, isn’t a captain. But Rosen thinks a leader doesn’t need a formal recognition of leadership.
“There’s no question that there’s a lot of people on this team that follow her personality, follow her mood and follow her game,” he said.
That’s important for the Wolverines, who boast an underclassmen-laden roster. A vibrant Rood lightens the mood in practice and isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind — she has “no filter,” according to Rosen.
“Early in her career, we talked more about this clown side of her,” Rosen said. “She was more of a clown and needed to be more serious for other people to take her seriously. But I think that clown side of her has become very important for this team. … She just keeps it loose.”
Rood’s enthusiasm on the court and in the weight room has helped her become one of the go-to hands. The level of play and energy she brings to the floor is what Michigan will need to feed off of if it wants to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament in December.
“She hasn’t matured just in volleyball,” Rosen said. “She’s doing better in school, she’s doing more community service, she’s doing more stuff out there in her life away from volleyball.
“She’s kind of got it. You hope when kids come in as freshmen and leave as seniors, that somewhere in there they get it. She has totally got it.”