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Aug. 23—LELAND — Copies of the Sturgis Journal burn to start a fire coaches hope lasts the whole season.

It usually does.

At least one of the four schools camping and scrimmaging outside Leland last month appeared in the Final Four every year since 2000.

By the time volleyball season started Aug. 18, some of the state’s best games already happened. Right here in little ol’ Leland.

Four of the top programs in Michigan high school volleyball teams converged on the property of Leland head coach Laurie Glass’ for a three-day event of scrimmages and camping. Literal camping.

Battle Creek St. Philip, Bronson and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep joined the Comets July 19-21, with Traverse City Central combining forces for a day as well.

Those teams combined for 22 state titles and 32 state championship appearances since 2000.

St. Philip won 11 of those, including last year’s Division 4 crown when Leland bowed out of the postseason in regionals because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. Bronson captured five titles since 2000 and Leland and Notre Dame Prep three each.

“None of our team has ever camped before,” said Pontiac Notre Dame senior outside hitter Sophia Sudzina. “They had to help us set up our tents and stuff, because we just didn’t know what we were doing.”

On the court is a completely different matter.

Even though the scrimmages intend to familiarize players with their varsity roles and expectations, the teams largely looked already in sync. That’s something you’d expect from teams who regularly appear in the state finals, each run by a coach in multiple Halls of Fame.

“It’s the best because not only is it a huge team bonding experience for us, but it allows us to get to know other schools from other divisions and other parts of the state,” St. Philip senior Brooke Dzwik said. “And it ends up being the best memories of the season.”

That’s saying a lot for a Tigers team coming off a state title.


As Sudzina said, many of the downstate players never saw the inside of a tent before, nevertheless had to cook their own meals over an open campfire.

Each day starts off with a campfire breakfast before scrimmages over several hours at Leland Public Schools, then back to Glass’ property for lunch, activities, dinner, camaraderie and finally some rest before doing it all over again.

The players have to cook all their own meals, and many of the coaches restrict cell phone use.

“They taught us how to make our food and stuff,” Sudzina said. “And the coaches have been so good from the other teams. They’ve given us step by step tutorials, and they’re teaching us how to do all of it. Then they’re teaching us how to keep the bugs out of our tent. This is just so new to all of us. So it’s really fun to be able to do it.”

Bronson puts 4-5 players in each tent.

“I like staying in tents with my teammates, because you really get to know them more,” Bronson senior outside hitter Karissa Gest said. “I mean, you know them when you go in, but you really get to see them interact with the outdoors and stuff. All teams interact, and we sit up and talk. It’s cool.”

Leland players get to sleep in their own beds, but the Comets do accompany the other teams on some of the activities like kayaking or hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes.

“Some groups are in charge of breakfast and lunch and dinner,” said Leland senior right-side hitter Skylar Weisen. “And I think that’s just such a good way to build your team chemistry. We’ve really forced some of those situations where you have to do everything together. And I like that a lot.”

The players mingle amongst teams and compete in events other than volleyball.

Coaches set up a lip synch battle one night, kayaking down the Crystal River another and a cornhole tournament. Some years, they go to Crystal Mountain for outdoor laser tag.

The coaches try to keep the activities new, especially for those fortunate enough to participate for a second time in the every-other-year event.

This year’s additions to the menu include ice cream cookie sundaes, where the players bake the cookie over the campfire before adding ice cream and fudge, and a hot ham and cheese sandwich.

“It’s the whole thing of the more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” said Dzwik, a niece of East Jordan basketball coach Nate Dzwik. “And so as long as you make the best of it, then you end up having fun and making memories. I think my favorite part is definitely cooking our own meals on the fire. Whether that’s in pie irons or in tin foil, cooking steak or making pancakes this morning, it’s a blast.”


This year brought an extra little touch to the camp.

Lily Chase reunited with her former Notre Dame teammates after transferring to Traverse City Central last year.

“It’s a little bit emotional because I missed them,” Chase said. “But it’s really sweet to see everybody and the new team. I really missed my friends. It’s just kind of weird to be across the net from them instead of next to them.”

Chase said the volleyball team was her whole friend group at Notre Dame, and seeing them again made Central’s one-day appearance at the scrimmages even more special.

