Oct. 20, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
Sand Volleyball is only in its second year of existence at South Carolina, but it has already captured the interest of fans and outstanding recruits. After becoming the first female to have her jersey retired at Westlake High School in Los Angeles, California, Gamecock freshman Julia Mannisto, who was the top rated player on the California Beach Volleyball Association U18 tour, is hoping to make an immediate impact at the collegiate level.
"I want to make our team better since we are such a new program," Mannisto said. "We have some pretty good girls out there right now, and hopefully this will be the year we really pick things up."
Mannisto, who is one of four California natives on the Gamecock roster, played four years of indoor volleyball at Westlake, where she is the all-time leader in kills, and two years of sand volleyball. She capped her high school career by earning All-American honors in the sport by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. This was the first year that high school All-Americans were named in sand volleyball, and she was taken by surprise to be one of only four honorees in the sport she has grown to love.
"I was completely shocked," Mannisto said. "My coach told me when I received it. I still can't believe it. The whole feel of sand volleyball is so much better for me. It's a two-person sport, so you have more responsibility. Every other ball is yours and you're always involved in the play. The connection with your partner is so important. You have a lot of control of the game."
"I wanted to get out of California for four years and have a new experience. When I visited South Carolina, I fell in love."
During the summer she competed in many top tournaments in the sand. Last August she paired with Florida State's Tory Paranagua to win the USA U-21 tournament in Long Beach, California competing against mostly collegiate players.
"We were the youngest ones there," Mannisto said. "That was really interesting because there were a lot of girls who I had been looking up their stats while they're in college, and then I had a chance to play with them over the summer. It was exciting to get the opportunity to play against these great players. It made me want to give my all."
She had also advanced to the championship match of the 21st AAU Junior Beach Volleyball National Championships in Hermosa Beach, California. While those tournaments can be exhausting, they have certainly helped shape her game.
"Sometimes the tournaments can go all day," Mannisto said. "A lot of times I was out there from 8 a.m. until sunset. They were long days. It's pretty tiring, but your adrenaline is pumping so there is no place I would rather be."
She is thrilled that South Carolina added sand volleyball after it was recognized as an emerging sport by the NCAA.
"I wanted to get out of California for four years and have a new experience," Mannisto said. "When I visited South Carolina, I fell in love. I've always loved the sport even when it was just for fun. Now that it is becoming very competitive and structured, it's very exciting."
Just as impressive off the court, Mannisto was a four-time scholar athlete in high school, who hopes to be a Pre-Med major at South Carolina. Adjusting to college life can be tricky, but she knows there are plenty of resources at the university to keep her on the right path.
"It's difficult, but you know what you have to do, so you get it done," Mannisto said. "We can get so much help, so you have to take advantage of that. I spend hours at the Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center) almost every day."
Midway through her first semester, Mannisto is adjusting to life in the South.
"The people are so nice out here," Mannisto said. "The food is different, but I'm learning to love it. I lived twenty minutes from the beach back home, so I miss the beach, but we have an amazing sand stadium here."
From what she has seen so far, Mannisto says the best part about being a Gamecock is the support all of the teams receive, and her teammates have told her that the university and community fully embraced South Carolina's newest varsity sport in its inaugural season last spring.
"They told me the fans are great and there are so many fans out there cheering," Mannisto said. "It's been a really good experience so far and exactly what I wanted from college. I have been trying to get my hands on few players from California to come out here. I have friends back home who are younger and are really good players."
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