Sam Manley was 11 years old when she decided to take a chance on a sport she had never played.
“I’m not going to try out for a club when I’ve never played recreationally,” Sam recalled telling a friend of hers.
That same friend had reserved a tryout spot with the local club volleyball team, the Coyote Cougars, but was sick. Sam stepped forward to help her friend fill the spot.
“I made it somehow,” Sam said. “I was 11 [years old] playing on the 13-under team. I had a lot of work to do.”
Jessica Manley supported her sister, Sam, while sitting in the stands and cheering for her during tournaments. When Jessica tore her knee cap playing soccer in fifth grade, she knew she would need to turn to a different sport.
“Mom said, ‘You are not playing soccer anymore,’” Jessica said.
Soon enough, she found herself following Sam’s footsteps and taking up the sport of volleyball.
“My sister had been playing for a year, and it was a non-contact sport,” Jess said.
The duo from Escondido, California now finds themselves playing collegiate beach volleyball for Arizona.
“[Our parents] wanted us to get really good at sports,” Sam said. “I don’t think they ever intended us to play in college, but they wanted us to stay busy.”
The Manley sisters have a lot in common, as expected.
“If you say hi to us, we reply in the same tone and the same time,” Sam said.
Sam and Jessica are one year apart, live in the same apartment and share the same major: pre-business.
“We do pretty much everything together,” Jessica said. “She’s probably the biggest role model in my life. She has always set the standards really high and we have a lot of the same goals. She has characteristics that I don’t have and [that] I can learn from.”
As the big sister, Sam does her best to show Jessica the path so she doesn’t struggle.
“I try to help her learn from my obstacles so she doesn’t have to go through them like I did,” Sam said. “I try to be understanding and there for her, giving her advice based on my experiences.”
Those wise words come from just a sophomore in college—a sophomore who had the opportunity to compete in the first ever NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships in Alabama as a freshman.
“It was the most exciting thing of my career here,” Sam said. “Finding out that we made the first ever NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships and we’re making history—we all were yelling and cheering.”
Sam competed as the No. 3 pair with Olivia MacDonald in the NCAA Championships and for much of the season. She has high expectations for herself and the Arizona beach volleyball team in the next few seasons.
“Let’s just go for it all and say [our goal is] first at NCAA Championships,” Sam said.
Those lofty goals come as no surprise to those who know the Manley sisters.
“We had a volleyball court set up in our backyard our whole childhood,” Jessica said. “It’s still there.”
Jessica has only been a part of Arizona beach volleyball for five weeks, and the transition has been a grueling process.
“Coming here as a student-athlete, we’ve never given so much time in volleyball and school,” Jessica said. “Just the combination of everything—you have to give your full effort in every aspect of your life.”
The time management came easier to Sam after being a two-sport athlete in high school.
“At one point, I was playing for two different volleyball teams,” Sam said. “I was doing varsity track—sprinting for my high school. I was doing, like, three different practices a night.”
Both eventually made the transition from indoor to beach volleyball.
“To play beach, you have to be able to bump, set and hit,” Sam said. “I really liked always being on the court and every time the ball comes over the net, you touch the ball. Just the environment—no whistles.”
At the end of the day, both sisters said they are proud of who they have become and all of the things they get to share.
“[Sam is] one of the biggest influences in my life, which is why I chose to come here a year after her,” Jessica said. “She’s my biggest supporter.”
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