With upstarts Oregon and Michigan – unseeded Michigan! – descending on Louisville for the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, coaching relationships take on a whole new meaning.
That’s because fifth-seeded Oregon, which was blown out in the first set but then stormed back to overpower fourth-seeded Nebraska, and Michigan, which shocked second-seeded Stanford, both have husband-wife duos -- Head Coach Mark Rosen and Associate Head Coach Leisa Rosen at Michigan, and Head Coach Jim Moore and Assistant Coach Stacy Metro at Oregon – leading them to victory. The family affairs continue Thursday in the KFC Yum! Center in the national semifinals.
Long after the match at Cal, when they had finally gotten to bed in their Berkeley hotel room, Michigan head coach Mark Rosen and his assistant coach wife, Leisa, just cracked up.
“It was pitch dark, we had like four hours to get some sleep, and we’d been trying to get some sleep for like half an hour or so, and we just started laughing,” said Rosen. “I said, ‘We aren’t going to get any sleep, are we? That’s awesome, we’re going to the final four.’ Pretty poignant.”
Penn State (33-2) took all that Minnesota could offer, winning in four sets, will play Oregon (29-4), while Texas (27-4), which blew past USC in three sets, faces Michigan (27-11).
When the last ball hit the floor in Omaha, stunning a Nebraska-rooting crowd of 9,382, Oregon assistant coach Stacy Metro celebrated and even made fun of herself later for jumping up and down.
Meanwhile, her husband, head coach Jim Moore, almost seemed to fight back a smile as he walked toward midcourt to respectfully shake hands with Nebraska counterpart John Cook.
“I live with my assistant coach and she doesn’t get very excited very often, but she got pretty excited when we won. And I didn’t,” the low-key Moore admitted.
“I went over and shook John’s hand. We’re still playing. I get to coach these four seniors at least two more days, three more days, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
Michigan’s match at Cal ended about 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time, but the Wolverines seemed to get stronger as the long night went on. For that matter, they’ve gotten stronger as the tournament has gone on, from the time they stunned Louisville in the second round on that same Yum! Center court and then sweeping cross-state rival Michigan State in the round of 16.
For the record, the Michigan coaches celebrated together.
“Our staff has a tradition where we always high-five each other in order,” Rosen said. “It’s something we always do, no matter who we beat when we win. But I turned around to high-five and everybody was hugging each other. Our director of ops (Megan Tannenbaum) had Leisa in a spin, everyone else was hugging, so I just jumped on the hug.”
The celebration continued on with the team.
“It’s so exciting,” Michigan’s Lexi Erwin said. “The energy in the locker room after the game was insane.”
It normally is around this time of year but this one might be a little more off the charts. Since the women began competing in the NCAA in 1981, this is the only the second final four without a California team, and the first since 2009. That year, eventual-champion Penn State beat Hawaii and Texas beat Minnesota to make the title match.
But this might be the first time where half the field is coached by husband-wife duos. And pay attention, because even though they’re on opposite sides of the bracket, the couples from Oregon and Michigan are closely bonded and this gets somewhat complicated.
In 1993, Moore coached Northern Michigan to the NCAA Division II national championship. His star player was Stacy Metro. But wait, there’s more: NMU beat Cal State Bakersfield. Its coach? Mark Rosen.
“Mark’s a great guy and we’ve been friends for a long time,” Moore said. “We’ve coached against one another a lot.”
Later that year, Stacy Metro played on a team with former Ohio State star Leisa Wissler. She’s now Leisa Rosen, associate head coach at Michigan.
But wait. There’s even more.
After winning that national title, Moore left for Kansas State. His replacement at NMU? Rosen. What’s more, in 1994 Northern Michigan again beat Cal State Bakersfield for the DII national title.
“At Bakersfield, they wouldn’t let my wife and I coach together,” Rosen said. “And Northern Michigan came after both of us. Jim knew we wanted to coach together so he told his AD to go after us as a package.”
How uncanny, then, that both are in the final four for the first time at the same time?
“Jim’s a heck of a coach. He’s one of the best program builder, program changer coaches,” Rosen said. “He’s taken programs that were in the cellar and he made them great quickly at a really high level and kept them there. Northern Michigan was brutal before he got there and he made them great. Kansas State, Oregon, I mean he’s done it.
“He’s a good guy, I’m proud of him and I’m happy for him. Plus I like to see husbands and wives do well, too.”
In the Ducks’ 15-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-17 victory over Nebraska, they rode the incredible arm of Pac-12 Player of the Year and Regional MVP Alaina Bergsma. Bergsma, a 6'3" senior outside hitter featured earlier this year in Volleyball magazine for not only being an outstanding hitter but also because she won the Miss Oregon USA pageant last year, hit .429 with only two errors during a match in which she had 23 kills in 49 swings.
“That’s scary. It really is,” Moore said when considering Bergsma’s night. “I told Lauren she didn’t get to set anybody else at the end. I told her to set [Alaina] every single ball.”
Said Nebraska’s Cook: “They have a player who is a level above anybody we have in Bergsma, and she brought it tonight. When you get to this level and try to get to a final four, you have to have somebody who can take over matches and she did it. Back row, front row, she did a great job. She would get my vote right now for player of the year.”
Michigan is probably the best team you never expected to see back in Louisville unless you follow the Big Ten. But even in that league, the Wolverines finished 11-9. None of that matters when you get to single elimination and can muscle up and play defense the way Michigan did against Stanford in its 20-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-20 victory. It was Michigan’s third NCAA tourney victory over Stanford in the past four seasons.
Junior Lexi Erwin, a 6’1” outside hitter and the Mideast-Region MVP, had 23 kills and 16 digs. Canadian junior Jennifer Cross, a 6’4” middle, had 15 kills and nine digs and was really key late in the match.
“We are such a great team. We don’t have to have all-stars or big names in the media all the time,” Cross said, echoing what Erwin also talked about. “It’s all about being a team.”
Including a husband-wife duo in its 14th season in Ann Arbor.
Like the Moores, the Rosens have two children. The Rosens both grew up in Alaska, Mark in Anchorage and Leisa in Wasilla. In 1999, she was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “50 Greatest Alaskan Sports Figures.”
In 2009, Michigan also made it to the NCAA quarterfinals. To finally break through to the final four means a lot in the Rosen household.
“Mark and I have talked about it at length year in and year out about how great it would be to take this program to where we believe it should be,” Leisa Rosen said.
“We’ve been head coach and associate head coach for 19 years now,” Mark Rosen said. “To win the national championship in Division II was huge, but to be able to do this after 14 years of working to build this program, it’s just such a great feeling.”
All four of the coaches talked about being happy for their players and knowing there’s plenty more work to be done this week. But all in all it was a great Saturday for coaching couples, who eat, breath, sleep and live every day with their jobs.
“Yeah, when you work together and lose you bring it home and it’s hard and you have to ignore each other,” Stacy Metro admitted.
“But doing this together is fun and it was hard to go to sleep last night because we just kept smiling at each other and being really happy about getting this chance and being in Louisville.”