It took 21 years and 6,000 miles of travel, but Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen and Purdue assistant Kathy Jewell finally found themselves on the same side of the net again this summer.
To understand the sincerity of the reconnection, one must examine its roots. In the fall of 1994, Rosen and Jewell both arrived on campus at Northern Michigan University — the former as the newly-minted volleyball coach and the latter as an incoming freshman. Rosen and his wife Lesia went on to spend four years at Northern Michigan, guiding the Wildcats to a Division II national championship, runner-up finish and two Final Four defeats.
Jewell, meanwhile, was the difference maker in the Rosens’ successful tenure. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-6, she held her own as an outside hitter, earning a pair of NCAA Elite Eight All-Tournament Team selections and tallying the second-most digs in program history. She was inducted into the Northern Michigan Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1998, Rosen and Jewell went their separate ways. Mark and Leisa took over at Boise State, while Jewell finished her bachelor’s degree in management of health and fitness.
Following her graduation from Northern Michigan, Jewell hadn’t made up her mind on a desired career and, admittedly, had no idea what she wanted to do. After spending a year coaching at the high school and club levels in her home state of Indiana, Jewell’s phone rang. Rosen’s voice was on the other line.
By that point, the Rosens had already made the leap to Ann Arbor. Mark was calling to inform Jewell that he submitted her name for coaching vacancies at Central Michigan and Toledo.
Jewell ultimately spent three years as an assistant with the Chippewas before joining Purdue’s staff in 2003, where she has spent the last 16 years. Since then, her former college coach has been one of her fiercest competitors.
When asked why she chose to go into coaching, Jewell didn’t hesitate to credit Rosen’s phone call. But to Rosen, it was the obvious path all along.
“She had all the makeup of (coaching),” Rosen said. “It didn’t surprise me at all when she went into coaching because she’s very much a student of the game. As a player, she was an undersized outside, so she had to be one of those players who learned the game very well in order to be successful.”
Recently, the two have clashed on the recruiting trail more than ever. With their teams typically finishing close to one another in the Big Ten standings, Rosen and Jewell often battle for the same high school prospects when they’re not trying to outduel each other during the season.
It was only fitting for the two to reunite on the Big Ten Foreign Tour, which saw 12 of the conference’s top players represent the Big Ten in Japan during a six-match summer swing.
For Rosen, the presence of a familiar face added a dimension of comfort to the uneasy dynamic of coaching the same opposing players that give him headaches during the season. On a personal level, it presented an opportunity to temporarily put their coaching competition aside.
“It’s kind of hard to have this really friendly relationship when you’re competing for the same players and you’re competing to beat each other during the season,” Rosen said. “That went away a little bit during that time because we were on the script together and coaching the team together. It just really brought that relationship back a little, which was really fun.
“To be honest, it was really cool. It was really fun to reconnect with her and spend some time not talking about volleyball, just talking about life and just sharing a trip together.”
Jewell isn’t the Rosens’ only alumna who has made their mark in college coaching. Loyola Maryland head coach Alija Pettinger and George Washington assistant Erin Moore — who graduated from Michigan in 2001 and 2004, respectively — are also active coaches, to name another two.
In Jewell’s eyes, playing for the Rosens made all the difference, and the Northern Michigan roots are as strong as ever.
“(Mark and Leisa) really helped mold me through my playing career and if I have questions or need something, I know I can reach out to either one of them for personal or professional help,” Jewell told The Daily in a phone interview last week. “They’re always there for me in that regard. As a player, they put me in my place at times but also challenged me to be the best competitor that I could be. I’m grateful to have those two in my life.”
The Big Ten Foreign Tour gave Rosen and Jewell a chance to reminisce over their 1994 national championship run, catch up on life beyond the court and swap stories from the two decades since leaving Northern Michigan. The value of such an opportunity wasn’t overlooked, to say the least.
“We have a long history,” Jewell said. “By coaching against him and also seeing (Rosen) out recruiting, it’s just like an old friend kind of thing. It was really fun to be on that side and to see his style of coaching and interacting. It brought back a lot of memories from back in the day when he coached me.”
In four short months, these “old friends” will once again find themselves on opposite sides of the net in West Lafayette. But, for now, the heat of the competition can take a backseat to the reconnection — regardless of whichever side of the globe it happened on.