She sat out last year after transferring, and goes from taking stats on an iPad to pounding out kills for the Trojans, who lost dominant hitter Emma Turnquist to graduation. Chase practiced every day and traveled to games, but couldn’t suit up because of transfer rules.

“When I moved, I was a little bit scared because Notre Dame’s obviously a very good volleyball school and I was I didn’t really know Central at all,” Chase said. “But then I got there and the girls are really good. They’re all really good, and they have so much energy. It’s completely comparable with Notre Dame, which makes me feel really comfortable with everybody and really excited for the season.”

The 5-foot-9 Chase started for Notre Dame as a sophomore. Now a senior, she’ll start at outside hitter.

“I feel like I’ve been telling (my TCC teammates) kind of like my little stories from Notre Dame, especially last year because I was a manager,” Chase said. “And now they can meet everybody. It’s really cool to see that because now they understand what I’m talking about.”

Chase also said she liked how well the Trojans competed with the camp’s powerhouse squads.

“I was a little bit scared because we graduated Emma Turnquist,” Chase said. “She was our powerhouse because she’s so tall and so good. But I’m really happy because I feel like everybody kind of came together and is making up for what she gave us on the team. Everybody’s really stepping up their game.”

The Trojans were part of a team camp in Grand Rapids, but played in one day of the Leland event, giving them an odd number that allowed former Olympian and current Stanford assistant coach Alisha Glass Childress to work with the rotating fifth team in the hallway as the other four played scrimmage games.

“It was really special for her to be able to play them and see her friends again,” TC Central coach Jen Wright said of Chase. “And then just the camaraderie between the coaches is really fun to get together and play against each other, but also learn from each other, too. We’re all basically family now.”

Central — which returns seven seniors — typically sees Leland twice a year in the ABCD Quad and the Trojans’ home tournament.

Notre Dame used to go to a team camp at Michigan State University, where the Fighting Irish stayed in the college dorms. A far cry from camping in the woods in rural Lake Leelanau.


Bronson coach Jean LaClair only allows players access to their phones for an hour a day. She likes to take kids out of their comfort zone and learn to deal with it. The lack of technology access play a part of that.

“At the end of the week, they’re like, ‘That’s nice,'” LaClair said. “‘It was nice not having my phone all the time.'”

Battle Creek St. Philip coach Vicky Groat doesn’t let her players have their phones at all.

LaClair also uses the camp as a carrot to entice participation in off-season training programs. If players reach a high enough percentage attendance, they get to go to Leland.

“They don’t miss because they want to come to this camping trip,” LaClair said. “It’s a highlight. It’s a reward for working hard in the summer. And they enjoy it.”

Coaches had their own Olympic events set up because of the camp taking place right before the Tokyo Games, but many didn’t get played because the girls kept so busy with other activities.

Pontiac Notre Dame made its debut at the camp, which has been around for about 15 years, always with Leland, Bronson and St. Philip. Alisha Glass — Laurie’s daughter and a former Leland star — even attended to tell some stories and give players pointers.

“This is something our kids don’t ever get to do,” Pontiac Notre Dame coach Betty Wroubel said. “I don’t know that any of them have ever camped. One of them I think camped in a camper. So it’s been a great learning experience. And, oh my gosh, all these coaches up here, you’ve got Hall of Famers, you’ve got an Olympian, and it’s just a great experience in the gym. We’re so grateful Laurie lets us camp on her grounds and that the other schools have allowed us to kind of crash their party a little bit.”

Wroubel said the coaches get just as much out of it as the players.

“I’ve learned so much,” said Wroubel, the Fighting Irish coach for 27 years. “We went over coach Glass’ house last night and we just talked volleyball stuff and it was awesome. You know, every time you’re around her you just learn so much. You know Alisha’s right there, too. Their dynamic, they’re as good as they come.”

Alisha Glass visited the campsite to share her experiences playing for national championships at Penn State and professionally overseas.

“It’s so crazy to think that someone from such a little school could go so big,” Gest said.

The other three coaches also serve as athletic director at their schools, making getting permission for the trip a little easier.

