Veteran Thompson volleyball coach Lisa Strand makes hall-of-fame career by building relationships
Strand's Thompson volleyball teams have gone to state 16 times with five state championships.
When former Thompson volleyball standout Britta Meza (Hanson) was growing up in Thompson, she couldn't wait to receive a letter from her "Volley Pals" in which high school volleyball players write letters to elementary students.
"There was nothing more exciting than getting a letter from your "Volley Pal" and getting to watch them play in a game," Meza said. "By the time we reached junior high, there was no question we wanted to try out for volleyball and hopefully one day play for coach (Lisa) Strand.
"In Thompson, volleyball has become a way of life, largely in part to coach Strand."
It's that type of relationship building and program development that has landed Strand in a national hall of fame.
The North Dakota High School Coaches Association has announced Strand, along with Hazen's Randy Johnson, will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame this summer.
The induction takes place Wednesday in Lincoln, Neb.
"It's a great honor," Strand said. "It's not because of what I've done but what my players have accomplished. I've been so fortunate and blessed to have good athletes with great attitudes. I've been surrounded with great people.
"Everything starts with relationships. If you don't have a good relationship, you won't be able to connect with athletes and help them find success."
Kendra Zak has been assistant with Strand for seven years, which came after a successful playing career in which the Tommies won state titles in 2004 and 2005.
"She is great at building relationships," Zak said. "She still keeps in touch with players out of the system for 20 years. She makes sure that it's more than about volleyball. She's always worried about her players keeping grades up and everything at home and checking in with their mental and emotional health."
Strand has been at Thompson for her entire 32-year coaching career. She has coached track and field, girls basketball, softball and volleyball.
In addition to two state tournament appearances as a basketball coach, Strand's volleyball teams made state 16 times including state titles in 1997, 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2018.
Strand has been the NDHSCA State Volleyball Coach of the Year three times. She was inducted into the NDHSCA Hall of Fame in 2017.
Strand said more than the state championships on the court, the memories of bus rides are what are lasting.
"Just cheering and having fun and listening to Queen's 'We Are the Champions,'" Strand said. "There's also those times where you just have fun at practice. I love practice; I'm a weirdo that way. That's where you connect with the kids."
Strand has a reputation as a smart tactical coach, as well.
"She was always adapting and modifying practice to meet the demands for an upcoming opponent," said Meza, who went on to a standout college career at UND in which she finished in the Top 10 all-time in both kills and blocks. "It is easy for a coach to just keep the same system and become predictable. However, she was constantly learning and trying new ideas to use players to their top potentials.
"I'll always remember junior year when she came to practice and brought the idea of switch to a three-middle rotation. This was something none of us were familiar with or had heard of, but we trusted her expertise and learned the new rotation. It ended up helping us take down strong opponents and eventually win a state championship."
"As a coach, she has an ability to see things I don't think most people do," she said. "She's so creative and thinks outside of the box. That creativity makes her a unique coach."
Strand doesn't have any plans to retire.
"I really enjoy it still," she said. "When a season ends and I don't start already thinking about what we have coming back, and if I don't start thinking about that, then I need to start thinking about being done. As long as I have passion and good assistants, I'll stay with it. It really is something I don't really ever want to leave."