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Chasing The Dream with USWNT Athlete Alyssa Manley

July 13, 2016, 3:04 p.m. (ET)

As part of our weekly Wednesday Chasing the Dream posts, we’ll be featuring a USWNT athlete up until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Although currently and comparatively short in length, the width of Alyssa Manley’s budding international field hockey career covers serious ground.  

Joining the red, white and blue at the senior level in 2015, Manley secured her first international cap within a few short weeks against Argentina in February.

Four months later in Toronto, Manley scored her first goal where she connected ball to board at the semifinal match at the 2015 Pan American Games to help lead Team USA to a gold medal and an Olympic Games qualification.

She played in the 2015 World League Round 3 in Valencia, Spain and the 2016 Champions Trophy to win the bronze in London, England.

Less than a year after she scored her first goal and 32 caps later, the Lititz, Pa. native’s name is etched on a list that will forever be part of national sport history – the 2016 Rio Olympic Games roster. 

That’s the feel-good, TV presentable version of Manley’s story. A rookie racks up almost instant success to be a pivotal part of Team USA’s starting lineup. While it makes for an accurate, impressive headline, there’s much more to be said about Manley.

“At first I wasn’t really sure where I stood on the team because it all happened so fast,” said Manley. “I went from college to the U-21 National Team to the senior team in comparatively short amount of time. Although I felt prepared for the jump, the fitness of the girls was so much higher; the speed of the game drastically increased and the technical skill was far better. It was almost like a completely different game moving from college to the international scene. I love this version of the sport and how athletic you need to be.”

During her time at Warwick High School she earned First Team All-State, First Team All-Region and First Team All-League honors her senior year and even earned Lancaster Sports Writers & Coaches Field Hockey 2011 Player of the Year. In those impressionable years as an athlete and a person, Manley became part of USA Field Hockey U-17 National Team in 2011, earned playing rights to the 2012 USA Field Hockey Futures Elite Championship, and built up to USA Field Hockey’s Under-19 National Tournament. There was progression. There was promise.

She earned a scholarship to Syracuse University, and then something stopped clicking. After completing her freshmen, Manley began reevaluating her decision to play.

“It was difficult,” said Manley. “I’ve never been away from home or separated from family and friends before. That feeling began to outweigh my love of the game. It’s almost like I lost it.”

So the summer during her sophomore year she did something to help her game – she put down the stick. Taking three months off from high performance training and competing, Manley booked a plane ticket to Ireland to visit a best friend and tour Europe.

“I came back and a switch had flipped,” said Manley. “I was different player making a huge impact on the field and became one of the top-tier players at Syracuse. I needed that mental break to reevaluate what I wanted with the sport. I have been playing field hockey for so long, since I was 6, that I needed to step back and really plan my course.

“I don’t like giving up on things. At the end of the day, that’s who I am. I couldn’t risk giving something like this up,” said Manley. “I knew my coach and teammates would push me through to be better. This was a pivotal moment for me. There was growth in all areas of my play.“

She went on to be a Honda Sports Award Recipient for field hockey, the first player to receive the honor for any sport in Syracuse history. She was a Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year Finalist at the CWSA Sports Awards and Female Athlete of the Year at the 10th-annual 'Cuse Awards. She was named NFHCA First Team All-American, NCAA All-Tournament Team, ACC All-Tournament Team and dubbed ACC Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All ACC first team; all in her senior year.

Now Manley adds another accolade to the list - Olympian.

“When I found out I made the Rio roster, there was so much relief,” said Manley. “It was overwhelming in the best way. It’s a dream come true.”

Check next Wednesday for another USWNT Chasing the Dream post.

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