Her parents met on the beach. She started playing volleyball on the beach. And she wants to end her athletic career on the beach.
It’s only fitting that Fort Atkinson senior Grace Mans signed a National Letter of Intent to play collegiate beach volleyball at Saint Leo University, just outside of Tampa, Fla. next year.
“I played beach before indoor, surprisingly. And that’s where my love came from,” Mans said. “I started, so I wanted to finish that way.”
Mans spent most Sundays over the summer as a child in Milwaukee at Bradford Beach with her parents — Dawn and Paul, who first met as competitors on the beach.
It doesn’t hurt that the weather in Florida allows for more year-round practice and better conditions than the 26-degree days with rain that Mans faced in Iowa during a tournament.
“I think it holds near and dear to her heart. I think a big part of beach is the challenge,” Fort Atkinson varsity volleyball coach Liz Gnatzig said. “I think she enjoys being one of two people on the court, and having to kind of be a little more creative with her control and where she puts the ball. I think overall, that’s kind of what draws her to it.”
Playing doubles volleyball on the sand requires a different skill set compared to the six-person indoor game. Athletes are required to do all facets of the game at a high level as there’s little to protect any player from their weakness.
“I think that just speaks volume about the type of athlete she is on the beach court. I think her ability to be strong offensively, defensively, from the service line, and it’s not always that she’s just playing one role throughout that rally,” Gnatzig said. “So just being able to change in whatever role she needs to in order to bring the most success for her and her teammate.”
Mans, who narrowed down her final two schools to Saint Leo and San Jose State, has done almost everything possible on the beach circuit in Wisconsin and the midwest as she won the USA Volleyball High Performance Zonal 1, finished in first at the 2017 JVA Midwest Championships and placed third in the Waupaca Boatride Tournament.
She’s competed in the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships at Hermosa Beach, where she placed seventh, along with several top team performances in the indoor club volleyball tournaments for the Badger Region.
“A lot of it is making sure you go out and get the training yourself because there are no coaches,” Mans said about the beach volleyball world. “You have to do the research. You have to text people that you don’t really know and you have to ask them for advice, and there’s indoor places to play beach — not the best — but you’re going to make it work.”
Saint Leo University, which is holding just its second season of beach volleyball this spring, has a new coach in Jason Skoch, who was hired earlier this month. Mans was recruited by assistant coach Erik Peterson. They will be the first coaches she’s had besides her father Paul.
The school, which sits 30 minutes northeast of Tampa, competes in the Sunshine State Conference of Division 2.
“The first two years are their building years. They’ve been taking their indoor girls and have been training them for the beach,” Mans said. “And they’re my year, we have four commits now. All of us have traveled, played in intense tournaments and won. So it looks like my year, we will have four really solid recruits. So our goal is to come in and win the conference.”
Mans has closed out her three years of playing volleyball in Fort Atkinson and wanted to make sure her final year left a lasting impact on the program.
After not playing as a junior, the Blackhawks went 18-13 last fall and finished fourth in the Badger South Conference during the regular season.
Mans was a first-team Badger South selection and now leaves room for her sister, Emma Mans, to make an even larger effect on the Blackhawk varsity program.
“The people. Definitely the people,” Mans said of what she’d miss about the community. “Having that culture where they all want to help you improve. I know that I didn’t play my third year because I wanted to go play beach, so playing that fourth year, I wanted to make sure I left this program and school in the best way so that they could continue our success.”
Marowsky commits to UW-O
Fort Atkinson senior swimmer Mariah Marowsky committed to swim at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Friday.
Marowsky, a four-time state qualifier led the Blackhawks and currently holds the school record in the 200-yard freestyle, 500 free and 100 free.
Last fall, at the state meet, Marowsky placed fourth in the 100 free and sixth in the 200 free.
Midtlien to run at Stout
Fort Atkinson senior Kamden Midtlien will run cross country at UW-Stout next fall.
Midtlien was not a state qualifier last season after placing 26th at the WIAA Division 1 sectional in Delafield in a time of 17 minutes, 47 seconds.