The every-other-year camp gives teams opportunities to do other activities. Bronson, for example, uses the seasons they’re not in Leland to travel alone either to Mackinaw Island or West Virginia. Last year’s trip to West Virginia, which usually includes white-water rafting, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

One thing all the players agreed upon: The worst aspect of the camp.

“The dune might be the worst part,” Gest said. “It’s fun, but it’s challenging. Definitely a mental thing.”

“The worst part is definitely the dune climb,” Dzwik said. “Our calves, whether that’s from scrimmaging or doing the dune climb, they’re bigger at the end of the week, that’s for sure.”


Leland, meanwhile, doesn’t need to travel and saves funds.

“For us, it’s top notch, because we’re playing three exceptional opponents,” said Comets coach Laurie Glass, who drives around the camp site in a Club Car golf cart. “We didn’t pay any money to go to camp. And we get to sleep in our own beds. So I’m pretty sure that this works out great for us that we have this quality in our gym.”

The trade-off is a lot of prep work by Glass for the event.

With family visiting at the same time this year, the opposing coaches needed a place to stay, so Glass found two campers. The idea is to intentionally separate the coaches from the players, so they are available if needed, but to make the athletes self-sufficient.

Then there’s getting the barn cleaned up and ready to store equipment and food for three teams, plus mowing the fields so they’re ready for a landscape of tents.

“I get to hang out with people who I adore and admire and aspire to be like and pick their brains and watch their kids and see what they’re doing and steal a thought or a drill or a saying or something,” Glass said. “I’m always on the lookout for stuff I can thieve. And this is a pretty stellar group of people to be thieving from.”

Previous years saw only Bronson and St. Philip camping for the event, but Notre Dame Prep joined the party this year. That party could get even bigger in future summers.

The Comets hope to play on their home court for the first time in three seasons. They played games at Traverse City St. Francis last year during the pandemic. The year prior, Leland’s gym served as storage for building construction and wasn’t usable, so Northport hosted the Comets’ home contests.

Work at Leland’s new gym meant the camp happened in the old one. The new facility could allow Glass to host a six-team event in upcoming years.

Leland lost eight seniors and returns five varsity players, including four seniors. The Comets also have a tall and talented sophomore class moving up, giving the team some height to hopefully help offset varsity inexperience. Junior setter Alexis Luce returns for her second year as a starter. Leland also added former TC West and Ferris State star Katie Placek as an assistant coach.


The four teams’ resumes, coupled with an appearance by Class A foe TC Central, make the scrimmages a learning experience by themselves.

The athletes — especially younger ones, like JV players moving up to varsity for the first time — draw experience from top-flight programs in a competitive but not must-win environment.

Coaches taking turns holding Alisha Glass’ youngest child, Amara, even while games go on.

“Our focus is taking these great players and using it as an opportunity to get better,” Wiesen said. “Playing defense against these teams is super important, so we’re prepared for when we go to Battle Creek. All these coaches are Hall of Famers. And multiple Hall of Fames. I think that’s such an incredible experience to have.”

The teams play scrimmage games to 15 points with rally scoring, but with one added twist — a game of Bingo.

Prior to each game, coaches select five tasks the team must accomplish in order to win. That’s their Bingo card. They can be things like scoring off a short serve or hitting an ace on the back line, but those five must all get checked off in addition to reaching 15 points in order to win.

“It’s so nice playing all the girls because everyone knows what they’re doing,” Gest said. “And everyone’s really good. It’s really challenging for us and pushes us a lot. This thing pushes us out of our comfort zone, too. Some of the schools we won’t personally see until later in the season, but we’ll see them at tournaments again and you’ll be like, ‘Hey, girl, what’s up?'”

This isn’t even the last time they do this in 2021. The Comets travel to Bronson for a scrimmage right before the season begins, making dinner together. Then Leland travels the following day to St. Philip, staying at the home of coach Groat, who they’ll have played within hours.

All four coaches were on the MIVCA board together for many years. Glass no longer sits on the board, but the other three do.

“We’re all ready to go home when it’s time to go home,” said LaClair, whose coached Bronson the last 20 years. “We’re all tired, but they enjoy it.”

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