What if coincidences don’t exist? What if fate follows you until it catches up?

Mira Levitan
(DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

When Mark Rosen was home from college during the summer of 1986, he took a short drive to a volleyball tournament to check out a local female player who was then a high school sophomore.

“I heard about this girl, and I remember going to a high school match to see how good she was,” said Rosen. “After I saw her play, she was as good as people said.”

There was no conversation between the two that night. No eye contact either. Rosen got into his car and drove back to his home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Rosen was playing collegiate volleyball at the time, known by the locals as one of the best players in his hometown.

That sophomore would become one of the best ever to play volleyball from the state of Alaska.

Mark would occasionally run into her at social occasions or at volleyball venues, but since the two had an eight-year age difference and their lives were at different crossroads, the only link between them remained their love for volleyball.

1988: The girl contacts Mark about where to play volleyball in college. He suggests the University of Oregon. She picks Ohio State.

1989: They run into each other by chance in Hawaii. They exchange hellos.

1990: Rosen is an assistant coach at the University of Alaska at Anchorage; she is Ohio State’s best volleyball player.

It’s not until the fall of 1991 at Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA, the sight of the collegiate volleyball Final Four, when fate finally catches up.

She is playing in the national semifinal for Ohio State. Mark arrives to scout the competition with a date; fate is just around the corner.

“We come out of the building, Pauley Pavilion, and we come around a corner, and she’s with her mom and her club coach,” Rosen explains. “We physically bump into each other. I’m with a date, and we’re holding hands, and I thought in my head, ‘I might ask this girl out over Christmas.’ “

Luckily, the volleyball social circle in Alaska is as big as the ice-fishing circle in Hawaii. Mark quickly asks her out when the two returned home to Alaska for Christmas break.

Leisa says yes.

So, maybe it was love at fifth sight. Like volleyball, love takes time to perfect.

The two, so confident on the court, are nervous when they go out on their first date – a friendly game of volleyball.

“Neither of us really knew if it was a date or just volleyball,” Mark said. “So it was funny because it evolved into a date, which I think we both intended or hoped, but neither of us wanted to assume that. The rest is history.”

Mark and Leisa marry in May 1993 and now are the head volleyball coaches at the University of Michigan.

Until marriage, their lives played out like a maze, following different paths along the way, occasionally intertwining and ultimately uniting at the end.

Both grew up in Colorado and moved to Alaska as children. Rather than immediately taking to the game, they also developed a love for volleyball after playing other sports.

Mark played hockey in high school, joining his first volleyball club team when he was a senior in high school. He tried out for the team mainly to get out of school for a week.

“It was fun going to that big tournament in Canada,” Rosen said. “My career in hockey was coming to an end and I was pretty good at volleyball. I just got hooked on it.”

When Mark would return home during summers from college, he was still regarded as a hockey player, despite playing collegiate volleyball. Leisa swam for nine years before she developed a passion for volleyball. She joined the local club team Midnight Sun, where her coach pushed her to be one of the state’s best players.

“I had a club coach that put me under his wing and pushed me to be the best,” Leisa said. “He was the right coach for me, and he knew how to get everything out of me.”

She was so talented that Sports Illustrated named her one of Alaska’s 50 greatest sports figures of the 20th century.

Leisa’s passion for volleyball wasn’t extinguished after graduating from college, yet she faced a dilemma that most talented volleyball players experience.

“Leisa never really intended to go into coaching,” Mark said.” She just really wanted to play.”

Opportunities arose for her to play volleyball in Italy and France, but Mark was in the United States, coaching at Cal-State Bakersfield. Leisa decided to apply for an assistant coaching position alongside her husband. But the college wouldn’t hire her because Mark was the coach.

“Cal-State Bakersfield would not hire me even though I was probably the most qualified,” Leisa said. “I had to go out and get a normal job.”

Working in retail during the day allowed Leisa to discuss coaching strategy with Mark at night.

“He would come home … and we would come up with solutions together, and then he would go to work and figure out the solutions,” Leisa said. “That was the most difficult time because we weren’t sharing volleyball or the same type of lifestyle.”

Deciding to continue her lifelong love-affair with volleyball, Leisa began coaching club teams before coaching one season at Boise State. She left the following year, accepting an assistant coaching position at Michigan. In 2001, Leisa was promoted to associate head coach alongside her husband.

The two have been working side-by-side ever since, complementing each other’s approach to the game.

“The way we go about things is very different. I have a tendency to be a little more laid back and Leisa is much more intense,” Mark said.

Leisa quickly, yet politely corrected Mark and said, “More like passionate.”

While many would assume that their competitive natures and different coaching styles would cause conflict, both said their careers together have brought nothing but happiness.

“We luckily look at the game the same way,” Mark said. The way we think it should be played, and the ways we think it should be taught are similar. It’s just the way we get there is very different.”

That breakdown stems from their club and college coaches.

Leisa’s coach played a style of volleyball that emphasized repetition of various skills away from game-time situations. Mark’s coach ran a “West Coast” style that emphasized technical breakdowns in game-oriented conditions.

Though their coaches’ styles were unique, both emphasized the low-risk, high-speed game that Mark and Leisa like.

The Rosens were able to fuse their unique volleyball backgrounds by competing in professional doubles tournaments together for five years. Learning each other’s nuances, they say, has enabled them to split up coaching duties, yet effectively collaborate at the end of the day.

“There are certain things that I have control over and certain things that he has control over,” Leisa said. “The lines don’t cross very often.”

Traveling, working with the middle line, setting up the defense and recruiting are Leisa’s specialties, while Mark concentrates more on scouting opponents and match preparation.

While they split professional duties at the office, they take pride in raising their three year-old son, Brady, together at home.

“Everything is a race,” Mark said of Brady. “Leisa and I will be at dinner with him, and we’ll have two cars. Whatever car he’s in has to get home first. I kind of like that about him because Leisa and I are both extremely competitive people.”

And it appears Brady may grow to love volleyball, too.

“He doesn’t catch things very well because he wants to always hit it back because he sees volleyball,” Mark said.

In addition to the Rosens, there are four other Division I programs with married coaching tandems: Texas A&M, Drexel, Missouri and Montana. All have been relatively successful.

One of the Rosens’ main recruiting points is the family atmosphere they create.

“Very much do we want it to be a family atmosphere,” Mark said. “In recruiting, some people will be really attracted by it; others may be turned off by it.”

Mark and Leisa have proven that mixing business with pleasure can be successful. Since they took over the coaching positions four years ago, Michigan has finished higher in the Big Ten each successive year. This season, the Rosens have led the Wolverines to a solid 2-2 Big Ten record, including a 3-0 victory over rival No. 14 Michigan State, making work together a little less stressful and a whole lot more enjoyable.

“We really do like being around each other,” Mark said. People make the comment all the time, ‘How do you go to work with your wife everyday?’ I’ve never really understood that because I enjoy it. I like seeing Leisa here and going to lunch every day and being together.”

So the next time you’re at Cliff Keen Arena watching the volleyball team, check out who is sitting next to you. Fate has a funny way of catching up, especially around volleyball.

 

 

 

 

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