Strasser remembers Rochester volleyball domination, wants it to be dominating again
‘It’s a fast-paced sport, and I’m a fast-paced person’
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Before she was the mother of two Rochester volleyball players, Laneia Strasser was herself a Rochester volleyball player.
She took inspiration from Katie Felke. She remembers the hard practices. She got into coaching herself. When the opportunity presented itself after five years of middle school coaching, she jumped at the chance to be the mentor for the next generation that Felke was for her and was hired as the new Rochester volleyball coach at an April 17 Rochester School Board meeting.
She will lead her first practice as coach on July 31, and the season begins with a home match against Plymouth on Aug. 12.
“I wanted to be the volleyball coach at Rochester High School because I love volleyball,” Strasser said. “I grew up in a program that dominated at volleyball, and I want to do my part and make Rochester volleyball a dominating program, and I want the kids in our high school to love volleyball the way I love volleyball as a grown woman.”
Strasser is the mother of three. Oldest child Drew just graduated in June. Daughters Darah, who will be a junior, and Rilyn, who will be a freshman, will be players in the program.
“I would say a majority of the kids know me as Drew and Darah’s mom, and I also have Rilyn,” Strasser said. “She will be in high school next year as well. … I know them all pretty well. I’ve coached every kid in the high school all through the middle school and youth level, except for the senior class. I guess I didn’t have them in sixth grade. But Darah’s class was the first grade I coached in sixth grade, but I also coached them obviously in club volleyball age too.
“They all know me pretty well. I know all of them pretty well. I watched them grow up and play each sport from entry level now to varsity level.”
Felke retired in the fall of 2014 as the winningest coach in any sport in Rochester High School history. She won 16 sectionals and four regionals in her coaching career and took the Lady Zs to the state final four in the fall of 2003.
Strasser calls Felke “the definition of dedication.”
“Anything Katie Felke did, she did it to the best of her ability,” Strasser said. “She would eat, sleep and breathe volleyball. That’s who she was. She invested every effort into the sport, which teaches a lot about being an adult. Practices were always really, really hard with Katie Felke. You knew what to expect going into it, but that’s how life is too. Life is really, really hard, and as long as you try your hardest and give it your best shot, you’re normally going to turn out to be a pretty successful person.
“Katie’s very inspirational when it comes to that. She had a great family. She raised great kids. She created an awesome atmosphere and an awesome program when she coached at Rochester.”
Strasser said Felke congratulated her after she was hired.
“She offered me any help I would need,” Strasser said. “So that was pretty exciting. I still have her in my corner even though she’s not coached at Rochester for quite a few years. Just to know that she still has an interest in the program, that’s an awesome feeling.”
Strasser, a 2002 Rochester grad, remembers attending her first Felke-coached clinic when she was in elementary school.
“I remember the varsity girls were the ones who ran the clinics, and you had Sheila McMillen still in high school and all the awesome athletes that were helping run volleyball, and it was just one of those sports that once I was introduced to, I was hooked,” Strasser said. “It’s fun. It’s a fast-paced sport, and I’m a fast-paced person. So it just mixed well with my personality, and it’s the season I’ve always looked forward to the most, and I still do, even just watching it and coaching it. It’s the sport I would pick over any other sport.”
Then known as Laneia Carlson, she was later high school teammates with Felke’s daughter Courtney for two years. She is a year older than Felke’s son Kyle, and Felke’s daughter Carey was best friends with Strasser’s younger sister.
Rochester won a Class 3A sectional when Strasser was a freshman in 1998.
“It was fun to win also,” Strasser said. “I’m a very competitive person. I love to win. I know that Felke loved to win, and that’s just some people’s personalities. I want the girls to love to win, but I want them to work hard to learn how to win because it definitely takes a lot of work to be a winner.”
Strasser’s father Keith Carlson is the former Rochester softball coach, and her first taste of coaching was helping him out in that sport. She was on the softball board “for quite a few years,” and she eventually migrated to coaching club volleyball.
Erin Leap, who took over as coach in the fall of 2018, knew of Strasser’s love for the game and knew that her daughters played. Once they started playing in middle school, Leap asked Strasser to coach at the middle school level. Strasser said she stayed at the middle school level because her kids “were running all over the place.”
After five years of coaching in middle school, she takes over at the varsity level and with a good understanding of the state of the feeder system.
She would like her high school players to be role models for the younger players.
“COVID didn’t do us any favors obviously,” Strasser said. “Like anything else, it took away our opportunities to play more club volleyball. It definitely needs some improvement. … I’d like to see more of an intramural style at the younger age just to get more girls interested at a younger level. And then from there, get back to having where we have club teams where those high school girls are working with our younger girls. … I think it’s been a good perspective because I know the season. It’s a short season at middle school. I know that the fundamentals that I need to implement at that level because I want to be feeding my JV and varsity teams good fundamentally sound teams who are used to a certain level of practice and just a program that they know what to expect once they get to high school.”
Stacey Wilson and Rebecca Bolinger, who coached with Strasser at the middle school level, will be the varsity assistant coach and the JV coach, respectively. They also will have daughters in the high school program.
Holly Clevenger and Traci Honkomp are expected to be approved as volunteer coaches. Samantha Walley will step into the void at the middle school level.
“It’s going to be a lot of work to implement a feeder system,” Strasser said.
Bolinger said Strasser will help with the hitters.
“I’m a short person,” Strasser said. “So I always was more of a defensive person. I wasn’t really a front row hitter very often, so Becca obviously is a lot taller, and she knows a lot more about hitting. … We’re all moms and have jobs and are finding what schedule works best with everybody, but we’ve all worked together on a lot of things, so I feel like if I get the right team of women. … I’m one personality style. I’ve got to get the right team of people with different personalities where I lack.”
Asked what she wants the Rochester volleyball program to be known for, she again mentions the word “dominating.” She remembers the matches against Southwood that typically decided the Three Rivers Conference every year.
She also speaks of how much she admires the program at Pioneer, a sectional rival of the Lady Zs, because of how dominant and consistent they are.
“That’s what I want,” Strasser said. “I want smart, classy, hard-working ladies. That’s what I want Rochester volleyball to be known for.”