Writing HERstory: Lisa Karlisch still making an impact at Virginia Tech

Lisa Karlisch (formerly Lisa Pikalek) is a management consultant for Sparkfire Strategy, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. During her time at Virginia Tech, Karlisch became the most decorated student-athlete in the history of Virginia Tech Volleyball. She still remains the program’s all-time leader in kills and kills per set, and she became one of only two female student-athletes at Virginia Tech to have their number retired. Karlisch graduated in 1992 and was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Why do you feel compelled to give back to Virginia Tech?

LK: All of the good things in my life circle back to Virginia Tech. I got a great education there which has positioned me incredibly well for everything I’ve done since. Volleyball specifically has given me a ton of life skills that allowed me to be incredibly successful throughout my life. So not only did I have the formal education at Virginia Tech, but I got the informal education that volleyball provided around discipline, time management, accountability, teamwork, all of those things. I also met my husband at Virginia Tech, so with him being an alumni as well, we both feel very committed to paying it forward. Now that I’m in a position where I can be generous, I want to give back to the place that benefited me so much.

How did your experiences in volleyball steer the direction you went professionally?

LK: Volleyball allowed me to go somewhere out of my home state and have a new perspective. Playing a Division I sport really differentiates people. If I just got good grades and stayed in my lane in terms of my academic career, I probably wouldn’t have stood out all that much. Whether it’s applying to school or applying to employers, people recognize the work that it takes to be successful at that level. Volleyball really provided me with that work ethic to be successful as I moved on to graduate school and into my career in consulting.

What exactly does your company do?

LK: I do business strategy consulting. We work with organizations, mainly non-profits, to solve their business problems. I come into a new organization and understand their business context and their challenges and then work with them to define solutions. It’s a lot of problem solving and a lot of people management. So again in terms of building a team, it goes back to my experience with volleyball. I’m coming into these companies with the objective of building a bond on a team that might work against their individual interests.

What do you think female former-student athletes can add to your field?

LK: I do think the concept of team is really important. Women can lead from different directions. A lot of times, when you think of being a leader, you think of a marching line and a leader is in the front and everyone falls behind. In our world today, that’s not really how it works. You have to lead sideways, you have to lead from behind. You have to share accountability and purpose. It’s not command and control leadership, but more collaborative where more voices can come to the table. Women student-athletes are equipped for that.

How has the experience for women student-athletes progressed since your time with Virginia Tech Volleyball?

LK: It’s so exciting to see when I come back. My former teammates and I laugh when we get back to Blacksburg and think about our experiences. I think we got one pair of gym shoes the entire season, maybe I got two because I blew out the toe in one of them (laughs). We traveled to games in a white van that our coach had to drive. It was a pretty barebones operation back then. It’s exciting to see the evolution to see women’s sports programs and how they are supported as well as the caliber of their success. Whether it’s women’s basketball or women’s soccer, I’m impressed with the athletic department’s investment in driving the future of female athletics.

What would you say to alumni that are considering giving back to the sport that provided them with a scholarship?

LK: Once you have the good fortune of being able to take care of yourself and your family, I think it’s really important. My husband and I have been incredibly lucky, so I think it’s important for us to pay it forward. Without the support of scholarships, a lot of young athletes would not have the opportunity to experience this special place. I want to make sure others have that same opportunity that I did. Not all athletic programs provide a level of support and treat people not just as athletes, but also as a whole human like Virginia Tech does. Giving back to make sure student-athletes can experience that is incredibly important to me.

Karlisch and her husband, Brian (’93), live in Alexandria. Their son, Quinn, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, and their daughter, Ava, will attend school here in the fall.

For more on Virginia Tech Athletics’ campaign tabbed “Writing HERstory”, presented by Truist, that celebrates the incredible achievements of its female student-athletes, both past and present, while inspiring the next generation of women who aspire to achieve their dreams through athletics .

Hokie Nation can make a direct impact on female student-athletes through a gift to the Virginia Tech Women’s Sports Fund. This fund recognizes the accomplishments and impact of Hokies female athletes. By supporting this fund, you are empowering future females to reap the benefits of college athletics and push past their boundaries both in sports and in life. The confidence, strength and character gained through sports are the tools that help women become strong leaders in today’s world.

Gallery: (3-14-2022) VB: Lisa (Pikalek) Karlisch – Writing HERstory [hidden]

Leave a Comment