By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
LAKE ODESSA – Kellie Rowland doesn’t sugarcoat anything when it comes to the hundreds of players she has coached and mentored over 23 seasons.
The longtime Lakewood High School volleyball coach lets players know exactly what she thinks, and it’s a style that has served her well in helping produce one of the most successful programs in the state.
“I’m a highly energetic person, and I’m very black and white,” Rowland said. “I tell it just the way it is, and the girls appreciate that. They would much rather know than trying to guess how I’m feeling.”
Rowland recently joined an elite class of coaches after recording her 1,000th victory on Sept. 9 at the East Kentwood Invitational with a 2-0 win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
She is one of only 12 coaches statewide to reach the 1,000 win plateau. Jodi Manore of Temperance-Bedford tops the list and had 1,927 victories entering this season.
Several of Rowland’s former players were in attendance to witness the coaching milestone.
“One thousand wins is a lot of wins, but more than that it’s been the relationships,” Rowland said. “All the girls that came back that evening, and seeing them again as adults and parents and professionals, meant more to me than any single victory.”
Rowland entered the season with a 981-149 record in her 22 seasons at the helm; she led the Vikings from 1991-2002 and then took the program back over in 2009. Her youngest son, Cameron, clued her in to how close she was.
“I don’t keep track,” she said. “I always have to look up my wins and losses because I truly believe in one season at a time and one match at a time. My youngest son reminded me of how many I needed or I would not have known that.”
Lakewood athletic director Mike Quinn said Rowland’s dedication and commitment to her players has had a profound effect on the program.
“Her coaching goes beyond the wins she has accumulated,” he said. “She just has a rapport with all of the girls and she is such a student of the game that she is involved in. I believe she would be just as successful no matter what sport she coached. She just happened to fall into volleyball.
“Kellie is one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet, but she prepares so well that winning becomes a by-product of everything else that they do. She cares so much about Lakewood volleyball and the impact that it has on our community.”
During her career, the Vikings have won countless league championships, in addition to 10 MHSAA Regional titles, three Finals runner-up finishes and a Class B championship in 2012.
They’ve reached the Finals in three of the past five seasons.
“I’ve been real fortunate,” Rowland said. “I’ve had just dedicated athletes. I can’t say that I’ve had Big Ten recruits, but they work so hard every day to achieve the ultimate goal of trying to win a state championship.”
Multiple past standouts have followed their Lakewood mentor into coach. Chelsea Lake finished her career in 2010 as a Miss Volleyball Award candidate playing middle for the Vikings, and took what she learned from Rowland into her playing career at Cornerstone University. She’s now an assistant coach for the
“I wouldn't be where I am today without her or have had the volleyball career I did if she wasn't my coach,” Lake said. “People who have never had her as a coach fear her and think she is too intense, but in reality she cares so much about her players and believes in them. That passion and love for them (is) why she pushes every single one of her players to be the best they can be. Why do something half-heartedly?
“She demands the most out of you, day in and day out, and by the end of practice you've given more than you ever thought you could,” Lake added, recalling changing shirts midway through every practice because the first was soaked with sweat. “She instills confidence in her players to the point you can walk into any gym and know you worked 10 times harder than anyone else in that gym and deserve to win.”
The buy-in starts early. Lake recalled as a junior starting alongside another junior and four freshmen, with a junior defensive specialist and a fifth freshman coming off the bench. Those freshmen went on to make up the nucleus of Lakewood’s Class B title-winning team in 2012.
“Kellie has built the Lakewood program from the ground up. She gets the young girls to buy into the program, and by the time they're freshmen they're better than most other schools' JV and varsity players,” Lake said. “Therefore, when they're seniors, they're college-type players.
“She knows how to develop kids and as long as Kellie is at the helm, that program will continue to grow, dominate, and flourish under her.”
Senior Lisa Hewitt said Rowland maintains high expectations for every team.
“She never expects anything less than perfection from us,” she said. “She always demands us to be our best 100 percent of the time. She is definitely deserving of her 1,000 wins.”
And Erica Potter, another of six seniors on this year’s squad, was happy to be a part of a special moment for Rowland.
“I think we were all very proud of her for reaching that great achievement, and she’s a great coach,” Potter said. “She’s always pushing us to be our best every day at practice, and she makes us work hard no matter what.”
This year’s team is vying for another trip to the MHSAA Finals after falling short in the Class B championship match a year ago against North Branch.
Lakewood entered this week ranked third in Class B, boasting an impressive 31-4 mark.
“They are playing well, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Rowland said. “We have a new setter on the court after Gabi (Shellenbarger) graduated and we had her for four years. That setter spot is so crucial to a team, so we are still working through a lot of that.”
The seniors understand the path to the Finals is a process.
“We definitely talk about making it to the state finals because we’ve been there twice, and that’s certainly our goal, but we try to take it one match at a time,” Potter said. “We want to look at the big picture, but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland celebrates with her team after last season’s Class B Semifinal win over Cadillac. (Middle) Rowland provides instruction during the first set of the 2012 championship match victory.